Modeling has been identified as a science practice that is useful for refining explanations about how something happens in the world. In science classrooms, models typically include a combination of pictorial representations and written explanations about 'seen' and 'unseen' mechanisms that describe how and why a particular phenomenon occurs.

When we use scientific modeling in the classroom, we enact a cycle of constructing, revising, and testing our models against the real world. Models play a central role in an MBI unit in that they link the real with the abstract, or the phenomenon with the important science ideas we use to explain it. The diagram below shows this relationship.

We do not think of models as the product of a unit. Instead they are a tool by which groups of students are able to make sense of ideas around a phenomenon. The practice of modeling makes students' thinking visible (to themselves, their peers, and to you), allows groups of students to work through ideas as they negotiate the model, and helps generate new ideas and hypotheses to be tested. As represented in the diagram to the right (taken from Helping Students Make Sense of the World Using Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices, p. 115), models are not merely depictions of phenomena. Instead, models are tools for students to make sense of phenomena.




Example student models

Here is a great resource on models and modeling in science classrooms from the Ambitious Science Teaching group. The primer contrasts how models are used in science with how they are traditionally used in science classrooms before providing practical advice for integrating modeling in science classrooms. Pay special attention to the 'Helpful advice from teachers' section at the end!

What should be included in student models?

The following are some resources/instructional scaffolds to support student engagement in the iterative development of models across a unit.

Using a Partitioned Template is one way to support students by amplifying the focus on changes in the complex anchoring phenomenon overtime. This is important since, in most cases, it is the changes that happen overtime that are most important to explain, because these involve unseen mechanisms that provide explanatory power both in the unit anchoring phenomenon and in related phenomena.

The example highlighted here comes from:

Campbell, T. & Neilson, D. (2016). Explaining ramps with models: Design strategies and a unit for engaging students in developing and using models. The Science Teacher. 83(5), 33-39.

(available to NSTA members)

Relates to HS-PS2-1.

  • Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration.

Sentence frames and sticky notes provide another resource for supporting peer-to-peer feedback on iterations of models across an MBI unit. The sentence frames provide a scaffold for supporting productive language students can use to suggest a revision, an addition, something be removed, or to ask questions about another group's model. Using color-coded sticky notes supports students in integrating the use of sticky notes with sentence frames so that comments can be made directly on peers' models. Through this, those receiving feedback can make decisions about how the feedback they received might inform future changes in their models. See examples of sentence frames as well as the use of color-coded sticky notes to provide model feedback. Note: We learned about sentence frames and stick notes from the Ambitious Science Teaching Group.

This following special issue of The Science Teacher (TST) focused on the theme “Developing and Using Models.” In the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), developing and using models is identified as an important scientific practice, a powerful way to make sense of the world. While there are many types of models, this issue emphasizes models that students develop and use to explain phenomena. As part of this special issue, we called on researchers and teachers who have developed important model-based instructional strategies to help us make this issue of TST a kind of primer for engaging students in modeling experiences. Each feature article illuminates a particular aspect of those experiences we have found to be important. The articles represent a range of science disciplines to make the issue useful to all high school science teachers.

TST Editorial.pdf