Teaching Students How to Model

Heather Lewandowski of the University of Colorado, Boulder presented a Colloquium today about her group’s Physics Education Research titled “Engaging Students in Authentic Scientific Practices in Physics Lab Courses.” Her talk focused on how to teach students about models and modeling:


which is just one of the four learning goals (modeling, design, communication, and technical lab skills):

learning goals

She has redesigned her lab courses to emphasize modeling and to give her students authentic experiences (lab note booking, writing papers, & giving talks but no lab reports!). This has resulted in:

  • the students no longer being allowed to blame the equipment
  • a language to talk about systematic uncertainties (just an incomplete model)
  • a natural way to introduce the distinction between the measurement device and the physical system under study
  • better outcomes including the elimination of gender gaps
  • an explicit modeling framework (see below)


Diagram from:

Investigating the role of model-based reasoning while troubleshooting an electric circuit D.R. Dounas-Frazer, K. L. Van De Bogart, M. R. Stetzer, and H. J. Lewandowski
Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 12, 010137 – Published 15 June 2016

Suggestions for the PHY 451 Advanced Lab Course @ MSU:

  • introduce modeling framework
  • guided activities that teach modeling
  • shared logbooks that stay with a specific experiment from class to class
  • a chance to receive peer feedback and revise their papers/talks
  1. […] on Teaching Students How to Model, I am revising the lectures for the Advanced Lab class (PHY […]

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