Lesson 5

Introduction to Scientific Models: Day One of Seth and the Yak Attack!

44 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT identify models as tools that are used by scientists to predict and explain, and understand that models are revised as scientists' ideas change.

Big Idea

What is a Scientific model? Why do scientists use models? Students engage in a guided exploration that helps them to understand that models are sophisticated tools that advance scientific understanding.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this two part investigation, students use the Science Practices of developing a model to describe a phenomena (5-PS1-1), support an argument with evidence (a model)  (5-PS2-1); and they use the Crosscutting Concept of using a cause and effect relationship to explain change (5-PS1-4).

*  Although students are beginning to address the Disciplinary Core Idea that matter of any type can be subdivided into particles  that are too small to see, but even then the matter still exists and can be detected by other means. (5-PS1.A) - that is not the emphasis for this lesson and will be fully explored in later lessons in the unit.  This experience however, will become a "touchstone" for students in understanding this concept.

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for What's The Matter Plaid Pete? - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 5 is 990 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 40 minutes (15 to assemble materials and 25 minutes to construct the big book).

Materials Needed:

Meter Sticks - 1 per team

Balloons - 2 of the same size per team


String or Cord

Plastic Materials Tubs - 1 per team

Preparation -  I did the following to prepare for this investigation:

  • Print Plaid Pete's Big Book of Models on a color printer, enlarging it to 130% (ledger paper), mounted the pages on large black construction paper, laminated them, hole punched the top, bottom, and middle of each page in the same spot, and then bound the pages with loose leaf metal rings.  You can also use this as an e-book and save the printing.  This was used on Day One.
  • I printed and studied the following paper presented at the Learning Progressions in Science (LeaPS) Conference, that describes a student learning progression for upper elementary students' understanding of scientific modeling.  I used this to help me assess my own students' understandings:  Models: Defining A Learning Progression For Scientific Modeling.

Quick Cumulative Vocabulary Review

10 minutes

I begin today's lesson with a quick review of the Science Word Wall vocabulary that has been introduced so far - with the What's The Matter Plaid Pete?- Word Wall Cards Lesson 2, and What's The Matter Plaid Pete? - Word Wall Cards Lesson 3, using a strategy called "Pepper."  This strategy is an excellent one for this type of rote review.

I have students stand.  I state a definition, reworded so it does not match the card exactly, but gives the general gist of the word such that the student has to truly understand the meaning in order to identify the word.  Then I randomly call a student's name.   I have a cup in which I have placed a popsicle stick with each student's name in the class written on one stick.  The student whose name is called must correctly state the word that I have defined.

Once students have become more familiar with the vocabulary, I will then state a word, and the student has to give the definition.  This is a more difficult task.  I make this a fast paced activity, as I don't want to use too much instructional time on it.

Focus & Motivation

20 minutes

Share Learning Objective and Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can identify models as tools that are used by scientists to predict and explain, and understand that models are revised as scientists' ideas change.

Language Objective:  I can participate in a class discussion by adding comments of my own.  [ELP.4-5.2]

Success Criteria:  I have collected observational notes about models in my Science Notebook, and participated in the class discussion about models.

Assessing Prior Knowledge

I call my students to the meeting area.  I tell them that today, we will be learning about another one of the essential Science practices - I point to the Science and Engineering Practices Poster and read aloud practice number 2:  Developing and Using Models.  

I ask my students to think for a moment about what they know about how models are used in Science.  After they have had a minute or so of think time, I ask them to turn and talk to a partner about their ideas.  I give them a minute or two to share, and then I call on a couple of students to report out.  One student says, "Scientists use models to study things like volcanoes."  Another states, "Scientists use models to study the bones and how the body works."  This tells me I have some students who have some ideas about models.  Most of my students though give me the "deer in the headlights look."

