Investigation Sequence


Models 1

Written by:

Amy Thompson, Stefanie Siedschlag, Lucy Norris



Focus Questions

1. What are models?
2. What do models represent?
3. How do models relate to the real world?


Content: Earth, Physical, & Life


Cross cutting concepts

Models represent real life situations.
A model is a representation or explanation of how a system is constructed or how it works.
Models can help solve problems.
Models can represent systems that are too large or too small to observe.

Science Practice

Observations of models are used to help make explanations.
I may learn new ways to inquire if I listen and respect the explanations given by other students.

Personal, Social, Technology, Nature of Science, History


Background information

Many things cannot be seen directly, models help people understand these things. Models can be to any scale. Models help represent and explain things such as how the world works. Models can come in different forms such as physical objects, plans, mental constructs, mathematical equations and computer simulations.


Activity Sequence

1. Black Boxes
2. Insect Condominiums
3. Expanding Universe
4. Earth Changes
5. Recycled Water
6. Glacier Climbing

Activity Descriptions

Activity 1
Black Boxes:
Materials to make Black Boxes: 50 cardboard triangles, 50 cardboard rectangles, 16 Black Boxes (empty), 16 glass marbles, 1 roll of black electrician tape, masking tape
Procedure to make black boxes:
1. Follow the guidelines for the shapes insides of the boxes, make shapes out of cardboard pieces and masking tape
2. Leave a whole open to put the marble in.
3. Tape box shut with electrician tape
4. Label boxes A, B, C, and D
Materials to do activity: Black Boxes, pencil, paper
1. Ask the students if they know how scientists understand things that they can’t see.
2. Show the students a black box.
3. Ask the students to give ideas about what could be inside.
4. Tell them that scientists very often have to figure things out and are not able to get inside.
5. Ask the students to give suggestions for how they could find out what is inside without opening it.
6. Tell students they will be working in groups of 3-4.
7. Each group will get a black box.
8. They must follow these rules: Do not open the box; No violent shaking; and no writing on the box. Take turns with the box. Record what they think the black box looks like inside on the piece of paper. If different people in the group have different ideas, then they can make separate records.
9. Allow time for exploration
10. Have students from each group come up to board and draw what the group thinks the inside looks like.
11. As box is being talked about pass it around rest of class so other students can say if they agree or not and why.
12. Ask students what senses they used to figure out what the inside looked like. Ask them how observation helped them create explanations and how observations limited them in making explanations.
13. If students don’t agree with certain things let them know that is okay. Have them decide what they agree on and mark that on the board. For example all may agree that the marble will travel all along one side but disagree on what the shape of the area where the marble can’t get into, but agree that the marble can’t get into the bottom left corner.
14. Ask students what a model is.
15. Ask if they can give examples on how scientists can use models.
16. Ask students what black boxes we use daily.
17. Ask students how listening to other students helped them learn.

Activity 2
Insect Condominiums:
Materials: various sizes and shapes of clear plastic containers (brought by students from home), clear packing tape, netting (pantyhose, cheesecloth), markers, scissors, ground cover, insect food, twigs, grass, etc.
1. Ask students what insects need in their environment. Make a list of their ideas on the board.
2. As them if they would like to create an environment for an insect to live.
3. Tell them that first they should create a drawing or blueprint of the environment that will provide their insect with all its essential needs.
4. Students must get this looked at by teacher.
5. Students explain to the teacher how this environment will meet the needs of the insect.
6. Must include feeding and watering system.
7. Have the students gather materials for the environment.
8. Build environment based on blueprint.
9. When done with building environment put insects in their home.
10. Made predictions about what the insects will do over the next 2 days, 1 week and 2 weeks.
11. Students will keep a daily journal of observations made about the environment.
12. At the end of the 2 weeks have students discuss how the created environment is similar to the natural environment.
13. Ask students if their insect condominium was a model. Then give reason why or why not.
14. Ask where do scientists do this kind of activity.
15. Ask how they could use what they learned.
16. Ask them to share something that they learned from others and how they learned it.
17. Have them to give the whole class three cheers for helping each other learn.

