Date of Award

Fall 10-25-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Secondary Education



Committee Chair

Michelle D. Head

First Committee Member

Nita Paris

Second Committee Member

Kimberly Cortes


Over the past decade, curricula redesigns at the national and state levels increasingly call for the use of conceptual models and modeling practices as teaching and evaluation tools to enhance learning chemistry. Models are often visual, verbal, or manipulative in nature, and may be provided by the instructor or created by the student during a lesson. Moreover, common conceptual models in chemistry present content using macroscopic, symbolic, and particulate levels of representation. These conceptual models, in whichever form they take, offer opportunities to improve student content knowledge and conceptual understanding by allowing the learner to generate and discuss his own model, to make meaning from a model provided, or to critique and revise any model once more information on the topic under study is known.

Much research exists to support the use of model-based instruction in middle and secondary grade science classes over traditional lecture-based methods, especially with English learner and special education populations. Less is known about the effectiveness of model-based instruction for students with varying spatial abilities or of differing information processing styles, especially when considering the construct of field dependence and field independence. The differences in ability to visualize representations in three-dimensional space, as well as processing styles, dictate each decision a learner makes in how, when, where, and to what degree to use a model to learn chemistry concepts.

In this dissertation, student content knowledge and conceptual understanding were evaluated using visual representations and scientific models in high school chemistry. The relationships between field dependency and spatial ability were also evaluated in the context of the learner’s content knowledge and conceptual understanding. An analysis of student responses to a metacognitive awareness survey was also conducted to better understand the relationships between field dependency, spatial ability, and awareness of factors that influence cognition as it relates to students’ perceptions of the strengths, weaknesses, and usefulness of representations at the macroscopic, symbolic, and particulate levels.