Modeling Instruction

What is modeling instruction?

Instead of relying on lectures and textbooks, the Modeling Instruction program emphasizes active student construction of conceptual and mathematical models in an interactive learning community. Students are engaged with simple scenarios to learn to model the physical world.

Find a Modeling Workshop in your area this summer!

Modeling Instruction in the Science Classroom (podcast)
Mark Schober, president of the American Modeling Teacher’s Association, shares a history of modeling, how it can be used in the classroom, and that it is for more than just physics courses. From NSTA’s Lab Out Loud podcast.A Modeling Approach to Physics Instruction (video)
In this video, teacher Seth Guiñals-Kupperman explains how he uses Modeling Instruction in his physics classroom. From WNET/PBS Teacher’s Domain resources.

Introductory readings for those seeking more information

Curriculum materials:

These resources culled from the official Modeling Instruction Website at Arizona State University.

50 responses to “Modeling Instruction

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  7. I am currently attending a Modeling Workshop largely based on your own testimony and an experience at an NSTA conference. I think it is super but how would you respond to the criticism that it is largely pseudo-context

    • Well it certainly isn’t any more pseudocontext than any other physics course. But I would say it’s LESS PC than a traditional course because the students are doing science: making observations and measurements to create a model, then apply that model to a variety of situations. When the model breaks, the find a new one or modify the old one (like going from constant velocity motion to accelerated motion).

      Could you give some examples of the pseudocontext stated by critics?

      • Maybe I am off base, but many of the paradigm labs are fairly contrived. Constant v cars and balls rolling down ramps. . . I am very impressed with the curriculum but I thought I would ask because you got me fired up about both modeling and high context instruction. There is a conflict in my mind, thats all.

        I guess what I am saying is that the context is largely contrived rather than practical application.. This could possibly lend to a “meh” factor for kids. I don’t even know, I haven’t even implemented the curriculum so I was just asking.

        I don’t think there are critics, aside from me, and I don’t feel like a critic. I think the curriculum is extremely well developed and research based, I am just surprised at it’s contrived nature and lack of opportunity to apply the models to practical applications. The deployment activities are incredibly well developed but not high context.

        I am a constructivist and this approach blows my mind, totally awesome. It really isn’t appropriate to call me a critic just a guy who reads your blog and thinks. I am trying to better myself. Thought I would ask a question that I felt was reasonable

      • Recyclist, I didn’t mean to call you a critic specifically. I though you were relaying what you had heard elsewhere. Since I hadn’t heard of modeling being pseudocontext, I was asking if you could point me to where that discussion was happening (or give some examples from those discussions).

        Modeling Instruction isn’t about the actual activities, the worksheets, or even whiteboarding. (Those are fairly vanilla, and with good reason, they give easy to interpret results.) The key piece is the focus on models, the discourse that happens between students, the emphasis on multiple representations. It builds a conceptual framework that I’ve never seen in a physics text. At first glance, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t until I went to a workshop that I could see what made it special and effective.

        On the other hand, a PBL curriculum like “Active Physics” wowed me at first glance. Each unit has a project (called a chapter challenge) and all the lab work in that unit relates the challenge. But there is no framework for students’ newfound knowledge. For example, the roller coaster challenge covers energy, power, acceleration, velocity, circular motion, centripetal force, etc. Kids learn these fragmented concepts, and I suspect they would have a hard time applying them to new scenarios.

        So I think some middle ground is in order. I do a several of activities/projects that aren’t in the official curriculum (Kobe, Speeding Problem, etc.) You also should check out this presentation which shows what another school is doing with Modeling and STEM:

        I hope this helps. Are you at the Iowa State workshop with Shawn Cornally?

  8. Byron Philhour

    Hi Frank — some years back a teacher in our department attended a modeling workshop and it had a significant impact on how we do things.

    The hardest thing for her (and for me) was that — despite being a high school — our physics rooms are arranged as lecture-hall-style theaters. Here’s a photo:

    You’ll be shocked to hear there’s a big lab bench at the front for demonstrations =)

    There’s a second, shared classroom for lab work but it also has fixed lab benches without an open central space.

    So, as you can see, the best we can do in terms of forming tables is seat two students next to each other closely. It is also hard to move tables out.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to just complain — in fact, we have a remodeling (ha) proposal in to buildings & grounds — but I am guessing there are folks out there who teach college who have similar layout constraints. And I’m guessing there might be some novel ideas about how to form groups, how to share models & engage in dialog, etc., in rooms of this type? Thought you’d be the person to ask.


    • Oh, wow. That is unfortunate. You can’t do groups of three desk across for whiteboarding?

