Scientific Model activities and notes

The National Science Education Standards list Models as a unifying concept and process along with Evidence and Explanation. The Standards define Models as

"Models are tentative schemes or structures that correspond to real objects, events, or classes of events, and that have explanatory power. Models help scientists and engineers understand how things work. Models take many forms including physical objects, plans, mental constructs, mathematical equations, and computer simulations." (Page 117)

Project 2061 includes Models as a common theme and defines the following benchmarks in Benchmarks for Science Literacy Project 2061 American Assocaition for the Advancement of Science.

By the end of the 2nd grade, students should know that:

a. Many of the toys children play with are like real things only in some ways. They are not the same size, are missing many details, or are not able to do all of the same things.
b. A model of something is different from the real thing but can be used to learn something about the real thing.
c. One way to describe something is to say how it is like something else.

By the end of the 5th grade, students should know that:

a. Seeing how a model works after changes are made to it may suggest how the real thing would work if the same were done to it.
b. Geometric figures, number sequences, graphs, diagrams, sketches, number lines, maps, and stories can be used to represent objects, events, and processes in the real world, although such representations can never be exact in every detail.

By the end of the 8th grade, students should know that

a. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly, or that are too vast to be changed deliberately, or that are potentially dangerous.
b. Mathematical models can be displayed on a computer and then modified to see what happens.
c. Different models can be used to represent the same thing. What kind of model to use and how complex it should be depends on its purpose. The usefulness of a model may be limited if it is too simple or if it is needlessly complicated. Choosing a useful model is one of the instances in which intuition and creativity come into play in science, mathematics, and engineering.

Models are structures that correspond to

    Physical objects: model car, visible engine, visible women, visible man, pop bottle lung, joints of the body, planetarium, spheres to represent the Sun, Moon, and Earth rotation and revolution,

    Drawings: maps, plans, schematics, before and after pictures, charts, graphs, organizations of data, Venn diagrams, trees,

    Mental constructs: Constructs to explain how electricity flows in a closed circuit, how objects expand and contract with temperature change, mental image of density, mental image of an atom and its subatomic particles, magnetic field, flow of water through plants, pressure and density change in a Cartesian diver, gravity, light, heat, sound, motion,

    Mathematical equations: graphs to show relationships, linear and non linear graphs and each relationship can be described by an equation.

    Computer simulations: SimCity, SimAnts,

Development of the use of models:

Young children view a model and a real object as separate objects with the only connection of looking similar. A toy car is an object with which to play. A real car is to drive.

Models can be used to explain an event.

Models can be used to make predictions.

Models can never be exact representations.

There can be more than one model to represent an event.

Black Box Construction

We used a VHS videotape box, a one-inch wooden sphere or marble, and a one-inch thick piece of foam to cut the puzzle pattern. The VHS video box had two rings that supported the tape. We used a chisel to remove them and glued the foam into the box. Next we inserted the sphere and glued the tabs before closing the box.

Black box image

black box image


There is certainly a developmental nature in what students can understand and how they use models.


play car real car

Water cycle model explain what happens but not know how or why

How did drawing help you construct your understanding and how to think about the task.

Explanatory power of models

Models help generate ideas, solve problems, make predictions, help think.

Model has the effect of internalizing or abstracting understanding.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©