Models as a Teaching/Instructional Tool


Target Objective

Explain/characterize by writing a definition and giving examples of models as a teaching/instructional tool

Unit Objectives

  • State meaning of models
  • Give examples of models as a teaching/instructional tool
  • State and explain the different types of a model
  • Identify the parts of a model
  • Explain why the models presented were effective

Think about it

Before we begin this lesson, take a moment to think for about the examples of models you have seen/used. During this unit, we will categorize different types of models. Before you learn about the formal classifications, try to categorize the models you are familiar with.

Models as a Teaching/Instructional Tool

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What is a Model?

So what exactly is a model? Well, a model is a comparison of two things used to show similarity. Anytime the word 'like' is used, especially when teaching, an analogy is made. Furthermore, all analogies are models because they are used to illustrate similar characteristics. It is important to note that while a model shows similarities between two things, there will always be differences between them. This is true because if the model is exactly like the object it is trying to represent, then it is no longer a model-it is the object itself.


Examples of Models

  • "The tornado roared through town like a giant vacuum cleaner" (Gilbert, p. 3)
  • A street light is like a star. Both provide light at night, both are in predictable locations, both are overhead, and both serve no function in the daytime. (1)
  • A 3-d model of the skeletal systems illustrates the position of each bone in the human body
  • The Pythagorean Theorem with Jelly Beans

This is an example of a model found in Teching Middle School Mathematics

Types of Models

There are numerous types of model that are currently used today. Some of the most popularare listed below along with a brief explanation and example of each (Gilbert and Ireton, 2003).

  • Conceptual Models:
    • Conceptual models illustrate a concept, or "units of thought". (Gilbert p. 8) These units are "categories of characteristics, objects, or relationships that exists- or are held to exist." (Gilbert p. 8) For example, a model could be used to represent a flood. A flood is a concept, becuase by itself 'flood' does not mean anything, but the category of flood is associated with its appearence, importance, images, personal experiences, and other weather phenomena.
  • Concrete Models:
    • The most common type of model is a concrete model. These are "tangible material models that we can generally interpret with relative ease." (Gilbert p. 11) A model airplane is concrete model because it is something we can physically touch, and most everyone will know that it symbolizes a real airplane.
  • Scale Models:
    • The purpose of a scale model is to look like the object we are representing. A blueprint is a scale model because the shape and size of each room is proportional to each other.
  • Functional Concrete Models:
    • The following is a quote describing functional concrete models from Gilbert in his book, 'Understanding Models in Earth and Space Science'
"Functional concrete models are intended to represent certain functional relationships of their targets [the object they are representing]. They have relatively less emphasis on retaining scelar relationships and on accuracy of appearance. A classroom model is an example of a functional model. It is not intended to represent the solar system to scale- a very difficult thing to do in a classroom. Instead, this model's purpose is to illustrate the relative positions and motions of the Sun planet(s), and moon(s) in relation to each other."
  • Similes, Analogies, and Metaphors

These models are often used when it is important to make abstract ideas more concrete. Please visit Metaphor, Simile and Analogy: What’s the Difference? for more information about the similarities and differences between, similes, analogies, and metaphors. In short a model is used whenever the words 'like' or 'as' is used, or a verbal comparison between two objects is made. For example, "Math is like my big sister, hard to understand but sooner or later you’ll figure her out"

Keep in mind that one model can fall under several different categories. For example, a model of the skeletal system is concrete because it is tangible but it is also conceptual because it illustrates the concept of the skeletal system.


Parts of a model

There are two main components of a model; the target and the analog. The target is the complex item, concept, or idea we are trying to represent. The simpler item, concept, or idea used to explain or the first is known as the analog. The similarities between the objects are the correspondence.

For example, take the quote used before: "The tornado roared through the town like a giant vacuum cleaner!" A vacuum cleaner is used to describe the tornado, thus, the target is the tornado and the analog is a vacuum cleaner. The correspondence is that they both suck up whatever is in their path. Stated another way, "The model (vacuum cleaner) represents its target (tornado) in that they both suck up whatever is in their path." (Gilbert p. 2)


Now that you have learned more about what a model is, please take a few minutes to answer the following questions. Use the discussion area to exchange ideas about models with other participants.

  1. What are the benefits are implementing modeling into a lesson?
  2. What are some models that you have used or are familiar with?
for the model you identified; identify which type of model it is and identify the target and analog.

References and Resources


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