Developing and refining mental models in open-ended learning environments: A case study

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This qualitative case study focused on the nature of science learning through open-ended problem solving. Twelve eighth graders were asked to find, frame, and resolve subproblems associated with structural failures resulting from earthquakes. Coded interviews, artifacts, and observations from the four-week study suggested students only partially derived accurate mental models about earthquake engineering problems. Recommendations for improving student problem understanding in open-ended environments include the explication of student hypotheses related to problems, and the continual testing of belief via analogical reasoning, research, communication, and tool use.