The Problem

The evidence is everywhere.   With few exceptions, high school and first year college physics students--even the ones who become good textbook problem solvers-- do not really understand or retain the underlying physics.

This is because the traditional pedagogy consisting of lecture / demo / lab does not induce students to replace their long-held "common sense" misconcpetions about how the world works with scientific laws.  They learn to recite the laws, but revert to their entrenched misconceptions when challenged.

Dave Ennis (left) with several of the teachers at the Modeling Instruction™ workshop at Teachers College, Columbia University, July 2014

A Strong Remedy

There is solid statistical evidence that interactive engagement pedagogies are far more effective at changing the minds of beginning physics students than the traditional approach still in use by close to ninety percent of physics educators.   For introductory physics, Modeling Instruction™ stands as perhaps the most thoroughly researched, most widely implemented, most statistically verified and most collegially supported interactive engagement pedagogy in use anywhere.

Workshop Goals

  • To train teachers in the use of a model-centered, constructivist method of teaching.
  •  To develop and impove the physics content knowledge of new teachers and "crossover" teachers.
  •  To provide continued professional development for experienced instructors as well as mentoring of new instructors.
  •  To integrate computer courseware effectively into the physics curriculum.
  •  To establish electronic support and a learning community among participants.
  • To help postion participants in their respective teacher evaluation systems with desirable, measureable, and achievable goals.
  •  To strengthen local institutional support for participants as school leaders in disseminating standards-based reform in science education.

The Modeling Workshop

This workshop  will thoroughly address all related aspects of high school (and middle school) teaching of Mechanics, including the integration of teaching methods with course content for physics classrooms.  Special emphasis will be placed on modeling conceptual development and integrating technology appropriate for the  high school.  Participants will be introduced to the Modeling Method as a systematic approach to the design of curriculum and instruction to handle the content area traditionally comprising  constant velocity, uniform acceleration, Newton's laws, projectiles,  circular motion, energy, and momentum.

Why Three Weeks?

Experience shows that a 3-week minimum is needed by most high school science teachers to transform their teaching to modeling instruction.  And this stands to reason.  Our teaching habits are as firmly entrenched as the student misconceptions that we are trying to unseat.  Just as with them, if we do not thoroughly and actively accept the new and  replace the old, we will tend to revert to the old when challenged, or, often in the case of teachers, when tired or frustrated.

The Modeling Cycle

Participant activities are organized into modeling cycles that engage participants systematically in all aspects of modeling.  Each cycle has two phases.

Model development 

A cycle begins with a demonstration and a discussion to establish a common contextual understanding of terminology and goals. The leader is sensitive to participant's initial knowledge state and builds on it, instead of treating their minds as empty vessels.  In groups of three, participants design and perform their own experiments and prepare whiteboards for presentation of results and conclusion. Participant's reports articulate and evaluate a model for making sense of experimental results, and submit to questions and critique from all other participants.

Model deployment

Participants are given a variety of problems and situation to analyze using the model.  They prepare to present and defend their
arguments and conclusions. Leader guides participants unobtrusively through each modeling cycle, with an eye to improving the quality of student discourse by insisting on accurate use of scientific terms, on clarity and cogency of expressed ideas and

Workshop Description

In Modeling, the content area described above is organized around eight basic models to simplify structural coherence.  Notice the emphasis on force in models 3 - 8.  We believe that a thorough understanding of the force concept is elusive for new learners, yet it is vital for deep understanding  of all scientific subjects:

1. Constant Velocity
2. Uniform acceleration
3. Free particle model:  Objects in linear, uniform motion subject to no net force.
4. Constant force particle model: Objects in uniformly accelerated motion subject to a constant net force.
5. 2-D motion: Objects with a constant net force in the vertical direction, but no net force in the horizontal
6. Central net force
7. Restoring force model: springs - a method to introduce energy and energy transfer
8. Impulsive force model: Collisions

Participants are supplied with comprehensive course materials in both printed and electronic forms and work through activities alternately in the roles of student or teacher.


This workshop will be held at South Windsor High School in South Windsor, Connecticut.  South Windsor is a pleasant suburb of Hartford, with an expansive mall area, and many places to eat.

Address:  South Windsor High School, 161 Nevers Road, South Windsor, CT

Hours:  8:30 am to 4:30 pm daily with an hour for lunch  12:00 to 1:00

Dates:  (Mon - Thu) June 29 - July 2, (Mon - Fri) July 6 - July 10, and (Mon - Fri) July 13 - July 17

Leaders:  Rose Emanuel  and David Ennis

Registration Fee:  $600.    Includes printed and electronic copies of program materials, and a one year membership in AMTA

This is not a 'flavor of the month" teacher training exercise

For 24 years, Modeling Instruction has helped teachers attain knowledge and skills needed to benefit their students. Modeling Instruction is designated as an Exemplary K-12 science program by the U.S. Department of Education. The American Physical Society recognized it with the 2014 Excellence in Physics Education Award.  Change The Equation rates it an Accomplished STEM program.  The American Modeling Teachers Assn (AMTA) is expanding the work nationwide.   AMTA is a 100Kin10 Partner.

Want to know more?  Much has been written about Modeling Instruction.   An excellent place to start is at the AMTA website:                  American Modeling Teachers Associaion

Photo courtesy of Fernand Brunschwig, STEMTeachersNYC