Using Models to Explain Science

Physics modelBetween the ages of 7 to 15 children are developing from a 'concrete' world of understanding to a more abstract view of ideas and information.  This means that they become more able to understand and process ideas presented to them in language and symbols, rather than needing actual objects to explain an idea.

As adults, we sometimes forget that students are making this transition and try to explain science principles using only words and abstract notes - hoping that the child's imagination will be able to replicate the model that we have already formed in our adults brains. More often than not, this results in a confused teenager who becomes disengaged from the learning process.

This is the reason that the most effective teaching of new ideas to young minds comes with supplying information at both the abstract level (to encourage the development of their abtract thinking) as well as using 'concrete' objects, models, props and fun 'hands-on' apparatus to ground the ideas in a more familiar context.

It's amazing how many everyday objects can help to explain and demonstrate physics ideas - even if they are just simple analogies. Different types of waves can be seen on a 'slinky spring'... electrostatic attraction is easy to demonstrate using a comb and a smooth stream of water from a tap...

Even if props are not close to hand, using familiar ideas with colour, humour, movement and imagination can be just as effective to explain physics prinicples. Electricity can be modelled as a flow of (hot) water which gets cooler after going through a radiator... Heat energy can be modelled as the vibration of atoms in a springy lattice of bonds...

I have tried to incorporate this type of approach to help explain the physics in many of the GCSE Physics Ninja flashcards and video tutorials. That said, there are always better ways to explain a concept, so please feel free to share any of your successful learning experiences by leaving a comment below. How did your teacher explain that tricky science idea?

Using Models to Explain Science was last modified: August 23rd, 2015 by Olly Wedgwood

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