Modeling Method Makes the Grade for Cary Students


By Shirley Min, NBC17

Updated: Mar. 5. 2010 11:43 am

CARY, N.C. -


Students at Cary Academy are taking an unconventional approach to learning by trading in their textbooks for whiteboards and bowling balls.


And you won't see a teacher rattling off physics formulas at the head of the class. Instead Cary Academy students learn from each other.


The unconventional teaching method is called "modeling," and Physics teacher Dr. Matt Greenwolfe says the method's making the grade.


"I don't lecture at all. Instead I create experiences for the students, either in the lab or puzzles and problems for them to solve and it's up to them to try to figure that out," said Dr. Greenwolfe.


Here's how it works: students work in groups and use whiteboards to figure out things like how long it would take a bottle dropped from a plane to fall to the ground.


"I'm a more visual person so actually seeing something helps me understand a lot better instead of having someone say, 'This happens because of this reason,'" said senior Aaron Harrington.


Dr. Greenwolfe says relating physics to real life gets through to students more than just memorizing formulas.


Hands-on experiments are just part of the modeling teaching method. So for example, the students may do an experiment with a bowling ball learning something about force and then they'll take that experience and bring it back to the classroom.


Nikki Randall, a senior at Cary Academy, says sometimes another student's input can really drive a point home.


"We were talking about parallel circuits actually this morning and talking about how currents that run in the same direction attract and it's kind of like how two rivers merge together and one of my classmates actually came up with that," said Randall.


Greenwolfe says "modeling" is paying off.


He says Advanced Placement exam scores of his students, prior to modeling compared with after, are up from threes to the highest score of fives in some cases.


NC State offers a summer workshop for North Carolina teachers interested in "modeling." It's a three week course offered in July on campus.