Modeling Instruction for High School Physics

Developed by: David Hestenes and Malcolm Wells

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical  Modern / Quantum +2
Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Studio

What? Instruction organized around active student construction of conceptual and mathematical models in an interactive learning community. Students engage with simple scenarios to build, test and apply the handful of scientific models that represent the content core of physics.

Why? It engages students in building, testing, deploying, and revising models, which is the heart of the scientific process. It has been shown to improve conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills.

Why not? Effectively implementing Modeling Instruction requires participation in a 3-week professional development course and accessing instructional materials requires a paid membership to the American Modeling Teachers Association. There is an associated cost for both teachers and individual students.

Classroom video

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Using multiple representations
  • Designing experiments
  • Metacognition
Can be adapted for:
  • Lab skills
  • Making real-world connections

Instructor effort required

  • High

Resources required

  • Computers for students
  • Advanced lab equipment
  • Tables for group work

Intro Article: M. Wells, D. Hestenes, and G. Swackhamer, A modeling method for high school physics instruction, Am. J. Phys. 63 (7), 606 (1995).
External Resources


More videos of teachers using Modeling Instruction

Silver Validation
This is the second highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 2 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 4 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication