Learning about Complex Systems Using Modeling and Scientific Argumentation

The CADRE Team

Scientists use models to explain and predict phenomena in order to better understand our world. Here are some concrete examples across a range of professions:

  • Physicists might create and test a mathematical model of how a river bed changes over time due to erosion.
  • Astronomers might use modeling to predict the path of an asteroid.
  • Geologists might use modeling to predict how water will flow through rocks in a particular area.
  • Biologists might use a computer model to predict the behavior of interactions between organisms.
  • Meteorologists use models to predict the possible paths storms might take (something students see on a regular basis if they watch the news or weather reports).

The Next Generation Science Standards identify “developing and using models” as a key practice, which isn’t surprising given their use across the disciplines. However, understanding what makes a model a scientific model, and engaging with modeling in science classrooms can be challenging, not just for students, but also for many teachers. What are key features of scientific models? How might teachers build modeling into their lessons? What does it look like at different grade levels?

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