Supporting Secondary Students in Building External Models

When scientists seek to predict or explain hard-to-observe phenomena, they often create visual or physical representations of their ideas. This practice, essential in the pursuit of scientific knowledge, is known as modeling. Despite its importance, however, research literature suggests that there is a dearth of high-quality materials that support modeling in K-12 classrooms. While an understanding is growing of how to progressively move upper elementary students toward developing and using models, very little is known, particularly at the secondary level, on what pedagogical approaches best support students in developing, using and revising models. Given the importance of modeling to the science disciplines and the stress on developing and using models in the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education and Next Generation Science Standards, it is of critical importance to researchers, teachers and curriculum developers to know how to support learners in the model-building process and to learn more about the mental models students develop by building and using external models.

This 3-year project is (1) developing and testing a modeling tool and accompanying instructional materials, (2) exploring how to support students in building and using models to explain and predict phenomena across a range of disciplines and (3) documenting the sophistication of understanding of disciplinary core ideas that students develop when building and using models in grades 6-12. The project is, thus, engaging learners in using crosscutting concepts (systems and systems modeling, cause and effect, and energy and matter) with various scientific practices (particularly modeling, but also analyzing and interpreting data and engaging in argument with evidence), blended with disciplinary core ideas.

The project works with teachers and students from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds that reflect the profile of a large portion of the United States. Because the modeling tool, curriculum materials and scaffolds are being tested with students from diverse backgrounds, a wide range of students will be able to use and benefit from them. The modeling tool and curriculum materials will thus provide the nation with middle and high school resources that support students in developing and using models to explain and predict phenomena, a central scientific and engineering practice. Because the research and development work will be carried out in schools in which students typically do not succeed in science, the products will also help produce a population of citizens capable of continuing further STEM learning.

You can learn more about the project and download the software by clicking on the following site: Please remember that we are still designing and developing the tool so you might discover some bugs.