Modeling Instruction prepares students to engage intelligently

in public discourse and debate

about matters of scientific and technological concern

(transferability to daily life)



Date: Thu, 03 Jul 2003

From: Robert McDowell  (a teacher in a low income public school near Phoenix)


Under the traditional method, my students would "learn" the material and have good grades. Yet, when asked a question about some science application in a movie (i.e. the subway scene in SPEED), I might get a few students who would cite 1-2 errors, but usually with uncertainty.


Since I started Modeling, the students now bring up their own topics. These topics are not just from movies, but their everyday experiences. Some direct quotes:


"Mr. McDowell, not only does Physics ruin a lot of movies (common quote of mine), but it also ruins those 1:30 a.m. dorm conversations with your roommates. They make some comment and then I realize that it is not possible because of Physics."


"Every time I drive my car I think of what the position vs. time, velocity vs. time, and acceleration vs. time graphs would look like."


"Mr. McDowell, I was at a Diamondback baseball game recently, and all I could think of was all the Physics problems involved."


Under the Modeling method, students develop a deep and sound understanding that they take with them. Their self-confidence increases because they are challenged and confused at first, but then they develop their model of the physical reality, and see how other problems are related. Whereas, under the traditional method, you can change 1 item in a question and the students freak out since "We didn't cover THAT problem!"


I just received this quote in an e-mail. I dropped the name so no students would be identifiable.


> Mr. McDowell,

>     I just wanted to say hi to you and see how your summer was going.

> E and I talked on the phone and to our surprise, we remembered a lot

> more physics than we thought. The equations and things. I was thinking

> about taking physics in college and I almost had a heart attack when

> that thought entered my head.



Date: Mon, 07 Jul 2003

From: Betsy Barnard  (West High School, Madison, Wisconsin)

Hi Jane,

Regarding your query about students being able to "engage intelligently in public discourse and debate about matters of scientific and technological concern?"


- I teach a course in biotechnology, mostly to seniors, nearly all of whom had physics the previous year.  When asked to formally present information to the class about controversial topics such as cloning or genetically modified organisms, it is delightfully clear how much more articulate and

confident they are than the students I had seven or eight years ago (before students used whiteboarding techniques to present and defend their lab results).  Having to develop ideas based on information gathered directly from one's own experience or by others, and present in a manner that is understandable, is a job all scientists have to do whether they like it or not.  Modeling techniques have helped students develop these skills.  I realize this example is still in an academic setting, rather than a public venue, but I hope it helps.


Date: Friday, July 04, 2003

From: Bob Baker (a public school in Sacramento, California)

Many students wouldn't enroll in physics were it not for the modeling method of instruction. Between 60%-80% of eligible students enroll in physics at our school. Modeling significantly reduces learning frustration by helping students to organize knowledge. Therefore, students are more inclined to persevere and to use those principles and tools appropriate to the task at hand.


Before modeling, students listened and asked a few questions.  Now, they are animated, engaged, and enthusiastic about physics.  More importantly, they want to understand the subject.


Regular Instruction: Students are taught to memorize.  Much of the information they learn is often forgotten soon after a test:

Modeling: Students are taught to figure out how things work.  This is applied to all of their learning throughout their lifetime.


Regular: Students often learn about science but fail to do science.

Modeling: Students collect data, graph it, develop equations, and formulate concepts as researchers.


Regular: Students listen to the teacher present.

Modeling: Students make presentations and support their results by answering questions.


Regular: Students are told about discoveries.

Modeling: Students do the discovering.



Date:         Thu, 20 Dec 2007

Sender: Modeling - Modeling Workshop Teachers <>

From: an experienced teacher in Wisconsin


Compared to the "traditional" physics teaching, at our school modeling has created (IMO):

(A) Larger enrollment in physics and AP Physics (aside from other benefits, with the 20% layoffs from budget cuts we are seeing on our school, that is a big deal towards keeping younger physics teachers in teaching.)

(B) Higher retention of students majoring in engineering and science when they go off to college

(C) Greater quantitative analytical skills

(D) Greater quantitative presentation skills

(E) Much higher ability for "future nonscience students" to communicate with science people - including being able to make their questions and requests clear to the "science geeks."

(F) No plugging and chugging.


Modeling is not just about trying to create a deeper understanding of Newton's laws.  Those misconceptions are just a small evidence piece of a large endemic problem.  Just listen to how students explain problems to each other now, compared to traditional where they just "quoted" equations.


First year high school physics is usually only the third serious science class that students have ever had.  It should not be a filter to filter out 16, 17 and 18 year-olds from continuing in science and engineering. Remember - these kids have only had 100-250 hours of algebra instruction.  Are we going to select our future quantitative analytical thinkers by who learns algebra the fastest?



A teacher in Chicago posted to the modeling listserv:

     I think of the modeling method as using Newtonian/classical physics as a conduit for fostering those thinking skills (read: modeling) possessed by scientists and advanced thinkers in other non-science disciplines.  It is in this way that the physics class can be viewed as extremely relevant by the students.