What is mbi?

Model-based Inquiry (MBI) is a framework for designing science units around the construction, revision, and testing of models by groups of students as they seek to explain natural phenomena.

Traditional science units are driven by topics and activities. Once a topic is chosen, plate tectonics for example, specific activities build knowledge around the topic and are summatively assessed at the end of the unit.

MBI units, on the other hand, are driven by a need to explain the anchoring phenomenon. Student ideas about the science around the phenomenon are at the center of the unit. Their ideas are elicited early in the unit, kept track of with public records, and collaboratively peer reviewed throughout the unit. The unit culminates with individual written evidence-based explanations of the anchoring phenomenon.

See the Stages of MBI section for additional information.


We take as a starting point the 7 Elements of Ambitious Science Teaching from the Ambitious Science Teaching group. Taken together, they provide a common understanding of effective science teaching in the age of NGSS.


See the Support section for additional information on many of the 7 elements.

See the Support section for additional information on integrating modeling, explanation, and argumentation into your unit.

Research supports the notion that engaging in the practices of science is essential for learning science. Therefore, MBI scaffolds the productive engagement of students in the practices throughout the unit. Most importantly, the main goal of a unit (and science class in general!) is to build robust scientific explanation of the world around us. Therefore, explanation is the 'product' of our unit. Students utilize scientific modeling as a tool to think together, communicate their ideas, and build explanations throughout the unit. Finally, students engage in argumentation as they use evidence gathered from investigations to refine their models and explanations.

At the center of an MBI unit is a phenomenon. Complex and puzzling phenomena anchor MBI units in by providing a specific context for students to learn science through and apply new understandings to. The complexity of the phenomenon is what creates the needs for scientific practices.

See the Phenomena support page for additional information on choosing and using anchoring phenomena.

NSTA 2018 MBI



our recent talk on mbi at NSTA 2018 in Atlanta!