Using Models and Asking Questions in the Science Classroom

In a recent Spark Webinar, Mike Fisher joined us to discuss how to use modeling to target the NGSS science and engineering practices. Our goal as science teachers, he explained, is to create a space where students see themselves as scientists. To do this it’s all about creating opportunities for students to be the doers of science!

One way teachers can support this is to help students see the everyday phenomena around them and then help students break down and understand the scientific concepts that make these phenomena possible.

In his presentation, Mike highlights two of the SEPs to illustrate what each practice looks like in a student-centered classroom: 1. Developing and using models and 2. Asking questions.

Devices in Your Classroom: “Phones Are the New Pencil”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that students love their cell phones. Instead of fighting it, why not harness it as a tool for students to use for your class? Mike encourages teachers to create opportunities for students to use their phones. This can be done by asking students to find a similar phenomenon to one talked about in class or that illustrates a concept you have been studying. Perhaps it can be a used as a jumping off point, as student capture an image of something that made them curious.

For example:

In Practice: Developing and Using Models

Depending on the phenomena and the level of your students, there are different types of models to consider. Students can either create structural or mathematical models, simulations, or diagrams.

For example: Have students create a model to explain their understanding of the observed phenomena, such as a diagram that explains the phases of the moon—why does it look the way it does, when it does?


  1. Allow time for students to share their models with one another.
  2. Solicit warm and cool feedback from students—What makes sense in this model? Is there something that doesn’t fit?
  3. Have students gather more information through research and reading.
  4. Based on feedback and continued learning, have students make changes to their initial model.
  5. For more advanced levels, students should be able to evaluate a given model—can they articulate why or why not the model explains something? Can they make suggestions to improve the accuracy or sophistication of the model?

**Remember that sharing ideas and collaborative feedback is a necessary process, and that it’s best when students themselves catch and/or address misconceptions rather than teachers.

Example of Student Models

Here are 3 examples of student models that explain the phenomena of the inertia ring, all at varying levels of complexity.

In Practice: Asking Questions

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]If students are asking questions, it means they’re learning[/inlinetweet]—they’re grappling with new information, trying to make sense of it. In the upcoming book, The Quest for Learning, 2017, they outline different types of questions used by both students and teachers. Utilizing the types of questioning below helps students refine both their thinking and their models. An added bonus of these two specific practices is how closely they mirror the ELA practices of revision and literacy!

Extend Learning Experiences with Technology

Take the incorporation of device into your science classroom one step further and have students use specific apps to create their models! For example, Paper by FiftyThree can be used to create digital workbooks where students take notes or draw their own sketches and observations, or consider using the slow-mo video function to capture the phenomena of forces acting on an object.

Download the PowerPoint
Watch the Webinar

If you have any tips about using devices for science learning, or app recommendations, let us know! Email us at!

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