Improved Success in Modeling Instruction

Modeling is a student-centric, constructivist approach whereby students build their physics knowledge by developing models through guided activities in a studio format.

Topics are organized into models. Each model is developed through a cyclic approach that spirals towards a highly refined model. A typical modeling cycle starts with a paradigm lab, a carefully selected exploration that includes many aspects of the model in development. Upon completion of the lab, class discussion leads to a consensus model, which is then deployed and tested through additional activities. In the deployment phase, students solve problems that elucidate additional aspects of the model and its limitations. The activities are summarized in class discussion, where additional consensus is formed. This cycle of activities and discussion continues until the model is fully developed.

Modeling thus achieves multiple outcomes in addition to excellent student learning in physics. Students explicitly experience the process of model development and deployment, fundamental to a wide variety of fields. In so doing, students learn to communicate their ideas, work within groups, solve problems, use powerful representational tools for doing science, and participate in a science community; all crucial skills in most science careers. The vision for modeling students is that they become self-sustaining learners and scientists, adept at group work, armed with mature problem solving approaches, and skilled in the theoretical tools of physics, in order to enhance their success in future courses and careers.


The successes of Modeling Instruction have been documented across conceptual understanding, attitudes toward science, and retention in introductory physics.

  • Conceptual understanding: Students’ conceptual understanding in Modeling Instruction improves by a factor of two more than in lecture.
  • Odds of success: Students in Modeling are 8.7 times as likely to succeed (earn a passing grade) in Modeling as they are in standard lecture sections of Introductory Physics.
  • Attitudes toward science and learning science: Student attitudes in Modeling Instruction improve both within each semester of introductory physics and over the entire two-semester sequence. This is the first reported positive shift in attitudes in introductory physics classes.