As a few students share their ideas, I respond with, "That's interesting" and "Hmmm..." - all noncommittal replies, I am however listening intently for what my students know about this topic.  I then tell students, that I am going to read aloud Plaid Pete's Big Book of Models   

Read A Loud

The first few pages of this big book contain some familiar models for students, but as we get a few pages in, newer ideas begin to emerge and I slow down a bit.  The fourth page contains content information that will be covered in later lessons, I stop after this page and have my students turn and tell a partner what they noticed.  I call for a student or two to share out.  This is good information for upcoming lessons.  I also stop on the fifth page and discuss the models presented, asking students to provide examples.

There are a good many key ideas about Scientific modeling - and most important is that Scientific models are used to describe, explain, or predict some time of phenomena.  I make that explicit as I read aloud and discuss the examples, but I know that many of my students will not get this until they have had multiple hands-on opportunities.  This is only the beginning.  I leave this book in the library area of my classroom, and I know it will become a class favorite in the coming weeks.

I send my students back to their desks and tell them that they will be using the information they just received to complete a task about models in their teams.

Guided Exploration

35 minutes

Introducing the Models Presentation

I ask my students to turn to the next clean page in their Science Notebooks and to write today's date in the upper right hand corner.  I tell them that they are going to work in their teams to examine some models carefully, and to answer some questions about them.  

I project the What's The Matter Plaid Pete? Models Presentation - Lesson 5, for students to see.  I have also placed 1 color copy at each team for students to examine closely.  We read the text together for each of the four example models.  I ask students to discuss the questions as a team, and to each write their answers in their Science notebooks.

As students are discussing in their teams, I am circulating between the teams, prompting as necessary.  I am asking probing questions that will guide them to the understanding that models are generative tools for predicting and explaining, and that models are changeable entities.  It isn't too long before I discover that my students are confused about the maps.  I have to stop and explain that the idea presented in Plaid Pete's Big Book of Models about the Earth being one large continent was something that occurred thousands and thousands of years ago, and that both of these maps were constructed long after the continents moved apart.  I make a mental note that timelines need to be a big part of our future!

I stop to talk to one group who are examining the pair of maps of the world that are approximately 50 years apart in Video Clip 1. I am coaching this student to describe what he sees using more precise academic language.  He says "One map found out where . . ."   I coach him by asking questions, used as a scaffold.  I ask, " Is the scientific knowledge increasing or decreasing?"  He is able to identify that it is increasing, and is able to provide evidence from the models.  In Video Clip 2 these two students are examining copy of Alexander Graham Bell's Science Notebook and speculate that maybe there are there are different versions of a design, or different parts to the design.  Their comments are leading right into the notion of models as a generative tool.  After having these discussions, I will call on these students during the whole class discussion to share out this information.  The first student needs an opportunity to practice more precise academic language again, and the second set of students have ideas to share that can help their peers refine their ideas about scientific modeling.

This is an example of one student's notebook entry:

Pair Discussion

After students have had an opportunity to write their responses, I call my students to the meeting area with their Science Notebooks.  I ask each student to pair up with a student from another team, and to discuss what they learned about models from their exploration.  I lean in and "coach" my more reluctant students to share.  I am prompting them to use the academic conversation anchor charts that we have created that supply sentence stems that help them to elaborate on their own and other's ideas, to support ideas with evidence, and to build on to each other's ideas.  I am specifically prompting and questioning students to elicit the understandings listed below.  

Class Share Out

I then begin calling on pairs to share out their ideas, listing them on a piece of chart paper on which I have placed the heading Our Ideas About Models.

Through this exploration, I want to move my students from a basic understanding of models as a literal representation of an object or an event, to more complex understandings of different types of models and their uses.  These are the ideas from the Models:  Defining a Learning Progression For Scientific Modeling that I am looking for:

  • Models are tools that are used to show scientists' understanding of some object, event, or process.
  • Models are tools that scientists can use to predict events.
  • Models can be used to generate new questions.
  • Models can be used as a tool to support thinking.
  • Models can be used as tools to understand objects, events and processes that we cannot see.
  • Scientists revise their models to add details,  or new information.
  • Scientists revise their models based on new evidence.
  • Scientists combine existing models to create new models.


I tell my students that now that we have some better understandings about how scientists use models, we will use that information to help Seth out tomorrow - with the Yak!