Science and Engineering Practices

In the following sections, we first explain the synergy between each science and engineering practice and the five MDPs. We then provide multiple examples, options, and variations of activities and instructional strategies that are aligned with each MDP and the focal practice in order to be as comprehensive and specific as possible. However, this does not mean that teachers must use all of these strategies to enact the MDPs when promoting each science and engineering practice, nor that these strategies are the only way to do so. We encourage teachers to use their professional discretion to select what will work best for them and their classrooms, and to modify and innovate on these strategies, using the blank space provided at the end of each section for notes, reflections, and new ideas.

Developing and Using Models

Practice 2: Developing and Using Models

Belonging Supports for Developing and Using Models

To engage fully in this practice, students should be comfortable with each other and trust that their models will be met by their peers and teachers with an open mind and a lack of judgment of them as a person. Instructional strategies that support students’ feelings of belonging cultivate a safe space for students to: (1) develop, use, and evaluate their own models, and (2) use these models to communicate with others as they figure out phenomena and design solutions to problems. Strategies that support belonging also encourage students to develop a sense of being part of a community of scientists and engineers, which is especially important for students who may not have a well-developed science identity or who may feel alienated from science [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity]. As students begin to feel a greater sense of belonging within their science classroom community and within science and engineering communities, they may feel more inclined to engage in the practices of modeling.

Strategies

Share with the whole class how groups/students used, developed, and evaluated models (without names to prevent feelings of getting hurt during critique). Highlight differences in conceptualization to show there are multiple ways to construct and evaluate models.
Set norms for sensitive and respectful feedback to facilitate growth together in model design, feedback, and development.
Evaluate models created by scientists/engineers from diverse backgrounds .
Ask students to construct or critique models together (with reminders to communicate using class norms for critical yet respectful interaction).
Start developing models in groups to help generate ideas as a community. Have each group share their models.
Organize a gallery walk for students to observe different ways to develop and use models to figure out phenomena or solve problems.

Models are a reflection of a scientist’s or engineer’s current understanding of a system. Students will have varying levels of understanding throughout a learning sequence in which they develop and generate a representation of a target phenomenon or design problem, use and describe its relationships and interactions, and evaluate and determine its limitations and explanations. Throughout this process it is imperative to support students’ confidence in developing, using, and evaluating a model as they move from potentially naive understanding to more sophisticated understanding of a system. Students may also lack prior experience engaging in scientific or engineering modeling practices, as they may not have encountered this in previous science classes. Science and engineering teachers, therefore, have an important role to play in supporting the confidence of students in learning this particular practice.

Strategies

Provide extension activities in which students can further develop, revise, use, and evaluate models to explain abstract phenomena or to design solutions to problems. These extension activities provide opportunities for students to feel challenged.
Scaffold students’ early attempts at developing models so that they receive informational feedback on interim steps of the model. The interim steps should be calibrated to be sufficiently challenging and include space for students to exercise autonomy in constructing their model. This will help students not feel overwhelmed at being tasked to develop a full model all at once and will build their confidence along the way.
Have students collaborate in small groups on evaluating an initial model. The peer support can help students feel more comfortable and confident in making critiques or determining the quality of a model.
When asking students to develop, use, and evaluate a model, have students provide examples of strategies and products that were successful for them in previous modeling experiences.
Scaffold students’ understanding of models by demonstrating the use of a student-generated model or existing model to answer scientific questions.
Provide opportunities for students to practice using models, with scaffolding when appropriate, before using a model in a “final” task or assignment (e.g., have students use a model of temperature, particle motion, and phase change to make predictions about water solidifying in a freezer before a summative task that asks students to use their model to predict what will happen when solid steel is heated to above its melting point)
Work together (i.e., teacher and students) to develop a consensus model for why and how the phenomenon occurs.
When asking students to use or evaluate a model to answer scientific questions, provide (and assign or let students choose from) multiple existing models of varying complexity to provide all students with a challenging but achievable task.
Be explicit about the qualities of a good scientific model (e.g., the system should be clearly defined, the components of the system represented, and the relationships and interactions between components represented). For a given modeling task, be explicit that the purpose of the model is to aid in the development of questions and explanations, to make predictions, or to communicate ideas to others.
Provide clear expectations about how modeling can accomplish learning goals (e.g., a model can explain why there has been an increase in weather-related hazards over time).
Set norms for encouraging and informational feedback and provide students with sentence stems to develop students’ ability to identify limitations and provide feedback to their peers on their models without undermining their peers’ confidence in this practice.

Models help make thinking/understanding visible to oneself and to others, which supports the development and revision of scientific ideas. There are numerous ways to develop representations of the same phenomenon or design problem, which can raise important questions and clarifications; developing a model is not about producing the one “right” representation. Instructional supports for a learning orientation help students adopt these perspectives. Additionally, models should be evaluated and revised over time as understanding develops. A learning orientation supports this kind of ongoing evaluation and revision of models and scientific ideas: with a learning orientation, early/naive models are not “wrong;” they are steps in the process of gaining understanding.

