Tools to enhance Developing and Using Models: Practice 2

This fall, Phil Brookhouse has been delivering workshops showcasing  MLTI resources educators can use to integrate the  8 Science and Engineering Practices described in A Framework for K-12 Science Education into classroom instruction.
This guest post from Phil addresses Developing and Using Models: Practice 2 and highlights the MLTI resources that you can use to support this practice in your classroom.  Thank you, Phil!
Computers hold real promise in the learning process, especially when educators use them to help students understand science and engineering concepts. Back in the ‘80s, Seymour Papert proposed that computers have the power to “concretize the abstract.” In other words, computers can demonstrate phenomena that cannot be represented in real time or scale.  Computers can  provide models and simulations that animate processes, strip away variables that mask relationships, compress or expand time and scale, and allow students to observe how changing variables affect outcomes.
What does the Framework have to say about models? The authors describe the progression of the second practice as follows:
Modeling can begin in the earliest grades, with students’ models progressing from concrete “pictures” and/or physical scale models (e.g., a toy car) to more abstract representations of relevant relationships in later grades, such as a diagram representing forces on a particular object in a system. Students should be asked to use diagrams, maps, and other abstract models as tools that enable them to elaborate on their own ideas or findings and present them to others  Young students should be encouraged to devise pictorial and simple graphical representations of the findings of their investigations and to use these models in developing their explanations of what occurred.
More sophisticated types of models should increasingly be used across the grades, both in instruction and curriculum materials, as students progress through their science education. The quality of a student-developed model will be highly dependent on prior knowledge and skill and also on the student’s understanding of the system being modeled, so students should be expected to refine their models as their understanding develops. Curricula will need to stress the role of models explicitly and provide students with modeling tools (e.g., Model-It, agent- based modeling such as NetLogo, spreadsheet models), so that students come to value this core practice and develop a level of facility in constructing and applying appropriate models.
Since the Framework references NetLogo, let me start with this MLTI resource first. NetLogo is a modeling resource with an extensive library of models that represent many science and engineering concepts. Teachers can use these models to help student explore and understand phenomena.  Students can manipulate the models, AND students can “play” with the coding to investigate assumptions that are built into the models. This means students can both use the existing models, and adapt and develop their own models to test new assumptions.
Maine Explorer, is an application that includes modeling.  The Foundation for Blood Research developed this application especially for Maine with funding from the National Science Foundation. This software offers five ecological scenarios in which students manipulate variables in the simulations.  Maine Explorer ALSO allows students to adjust the model programming and understand the “nuts and bolts” of how the model are built. Users across the country have given Maine Explorer accolades its conceptual depth and pedagogical promise. Teachers may download a full curriculum from the project website.
Concord Consortium created both Molecular Workbench and Geniquest. Teachers can use these resources also to promote student interaction with models and simulations. Molecular Workbench has a library of models and activities that represent physical science, life science, and chemistry at the microscopic level.  Molecular Workbench allow students to “see” the molecular interactions. Geniquest offers a genetic context in which students crossbreed fantasy dragons, observe dominant and recessive traits and the process of meiosis, see Punnett Squares and pedigrees in action, and explore what happens at the chromosomes, alleles, and genes levels.
Let us not forget that developing proficiency with models includes students creating and understanding graphical representations. There are several MLTI resources that students can use to create graphs from data.  They include: Numbers, Data Studio and Logger Pro, Grapher and GeoGebra, and Omni Graph Sketcher. Educators can also use these tools to prompt students to explore the relationships among data.  Numbers, a spreadsheet and layout program, is found in iWorks. Data Studio and Logger Pro allow students to use real time data and tables to build graphs and use analytical tools. Grapher and GeoGebra offer rich graphing and analysis capabilities. And, Omni Graph Sketcher is yet another graphing tool that supports students to make elegant and precise graphs quickly.                          .
MyWorld and Google Earth are also important tools that allow students to use and develop geographical models to represent data and conceptual relationships spatially. Educators can access  a world of databases that can be used with these tools to build conceptual understanding.
SketchUp Pro is a 3D modeling application that supports students to build models in three dimensions to solve design problems, explore scale, measurement, and design feasibility.
Scratch, a simple programming environment,  allows students to build their own models. These models can be games, animations, presentations, or applications. The real power of Scratch is in its ease of use. Students “build” programs using modules rather than more complex programming language.