Activity 3
Expanding Universe:
Materials: 2 pens of different colors, large round balloon, metric tape measure, string
1. Ask students what they know about the "big Bang" model of the universe.
2. Ask students how scientists can speculate about something that happened before humans existed to observe it.
3. Pass out a balloon to each pair of students.
4. Have students draw a red dot anywhere on the empty balloon.
5. Using a different color draw 4 more dots on the balloon different distances from the first dot. Number the 4 new dots 1, 2, 3, and 4.
6. Measure the distance from each dot to the first dot you drew and record.
7. Blow up the balloon a little way and hold it shut with your fingers.
8. Observe the balloon and the positions of the dots.
9. Repeat step 6.
10. Blow up balloon to its full size and repeat step 6.
11. Ask students what the red dot represents. (earth, suns, galaxies).
12. Ask students what the other dots represent. (earth, suns, galaxies).
13. Ask students what the balloon represents. (boundaries of the universe).
14. Have students interpret the data they collected and have a class discussion about the movement of the dots.
15. Ask students how they think scientists thought of the big-bang theory. How do scientist think of explanations for other ideas in the solar system and universe? How is this model like or not like the models in the first two activities?

Activity 4
Earth Changes:
Materials: two strips of cloth or plastic (big enough to hang over edge of pan), cake pan, damp soil, toys (houses, cars, bridges)
1. Ask students what is an earthquake.
2. Ask how earthquakes effect the land and human environment.
3. Give the following directions to the students.
4. Lay the strips of cloth or plastic next to each other in the bottom of the cake pan. Let the excess length of one strip hang over the edge of the pan and the other hang over the other end. Cover the strips with damp soil up to the edge of the pan, pack it down firmly. Place toys on top of the soil. Slowly pull the protruding strip at one end and the other at the other end at the same time. Observe and record what happens to the soil and toys on the soil.
5. Put students into groups according to the amount of materials that are available.
6. Have them do the experiment and then come back together as a class.
7. Ask each team to report on their findings.
8. Ask them what was similar and or different with each.
9. Ask them how this was similar to what might occur on earth. Ask them how it was different.
10. Ask them if this is a model. Why or why not?
11. Ask them how scientists might use the ideas that they used.

Activity 5
Recycled Water:
Materials: soil, 2-liter plastic bottle (must be clear), one plant, gravel or stone, water, scissors
1. Ask students what they know about the water cycle.
2. Ask students if they think the amount of water changes on the earth.
3. Give the following directions to the students
4. Cut the 2-liter bottle in two pieces at the top of the hard plastic base.
5. Remove the softer plastic from the inside of the hard plastic bottom, if possible.
6. Place a layer of stones on the bottom of the clear plastic and add three to four inches of soil.
7. Put the plant in the container, making sure that the soil is firm around the roots.
8. Add one to two tablespoons of water depending on how moist the soil is.
9. Put students into groups according to the amount of materials that are available.
10. If the water cycle is working, water droplets called condensations will form over time inside the dome.
11. When enough condensations forms, it will rain and water the plants.
12. Ask students if this is a model. Why or why not?
12. Ask them how scientists might use the ideas that they used.
13. Discuss how model help understand the water cycle.

Activity 6
Glacier Climbing:
Materials: plastic shoebox, 1 16ounce box of cornstarch, 1-2 cups of water, 1 2quart mixing bowl, 5 wooden toothpicks, 5-6 large pebbles, 1 5x7 index card, pencil
1. Ask students what kind of effects glaciers have on landforms.
2. Have students make predictions about will happen.
3. Give the following directions to the students.
4. Mix the cornstarch and water together in the bowl, to form a mixture with the consistency of toothpaste (should not be runny or wet).
5. Lay the pencil flat on the table and place one end of shoebox on top of it, this will give the box a slight tilt.
6. Begin pouring the cornstarch mixture into the box at the raised end and observe what happens.
7. After the mixture flows through the entire box, scrape it up with your hand and pile it in the raised end of the shoe box.
8. Use the index cards to make a dam across the shoebox valley to hold the mixture back.
9. Lay the five toothpicks across the front of the mixture so they are 1 inch apart and parallel to each other.
10. Remove the dam and observe the way the tooth picks moves as the glacier flow.
11. Track the flow of the glacier by writing observations on paper.
12. Repeat steps 5 through 9 with adding large pebbles at the bottom of the shoebox to make obstructions in the valley.
13. Put students into groups according to the amount of materials that are available.
14. Have them do the experiment and then come back together as a class.
15. Observe what happens when glacier interacts with obstructions.
16. Ask students is this a model. Why or why not?
17. Ask them how scientists might use the ideas that they used.
18. Students will discuss what would happen to their community if this were to happen today.


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes