Developing a learning progression for scientific modeling: Making scientific modeling accessible and meaningful for learners

Christina V. Schwarz, Brian J. Reiser, Elizabeth A. Davis, Lisa Kenyon, Andres Achér, David Fortus, Yael Shwartz, Barbara Hug, Joe Krajcik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

789 Scopus citations


Modeling is a core practice in science and a central part of scientific literacy. We present theoretical and empirical motivation for a learning progression for scientific modeling that aims to make the practice accessible and meaningful for learners. We define scientific modeling as including the elements of the practice (constructing, using, evaluating, and revising scientific models) and the metaknowledge that guides and motivates the practice (e.g., understanding the nature and purpose of models). Our learning progression for scientific modeling includes two dimensions that combine metaknowledge and elements of practice scientfic models as tools for predicting and explaining, and models change as understanding improves. We describe levels of progress along these two dimensions of our progression and illustrate them with classroom examples from 5 th and 6 th graders engaged in modeling. Our illustrations indicate that both groups of learners productively engaged in constructing and revising increasingly accurate models that included powerful explanatory mechanisms, and applied these models to make predictions for closely related phenomena. Furthermore, we show how students engaged in modeling practices move along levels of this progression. In particular, students moved from illustrative to explanatory models, and developed increasingly sophisticated views of the explanatory nature of models, shifting from models as correct or incorrect to models as encompassing explanations for multiple aspects of a target phenomenon. They also developed more nuanced reasons to revise models. Finally, we present challenges for learners in modeling practices such as understanding how constructing a model can aid their own sensemaking, and seeing model building as a way to generate new knowledge rather than represent what they have already learned.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)632-654
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • Learning progression
  • Scientific modeling
  • Scientific practice
  • Student learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Developing a learning progression for scientific modeling: Making scientific modeling accessible and meaningful for learners'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this