Introduction to the Full Theory

Of particular interest for the educational theorist

Identifying the Pattern phase contributes to the Setting the Stage mode.

Generating an Initial Model phase contributes to Setting the Stage mode.

Evaluating the Model phase contributes to Improving the Model mode as wells Model Competition mode and Consolidating the Model mode

Modifying the Model phase contributes to Improving the Model mode as well as Applying the Model mode.


These processes support the Identify Pattern phase

These processes support the Generate Model phase.

These processes support the Evaluate Model phase

These processes support the Modify Model phase


All of the visualization strategies and Participation Strategies at Level I can support anything in the rows above.













Figure 1. Clickable Strategy Catalog Map with Links to Strategy Descriptions. An upward black or gray arrow going from box A to box B in this figure means that Process A supports (and is a subprocess for) Process B. The horizontal green arrows denote an ordered sequence of processes.


In this section we provide a full map of discussion leading strategies used for model construction and introduce the accompanying theory of modeling processes. This builds on the Core of this Approach and Educator's Tour sections of the site.

Figure 1 is a clickable map of the major groups of strategies on the site. It illustrates how the more specific lower level items offer support for the more general, higher level items above them.

An Evolutionary Sequence of Models and Revisions

In the Core of this Approach section, we considered the lesson excerpt diagrammed in Figure 2.

This is a repeat of the large diagram of part of a class discussion shown on the Core of This Approach page, but here there is additional annotation at the bottom. The socially-constructed evolving explanatory model under discussion is depicted as a sequence of drawings of the lungs that become progressively more accurate. Sample teacher and student utterances accompany each image. Below each utterance is a strategy at each of the four levels. First the teacher asks, “What ideas do you have for how we breathe to get oxygen? Draw a picture.” At the broadest level, Level IV: Classroom Mode, this is considered to be part of a “Setting the Stage” classroom mode. The teacher is supporting this with a Level III: Modeling Phase, which in this case is “Identifying the Pattern to be Explained.” At Level II: Creative Reasoning Processes, the teacher is asking students to “Deepen an Explanation,” which is one way to get students to identify the pattern to be explained by the lesson. At Level I: Visualization Strategies, the teacher is asking students to draw a picture. This will help them deepen the explanation, which in turn helps them to identify the pattern, which helps set the stage for the lesson. Eight other utterances in the classroom discussion are each labeled with four levels of strategies. At Level IV, the classroom mode moves from Setting the Stage to a Model Improvement mode. At level III, the modeling phases progress through Generating an Initial Model (part of Setting the Stage) to a sequence of Evaluation and Modification phases (part of Model Improvement). At Level II, a number of Creative Reasoning Processes are either suggested by the teacher or spontaneously used by the students, as when a student spontaneously Provides a Modification to the model. At Level I, most of the visualization strategies used in this discussion involve drawing and gesturing over drawings.
Figure 2. Lungs Lesson Illustrating Four Levels of Strategies. In this figure, all arrows mean "A leads to and informs B." Multiple strategies being used are shown directly underneath each teacher or student statement.


In this excerpt, we see a socially-constructed Evolving Explanatory Model, depicted as a sequence of images evolving from left to right. Each image reflects what can be thought of as an intermediate model. Here, these become progressively closer to the teacher's target model for the lesson. This reflects the approach to science teaching and learning emphasized here, which is to treat model improvement as a central feature, where students are able to build on knowledge that they have developed in earlier sections (Steinberg & Clement, 2001; Clement, 2000). We call the kind of discussion occurring during Model Improvement Guided Model Improvement Discussion.

This diagram is a repeat of Figure 1 on the Core of This Approach page. It is also a small excerpt from the large diagram just above, showing the Level IV and Level III strategies from that class discussion in simplified form. At Level IV are “Setting the Stage” and “Improving the Model.” At Level III, "Identifying Pattern to be Explained" leads to "Generate Initial Model" leads to "Evaluate Model" leads to "Modify Model." Then "Modify Model" leads back to "Evaluate Model." There is a vertical line that divides the entire diagram down the middle. On the left, "Pattern" and "Generate Initial Model" are grouped together under "Setting the Stage." A comment under "Generate Initial Model" says "Brainstorming discussion without Evaluation."  On the right, "Evaluate" and "Modify" are grouped together under "Improving the Model" and a comment under both of them says "Guided Model Improvement Discussion."
Figure 3. Annotated diagram of Core Strategies at Levels IV and III.


Figure 2 identifies the Level III and Level IV core strategies where they were used in the lung lesson. These core strategies are summarized in Figure 3.

