Thursday, November 29, 2012

Getting Started With Modeling Instruction in Chemistry

Four years ago, I was introduced to the Modeling Method for teaching physics at Arizona State University. It instantly clicked with my constructivist philosophy of teaching & learning. It helped make me an excellent physics teacher who challenged students to think more than ever and taught science by doing science. Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Pennsylvania to train in the Modeling Method for teaching chemistry. Another influential experience, this program transformed my chemistry instruction and helped align my teaching philosophy and pedagogy with both of the science disciplines that I teach. 

In my experience with teaching using the Modeling Method, I have had tremendous success making learning of science accessible, engaging and challenging to all levels of high school students. This post is a resource for anyone interested in the Modeling Instruction in Chemistry program. The training is done over a three-week period of 15 full-day course meetings. A total of over 100 hours of contact time wherein the participants in the training will go through all of the curriculum in the role of the student and debrief and discuss the underpinnings of it all as teachers. 

Modeling instruction is a constructivist pedagogy for teaching science using inquiry-based methods. Though it could be translated to other disciplines, it is a framework for teaching wherein learning takes place through the focused development and deployment of conceptual models. The models are constructed by the students themselves through the active experiences of interacting with the the content in a physical context. The teacher's role is to guide students and cultivate their learning with them. Multiple representations of the developed models are a mainstay of this approach.

The curriculum design for Modeling Instruction in Chemistry was influenced by the CHEM-Study approach which first appeared in the early 1960s. This approach to chemistry instruction makes the particle models used to describe matter and the treatment of the role of energy in change more explicit. The three essential questions that guide this approach to chemistry teaching & learning are:
  1. How do we view matter? (Answer in terms of the particle you are using to describe matter)
  2. How does matter behave? (Provide an explanation of the behavior using this particle model)
  3. What is the role of energy in the changes we observe?
The curriculum framework for Modeling Instruction in Chemistry is comprised of nine essential units, each of which contributes additional features to the ever-developing model of matter. It follows a generally historical perspective of the development of the body of knowledge in chemistry that exists today, and it makes the structure of the discipline far more explicit than any other conventional approach to teaching chemistry. The nine units are highlighted below along with a more detailed entry about the units in the context of the three-week training.

The "Big Ideas" of the Modeling Instruction in Chemistry Curriculum Framework (Units 1-9)

Unit 1 - Physical Properties of Matter
Matter is composed of featureless spheres (particles) which have mass and volume. 

Unit 2 - Energy & States of Matter (Part I)
The particles are in constant, random, thermal motion.

Unit 3 - Energy & States of Matter (Part II)
Energy is a conserved substance-like quantity that is stored in various accounts and transferred in various ways.

Unit 4 - Describing Substances, Mixtures and Compounds
The particles that make up substances can be compounded from smaller particles. 

Unit 5 - Counting Particles Too Small to See
Using Avogadro’s Hypothesis we are able to determine the number of molecules in macroscopic samples by weighing them.

Unit 6 - Particles Having Internal Structure
We find that atoms have the property of charge and some internal structure

Unit 7 - Chemical Reactions: Particles and Energy
Chemical reactions involve the rearrangement of atoms in molecules to form new molecules.

Unit 8 - Stoichiometry
Equations representing chemical reactions relate numbers of particles (molecules or formula units) to weighable amounts of these particles.

Unit 9 - Applications of Stoichiometry
Equations representing chemical reactions can also relate numbers of particles (molecules or formula units) to volumes of gases, solutions and to the change in chemical potential energy.

The entire Modeling Chemistry Workshop was documented and chronicled during summer 2012 in a series of 18 posts, each of which focuses on topics from one or more of the units of study:


  1. The modeling method of instruction is very useful for students because it helps us visualize how particles are moving and interacting in a system. It allows us to get a firmer grasp on the chemistry of any experiment.

  2. It was cool to see a brief summary of the year as well as reading about how it relates to the modeling method. Maybe I will read the posts from the modeling chemistry workshop when i get time.

  3. Wow, your website is not for nought. I'm working through all these notes you took so that I can actually remember my modeling workshop better. Your notes are AWESOME. I took the workshop in Marquette, Michigan this summer.

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