Modeling Instruction

Physics, the study of forces and the motion of objects in the physical world. So many of our everyday encounters, such as driving a car or playing a sport, make physics one of the most relevant sciences. The theories, laws, and principles of physics can explain and predict the behavior of most objects, but often times this science discipline is viewed as challenging or inaccessible to students. Frequently, physics is improperly viewed as a set of equations and variables, or that it is a class meant to be treated like another math class. This couldn’t be further from the truth! While physics does use math to model the physical world, the math is a tool and not the end in physics.

In my classroom, we employ an approach to teaching physics called the Modeling Method, which is very hands-on, project-based, and student-centered. Instead of relying on lectures and textbooks, Modeling Instruction puts students in the driver’s seat of their learning, where they:

  • explore scenarios that represent actual events in the physical world
  • design experiments to test certain conditions or outcomes
  • develop predictive or explanatory models that can be applied to the physical world
  • construct their own understanding through experience of the laws of physics

Students become interactive participants in a learning community. They develop multiple ways of representing the physical world, including a mathematical representation (using equations) that allows them to calculate and predict outcomes in future physical situations. Students are encouraged to learn to model the physical world and better understand it. Students record, display and share findings from experiments using whiteboards, and engage in scientist-like poster presentations and discussion to arrive at consensus. Read more about Modeling Instruction at the American Modeling Teachers Association website.


Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is a second essential element of my physics instructional methodology. Students design authentic projects and build actual products to certain specifications to learn about physics principles. Putting students in the role of a designer or engineer gives them more practice with career-world skills as well as an authentic context for the physics they are learning. One project, which has become a hallmark of our physics class, is the cardboard boat. To learn about buoyancy, forces, and motion, students construct a boat out of cardboard and duct tape. The boat must support the weight of two students who then race their boat a full lap in the school pool.

If you are interested in running/starting a cardboard boat race with your physics class, here are some resources to start you off:


Online resources that can be incorporated into any physics classroom:

  1. Physics Classroom – online companion site to any physics course, including tutorials, animations, and practice questions with explanations
  2. Hippocampus Physics – an online tutorial website for physics with great topic coverage
  3. PHET – a powerful collection of animated physics simulations and interactive applets
  4. Physics Central – your guide to physics on the web
  5. Online Physics textbook resources – as well as online textbooks for other sciences and math
  6. Abud’s Delicious Physics Links