Strategies

Have students provide feedback on their peers’ models by adding comments to sticky notes and placing these sticky notes on the models. By providing focused commentary on how their peers can add an idea or revise an idea in their models, or by posing a question, students become critiquers of science ideas. Also, adding to, revising, or questioning ideas supports the idea that models are not static, but can and should be revised based on evidence and reasoning as students make sense of phenomena or solve problems.
When students are developing a model, incorporate space (e.g., explicit prompts and class time to respond to them) for students to explain their thinking. Discuss affordances and limitations of different types or components of models (in what situations you might use different models/model components) so that students understand modeling choices as a matter of utility/appropriateness vs. being right or wrong. Emphasize understanding by having students explain how components of a model relate to one another, interact over time, and contribute to understanding a phenomenon or designing solutions to problems.
Create a parking lot so that students can post questions on models they are actively using in class. Students can return to this to see what questions they have answered and if new questions have risen as a result of learning more about the phenomenon they are investigating or the design problem they are solving.
Have individual students record their developing ideas in their science notebooks so that they are continually revisiting and revising their models as they develop deeper understanding of a phenomenon or determine an optimal solution to a problem over time.
Frame the purpose of model creation as helping us to understand why something behaves the way it does or predicting what will happen, rather than being just an assignment to complete. Emphasize that by grappling with the delineation of the system being modeled, its components, and their interactions, students can explore and build upon their current understanding of a phenomenon or design problem and identify areas to explore further.
Have students brainstorm possible models, representations, and relationships to produce as many ideas as possible. Keep copies of earlier models so that students have a visual record of different options and changes in thinking over time.
Do a gallery walk or other share-out with structure (e.g., sentence stems or a note-taking guide) to help students observe and reflect on how peers’ models are different without judging which one is “best”/“right.” Conclude by asking students to reflect on what they’ve learned/how their own understanding has changed/what new questions they have after observing others’ models/how they might revise their model.

Developing models involves reflection and opportunities for evaluation and iteration, which requires students to make decisions and direct the modeling process in order to understand a phenomenon or solve a design problem. It is important that students have the autonomy to make choices about their models that are consequential to their science learning and to the representation of scientific phenomena (e.g., inclusion of mechanisms, components of a system, representations of components, or relationships that can be used to explain or predict phenomena), rather than merely making choices about surface features of the model (color, size, materials, etc.). Additionally, multiple representations of the same phenomenon or design problem can be valid, so promoting students’ autonomous model development is critical to authentic scientific and engineering practice.

Strategies

When models are revised, provide time in class or a writing prompt for students to explain the changes they made to their original models and the rationale for those decisions.
Rather than tell students that a particular model will provide evidence to answer a scientific question, ask students to think about what models might help answer a scientific question and the evidence generated by those models that would help answer the question.
Use models as the basis for determining the next learning activity. After producing models, students can be prompted to generate new scientific questions, make predictions, communicate ideas, test possible solutions, etc. In other words, the development and use of models should be a generative activity that informs subsequent learning to understand a phenomenon or design solutions to problems, not just a summative assessment or an assignment for points.
Have students brainstorm possible models, representations, and relationships to produce as many ideas as possible. Keep copies of earlier models so that students have a visual record of different options and changes in thinking over time as they figured out a phenomenon or solved a problem.
Encourage students to be creative in developing a model that explains a phenomenon or illustrates solutions to a problem. Prepare and use probing and clarifying questions to ask students while they are developing their models that will push students to further explore and develop unique representational forms of the ideas in their model.
When models are revised, provide time in class or a writing prompt for students to explain the changes they made to their original models and the rationale for those decisions.

Developing and using models requires students to grasp the key features of the phenomenon or design problem under investigation, a potentially challenging task for students. When students see relevance in the models they are developing and using, they are more likely to put effort into the task. Seeing that models are useful for making sense of a phenomenon or solving a design problem that relates to their everyday interests and/or experiences gives students a compelling reason to engage in future model making. This motivation can be especially important for students who identify with communities that have been marginalized or disenfranchised in science, as it empowers them to use scientific modeling as a tool for understanding phenomena or solving problems related to issues they care about [see Motivation as a Tool for Equity].

Strategies

When asking students to design or use a model, provide students with materials or scenarios with which they are familiar.
When introducing, developing, using, and evaluating models, identify why each practice is important and how the skills they are learning traverse disciplines/career fields (e.g., models developed to predict the weather can also be used to inform the models used to create computer-generated weather in movies).
When students are developing and using models, use local narratives and stories to aid students in making sense of how the model pertains to both history and the current world/local community.
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science learning to those needs
Ask students to apply a model that they made to phenomena from their prior experiences, day-to-day life, or community; or to evaluate the model’s ability to explain those phenomena.
Relate the phenomenon being investigated, or the problem being solved, to the local context and encourage students to incorporate these local features into their model development to help them with their sense-making of the larger phenomenon or design problem (e.g., if the phenomenon is “why does the grass change color throughout the year,” students can use their neighborhoods or the schoolyard in their initial models and collect data in those locations, which may lead to model revisions).
Create activities that allow students to make connections about how the stages of developing, using, and evaluating models can apply to their larger communities or families to figure out phenomena or solve community-based problems.