In partnership with the Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, and Institute of Physics

What is different about model-based inquiry?

Model-based inquiry illustrates one possible approach to what is meant by ‘minds on’ in relation to practical work. 

General teaching approaches used in mode-based inquiry

It is useful to think about when and how you will use question and answer sessions, and how you will prompt students’ discussions. Developing these discussions may be familiar in school science lessons, but what is suggested here is very different.  It is very specific, with questioning linked to practical work and the models which help to explain data.

Support in managing and organising peer discussions and the pedagogies associated with these activities can be found in the argumentation resources in this project. Here are some strategies you might consider:

  • Encourage students to share their own ideas (mental models) for explaining the phenomenon, where possible.
  • Listen to discussions and ask open questions which facilitate pupils’ thinking and idea expression.
  • Consider the composition of groups. Use strategies for facilitating discussion and feedback such as think-pair-share, envoys, 30 second group presentations.
  • Present the consensus model at an appropriate point in the lesson (this may be at the start to compare with another competing model, after data collection to compare against students own model or at the end of the lesson to compare to pupils revised models.
  • Facilitate the critical evaluation of models by students, by challenging misconceptions as they arise and presenting more sophisticated models for the students to analyse the data against.

Strategies used in model-based inquiry

A model-based inquiry lesson includes:

Introducing models

See the Powerpoint presentation: 'What is a model?'

All three components are essential within a model-based inquiry learning sequence. Through these students are introduced to new ways of talking and thinking about science practical work.

Key conversations

The diagram below (Fig. 2) from Windschitl et al. (2008, p.955) summarises the key conversations within a model-based inquiry. As students gain experience with guided forms of investigation, they become more competent inquirers by ‘internalising’ the conversations – eventually asking themselves the relevant questions without prompting.

The scientific model can be introduced and used at different points in an inquiry; before data collection to frame a prediction and the design of a suitable experiment to test the prediction, or after data collection to frame the analysis of the results. The teacher’s role is then to support student learning through discussion and feedback.

Small group discussion

Small group discussions should be student-centred; structured, prompted, monitored and followed-up by teachers but not dominated by them. Teacher-led question and answer sessions may include scaffolding through cueing, corroboration or disagreement, further explanation and coaching.

Small group discussion and teacher-led question and answer sessions can be used in isolation or in combination. For example, feedback from discussions can be linked with teacher comments which evaluate and reflect on discussion outcomes or provide further explanation.

Scaffolding learning

Questions which might be used to involve students in explaining and interpreting data, and comparing and critiquing models in light of evidence include:

  • Why did that happen? (requires an explanation that may expose misconceptions)
  • Is this explanation … (given by students or the teacher) … supported by the data?
  • Based on what you know about … (topic x), what do you predict would happen when … / what data would you expect to collect if … you carried out an experiment like this?
  • How does the evidence collected support/contradict the model?
  • How would you use this equation to design an experiment to check it is an accurate model/ description?
  • What results would you expect if it was a good model?

Page last updated on 02 May 2013