Introducing Models to Elementary School Students
Grade level(s):Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8
Topic:Using models to teach science concepts, promote dialog, and assess understanding
A model is a representation of something in the natural world.
A model is like the thing it represents in some ways and is different from what it represents in other ways.
- model, represents, evidence
- specific words relevant to the model and the object it represents (e.g. taste buds, saliva)
- descriptive words, sensory words and comparison words will also vary depending on the model used in the lesson
What you need:
- model of tongue (SEP RC #M038) or any other visible body part,
- toy car,
- realistic doll,
- science poster,
- a hand held mirror for each student (SEP RC #E143)
20 minutes, set-up is minimal
Students learn what a model is by comparing a model of the tongue to their own tongue. They practice asking themselves, "How is this model like the thing it represents, and how is it different?" This format of questioning can be used when using any model in science and can be used to check students' understanding and misconceptions.
- Students will identify ways that a model and its subject are alike and some ways that they are different.
- Students will learn to ask, "How is this model like the thing it represents and how is it different?"
- As students learn more about a topic in science, their comparisons of model and object will reflect their knowledge
- Students will practice comparative language forms (i.e. smaller than, darker than)
- Extension: Students will recognize pictures and photographs as models.
Models are powerful teaching tools that can help students to visualize scientific concepts/ideas, identify their understandings and/or misconceptions about a topic, and build their critical thinking skills. Models may be three-dimensional objects such as an anatomical model of a heart, a picture, or a diagram. Because models are static representations of an object or concept, there are ways in which they are similar to the object they represent and ways in which they are different. This lesson helps scaffold the use of models in K-8 classrooms - putting a structure around how students interpret models. Importantly, it encourages students, whenever they encounter a model, to identify the model's limitations - an important critical thinking skill. This is a practice that scientist themselves use both when they develop a new model to describe a phenomenon in the natural world, as well as when they consider models developed by other scientists.
Get above material- for example:
- tongue model (SEP Daly Ralston Resource Center M038) or model of other visible body part
- toy car
- realistic doll
- science poster
- hand-held mirror for each student (SEP Daly Ralston Resource Center E143)
Lesson Implementation / Outline
Who can tell me what this is? (Hold up model of tongue)
Students usually answer that it is a tongue.
Is it really a tongue? What evidence do you have to support your answer?
1. After introduction, hand out mirrors and ask students to look very closely at their tongues. Ask them to think of words that describe what their tongue looks like from the top, bottom and sides.
2. Introduce the idea of a model as a representation of something and the models have some things in common with the object they represent, but not everything about the model is like the thing it represents. Stress that it's important to know what is alike and what is different.
3. Ask students to tell some ways that the model of the tongue is like their own tongue. List their ideas on chart paper. Do the same for the differences between the model and a tongue. Encourage likeness in function as well as structure. What can a tongue do that the model cannot do?
4. Ask if students know of any other models. Show models such as toy cars, realistic dolls, poster of a science topic, photographs. Ask students why all these things can be considered models.
5. Suggest to students that when they see a model of something, to ask, "How is this like the real object, and how is it different?" If they are not sure of the answer, then encourage them to ask someone or find out on their own by doing research.
Extensions and Reflections
I repeat this format whenever I use a model in science. I find it an excellent way to check a student's understanding and misconceptions about the topic being studied. It helps me to see if students are incorporating new concepts that we have learned into their general knowledge of a subject. It also helps students to realize what they don't know about a subject being studied. It's a good prompt for a quick science journal entry.
Models can be a source of misconceptions. This is particularly true when a model represents something that the student has never actually seen. As an example, I asked my class how a student walking a Styrofoam ball around a light bulb in the middle of our class was like the earth orbiting around the sun and how was it different. One student said that the line that the Earth goes on when it goes around the sun was missing in our model. He said in space all the planets have a line that they follow to go around the sun. I asked him if he meant a real line that a person could see, and he answered yes. When I asked him why he thought that, he said that he saw it in the solar system books.