S3 E10: Developing and Using Models for NGSS

October 26, 2020

This week we answer another listener question. Kristen asks “How do you teach a student to create a model who has not had any experience with creating them?” Nicole and Erin discuss the Science and Engineering Practice of Developing and Using Models and provide tips for helping your students make models.

How do you teach students the Science and Engineering Practice of Developing and Using Models?

Many students have not had the opportunity to develop their own models. So, it’s important that students receive explicit instructions about what models are and how they can be used. Here are a few ways to help students develop and use models in your classroom.

Allow students to create an initial model with minimal expectations.

After presenting students with a phenomenon, give students the opportunity to create an initial model. Students should create a diagram that includes the components that they observe. But, other than that, the expectations should be kept to a minimum.

Nicole recommends that you don’t even tell students that they are creating a model. This may be intimidating to students who aren’t sure what a model is. Instead, ask students to create a drawing of what they observe.

Review the initial models to create a consensus about what a good model is.

After students create their initial model, have student share their models. Then, provide students with an opportunity to share what they believe makes a “good” model. So, students will come to a consensus that can be used as criteria for later models.

Discuss the limitations of models.

Most students don’t recognize the limitations of models because they aren’t explicitly taught that all models have limitations. So, Nicole recommends discussing this with your students.

Identifying limitations is one of the subcomponents of the practice of developing and using models. Check out the NSTA Matrix for the Science and Engineering Practices to review the subcomponents.

Also, Erin recommends discussing limitations when students observe a model in the classroom. For example, when using a simulation in your classroom, create an exit ticket that asks students what the limitation of the simulation are.

Avoid common modeling mistakes of the practice of developing and using models.

The purpose of modeling is not to create an art project. Often, when students create a model, they are asked to create something that is judged based on aesthetics rather than the ability to explain phenomena.

Or, students may be given too many criteria for the model which limits their ability to develop a model on their own. So, it’s important to remember that students are the ones who should be developing the model.

Allow students to revise their model when they get new information.

Give students the opportunity to revise their models when they get new information about the phenomenon. Often, this comes in the form of investigative phenomena.

Or, ask students to include different scales in their models.

Incorporating the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System Models when assessing models.

The subcomponents of the CCC of Systems and System Models provides additional information about this practice. For example, one of the pieces of this CCC requires student to discuss how components of the system work together. Also, the CCC asks students to discuss how energy flows through the system.

So the CCC can be used to create a list of requirements for a model. Nicole suggest creating and sharing a checklist for the students on their assessment.

Erin suggests using a graphic organizer as a scaffold while helping students improve their models. She uses this graphic organizer for Systems and System Models in Middle School.

Get more information about Developing and Using Models for NGSS


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