**How effective is modeling instruction?**

** **

*In
comparison to traditional instruction, under expert modeling instruction high
school students average more than two standard deviations higher on a standard
instrument for assessing conceptual understanding of physics.*

* *

The
effectiveness of modeling instruction in enhancing student learning of physics
is being continuously evaluated with well-established standardized instruments.
Chief among these instruments is the *Force Concept Inventory *(FCI)*. *The FCI assesses the effectiveness of
mechanics courses in meeting a *minimal teaching performance standard: to
teach students to reliably discriminate between the applicability of scientific
concepts and naive alternatives in common physical situations. *Questions on the FCI were designed to be meaningful to
students without formal training in mechanics.

* *

The FCI has
consistently shown that students bring into their physics courses a wide array
of naive beliefs about the motion of physical objects that are incompatible
with Newtonian theory. Figure 1 summarizes data from a nationwide sample of
7500 high school physics students involved in the Modeling Workshop Project.
The average FCI pretest score is about 26%, slightly above the random guessing
level of 20%, and well below the 60% score which, for empirical reasons, can be
regarded as the threshold for understanding Newtonian mechanics.

Figure
1 shows that traditional high school instruction (lecture, demonstration, and
standard laboratory activities) has little impact on student beliefs, with an
average FCI posttest score of about 42%, still much below the Newtonian
threshold[1]
[2].
This failure of traditional instruction is largely *independent of the
instructor’s knowledge, experience and teaching style*.

High
school teachers in the Leadership Modeling Workshop Project (1995-1999) began a
shift from traditional instruction to modeling instruction in their first
four-week summer workshop. After their first year of teaching, posttest scores
for students of these *novice modeler*s were about 10 percentage points higher, as shown in Fig. 1
for 3394 students of 66 teachers (large effect size: 0.9). Students of *expert
modelers* do much better.
For 11 teachers identified as expert modelers after two years in the Project,
posttest scores of their 647 students averaged 69%. Thus student gains in
understanding under *expert*
modeling instruction are more than doubled (40 percentage points gained),
compared to traditional instruction (16 percentage points gained) (Figure 1).

Subsequent
data have confirmed all these results for a total of more than 20,000 students.
Furthermore, student FCI gains for Arizona teachers, 80% of whom were *not* physics majors, are almost as high as
those for leading teachers nationwide. Teachers who implement the Modeling
Method most fully have the highest student posttest FCI mean scores.