      I have large lab tables that seat 2 each. They are very inconvenient to move and so we rarely move them to make a large open space. One thing I’ve done is just have the kids stand up where they are to present. Or, to simulate a board meeting where all boards are visible, I had all kids put their boards at the front (or back) of the room and we discussed.

      I know physical space can be a pain, but don’t let it stop you!

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  10. Data on effectiveness?


    • From

      How effective is modeling instruction?

      In comparison to traditional instruction, under expert modeling instruction high school students average more than two standard deviations higher on a standard instrument for assessing conceptual understanding of physics.

      Traditional high school instruction (lecture, demonstration, and standard laboratory activities) has little impact on student beliefs, with an average FCI posttest score of about 42%, still much below the Newtonian threshold. This failure of traditional instruction is largely independent of the instructor’s knowledge, experience and teaching style.

      High school teachers in the Leadership Modeling Workshop Project (1995-1999) began a shift from traditional instruction to modeling instruction in their first four-week summer workshop. After their first year of teaching, posttest scores for students of these novice modelers were about 10 percentage points higher, for 3394 students of 66 teachers. Students of expert modelers do much better. For 11 teachers identified as expert modelers after two years in the Project, posttest scores of their 647 students averaged 69%. Thus student gains in understanding under expert modeling instruction are more than doubled (40 percentage points gained), compared to traditional instruction (16 percentage points gained).

    • Also see the studies linked to here:

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  14. How do you correct the process if students head off in the wrong direction as they are working through the process?

    • It’s typically not 100% open ended sandbox-type discovery learning. Students have a task to complete (find a relationship between variables, solve a problem, etc). It’s very guided.

      If students do somehow head off in the wrong direction, then during the whiteboard sessions we could talk/explore what happened with the whole class. And that’s not really such a bad thing.

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  16. I am a science teacher currently completing a visual literacy course. As I’ve progressed through my course I have been working toward integrating technology driven visual literacy within a constructivist approach. I appreciate your blog in that you have many examples of using visual technology, and you advocate using them as a tool while modeling instruction. I think we are on the same path in that the modeling method seems to be a constructivist approach. In The Modeling Method: A synopsisfrom Arizona State U. the first objective states, “To engage students in understanding the physical world by constructing and using scientific models to describe, to explain, to predict and to control physical phenomena.” I want my students to use concepts to solve problems and construct their own visual technology. I look forward to continually following your blog and comments.

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  25. Hi Frank,
    Excellent blog! Thanks for being a proponent of Modeling Instruction.

    I was wondering if Modeling Instruction has been applied to English and writing classes. Are you aware of any sites that promote English instruction using this method?

    Chino Baluyut

  26. I think this approach is great and I would really like to begin using this method of instruction in my classroom. Do you have a compilation of resources or paradigm labs that you typically use during a school year?

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  36. Hi,
    First, I want to thank you for posting all this information. It is really helping me to understand modelling better.
    This is my third year teaching IB physics and I am very interested in modelling, but I feel I would need to attend some kind of workshop in order to avoid reinventing the wheel. Unfortunately, it seems like the only association that provides those is in America, whereas my school is in Germany! Do you know by any chance if there is anything similar to the AMA in Europe?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Eduardo!

      I am a modeler and IB teacher in Latvia (Lettland). To the best of my knowledge, I am the only one in Europe. Sorry!

      Modeling is worth a summer trip to the US if you can manage it. I have done it twice. If not, the blog archives of Frank, and also Kelly O’Shea, will provide plenty of fodder for modeling-related changes to your instruction.

      I understand that online modeling courses for mechanics (ie: intro to modeling) might come soon. In the meanwhile, feel free to write or — if you find yourself in Riga — stop by and see it in action. I am danny dot doucette at gmail.

  37. Hi Danny!
    Thanks a lot for the reply. Going to the US is for the moment a bit beyond my budget (and I doubt my school will agree to pay for it!) but it’s great to meet somebody else in Europe with an interest in this. I hope I don’t bother you too much with my questions! I may actually get my school to allow me to take a couple of days to see modelling in action, so I might take you up on your invitation.

  38. Eduardo and Danny,
    Darrell Rahn is a Modeling Workshop leader in physics and chemistry; he teaches in the DODEA high school in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

    Tom Short is a long-time modeler at Ramstein Middle School in Germany.
    Brian Martin is also a long-time physics modeler, at Aviano High School in Italy.
    A physics teacher from Finland took a mechanics Modeling Workshop in Arkansas, a dozen years ago. I lost touch with her.

    Please email me if you would like their contact information. Jane dot jackson at asu dot edu . I have co-directed the ASU Modeling Instruction Program for 20 years, and I know of modelers worldwide. It is an effective and satisfying way to teach all sciences, in middle school, high school, and post-secondary.

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