Modeling in Science

The National Research Council's A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (2012) identifies modeling as an important practice too often "underemphasized in the context of science education." According to the Framework, "engaging in the practices of science helps students understand how scientific knowledge develops; such direct involvement gives them an appreciation of the wide range of approaches that are used to investigate, model, and explain the world."

This Spotlight highlights NSF-funded resources, curricula, professional development, and tools designed to support teacher and student engagement in modeling in science classrooms.


Featuring: Dan Damelin (Concord Consortium), Brian Reiser (Northwestern University), and Cory Forbes (University of Nebraska-Lincoln).

 CADRE-Organized Sessions at NSTA 2018 

View the session handouts:

  • Handout | Using Models to Support STEM Learning in Grades K–5: Examples and Insights from NSF’s DRK–12 Program |  Presenters: Sara Lacy (TERC), Cory Forbes (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Brian Reiser (Northwestern University), Carolyn Staudt (The Concord Consortium) 
  • Handout | Using Models to Support STEM Learning in Grades 6–12: Examples and Insights from NSF’s DRK–12 Program | Presenters: Daniel Damelin (The Concord Consortium), Joseph Krajcik (CREATE for STEM Institute, Michigan State University), Irene Lee (Project GUTS), Susan Yoon (University of Pennsylvania) 

The following resources provide a sample of products being developed by NSF DR K-12-funded projects.

EcoXPT EcoMobile LogoEcoMobile and EcoXPT
Grade Level: Middle School
Developed by the EcoLearn research team based out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, these projects use immersive virtual environments to support science learning. EcoMOBILE blends virtual immersive experiences with exploration in real ecosystems supported by augmented technology. EcoXPT allows students to explore a virtual ecosystem representing a complex systems model, to make observations, understand causal relationships, and create experiments to test hypotheses. (NSF Award # 11185301416781)

Focus On Energy LogoFocus on Energy
Grade Level: Elementary School
The Focus on Energy project is developing resources and supports for teaching and learning about energy in grades 3-5, including a summer teacher professional development workshop, follow-up professional learning communities, and a curriculum with a carefully designed sequence of activities to support students as they develop and use a model of energy.  (NSF Award # 14180521418211)

HAS LogoHigh-Adventure Science
Grade Levels: Middle & High School
Developed by the Concord Consortium, High-Adventure Science offers free, interactive, computer-based Earth system models integrated into five-day curriculum lessons. Lesson topics include energy, climate, freshwater availability, land management, air quality, and the hunt for extraterrestrial life. Standalone models include interactives on air pollution, groundwater movement, land management, fracking, planet hunting, and climate change. (NSF Award # 0929774)

Interactions LogoInteractions
Grade Level: High School
Interactions is a collaborative project between Michigan State University and Concord Consortium that engages students in modeling and scientific explanation through exploring how the unseen world of atomic level interactions and energy transformations are responsible for much of what we observe around us. (NSF Award # 1232388)

Model My WaterShed LogoModel My Watershed
Grade Levels: Middle & High School
A watershed-modeling web app for citizens, educators, students, and municipal decision-makers to analyze real, local land use and soil data, model stormwater runoff and water-quality impacts using professional-grade models, and compare land cover changes, conservation, and/or development scenarios. (NSF Award # 14175271417722, and 1418133)

Grade Levels: Elementary & Middle School

A curriculum unit developed through a collaboration between Michigan State University, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, Wright State University and 5th grade teachers from Kinawa 5th-6th public school that enables students to develop and revise models for how water moves (evaporation and condensation) in a solar still. A teacher guide and student pages are publicly available. (NSF Award # 0628199, 1020316)

MoHSES LogoModeling Hydrologic Systems in Elementary Science (MoHSES)
Grade Level: Elementary School
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Michigan State University are collaborating on a project to engage elementary students in model-based learning about water systems through development and testing of a modeling-enhanced version of the Full Option Science System (FOSS) Water curriculum module. Instructional resources include supplemental teacher and student materials. (NSF Award # 1443223)

SageModeler LogoSageModeler
Grade Levels: Middle & High School
Michigan State University and the Concord Consortium are collaborating on building a modeling tool for students that allows the students to easily create and test their own models without the need for programming or writing equations. Publicly available curriculum will be available in the fall of 2017. (NSF Award # 14178091417900)

Seismic Explorer ImageSeismic Explorer
Grade Levels: Middle & High School
The Seismic Explorer model was developed by the Concord Consortium and is being expanded as part of the GEODE project. Seismic Explorer ​shows volcanic eruption data and USGS earthquake events on a map overlay. The model allows users to explore tectonic plate boundaries, plate motion vectors, and the locations and depths of earthquakes. (NSF Award # 1621176)

SimScientists logoSimScientists
Grade Levels: Middle & High School
Science simulations created by WestEd to explore life science, Earth science, and physical science topics. The simulations allow teachers to formatively assess students' work. (NSF Award # 1020264, 1221614, and 1503481)

Strategies for Using Interactive Simulations VisualStrategies For Using Interactive Simulations In Science Class
Grade Levels: Middle & High School
This manual of teaching strategies is the product of a long-term project by researchers at the University of Massachusetts designed to investigate the different teaching strategies that science teachers use with simulations in the classroom. (NSF Award # 0723709, 1222709)


Visit our related Spotlight on Analyzing & Interpreting Data Across STEM Disciplines for additional resources.