At first glance, I thought that my teaching practice was solid when it came to Science and Engineering Practice (SEP) #2: Developing and Using Models. High school chemistry is all about models. My students use multiple models to represent atoms and molecules. (Their favorite is Jimmy Neutron’s model. Mine is a dot; I can draw a dot.) They also use collision theory to understand gas laws, chemical reactions, reaction rate and equilibrium.

When NGSS was released, I made the mistake of looking at Appendix F, which maps out the Grade Band Continuum for each SEP. OUCH! I was teaching models at the 6-8 Grade Band. I was doing the heavy lifting. I gave my students models to use. I told them when to use each model. I told them the strengths and weaknesses of each model. I expected my students to use models to **learn** **science**. With the NGSS, students are expected to be able to develop and use models to **do science**.

Since my students are expected to come up with their own models under the NGSS, I chose to reorganize the chemistry curriculum. Students started the year with a sealed syringe filled with air. They could feel the air push back when they pushed in on the syringe. They used pressure probes to collect pressure-volume data and they graphed the data. THEY came up with a particle model that explained why the pressure increases when the volume decreases. From this point, they

- Generated questions (SEP #1) about the effects of starting volume, number of particles, temperature, and more.
- Planned and carried out investigations (SEP #3)
- Analyzed and interpreted the data they collected (SEP #4)
- Used software to determine the mathematical relationship between the two variables they investigated (SEP #5)
- Constructed an explanation (SEP # 6) and refined their particle-models of gases (SEP #2)
- Engaged in argument from evidence (SEP #7)
- Communicated their results during gallery walks. (SEP #8)

All eight SEP’s all in the first weeks of the year! My students were doing the heavy lifting. They developed and refined their models. I was the safety engineer, tech support and cheerleader. I was the learning coordinator rather than the knowledge giver.

We followed up on their work by reading, annotating and discussing an article on Scientific Models and an article on the Kinetic Molecular Theory of Gases from a university-level chemistry text. From there, we moved seamlessly into atomic theory and all the wonderful models there are for atoms. No more telling students everything about each model. My students had the chance to construct their own understanding of each model for themselves. That is the kind of learning I want for my students and the kind of teaching that I expect of myself.

### Patricia Gustin

Married to Larry, an old Coast Guard salt and amazing man.I get to share Larry with our yellow lab, Sherman.

#### Latest posts by Patricia Gustin (see all)

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Mr. MacNevin says

I love how your post first identifies the discrepancy between previous understandings and NGSS. Every time I crack the NGSS open, I find that I’m having to re-define or more-deeply understand something from the AAAS Benchmarks, from NSES, or from our 2009 WSSLS.

It seems to me that models can be almost anything, from analogies, to equations, to drawings. In my own learning about NGSS, I am discovering that models closely mirror students’ explanations — at whatever depth of complexity their understandings reach. I’m not sure that the process of developing models has to always be completely open and without scaffolding. For me, the trick is contextualizing the endeavor by asking students to explain something that happens — a phenomenon.

The first category of the EQuIP Rubric in science examines “alignment” to the NGSS. And the very first criteria within that category asks the user to examine whether the three dimensions of NGSS are being used by the student in order to explain a phenomenon or to design a solution to a problem. And there is one place that I think helps make models in NGSS more accessible.

In the recent past we might have sought out student misconceptions using diagnostic tools meant to help us suss out exactly where a student’s thinking had gone awry. And we would ask students for a “rule” to explain their thinking (as a way to help us unpack their mental models for their choices). Then we would set about to try and dispel or disabuse students of their misconceptions through inquiry.

But under NGSS, we recognize that we stand little chance to “correcting” student misconceptions ourselves. And instead, we try to help students work with their ideas and their thoughts to formulate scientific explanation of a phenomenon or to engineer a solution to a problem.

In this way, students can be presented a phenomenon and then can be asked to explain it — paying attention to particular players or entities in the phenomenon. Those initial explanations will include models that reflect preconceptions and may be far more robust than the “rule” we asked for in diagnostic tools. But then as instruction unfolds, students revisit and revise their models — the act of revising and reformulating their ways of thinking about the phenomenon.

Just like with students, my own “model” for student learning is not entirely my own. I have learned so much from Mark Windschittl’s Ambitious Science Teaching group at UW. Below is a video example and a link where anyone can read more about what my own brain is still digesting.

Also, Jeff Ryan — the Science Coordinator at OESD — is highly invested in this kind of work and would be a wonderful resource for you!

http://ambitioussicenceteaching.org

alisallouie says

What great learning happening in your classroom! Not only are you effectively implementing NGSS in your classroom, but I bet kids LOVE coming to your class! Great engagement leads to deep learning!

Francis Jequinto says

Patti – in reading your description of what happened, it seems there are a lot of similarities between getting students to use models and what used to be called Inquiry learning, right?

Whenever I start the gas laws unit I always start with students drawing a model describing how solids, liquids & gases are different on the molecular level. I think it’s definitely appeared to be more fruitful once you had them expand their models based on lab results – I haven’t met a group of kids that didn’t have a base instinct that gas particles move faster, yet a lot of them haven’t translated particle motion to pressure/volume/temperature by high school. Good read.

Alfonso Gonzalez says

Patricia, what an awesome example of a huge shift the NGSS is asking of us! I struggle with how to have my 6th graders make models to show what they are learning. It’s tough because I can’t see it myself so don’t know how to scaffold or even introduce it. I can’t just say, build a model to describe friction. I mean, I could, but having some parameters might help us all.

What I find really helpful for students is that by the time they had to read the article on Scientific Models and the article on the Kinetic Molecular Theory of Gases, they had background knowledge from the experiences you provided them! That levels the playing field for all your students to engage with the text! Before NGSS the articles would have been the teaching, which would only have been accessible to some of your students and possibly even turned a bunch of them off to models and molecular theory!

Thanks for the great example!

Chris Gustafson says

I love the shift you described that requires students to create their own models and it made me curious. How do students evaluate the aptness or quality of their models? Do they know going in to the process the critical characteristics of models that meet or exceed standard?

Carina Stillman says

With fondness, I still remember my high school chemistry class; I did well because following directions, taking notes, and answering test questions were right up my alley. I can’t help but wonder, though, how I would have done with lessons such as you have described here. How do I create a particle model? As a mom of two curious young boys, I am so excited about NGSS because, though I was good at science and math in school, I did not find it exciting. This sounds exciting!

Douglas Ferguson says

Teaching about models in science has been one of the bigger shifts for us at the elementary level when it comes to the Next Generation Science Standards. One of the shifts for us as generalists, is simply defining what a model can be–let alone how it can be used. We’re getting there though. Thank you for providing a clear picture of what we’re hoping to prepare our students for as we lay this new foundation.

Tom White says

Great post, Patricia. As a fourth grade teacher, I still feel the need to scaffold a lot when it comes to models, but it’s good to know where my kiddos are headed when they get into high school!