Modeling in an NGSS Aligned classroom

June 22, 2019 No Comments

When I first started shifting my focus to the Next Generation Science Standards, I didn’t know what modeling should look like in an NGSS aligned classroom.  Earlier this week, I posted this picture on my Instagram of what models used to look like in my classroom.


This was in 2013-ish, when everything I knew about the standards came from a pdf copy of the standards that I’d found somewhere.  Like Jon Snow, I knew nothing.

Many of you might still be having your students create models that look just like this in your classroom and you might be wondering what is wrong with this type of model.  Please know, I am not model-shaming you.  Learning how to meet the intent of these standards is truly a process.

Let me briefly explain what is wrong with the models in this picture.  These models were created at the end of my instructional sequence by students who were demonstrating what they understood about the content that I had taught them.  Students weren’t using modeling as a sense-making tool.  These models were created for the purpose of evaluation rather than as a tool for learning.  And quite honestly, students were adapting material directly from a textbook so this wasn’t even a great evaluation tool.

So, let’s take a deep dive into the Science and Engineering Practice of Developing and Using Models and see how they can be used as a tool for learning in the NGSS aligned classroom.

Modeling in an NGSS Aligned Classroom

Defining Modeling Through an NGSS Lens

It is important that we define modeling through the lens of the NGSS.  A model is a dynamic representation of a student’s current understanding of an event, system or process.  (Models are slightly different in engineering but for the sake of clarity and brevity, I will discuss that at a later time. )   As a student has new experiences, this model will change. Students will develop their model over the course of an entire lesson sequence or unit rather than simply modeling at the beginning or end.

Methodically Improving Models Over Time

I thought about this for a long time and tried to think of a methodical way to explain how models should change over time.   Because I love acronyms, I came up with PEER.  Love it or hate it, you’ll remember it.

Modeling PEER

I’ll explain:

P- Students produce an initial model based on an initial experience or prior knowledge.

E- Students are provided with a new experience by the teacher.  This could take many forms.

E- The experience causes students to evaluate their model to find out what is missing, incorrect, unclear or inaccurate.

R- Finally students revise their model.

What do you think?  Will this acronym stick?

Types of Models

The NGSS refers to several different types of models that should be used in your science classroom.  These include diagrams, simulations, graphs, equations, replicas, and other physical models.  These all have an important place in your NGSS aligned classroom.

While it is possible for students to create these types of model, most of these model types are not developed by your students.  These types of models can be used to provide an experience for your students to help them further understand a concept.

When students are developing their own models, it is recommended that students use pictural models of a concept.  Here is an example of a pictural model.

Balloon particle diagram

This would qualify as a pictural model produced by a student because it explains a phenomenon: gas particles inside of a balloon take up space and give the balloon its shape.  The student explanation is that the gas particles push up against the outside of the balloon to give the balloon its shape.

This model may demonstrate some misconceptions.  For example, does this student believe that there is a higher concentration of particles closer to the edge of the balloon? Does the distribution of particles in this model represent how the student believes the particles are actually distributed?

The model is also missing some important components.  While the student has demonstrated that they understand that the particles have something to do with the shape of the balloon, they haven’t been able to demonstrate that particle collision causes the pressure that is really responsible for keeping the balloon inflated.  Also the standards for middle school require that students understand the relationship between temperature, state, and pressure.

The student must be provided with another experience in order to improve their understanding of this phenomenon.  This experience could include using one of the other model types mentioned above.  A simulation that may improve their understanding of this concept is the PhET: States of Matter Basics Simulation. (Check out my write-ups for these simulations for fifth grade and middle school.  Note: the concepts discussed in this post are most appropriate for middle school.)

PhET States of Matter Basics
PhET States of Matter Simulation, PhET Interactive Simulations
University of Colorado Boulder

After engaging with this simulation, students will revise their own model.   Some teachers ask students to use a different color so that they can easily see the revisions that have taken place.

When the model is complete, it should be able to help students explain a new experience or related phenomenon.

What questions do you have about modeling in an NGSS aligned classroom?








Erin Sadler

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