Modeling for Understanding in Science Education

About Scientific Modeling

Central to any science, whether paleontology or particle physics, is the pursuit of understanding of some corner of our natural world. The pursuit of knowledge occurs in many contexts, in many 'locations' (sometimes in the field, sometimes in the laboratory, sometimes in the mind), and in diverse ways. Of course, this pursuit, and all that accompanies it, is what makes science so intellectually attractive to its practitioners.

photograph of students workingIt has long been our commitment to allow high school students opportunities to be participants in the genuine practice of various sciences. To accomplish this, we have focused on the idea that a central, and perhaps primary, goal of scientists is the development of explanatory models that can be used to explore the natural world. Consequently, throughout the high school where we conduct our curricular research, students have diverse opportunities to engage in collaborative, investigative activities, that involve the development, use, revision, and assessment of central explanatory models that are at the core of various scientific disciplines.

The Modeling for Understanding in Science Education (MUSE) project is one in which high school science teachers and their students at Wisconsin's Monona Grove High School, and science educators from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have collaborated for over a decade to improve teaching, student learning, and student reasoning in a variety of scientific disciplines. Currently, the project involves an extended unit in earth-moon-sun dynamics taught as part of the ninth grade science course, extended units in genetics and evolutionary biology that are taught in the tenth grade course (these two courses are taken by all students in the school), as well as two elective nine-week courses in genetics and evolutionary biology that are a part of the school's innovative, elective science offerings for students during their senior year.

At the heart of the MUSE project, which includes research on learning and reasoning, development of instructional materials, and professional development opportunities for the Monona Grove teachers, is a commitment to providing numerous and varied opportunities for students to: 1) understand central ideas in science and about science as a modeling enterprise and 2) develop their abilities to engage in a wide-range of scientific inquiries. This web site includes materials that have been developed by this project. These include:

  • instructional materials
  • research reports on student learning in the project classrooms
  • examples of student work from the project classrooms
  • extended descriptions of the classrooms
  • descriptions of the underlying commitments of the project
  • descriptions of how students are assessed

If you would to learn more about scientific modeling, please read The Nature and Structure of Scientific Models. We hope that you enjoy our site and we welcome your comments.


This site was developed by the National Center for Mathematics and Science in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Copyright 2002 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System