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.

Sequencing

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

Sample Materials

Follow this link for sample materials from Physics Unit 2 — Constant Velocity. Note that this sample unit does NOT contain any quizzes or tests, and addresses the following objectives for students:

Represent and analyze constant velocity motion
  1. Graphically: Construct and interpret position vs. time and velocity vs. time graphs for constant velocity motion.
  2. Algebraically: Create and use mathematical models of position as function of time, average speed, and average velocity for constant velocity motion.
  3. Diagrammatically: Draw and explain motion maps for constant velocity motion.
  4. Verbally: Construct and interpret written and oral descriptions of constant velocity motion.
Solve constant velocity problems
  1. Use graphs, equations, diagrams, and verbal descriptions to solve constant speed and velocity problems.
Distinguish between physics terms related to constant velocity
  1. Differentiate between and apply terms for “how far” (position, displacement, and distance) and terms for “how fast” (average speed and average velocity).

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!

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