Developing and Using Models

Below is the progression of the Science and Engineering Practice of Developing and Using Models, followed by Performance Expectations that make use of this Science and Engineering Practice.

Developing and Using Models

A practice of both science and engineering is to use and construct models as helpful tools for representing ideas and explanations. These tools include diagrams, drawings, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations.

Primary School (K-2)

Modeling in K–2 builds on prior experiences and progresses to include using and developing models (i.e., diagram, drawing, physical replica, diorama, dramatization, or storyboard) that represent concrete events or design solutions.
  • Distinguish between a model and the actual object, process, and/or events the model represents.
  • Compare models to identify common features and differences.
  • Develop and/or use a model to represent amounts, relationships, relative scales (bigger, smaller), and/or patterns in the natural and designed world(s).
  • Develop a simple model based on evidence to represent a proposed object or tool.

Elementary School (3-5)

Modeling in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to building and revising simple models and using models to represent events and design solutions.
  • Identify limitations of models.
  • Collaboratively develop and/or revise a model based on evidence that shows the relationships among variables for frequent and regular occurring events.
  • Develop a model using an analogy, example, or abstract representation to describe a scientific principle or design solution.
  • Develop and/or use models to describe and/or predict phenomena.
  • Develop a diagram or simple physical prototype to convey a proposed object, tool, or process.
  • Use a model to test cause and effect relationships or interactions concerning the functioning of a natural or designed system.

Middle School (6-8)

Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to developing, using, and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems.
  • Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool.
  • Develop or modify a model—based on evidence – to match what happens if a variable or component of a system is changed.
  • Use and/or develop a model of simple systems with uncertain and less predictable factors.
  • Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.
  • Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.
  • Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.
  • Develop and/or use a model to generate data to test ideas about phenomena in natural or designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs, and those at unobservable scales.

High School (9-12)

Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed world(s).
  • Evaluate merits and limitations of two different models of the same proposed tool, process, mechanism, or system in order to select or revise a model that best fits the evidence or design criteria.
  • Design a test of a model to ascertain its reliability.
  • Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system.
  • Develop and/or use multiple types of models to provide mechanistic accounts and/or predict phenomena, and move flexibly between model types based on merits and limitations.
  • Use a model to provide mechanistic accounts of phenomena.
  • Develop a complex model that allows for manipulation and testing of a proposed process or system.
  • Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems.

This is a table of the Science and Engineering Practice of Developing and Using Models. If coming from a Standard the specific bullet point used is highlighted and additional performance Expectations that make use of the Science and Engineering Practice can be found below the table. To see all Science and Engineering Practices, click on the title "Science and Engineering Practices."

Developing and Using Models

Modeling can begin in the earliest grades, with students’ models progressing from concrete “pictures” and/or physical scale models (e.g., a toy car) to more abstract representations of relevant relationships in later grades, such as a diagram representing forces on a particular object in a system. (NRC Framework, 2012, p. 58)

Models include diagrams, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations. Although models do not correspond exactly to the real world, they bring certain features into focus while obscuring others. All models contain approximations and assumptions that limit the range of validity and predictive power, so it is important for students to recognize their limitations.

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, to generate data that can be used to make predictions, and to communicate ideas to others. Students can be expected to evaluate and refine models through an iterative cycle of comparing their predictions with the real world and then adjusting them to gain insights into the phenomenon being modeled. As such, models are based upon evidence. When new evidence is uncovered that the models can’t explain, models are modified.

In engineering, models may be used to analyze a system to see where or under what conditions flaws might develop, or to test possible solutions to a problem. Models can also be used to visualize and refine a design, to communicate a design’s features to others, and as prototypes for testing design performance.