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Developing and Using Models

When I first read the term ‘developing and using models’ I was incredibly excited, finally, the standards are being changed to more closely align with my hands-on approach to teaching. Then the dread set in, how in the world would I have students model topics in science that are beyond the physically tangible?

The National Science Teachers Association has provided a helpful progression along with a number of examples as to how teachers can incorporate this practice in their classroom. One of my absolute favorite activities is to use a Pyrex baking dish to simulate an ocean and have students physically model the unequal heating and circulation that determines regional climates. By having students create a model on paper before the physical activity, they can begin to get their misconceptions out on paper. Then after students have completed the physical activity they can go back and modify their model in order to overcome their misconceptions. This is an exercise that can turn a simple discovery activity into an inquiry process that helps students become critical thinkers.

Still, I was struggling. The reality is that some students need more hands-on experience and some topics are simply not physically tangible. It was about this time that I discovered Inq-ITS. The first activity I used within my science content was Phase Change. We had completed a number of hands-on labs and gone over the topic repeatedly, but I had a handful of students who were simply not grasping the concept. In most of those cases, I blame hormones or excessive use of body spray, but still, these students simply could not complete their models of phase change. Using the Inq-ITS Phase Change activity my students completed a pre-investigation analysis, four different individual inquiry activities, and a post-investigation analysis. Despite the fact that this activity only took one class period, my students made marked progress. The next day we went back to our phase change models and even my struggling students were able to quickly complete their models as if they had understood the concepts for years.

There are a number of Inq-ITS virtual labs that allow students to create mental models with physically intangible topics. With Orbit Distance & Gravity, students are able to inquire into how the orbit distance from a planetary body will impact gravity and weight. This is something that I simply cannot do in the classroom. With Animal Cell students can manipulate the number of mitochondria in a cell and witness the way this changes the cell. We could dissect amoeba all year, but there are some students who need this sort of inquiry in order to understand the role of specific organelles. With Lunar Phases, students are able to change the position of the Moon in orbit so they can investigate the Phases of the Moon and finally overcome any crazy cheese theories.

By giving students opportunities to inquire into topics that are rife with misconceptions they are able to build mental models. By spending one class period using an Inq-ITS Virtual Lab, students can be better prepared to participate in hands-on labs and build models to explain the complexities in specific phenomena.


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