PLU - May 2023

Models-Based Science Teaching

by: Steven W. Gilbert

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Humans perceive the world by constructing mental models—telling a story, interpreting a map, reading a book. Every way we interact with the world involves mental models, whether creating new ones or building on existing models with the introduction of new information. In Models-Based Science Teaching, author and educator Steven Gilbert explores the concept of mental models in relation to the learning of science, and how we can apply this understanding when we teach science. Practicing science teachers at all levels who want to explore new and better ways to frame and model science will find value in this book. Models-Based Science Teaching is concerned with building models of learning that helps students of all ages understand four basic ideas:

• When they learn something, they are constructing mental models that are by nature simplified and subject to change.
• These models are adopted because they work and not necessarily because they are the only true and most effective ways of understanding the world.
• No one has a complete grasp of any model, and most of the time we are working with approximations of a situation.
• What we create when we communicate are expressions of our inner mental models.

Rather than advocating a rigid curriculum, Gilbert asserts that models-based science teaching embraces the creativity inherent in science and in learning, saying, “The best way to engage students in the creativity of science is engage them in inquiry, beginning with the creation of a problem and ending with a completed expressed model.”

Table of Contents


About the Author

Chapter 1: MBST and the Nature of Models

What is This Book About?

Defining Models


For Discussion


Chapter 2: Mental Models

Body and Mind

Mind and Mental Models

The Rationale for Mental Models

Incorporating New Information

The Organization of Mental Models

Mental Models and Learning

Propositions and Parsimony

Truths, Archetypes and Creativity

For Discussion


Chapter 3: The Nature of Science

Defining Science and Technology

Rethinking the Relationship of Science and Technology

The Processes of Science

The Design of Scientific Tests

Quantitative and Qualitative Models

Statistical Reliability and Validity

Scientific Models and the Stability of Targets

Parsimony and Model Building

An MBST View of Modern Science

Template for the Scientific Model


For Discussion and Practice


Chapter 4: Models and Science Teaching

Content to Inquiry to Model Building

Modeling Science at Different Grade levels

MBST at the Elementary Level

MBST at the Secondary Level

Examples of MBST at Several Grade Levels

Lesson Planning for MBST


For Discussion and Practice


Chapter 5: Building Models in the Classroom

Parsimony and the Organization of Instruction

The Spiral Curriculum

Exploring and Explaining Analogies

Models in School Science Reports

Verbal Modeling

Problem Statements

Theoretical Analyses

Hypothetical Models

Qualitative Descriptive Models

Procedural and Data Models

Models of Results, Discussions, and Conclusions

Mathematical Models

Tabular Data Models

Statistical Models

Formulas and Equations

Graphical Models

Diagrammatic and Pictorial Models

How to Select Elements, Build, and Evaluate a Scientific Model

Finding and Accounting for Errors in Scientific Model Building

Engaging Students in Assessing the Validity and Reliability of Their Models

From Model to Target(s): the Fine Art of Generalizing

The Scientific Research Model

What is the Problem and Reason for Building the Model?

What Could the Model Look Like?

What Data are Most Likely to Reveal Key Relationships?

How Should Data be Treated and Interpreted?

What Outcomes are Likely, Including Potential Misconceptions?

How can the Model be Generalized and Limited?

What Does the Model Reveal About Science and the Context of Science?

How can the Model be Enriched?


For Discussion and Practice


Chapter 6: The Creative Processes of Science

The Art of Creating Problems

Analogy, Simile, and Metaphor in Science

Creativity and Conceptual Blending

Infusing Creativity into School Science

Engaging in Creative Inquiry

Engaging in Visualization

Creating Stories


What Could Happen If . . .


For Discussion and Practice


Chapter 7: MBST and the Scientific Worldview

Defining a Model of a Scientific Worldview

Characteristics of a Scientific Society

Science and the Mythical Model

Science and Supernatural Modeling

Science and Religious Models

Science, the Media, and Informal Experts

The Scientific Worldview and Professional Science

Developing the Scientific Worldview in the Classroom


For Discussion and Practice

Appendix 1: Student Readings

Appendix 2: Recommended Resources


Download a sample chapter

Grade Levels

Elementary High School Middle School


New Science Teachers Professional Learning Teacher Preparation Teaching Strategies


Type NSTA Press BookPub Date 9/28/2011ISBN 978-1-936137-23-7Stock # PB299X

NSTA Press produces classroom-ready activities, hands-on approaches to inquiry, relevant professional development, the latest scientific education news and research, assessment and standards-based instruction.

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