Why Modeling?

This year I’m going to try teaching the new AP Physics 1 curriculum through “modeling instruction”. In class, rather than me giving notes explaining a concept, the students will be doing their own investigations of the concept, and developing their own understanding, their own “model” of how the concept works.

Part of the reason for this is explained by Frank Noschese in a video on the “action-reaction” blog I’ve linked in my blogroll. It boils down to this: What kids are doing in science class is not what scientist do. Scientists ask questions and experiment to determine how things work. In a traditional class, teachers are telling kids how the world works. Then the kids practice it, and hopefully can repeat it back on a test.

So, part of the video has this chart:


What scientists do looks like a lot more fun!

In a TED video, Stuart Firestein makes the same point (even though he is not talking about modeling instruction, but science education in general). He says his work as a scientist is “fascinating…a great pleasure…thinking up cool experiments…to understand…it’s exhilarating”. The class he teaches (about how the brain works) on the other hand is challenging and interesting, but not quite so exhilarating.

He goes on to say that 2nd graders all love science. They love to take things apart, play with them, to investigate things. By 11th or 12th grade, fewer than 10% have any interest in science. He blames how science is sometimes taught. He says “We just jam a whole bunch of facts down their throats over here and then they puke it up on an exam over here.”

So, I want to run the classroom as a place where the students experiment and discover.

Also, if kids are actively constructing their own understanding, they will be more likely to truly learn it.

A big part of modeling instruction is having the students discuss their findings with each other. I always did well in physics, but I found that I REALLY learned it when I had to teach it. In order to teach something clearly, I really had to think it through and thoroughly understand it first.

If you have the chance, you might enjoy the two videos. I found them both entertaining and enlightening. Here are links to each: