Why use modeling in the science classroom?

Scientific models are representations that allow students to illustrate, explain, and predict scientific experiences.  Models are not exact representations of the science concept, but a way for students to better understand the phenomena being studied. They simplify the system or phenomenon being studied.  Modeling is a great example of a way to encourage scientific inquiry in the classroom and guide instruction.  They are also used in the classroom to focus the lesson on the specific relationships that are of interest: they are not all-inclusive.  The goal is to help students learn how science is done, learning about science, and making sense of the world.  

There are four main elements for scientific modeling: constructing, using, evaluating, and revising models.  Students must be encouraged to construct and build their model.  The constructions of the models themselves are not all encompassing, but serve as a symbol of the student’s understanding.  The representations and discussions from these activities offer a window into the understandings of students.  Involving learners in activities such as modeling can produce deeper understandings of the scientific content.  Using modeling in the classroom provides authentic, hands-on ways for students to increase their knowledge by making and recording observations.  They must understand their model and use it correctly to represent the concept they are studying.  It can be used to generate and communicate ideas, or illustrate, explain, or predict. 

The teacher, through questioning and guidance, can prompt opportunities for evaluation.  Students may also individually look at their models with a critical eye and think of ways to improve or alter their model in order to further investigate their concept.  Allowing time for students to experiment with their model and change it is a great way to foster further learning and is a great way to showcase development and progression in understanding.  Models are always changing, so allowing for evaluating and revising models is an essential part of the scientific process that student’s must learn.  Student’s engagement with models in a variety of ways ensures the learners have opportunities to explore scientific concepts and make sense of the world. 

Each hazardous weather concept of our weather unit includes a specific lesson plan that incorporates modeling and embodies each of the four components: constructing, using, evaluating, and revising.  Each lesson allows students to illustrate, explain, and predict scientific experiences.  These are used to enhance the learning process and provide valuable learning experiences.  These are all used to help students make better sense of weather phenomena.       

For the thunderstorm unit, the modeling exercise is used to show how static electricity works to create lightning during a storm.  It is a great example to show kids up close how lightning works, which is a foreign concept to many kids at first grade level.  

In the tornado unit, students are given the opportunity to create a vortex, or funnel cloud, inside a jar in order to see up close and personal the shape of a tornado. 

The lesson plan for blizzards is an example of scientific modeling because they create a model of what is need to protect themselves against the dangers of a winter storm demonstrating their knowledge of what happens and what the dangers are during a blizzard.
Scientific modeling is used in the hurricane unit by allowing students to mimic one of the basic components of a hurricane, which is wind.  They will use their breath to model wind and discover the effects of strengthening wind. 

In the modeling lesson plan for heat wave, the students observe plants that recieve the standard amount of water and sunlight and then compare these results to how a plant in a heat wave grows. They make a model about how they think the water affects a plant and then are able to cut one open and explore and then alter the model. This activity is hands on, involves a lot of group work, and also with the whole class.