Look in any child’s room and most likely there will be some sort of blocks or building material piled up somewhere. Wanting to build or create something is a desire that begins at a very early age in children and develops as they grow. That feeling of accomplishment kids get when they put the final, finishing touches on something they’ve built is inspiring.
That desire to build, to create, doesn’t fade away as one grows, and that inspiration has led to some breathtaking structures, art, and architecture throughout the world. As educators, it is our job to help fan the flames of that inspiration in our students. One way is to have students use their ingenuity in creating physical models in classroom projects, which provide great learning opportunities.
Creating physical models easily fits into project-based learning and is a great way to demonstrate that classroom objectives have been met. Likewise, physical models also conform very well in a flipped classroom, one of the latest methods of classroom instruction. In a flipped classroom, students could get their direct instruction on design and programming through videos and readings at home, and then use classroom time to create and build artifacts that demonstrate their mastery of the material. This type of learning would work well partnered with physical models because students don’t always have the materials they would need at home to complete projects.
Students using physical models in the classroom typically use the design process to create their artifacts. The design process is a series of steps that include iteration, testing, and refining one’s work to achieve the best possible solution to a problem. Using the design process allows students to realize that there is a path of evolution toward creating the best version of an output. Students learn to evaluate models and determine what is working and what needs refining. These skills can be utilized in many circumstances in school and beyond.
Students are also better prepared for their future careers by growing their cognitive thinking skills. Through planning and evaluating the model through its development, students must determine if their models are practical and credible as well as done in a proper sequence. Having groups create several models in a class gives students a chance to generate comparison models and learn that there are many ways to solve a problem.
These discoveries spark necessary conversation among students and teachers. Being able to communicate during the creation of a group’s physical model and the presentation of it after completion exhibits life-long skills that come out of working with physical models. Students collaborating to solve problems in the classroom and presenting their work throughout all its stages helps prepare them for real world career dynamics. Discussing simulations and prototypes help students to make connections to the real world and the solutions that they may one day design themselves.
Classroom physical models do not have to be complex. In fact, models used by scientists and engineers are usually simplified versions of more complex systems. They are used to assist scientists and engineers in determining the best approaches to use when problem solving. Students can also use models to help structure and explain the knowledge that they gather.
Using physical models in the classroom is not new; kinesthetic learning has been a component of teaching students for years. Research show that students believe that using physical models helps with attentiveness in not only learning concepts but retaining them as well (Gray, et al, 2011). Student surveys found that models provided a “focal point” for them and they felt that they paid more attention than in other classes, even though those classes included lecture, personal responses and in-class activities.
Feeling engaged and focused are key to student learning and success. Utilizing physical models is an effective way to “build” on that and keep students inspired and feeling accomplished in the classroom. That accomplishment leads to confidence and success in transferring the necessary skills into real world use.
Gray, Kyle R., et al, “An Exploratory Study Using Hands-On Physical Models in a Large Introductory, Earth Science Classroom: Student Attitudes and Lessons Learned.” Electronic Journal of Science Education (Southwest University), vol. 12, no. 2, 2011, ejse.southwestern.edu.