Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Education, Curriculum and Instruction


Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies

Major Advisor

Leslie Atkins Elliott, Ph.D.


Sara Hagenah, Ph.D.


Courtney Hollar, Ph.D.


Tinkering and modeling have increasingly gained traction within science education. For this study, I adopt the construct of tinkering, which is usually applied to the development of tangible artifacts and consider how this activity might apply to the development of novel models and theoretical objects in science. Data was collected from student artifacts and coding of transcripts was performed to identify how students design models in science, with a focus on how students engage in tinkering when doing so. Using a multiple case study approach, I examined two cases of undergraduate pre-service science teachers’ development of models of light and color. The data shows that students can invent theoretical objects to productively model complex abstract scientific ideas. Examining these models revealed that students use many of the same tinkering processes-iteration, improvisation, playfulness, and shifting of emergent goals- as seen in tinkering in engineering, but students use theoretical objects (ideas) instead of tangible objects. Coding of student discussion further showed that students can tinker with theoretical objects in an iterative, playful, improvisational manner with shifting goals to refine and improve their models. Overall, including tinkering and modeling in the science classrooms creates a space where students can richly develop scientific ideas and novel models of scientific phenomena.