Lesson 1: Using Models in Science


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Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, participants will be able to:

  • explain what models are and why science educators should incorporate them in classroom activities
  • provide examples of three different types of visualization tools and recognize the advantages of each

Background Information

Although models are used in science for a variety of reasons, the main focus of this course is to look at the use of models as visualization tools in the science classroom. Therefore, throughout the course, the terms models and visualization tools will be used interchangeably. Research has shown that both physical models and computer simulations can be effective visualization tools to help students develop better conceptual understanding in science (Wu, 2004, p. 20). The three types of visualization tools explored in this course include physical (hand-held or manipulated) models, 2-D drawings or animations, and computer simulations (both 2-D and 3-D) that require student interaction.

Driving Questions

Think about these questions as you participate in the following activities:

  1. What are models (i.e. visualization tools)?
  2. Why should science educators incorporate visualization tools in their lesson activities?
  3. What types of visualization tools are available to science teachers?
  4. What specific advantages are associated with the different types of visualization tools?


1. Resources

Read or view the resources below to learn more about models and how they can be used in the science classroom

What are models and why should science teachers use them?

  • Models in Science
Article 1
  • Visualization in Science Education
Article 2
  • Student Generated Models - Read pages 277-282
Article 3
  • AP Biology - Models and Representations
Video 1

What types of models are available to science teachers?

  • Physical Models - Model Volcano
Video 2
  • Animations/2-D diagrams - VSEPR Theory Video
Video 3
  • Computer Simulations - Projectile Motion Simulation
Online Simulator

2. Reflective Journal Entry

Reflect on the "Driving Questions" and resources above and create a private journal entry of your thoughts. This journal is for your benefit only and will not be submitted for evaluation.

3. Discussion

Make a comprehensive list of the visualization tools that you currently use in your science classroom and use your list to complete the following:

  • Categorize each visualization tool as one of the following three types: physical model, drawing/2-D animation, or interactive computer simulation.
  • Based on the resources provided and your own experience, list the specific advantages that you believe each visualization tool provides for your students (Consider that models may provide advantages in addition to increasing student understanding of scientific concepts).
  • Discuss a specific visualization tool that you have used with great success and how it was used by either yourself or your students in the classroom. For example, perhaps you have used a slinky to demonstrate the behavior of earthquake waves.
  • If you are not currently using visualization tools in your classroom, list the types of models you would like to learn more about and discuss how you think they could be used in your current classroom setting.
  • Post your work for this third assignment in the discussion tab for this page. Create a unique heading for your post and wrap the heading with double equal signs (== Heading ==). Respond to at least two other course participants' posts, using triple equal signs to wrap your response heading, providing insight and/or asking questions based on the readings or your own unique experiences.

Advance to Lesson 2


1. Wu, H.-K., & Shah, P. (2004). Exploring visuospatial thinking in chemistry learning. Science Education, 88(3), 465-492. Doi: 10.1002/sce.10126

2. The sun and solar wind: models in science. Genesis Search for Origins. Retrieved from http://genesismission.jpl.nasa.gov/educate/scimodule/SunandSolar/Final%20Linked%20SSW/1HowHotCari/ModelsInScience-ST.PDF

3. Vavra, K., Janjic-Watrich, V., Loerke, K., Phillips, L., Norris, S., & Macnab, J. Visualization in science education. (2011). American Science Education Journal 41(1), 22-30. Retrieved from http://www.ualberta.ca/~lphillip/documents/asej-22-30.pdf

4. Eilam, B. & Gilber, G. eds. (2014). Science teachers' use of visual representations. Chapter 12, p. 277-282. Springer International Publishing: Switzerland. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=czYqBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA258&lpg=PA258&dq=why+should+science+teachers+use+visualization+tools&source=bl&ots=RmFW1bSDRT&sig=Zrz6n7V1Sa3HuIiIQj33sq1u7rE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=PVU8VYDLEcO8ggSB3IHYBw&ved=0CD8Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=why%20should%20science%20teachers%20use%20visualization%20tools&f=false

5. Bozeman Science. (2013, Jan 20). AP biology science practice 1: Models and representations. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5Nemz_cVew

6. Powell, C. Model volcano trial. TeacherTube.com Retrieved from http://www.teachertube.com/video/model-volcano-trial-197019

7. McCord. VSEPR Theory. Retrieved from http://www.watchknowlearn.org/Video.aspx?VideoID=52684&CategoryID=5993

8. PHET Interactive Simulations. University of Colorado. Projectile Motion simulator Retrieved from http://phet.colorado.edu/sims/projectile-motion/projectile-motion_en.html


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