Developing and Using Models in Middle School

November 29, 2020 No Comments

Many teachers mistakenly believe that if they are using models in their classroom, they are meeting the intent of this practice for the middle school grade band. However, the Science and Engineering Practices are divided into grade level bands to show how students should be using them at each level. Let's take a look at the practice of Developing and Using Models in the Middle School grade band.

What should students know about developing and models before coming into middle school?

Before we take a look at what this practice looks like in middle school, it's important to see what skills students should have obtained in earlier grade level bands. However, you should assess your students to determine which of these skill they actually have. From my experience, students have very little experience when it comes to this practice.

Developing and Using Models in Elementary School

In early elementary, students spend time identifying similarities and differences. For example, students in this grade level band will determine how a model differs from the object or event that the model represents in real life. Also, students will compare different models and note similarities, differences and common components. Eventually, they will develop their own simple models.

In upper elementary, students will identify the limitations of a model. A model is a simplified version of an object, event or process. Because they are simplified, limitations always exit.

Also, students will develop and revise a model based on observations. They will use their models to show the relationship between variables and begin to use models to describe and predict phenomena.

What does the practice of developing and using models look like in middle school?

The biggest change that occurs in middle school is that students will begin include things that can't be directly observed into their model. These include things that are too large, small, fast or slow to be observed with the naked eye. For example, students will begin to include particles in their models when discussing different states of matter.

To learn more about unobservable scales and mechanisms, check out this blog post.

Many of the differences between the upper elementary grade band and the middle school grade band are subtle. For example, in upper elementary, students should identify limitations of a model. Then, in middle school, students should evaluate these limitations.

Finally, students in this grade level band will use a model to provide them with data that can be used to describe the natural and designed world. In this case, I like to use physical models to help students generate data. For example, students can observe what happens when a water table is adjusted to different angles. This data can be used to determine how a landform was created.

How can I help my middle school students to develop and use models?

Many teachers express that they aren't sure where to begin when it comes to modeling. It is important to assess students when you begin modeling in your classroom. It's possible that they will have little to no experience working with models.

How to Get Started with Modeling When Your Students Have No Experience

If you students have no experience with modeling, I suggest that you ask students to create a drawing of what they think is happening. Then, do a gallery walk a lead a discussion about what made some drawings easier to understand. This will help students create a group consensus about what models should and shouldn't have.

Nicole Van Tassel and I discussed this in more detail in Episode 10 of Season 3 of the Teaching Science in 3D podcast.

Finally, introduce this practice as modeling. Discuss the similarities and differences between models and drawings. Once you have completed this process, introduce the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System Models.

System and System Models

I suggest that you also introduce the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System models when you introduce modeling. This Crosscutting Concept helps define the components, inputs and outputs of a system. Consequently, this is an excellent practice to use to help your students determine what should be included in their models.

Check out this blog post to see what the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System Models looks like in Middle School.

Scaffolds for Developing and Using Models

I like use graphic organizers in my classroom to help students to build better models. I created a resource that includes all of the graphic organizers that I use for the practice of Developing and Using models in middle school.

This resource includes:

  • 4 Graphic Organizers
  • A student reference sheet to introduce students to the concept of modeling. 
  • Model Talk sheet to help students to discuss their models.
  • Peer review sheet 
  • Model evaluation sheet.

To get this resource, click here.

Learn more about Developing and Using Models in Middle School.

Check out these resources to learn more about the practice of developing and using models.

Erin Sadler

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