Lisa Schultz

Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Molly Schauffler

Second Committee Member

Susan McKay

Third Committee Member

Peter O. Koons


This research investigates the effectiveness of a computer modeling program as a learning tool to understand the greenhouse effect. This study was conducted at two Maine middle-schools with 136 seventh-grade students and 11 eighth-grade students in eight classes. Students were given a pre-test that consisted of a concept map, a free-response question, and multiple-choice questions about how the greenhouse effect influences the Earth's temperature. Then students explored the Greenhouse Effect model for approximately twenty minutes with only two focus questions for guidance. After the exploration period, students were given a post-test that was identical to the pre-test. The data from these assessments were statistically evaluated using parametric tests to determine if students increased their understanding about the greenhouse effect and to assess the use of concept maps to detect students' understanding. Results indicate middle-school students gained in their understanding about how the greenhouse effect influences the Earth's temperature after exploring the computer model for approximately twenty minutes. The magnitude of the changes in pre- and post- test concept map and free-response scores were small compared to an expert's score, indicating that students did not gain a complete understanding of the greenhouse effect. While students gained in their understanding about the greenhouse effect, students held on to their misconceptions from the pre- to post-tests. My research also looked at the effectiveness of using concept maps as an educational assessment tool for detecting students' understanding. The free-response question detected more of the students' understanding and misconceptions than the concept maps. There was a moderate correlation between the free-response and concept map responses, which indicates that the concept maps did detect students' understanding, although to a lesser extent than the free-response question.