Four Strategy Levels

There are four strategy levels in all, as shown in Figures 1 and 2 and briefly described in the Educator’s Tour. We often see teachers using several strategies at once in parallel. For example, when the teacher asks, "Could all the air sink out at the bottom?" she is attempting to (IV) Improve the Model, by (III) promoting Model Evaluation, by (II) Directly Requesting an Evaluation, while (I) Gesturing over the Drawing. These parallel strategies are noted beneath the left-most utterance in Figure 2. Reading up through the levels instead of down, we can say that a Level I strategy was used to implement a Level II strategy, which was used to implement a Level III strategy, which in turn was used to implement a Level IV strategy. Each of the four teacher utterances in the figure has four teaching strategies listed beneath it. This is a condensation of the transcript—many more strategies are noted in a complete analysis. (Incidentally, we see similar layers in expert reasoning in think aloud protocols. What this might indicate about the nature of scientific modeling processes is explored much further in Clement, 2008.)

The Strategy Catalog Map

In the Strategy Catalog Map at the top of the page, the orange box contains links to the Core Strategies at Levels IV and III, along with collections of Level II creative reasoning strategies that support them. Level III includes the basic model improvement cycle (in green). The diagram as a whole includes links to all pages in the strategy catalog, arranged here to reflect how we see these being deployed in the modeling classroom. The map is based on observation studies of experienced modeling teachers. Obviously, learning all the strategies from scratch would take years of practice, but in our experience teachers can learn to use some of the main strategies in a finite time by focusing on one level at a time.

In the right hand side of the top row are links to two additional Classroom Modeling Modes. Teachers can extend the discussion of a topic in a Model Competition Mode, in which students can evaluate multiple models. This would come into play, say, if two groups of students had competing views of how oxygen is transferred to the blood in the alveoli. Then, in the Model Consolidation and Application Mode, teachers can complete a topic by supporting students to consolidate their understanding of the topic and apply that model to new situations.

The top row modes are implemented via more specific strategies below them at Level III. These in turn are implemented by more fine-grained support strategies at Level II, such as supporting students to generate a model via an analogy or evaluate a model with empirical evidence.

Another attribute of the four levels of strategies is that the levels tend to vary in time scale. Larger, long time scale strategies appear in the upper levels, and smaller quick strategies appear at the bottom. The lowest level contains Visualization Strategies for fostering student imagery, and general Participation Strategies for starting and sustaining student participation in discussions. These tend to be brief and can be used at any time during a unit.

In teacher education courses we have had teachers learn the Participation strategies first, then the strategies under Setting the Stage, then those under Improving the Model, before learning other strategies. This approach to learning the strategies one group at a time is described in the section Course Syllabus Ideas.

An even more detailed list appears in Figure 4, showing the contents of the strategy collections at Levels II and I.

The Science and Engineering Practice of Modeling

In the US, the NGSS has called for more attention to the practice of modeling, but teachers want more detail than the standards can provide. Figure 4 is our attempt to provide a detailed map of model-based teaching strategies and the many aspects of modeling practice they support. Although this site is constructed from the perspective of the teaching strategies, the catalog entry for each strategy also describes processes it is designed to support. As a result, this site has embedded within it an extensive organized set of modeling subpractices that are used by both student and expert modelers.1

Expansion of Figure 1 that lists every strategy on every page in the catalog. Like Figure 1, this figure lays out the pages as a diagram that shows the theoretical relationships between the four levels of strategies.
Figure 4. Complete set of teaching strategies in the Strategy Catalog and the higher-level strategies they support or contribute to.

Introduction to the Cognitive Theory

In formulating a theory of modeling practices, we have drawn on studies of scientists' practices, such as Nersessian (1993), Clement (2008), Darden (1991), and Trickett, Trafton, & Schunn (2009). Each of the strategies in Figure 1 is derived from a modeling practice observed in expert scientists (except for the Participation strategies). See Clement (2017) for examples of this. However, real scientists' practices are quite varied and complex. We have done microanalyses of middle and high school classrooms in order to see which of the expert practices are present and within the grasp of students. Importantly, the Improvement Cycle in Fig. 3 is central in descriptions by these authors of real scientists' thinking, and also in the classroom discussions of experienced modeling teachers we have observed. Therefore, the Framework in Figure 1 presents highlights of modeling processes that are seen in both experts and classrooms. This comprises one way in which the framework can be seen as integrative.

Where to Go Next

  • The Strategies Catalog section lists and gives examples of all strategies organized by levels.
  • The Course Syllabus Ideas section contains suggestions for using this site as a resource for a graduate course. It includes ideas arising from experience teaching aspects of this material in courses for pre- and in-service teachers. Teachers who want to self-instruct can also use the exercises and videos accessed from the Syllabus Ideas section to gain a more in-depth understanding of strategies that support modeling.


1See Clement (2008) for a description of the expert modeling studies, connections with the student studies, and discussion of the underlying cognitive theory.