NGSS Modeling Is Not An Art Project

What do “good” models look like in NGSS classrooms?

I’m just going to say it – those pretty “edible cell” projects, the Oreo lunar cycles, the “biome in a box” these are art projects. They aren’t science. They aren’t modeling.  At least, they aren’t NGSS modeling.

What is modeling?

Modeling is the practice of representing phenomena (processes or events) to better explain what is occurring or predict what will happen.  Modeling shows what can’t be seen.  Models also may show time passing.

So why aren’t the edible cell, the Oreo lunar cycle, or the biome in a box project considered NGSS models? First, none of these projects explain a phenomenon. The edible cell is showing you what an “average” cell looks like. It may identify what each part does.  But it doesn’t help you understand how those parts work together to perform a specific task.

The Oreo lunar cycle shows you what the moon looks like over time, but it’s not helping you to understand why it changes.  Likewise, the biome in a box is a static snapshot of a dynamic system. In fact, typically you’re losing the most important part the way all of the components work together to maintain equilibrium.

These projects I described above might be fun and engaging, but they aren’t engaging your students in SCIENCE.


So what should you do instead? What should we aim to see in our students models?

1. Good models are based on phenomenon. 

They are showing something SPECIFIC.  The water cycle isn’t a phenomenon.  Water evaporating from a puddle is. Focus student models on specific phenomena.


2. Good models typically include a visual component. 

Asking students to draw or construct a visual representation of whatever phenomena you are studying can reveal more about their understanding than they may be able to express in words. 


3. Good models show ONLY the relevant components. 

If you’re building a model of a cell to explain a phenomena like the shrinking of onion cells in saltwater, your students don’t need to include every part of the cell. They should only be incorporating the relevant components. (Yes, they are providing LESS. But it proves they are thinking about what’s relevant and understanding how those components work versus copying the cell model from your textbook.)


4. Good models are dynamic. 

Students should be returning to their model to revise it as they learn more about the concepts you are studying.  Their models should reflect their evolving understanding.


5. Lastly, good models include both observable and unobservable features. 

Good models show you what’s happening beyond what can be seen.  This will likely be done using captions, symbols, and so on.


Final Thoughts

Models are MORE than art projects. You can learn more about what students should be doing with models across the grade bands by checking out the NSTA Science and Engineering Practices Matrix. Click here to access that resource!


Where can you learn more about designing an NGSS-aligned classroom and curriculum?

Check out the free mini-course – Intro To The NGSS – to get a handle on the basics.  Discover what the NGSS REALLY looks like in the classroom – from changes to your content and instruction all the way down to your assessments. 

iExplore Academy: Convenient and Comprehensive NGSS Professional Development

If you are anything like me, transitioning to the NGSS can be totally overwhelming.  Teaching is hard as it is – you’re busy keeping up with the “normal” lessons day to day and week to week, plus grading, meetings, IEPs, behavior management, so on and so forth. I get it. Who has the time or energy to figure out all that goes into these new standards and their impact on your curriculum, let alone what it means for your teaching!

Well, I’m happy to say there IS an easier way. You don’t HAVE to muddle through everything, and you definitely don’t have to do it alone!

Imagine feeling confident that the curriculum you designed is actually aligned to the standards, that your units incorporate the three dimensions and engage your students in Science and Engineering Practices that matter. Imagine classes full of students who take ownership of their learning, who thrive on “figuring it out” and “puzzling through it” and come to learn the content through discovery.  Imagine days where you DON’T have to stand in front of the class, battling for their attention, delivering boring lectures and notes, printing worksheet after worksheet, and wasting tons of time on review and reteaching — only to have your students fail to perform anyway. Imagine learning that sticks, and engaging activities (that you may already be doing!) but that lead to true understanding.  It’s not magic, and it doesn’t necessarily come easy, but it IS possible.  

Learn more at iExplore Academy.