University Modeling Instruction

Developed by: Dwain Desbian, Eric Brewe, Vashti Sawtelle, Daryl McPadden, Jason Dowd, Renee-Michelle Goertzen, Idaykis Rodriguez, Geoff Potvin, Seth Manthey, Jared Durden, Adrienne Traxler, Remy Dou, Eric Williams, Laird Kramer, David Jones Natan Samuels, Camila Monsalve, Daniela Gil, and John Pendas

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

What? A curriculum and pedagogy that integrates lab and lecture into a learning environment where students build, test, deploy, and revise structural models. The content focuses on a few basic models to help students see physics as a coherent whole rather than a disconnected set of facts and equations.

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 reasoning, attitudes toward learning physics, retention, persistence, and degree completion, and to build supportive learning communities.

Why not? Modeling Instruction was developed with a fully reformed curriculum in mind - integrated lab and lecture and active engagement. If you don't have a studio classroom or the ability to integrate the different course components, it might not be the best choice.

Activity outline

Week 1 - Mechanics - In-Class Activity Plan
(There are six hours in each week):
Primary goals for the week: Assessment, Community Building Activity, Good Whiteboarding, Constant Motion

  • 5 min – Introduction
    PURPOSE: This is an introduction of you and the class briefly (learning names), discussion of the syllabus comes later.
  • 50 min – CLASS, Force Concept Inventory, SNA
    All three of these assessments are done in a row, and in the order listed.
  • 15 min – Create Instructions to make a paper airplane
    PURPOSE: Provide non-physics context to discuss role of representations, definitions, models. Establish framing for the course.
  • 15 min – Board Meeting
    (Have students gather in large circle with paper airplanes)
    Questions to pose to the class:
    1) What did you do to make the airplane?
    2) Why would I do this on the first day of class?
  • 20 min – Instructor led discussion (at tables)
    PURPOSE: Get students familiar with course policies
  • 20 min – Fundamentals of whiteboarding & Equipment Introduction
    PURPOSE: Introduce equipment and data collection;
  • 10 min Whiteboard – Equipment Introduction Activity
    Instructions for collecting data with the motion sensors
    How to use computers to represent data from motion sensors
  • 20 min – Board Meeting
    PURPOSE: Principles of good whiteboarding and board meetings
  • 120 min – Investigating Constant Motion Lab
    PURPOSE: Introduce velocity vs. time graphs & their interpretation; identify patterns among graphs; develop constant velocity model.
  • 20 min Whiteboard – Investigating constant motion lab
    PURPOSE: Summarize findings of constant motion investigation
  • 45 min – Board Meeting
    PURPOSE: Establish definitions of relevant quantities, establish patterns in constant velocity.
  • Homework #2: Constant Motion Homework
    PURPOSE: Practice using graphs to represent motion and interpreting graphs

Topic outline

  • Week one – Mechanics
  • Week two – Constant acceleration
  • Week three – Becoming quantitative with constant acceleration
  • Week four – Developing 2D motion
  • Week five – Predicting 2D motion & energy
  • Week six – Becoming quantitative with energy
  • Week seven – Practice with energy and introduction to work
  • Week eight – Investigating forces
  • Week nine – Investigating forces part 2
  • Week ten – Investigating frictional forces
  • Week eleven – Investigating momentum
  • Week twelve – Practicing with forces
  • Week thirteen – Investigating spring forces & circular motion
  • Week fourteen – Rotational motion & simple harmonic motion

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Using multiple representations
  • Building models

Instructor effort required

  • High

Resources required

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

External Resources

Modeling Instruction at Drexel University provides a brief overview of this method.

Eric Brewe's interview on Teach Better Podcast about Modeling Instruction

PhysPort's page on Modeling Instruction for High School Physics describes the same method designed for use in high school classrooms.

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

Research Validation Summary

Published work on the MI classroom shows evidence that students have more developed conceptual understanding and are also more likely to continue in physics. In MI classes the rate of dropping, failing, or withdrawing (DFW) is lower compared to that of a "traditional" lecture.

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