Teaching Students to Use Models


The following sections will demonstrate the scaffolding process with a variety of instructional strategies. You can incorporate these strategies into your instruction as you guide your students through their modeling journey. Over the course of the school year your students can expand their ability level incrementally from using models to modifying models to building their own models.


Direct Instruction with Non Computational Models

Often times in teaching we already use models such as the atomic model, periodic table, life cycle models, or mathematical functions to describe phenomena.



pagebreakHave Students Explore Non Computational Models

Having students explore non computational models can deepen their understanding of the systems. For example, working with a physical model that demonstrates electric current can greatly improve a student’s understanding of the content.





Engage with NetLogo Models

Before teaching students about a topic, consider introducing them to that topic first through using a model as the Engage component of a 5E Lesson. For example, before teaching students about the carbon cycle and climate change, consider having students investigate the Climate Change Model in NetLogo (or Run Online).

This video demonstrates the process.

Building a model designed to front load information can foster student questions before delivering content. This can increase student understanding by generating interest and a establishing a reference point for the information they learn during the lesson. You might consider using this worksheet to engage your students in the lesson. You might also consider having your students use the Concord Consortium’s Website to further explore models of Climate Change.



Doing Scientific Data Collection with NetLogo Models

Science in the classroom can often be limited by the process of data collection. Running a series of experimental trials using a physical system can take much of a class period. Consider using a model to generate data – have students record the data under several conditions and focus the day on analysis of that data rather than data collection. Students will be able to spend more time asking questions, changing experimental conditions, and coming to a better understanding of the phenomena as well as the scientific process.

Use a NetLogo model to collect a large body of data quickly.  For example, the Fire Model can be used to collect data relating forest density to percent burned in a forest fire.  This data can be collected manually and imported into a program like Excel for analysis.


Use a NetLogo model like the Trigonometry Model to collect a body of data.  This data resides in the plot on the model interface.  By right clicking on the graph you can export the data to your desktop.  This data is easily imported into a Google Sheet where you can then perform your analysis with its expanded array of tools.  The Google Sheet can also be saved as an Excel file.




Exploring Mathematical Phenomena with NetLogo Models

Using NetLogo models will allow students to generate data – either through multiple runs under the same conditions or different conditions. Students can then apply mathematical analysis to their data. For example, students can look at descriptive statistics (mean, median, standard deviation, etc.), conduct regression analysis, and even conduct inference tests (Chi-Squared, T-tests, etc.).




Using NetLogo Models to Solve Problems – The Rozen-Heflin

The Rozen-Heflin is a NetLogo activity independently developed by two participants in our program. In this activity you have students use a NetLogo program which contains a built in question bank (either randomly generated or pre-coded). Students interpret the question, break that problem down into it’s component variables, assign those variables to fields in NetLogo, select the right approach from a selection of possible approaches, and then solve for the missing variable(s). The program will determine if the student answered all the questions correctly and give them a victory or failure message. For example, students might be given a word problem involving the decay of radioactive isotopes in which they are given the initial and end masses and must determine the number of half lives that have transpired.

This video demonstrates the use of a Rozen-Heflin in Chemistry.

The Rozen-Heflin is particularly powerful because it is a high level check for understanding approach that can replace traditional “plug and chug” homework sets which typically represent huge grading challenges for teachers. Additionally, once students have reached mastery on the skill, the program can contain a quiz option in which students must to perform a certain number of tasks correctly (say, 10 out of 10) to achieve victory. Having students work on activities like this can replace traditional assignments and assessments on essential skills – making them fun, engaging, and very easy to grade.






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