Modeling the Particulate Level for those who are not sure how to Model...

modeling particulate level with Nuts and Bolts

What are we doing to help kids achieve and learn?

     I have friends who model. I get it. In theory, if students can explain and defend their ideas on a particulate level, they become much better students very quickly. Here is the problem. I have not "officially" been trained in the Modeling technique. The American Modeling Teachers Association kind of says, " is great that you want to use our stuff but you should probably be trained in it first." It is a bit tough for me to take off for a few weeks during the summer and tell the wife and kids I won't be around for awhile. I also want my students to benefit from better instruction. At BCCE 2016, I ran into the good people at Delta College in Michigan. They did something as simple as paint some nuts, bolts and washers and told students, "Show me a model of ......."

     Why not give it a try? First I went to a local place that was a specialty store that sold nothing but bolts, nuts, washers and screws. They wanted $131 for a box of nuts and bolts. Obviously they did not realize that I did not want the gold plated versions. I then went down the road to the "Tractor and Feed" store. They sell nuts and bolts in bulk for about $2 per pound and I found some spray paint on the clearance table. Now I'm in business.

     So here is what I told my students as we were studying gas laws. I have a bag of potato chips at see level and then I go to Denver where the pressure is less? What happens? Draw and build a model on your whiteboard. Right away, almost every group said that there would be less gas IN the bag at Denver and the bag would get bigger. That was interesting. They all seemed to have a misconception that I would not have guessed. We talked about what "sealed" means and about what else might be happening with the other gases around the bag. Most groups developed a decent model with a little help. It was quick, dirty, cheap...I learned something about my students and I think they learned something about gases. Nuts, bolts and modeling the particulate level...try it out and let me know what you think....



Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds.


Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds. Use a model to predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system.

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Comments 4

Eric Sullenberger | Sun, 09/11/2016 - 22:26

I agree that I've heard lots of good buzz about Modelling and would love to be able to learn it myself, but also have not been able to justify the time, cost, and travel expenses.  I do a lot of simple drawing activities with my students as well, but I'm wondering what did you do with the nuts and bolts?  Because you started out talking about them, but then moved to using whiteboards instead.  

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Mon, 09/12/2016 - 09:07

Sorry I was not a bit clearer....I provided students nuts to represent gas particles with the potato chip bag analogy.  Could they have just drawn them in as dots?  Sure...for whatever reason I have found that the tactile sense of manipulating objects helps some kids and still get the point across.  So here is a recap...i told them that a bag of potato chips was average size at see level but became larger when the plane landed in Denver where there was less atmospheric pressure.  Draw the bag before and after and try to place the nuts on the drawing to represent the gas particles.  It may not seem like that big of a deal now using the nuts but latter on I hope to do a classification of matter activity where I then have them use washers and bolts witht he nuts to start developing models of mixtures, compounds and elements.  Hopefully  the process will seem a bit more familiar.

    Also want to clear something up.....from here on out I will refer to the modeling program from the American Association of Modeling Teachers as Modeling with a capital M.  It refers not only to models of the particulate level but also a specific teaching approach in which they have worked really had to develop.  As said before, I would love to take the course...just have not been able to fit it in yet.  If I am just trying to model the particulate level, I will use the word model with a lower case m.  Hope this makes sense the comments.

Lauren Stewart's picture
Lauren Stewart | Mon, 09/12/2016 - 09:50

Hi Chad,

Thanks for sharing! Where do the nuts and bolts come in? I can see students whiteboarding particle diagrams to explain what is happening (this is an awesome application question) but I'm not quite sure what the purpose of the nuts and bolts are from your explanation.

I'm sure you have heard this a lot so I don't want to beat a dead horse, but if you can make the time to take a Modeling Instruction workshop, do it. For myself (and many of my Modeling colleagues), I did not fully understand the Modeling pedagogy until I took an advanced workshop and wrote my own curriculum. Modeling Instruction is far more than just a set of resources, it is truly a different approach to teaching science.

You really hit on one of the big components of Modeling chemistry which is explaining phenomena at the particle level. I always tell my students, "if you can't explain it at the particle level, you don't understand it well enough." 

The other big idea of Modeling Instruction that I think is often missed in chemistry is science comes from experiments, not textbooks. In chemistry, that means developing the model of the atom from Democritus to the quantum mechanical model throughout the entire school year instead of front-loading it. This also means doing a paradigm lab with every new concept so that students are using macroscopic observations to explain microscopic phenonema. 

End Modeling Instruction rant :) Hope you get the chance to take a workshop in the future. In the meantime, I will definitely be asking my students this application question when I get to gas laws next unit! 

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Tue, 09/13/2016 - 07:02

Lauren - Great to hear from you.  Here is what I found.  First I checked on Amazon.  Next I found a store near me that sells nothing but "fasteners".  Bottom line ...both were expensive.  One place wanted over $100  for a 2 pound box of bolts.  I can't write in this blog what I mumbled under my breath.  Finally, I went to a "Tractor and Feed" store (also try "Farm and Fleet").  They sell nuts, bolts and washers for about 2-3$ per pound and I got some spray paint on clearance.  I would check around for a store that services farmers.  They tend to have great prices on stuff like this..hope this helps.