Stages of MBI

Model-based inquiry consists of four stages: one planning and three that are enacted with students. These stages provide the structure for the MBI unit planning template.

The four phases of MBI presented here are adapted from the Ambitious Science Teaching group at the University of Washington. Each stage is broken down below and useful references are provided.

Stage 1 - Planning for engagement with important science ideas

This first stage on the MBI template focuses on doing the intellectually rigorous work of unpacking standards, identifying an anchoring phenomenon and driving question, and pinpointing the important science ideas students will need to build a scientific explanation of the phenomenon. In addition, in this stage we plan "with the end in mind" by constructing draft models and causal explanations that we can use as learning targets throughout the unit. We suggest you look at our pages on choosing phenomena, constructing models, and writing explanations. The template itself also provides a number of resources for each step in the process.


The second stage of MBI is the first enacted in the classroom with students. It involves introducing the anchoring phenomenon and driving question, eliciting students' initial ideas and experiences that may help them develop initial explanations of the phenomenon, and the construction of initial models of the phenomenon based on those current ideas. In designing units, this phase usually takes up the first day of the unit. Please be sure to review our pages on the importance of using students' ideas as resources, ways of facilitating productive talk in the classroom, and the use of public records to keep track and work on ideas. Of course, the template also provides a number of resources for each step in the process.


The goal of the next stage is to support the students' on-going changes in thinking by providing learning experiences that help coordinate their ideas and powerful ideas in science to build a scientific explanation of the anchoring phenomenon. This involves designing or adapting a number of purposeful tasks, coordinated with the important science ideas identified earlier, and the construction and use of public records such as a Summary Table to help keep track of ideas. In this work, we draw upon the idea of back-pocket questions and the 5 practices for coordinating productive science discussions (here is a sampling of these practices). Important in this stage is the revision and testing of the students' models. This stage makes up the majority of the unit as the class works to develop their explanations of the phenomenon through engagement in the practices of science. We recommend looking at the openers and closures resource on this site.


At the end of an MBI unit, we press the students for evidence-based explanations. This involves, at a minimum, finalizing the student models, building consensus through discussions, the construction of the Gotta-Have Checklist, and the writing of individual evidence-based explanations of the anchoring phenomenon. We most often consider either the final model or evidence-based explanations the summative assessment of the unit.