Academic journal article Science Scope

Developing + Using Models to Align with NGSS

Academic journal article Science Scope

Developing + Using Models to Align with NGSS

Article excerpt

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) focus on the blending of science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), and crosscutting concepts (Achieve Inc. 2013). Tailoring instruction to fit these new expectations will require a systematic method for redesigning learning activities to align with the NGSS.


In this article, we describe how to utilize the science practice of developing and using models to support students in learning DCIs and employing the DCIs to support students in learning modeling. The strategies, however, can be used with any investigation or activity you wish to update to the NGSS expectations. You might want to read this article and work through it with a colleague or use it as part of a professional learning community in your school.

Models in the Framework and the NGSS

The new emphasis on models as a science and engineering practice in A Framework for K--12 Science Education and the NGSS will require students to develop and use models in their science learning to describe, predict, and generate data about phenomena and to account for unobservable phenomena (NRC 2012). Models are an essential aspect of science: "In science, models are used to represent a system (or parts of a system) under study, to aid in the development of questions and explanations, and to communicate ideas to others" (Achieve Inc. 2013, Appendix F). As such, models represent the relationships among variables in order to explain phenomena. Models also need to account for all of the evidence related to a phenomenon. If a model is not consistent with the evidence and cannot account for new evidence, then new models that better provide opportunities to explain the phenomenon need to be developed (Schwarz et. al 2009; Achieve Inc. 2013; Krajcik and Merritt 2012). Figure 1 shows the practice matrix from Appendix F of the NGSS for the grades 6-8 end-points for the practice Developing and Using Models.

Modeling activities allow students opportunities to create analogs for complex phenomena they would otherwise have difficulty understanding. The models students develop and use in science classrooms assist them in describing, predicting, and accounting for unobservable phenomena. Models also support students in asking new questions about the world. From pictorial representations in the elementary grades to more sophisticated simulations and modeling tools such as spreadsheets and equations in the later grades, all students are expected to create and use models to develop scientific understanding (Achieve Inc. 2013).

Because students will be expected to construct and use models on assessments, teachers need to better evaluate how they currently engage students in using and constructing models. We have used the process outlined below, including the four evaluation questions and opportunities to reflect on classroom practice, with several groups of teachers and administrators to review their modeling activities in light of what is now expected based on the Framework and the NGSS. Participants found the activities valuable in learning about how to engage learners in constructing models.

Evaluating modeling activities

You probably have some experience using models to teach science concepts. Perhaps you use a Slinky to illustrate the energy in a wave or have students build models to represent plate tectonics. These physical models are frequently used during a science unit to help students see abstract or slowly evolving ideas or at the end of a science unit to help students present their knowledge while the teacher assesses what they have learned. Models, which are representations of science phenomena, are intended to support student learning about complex systems. But do they help students reach the level of understanding expected by the NGSS?

Let's consider the solar system model frequently used in elementary and middle school science classrooms. …

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