Developing AND Using Models: Modeling Organs and Organ Systems (MS-LS1-3)

Modeling is a HUGE part of the NGSS classroom. (Check out this post on NGSS modeling for more info!) I have students modeling probably daily! Those models aren’t always big 3D productions, granted. Most often, it’s sketching out their idea, adding some captions, and voila! There’s my model.


But sometimes I DO engage students in creating 3D models. Sometimes that hands-on work is valuable in the discovery of content ideas (like figuring out the movement of the Earth and Moon around the Sun that results in the moon phases we observe!), while other times it is just helpful to visualize how something works.


Sometimes, I provide my student’s clear instructions on developing their model, while other times, I give them more freedom to “figure it out” themselves. In Modeling Organs and Organ Systems, I do a bit of both.  In the first activity, I simply want students to visualize blood as a tissue.  Students are often (admittedly, I was also) surprised to learn that blood is a tissue! 


But when you think about it, it absolutely makes sense! It’s connective tissue.  It is made of different types of cells (white blood cells, red blood cells, and cell fragments – platelets) and it connects different parts of the body. Duh!


Like all things, I could simply TELL my students that.  But visualizing it through this modeling activity is without a doubt going to make it more memorable and truly more concrete. Additionally, as students describe and defend their material choices, I can informatively assess what they understand about the cells that make up blood! It’s a win-win. 


Developing A Model Of Blood

I begin the activity by tasking students with developing a model of blood in a jar or beaker, and then I pretty much set them free to choose what should go into their model and what materials will represent each component.  As they work, they are documenting their thinking by describing and defending their choices. This is where I can see what they REALLY know about those cells that make up the circulatory system.


In the follow-up analysis, I ask students to use what they have learned – and their models – to support a statement: “Tissues are made of specialized cells that work together to carry out specific functions.” This statement relates directly to the Performance Expectation MS-LS1-3, and this task helps students take what may borderline on an art-project and transform it into the NGSS Science and Engineering Practice of Developing and Using Models because they are USING it!


Modeling The Heart

In the second activity, students follow some step-by-step instructions to develop a model of the heart.  Because this part is very “cookie-cutter,” I don’t truly consider this “developing a model.” All of the models look and function the same.


That said, I task students with investigating what happens when one component of the model fails when the artery becomes blocked (just jam some butter in that straw!).  And now we are back in the NGSS game we are USING models. (We are also in some aspects Planning and Carrying Out An Investigation, although students have less of a role in the planning phase). 


When considering the Science and Engineering Practices, we always need to evaluate what we THINK we know.  We may have THOUGHT this heart-model was a model. And I suppose, it is. But simply building it isn’t really engaging students in minds-on modeling.  It’s only engaging them in a craft or art project. Yes, students can see a complex process like a heart-pumping simplified and simulated but we could also ask them to do more.  We could take it further.


Models In NGSS Classrooms

Ask students to analyze the components and explain how they work together to support the function as a whole. (CCC – Structure and Function!) Ask students to investigate what happens when one part fails. (SEP – Planning and Carrying Out Investigations).  Ask students to support or refute a claim using what they have observed. (SEP – Developing and Using Models and Engaging In Argument From Evidence).  


While models in NGSS classrooms don’t HAVE to be big, 3D, hands-on projects, it’s also OK when they ARE. It’s ok to build from these traditional models and activities.  The important thing is to find ways to take your existing activity and better align its implementation with the three dimensions of the NGSS. Oftentimes, some simple tweaks can do the job. 


How do you “up the ante” when using models in YOUR classroom?