Brief History

Modeling Instruction started in the high school physics classroom of Malcolm Wells at Marcos de Niza high school in Tempe, Arizona.  Already a veteran high school physics teacher in the early 1980s, Wells was dissatisfied with his students’ performance on the Mechanics Diagnostic, a precursor of the now well-known Force Concept Inventory. Influenced by Hestenes’ work advocating for the use of models as a central theme in physics instruction, Wells created and refined instructional practices which guided his high school students to build their own scientific models and Modeling Instruction was born.

Physics Storylines

Our Approach

The learning process developed in Wells’ high school classroom was described by Hestenes and Wells as the Modeling Cycle, and is similar in structure to Karplus’ Learning Cycle. 

Our storylines in Mechanics follow the Wells-Hestenes Modeling Cycle. During this cycle, students identify a testable idea, design experiments, collect data, and look for patterns in their results to construct a scientific model which they represent in multiple ways. Students then use their model to predict outcomes of similar situations.  Finally, students are confronted with a novel situation not fully addressed by their model, so they are guided to re-model and begin the process again.


Modeling physics teachers work together to constantly refine the mechanics materials, and multiple storylines have been followed effectively in the classrooms of teachers nationwide. The most recent significant edit of materials available to our members is Mechanics v3, which was developed in 2013, and follows the order shown in the slideshow. In addition, our classroom activities include the following:

  • Paradigm lab activities in each unit deliberately address common misconceptions
  • Representational tools emphasize richness and connectedness of scientific principles
  • Student-to-student discourse and guided inquiry are emphasized, leading learners in developing and then deploying their own scientific models

Interested in a Physics Workshop?

A one-year membership to the AMTA is included in workshop registration fees for first-time modelers. AMTA members have access to ALL curricular materials, webinars, distance learning courses, and other membership services!

Physics I in Alabama

Host: Birmingham Southern College Location: Birmingham Dates: July 10 – 21 Leader: Tim Burgess Contact: Dr. Michelle Houston This workshop will address the typical 1st semester introductory [...]

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