As school districts across the country approach the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, students will be required to develop models to illustrate what occurs at an atomic level as well as apply various mathematical representations in order to explain a science-based concept. However, what opportunities are we providing our students to allow them to explain what they know about a concept? Students should be provided with regular opportunities to develop and explain concepts, which in turn will allow teachers to formatively assess and address misconceptions.
Modeling Instruction is a methodology that focuses on engaging students, through laboratory experiments, to develop scientific models in order for students to generate their own explanations based on student dialogue and observations. During the learning process, students drive their own education through constant communication and representation of data. Modeling Instruction makes the learning implicit; the students can infer answers from material provided, rather than explicit, answers found directly on the page. When students are made to think critically, they have a better, more meaningful understanding of the material.
As students adapt to becoming analytical thinkers, we must provide them with a platform in which they are comfortable expressing their ideas. Modeling Instruction provides this integral platform in the form of regular class discussions, in which students are responsible for asking questions to their peers as well as explain how they determined their answer.
During a class discussion, each student group is given a problem to present on their whiteboard. In addition to providing an answer to their designated question, the group will also be responsible for providing an explanation as well as address any questions their peers may have. Within this classroom environment, teachers as well as the students should anticipate higher levels of questioning as well as explanations, as they address models as a whole and not just as fragmented facts.
This method of instruction provides the students with the opportunity to formulate their own conclusions and ideas based not only on what their group thought but what others thought as well. The role of the teacher during the discussion is to facilitate and ask additional questions in order to assess the students.
It is expected that students will initially struggle with class discussions because they may be inexperienced with explaining their conceptual ideas in this setting. However, teachers can assist in the transition by providing students with discussion guidelines and questioning techniques so they will know the expectations set forth.
The primary goal that teachers should expect is a shift in the class dynamic as all students will be responsible to communicate their observations as they transition to a model-based curriculum. Teachers should observe an increase in engagement level as students will be required to collaborate with their peers, both within the classroom as well as on optional digital components such as class blogs or websites. This long-term approach to instruction will not only prepare school districts for the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards but it will also provide students with the opportunities to develop models in order to explain the physical world.
Please note that classroom discussions are only one component of Modeling Instruction. For more information about Modeling Instruction, please read the article “Modeling Instruction: An Effective Model for Science Education” or visit the American Modeling Teachers Association at http://modelinginstruction.org/.
 (Jane Jackson, 2008)