# Modeling Method presents different way to teach students physics

One of the main differences between the Modeling Method and the traditional lecture format is that, in the Modeling Method, students learn physics by doing the problem-solving themselves rather than watching the teacher do it, says David Hestenes, ASU emeritus professor of physics and pioneer of the method.

In the Modeling Method, students are not being lectured to by the teacher. They instead are guided to develop a model of a physical system using diagrams, maps and mathematical formulas. The teacher acts as a facilitator who is unobtrusively in control of the agenda at all times.

According to Larry Dukerich, a physics teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa , Ariz. , the Modeling Method also emphasizes a lab-based approach to learning, similar to actual research, rather than the textbook-based approach found in traditional teaching methods.

Susan Poland, a physics teacher at Dysart High School in El Mirage , Ariz. , describes the traditional style of teaching physics as “lecture, lecture, lecture, problems, problems, problems, and maybe a lab.” She says that the Modeling Method “is a totally different way of teaching,” and that “you can't just memorize things.”

In the traditional lecture method, the teacher is the focus of attention, and the student is more of an observer than a participant. In this approach, memorization becomes the major technique for learning the material, Hestenes says.

In the Modeling Method, the teacher gives some initial background on the physical system, but then it is up to the students to design and perform experiments, develop a model to represent relationships between variables in the system, and analyze and verify the model, Dukerich says. The students also present their findings to the rest of the class, while the teacher checks their understanding of the conceptual and mathematical model they've developed.

One example of a physical system that gets modeled is a pulley-wheel system, called a modified “Atwood's machine,” with a car on one end and a weight on the other. First, the students describe the system and identify parameters that they can measure, such as force, mass and acceleration. With this example, the students learn how motion is related to force.

The students then are directed to develop a functional relationship between the different variables they have identified by conducting experiments. The students are guided to make distinctions between independent variables (variables under their direct control) and dependent variables (the effects), and to design their experiments by holding some parameters constant and varying others.

The modeling cycle comes to a close when the students deploy their models by applying them to new situations, which can involve predicting the effects of new experiments. The deployment phase allows students to understand the model they have developed in more than one context, and it enhances their grasp of the system they were modeling.

The Modeling Method makes improvements over other more student-centered inquiry based approaches to teaching physics as well, because it emphasizes the development of scientific models. The use of models allows students to develop a more “coherent, flexible and systematic understanding of physics,” Hestenes says.