Supporting Students in Revising Ideas With Models

Nov 6, 2023

Revising ideas over time, with evidence, counter-evidence, and multiple perspectives is important to designing explanations and critiques of science. This tool provides examples of how teachers have supported students in revising models over time and why it is important for science and society in light of new evidence.

Examples of students revising ideas over time

Examples of structured share-outs

 Examples of students revising models with feedback

Teaching Considerations

Here, you will find a range of instructional ideas that can help students bring their models to life and revise their thinking in collaboration with others over the course of a unit.

Step 1

Engage students in structured share-outs. The purpose of a structured share-out is to help students learn from one another and develop a classroom community that shares and revises scientific ideas respectfully. Why is it important to engage in structured share-outs?

  • For Students: In many classrooms, only examples perceived as “right” or the “the best” are shared with the whole class. This practice helps to strategically select representations that could lead to productive conversations about science so students can learn from and with each other.
  • For Science: Scientific knowledge is tentative and is developed through sharing and revising theories over time.
  • For Equity: Mindful selection of student work to be shared can counter inequitable narratives of “who is smart” in your classroom.

Below is a process for eliciting students’ ideas with models and supporting students in sharing their ideas with classmates as more than “show and tell.”

WHEN: Initial models should be created by students after they are introduced to the phenomenon that drives the storyline of the unit and before any evidence is gathered.


1. Students should be encouraged to ask questions and discuss ideas about the phenomenon with one another. Encourage students to build on their lived experiences (“this reminds me of…”).

2. Remind students that at this point there is no wrong answers.

3. As you walk around the room, listen for all possible answers: What might it be? What questions do you have that would help you figure out the answer?

4. As you are listening, make a plan for sharing out. Select a few students to share their Initial Models with the class. Select student models based on:

a.) Content – Select models to highlight various ideas

b.) Features – How are students representing different ideas (arrows, color, size, etc.)

c.) Social Aspects – Which students profit from attention to their ideas?

5. Talk to students you selected, identifying content and features you would like them to share

6. Invite one student at a time to share their model under the document camera. As students share parts of their models, invite the class to share how their ideas are similar or different. Consider using the Discussion Stoplight.

7. With your students create an Idea/Question List or a consensus model on chart paper or the board: What are our ideas? What else could it be? Who has a different idea than what we have already heard?

8. Try to capture all ideas on your list. Don’t use student names.

9. As you go through the unit, come back to these questions and ideas to identify those we have figured out with evidence, add vocabulary, and refine ideas.

Left image shows a circle with a few constellations from each part of a year, divided into 4 parts with a sticky note for each section (spring, summer, fall, and winter) and a sticky note in the center with an explanation of student thoughts about the constellations and the four seasons. The image on the right is of 5 students discussing and working on laptop.

Step 2

Teach students to agree and disagree. Kindergarteners through high school students benefit from explicit conversations about how to add to others’ ideas and how to disagree with ideas (not people) respectfully. In elementary classrooms, students often learn American Sign Language for agreeing, adding on, and disagreeing (see this video with structured share outs). In middle and high school, teachers might co-construct sentence starters with students.

The top section of the image shows how to say agree in American Sign Language, the middle section of the image shows how to say Agree + Add On in American Sign Language, and the lower section of the image shows how to say Kindly Disagree in American Sign Language. Students ideas of responses on how to respectfully disagree with an idea such as I agree with you but I think... and I agree with... but... and I know where you are coming from but I have a different idea.

Teachers have also used agree/disagree T-charts when examining how evidence might support different models of a phenomenon in elementary classrooms (See this NSTA article).

Step 3

Create a “Modeling Toolbox” anchor chart with students. As students identify different features in models that represent and communicate ideas, collect and house them on an ongoing “Modeling Toolbox” anchor chart. This chart reminds students of moves they can make as they model. Here are two “Modeling Toolbox” anchor chart examples:

How to make a model and illustrations of each of the ways to make models. The methods to make a model include arrows, zoom in, squiggle, lines, dots, label, and colors.

LEFT Teacher: Alisa Vinson-Ames, Kindergarten

Illustrates parts of a modeling toolbox. This includes the use of arrows to show direction and speed, colors & key to sow colors and highlight details, lines to show speed or movement, labels to show what each part is, and zoom ins to show a bigger picture of a small detail.

RIGHT Teacher: Khristian Palmer, 2nd Grade

Step 4

Ask students to share their learning about modeling. Here is an example from 1st grade that also attends to the social and emotional dimensions of learning. You can also ask students to describe why they engage in modeling.

Asks students to circle how they felt about science class that day with different options for them to circle including happily challenged, helpful, interested, bored, and more. Students are also asked about their thoughts about science learning and asked to explain what they liked most about the science unit.

Step 5

Invite students to reflect on how their thinking has changed when revising final models.

Explains advice on the purpose of revising final models and when and how to do it. Revising Final Models: The purpose of the final model is to help students represent, communicate, and synthesize the evidence gathered from the unit and show students' insights gained into the phenomenon. Students, like scientists, engage in the scientific practice of explanatory modeling. When: Final models should be completed after all evidence for the unit has been gathered and students have had an opportunity to synthesize that evidence. Final models can be used by teachers and students to assess student learning. How: 1. Point out the resources available to help them create their final model: the Key Concepts, Idea List, and any other class materials on the wall that may be helpful reminders of evidence collected during the unit. 2. Remind students that the answers to the Chapter Questions (that are posted on the wall) help answer the the Unit/Phenomenon Question. 3. Students should have access to their Initial Model and any Model Revisions while completing their Final Model. 4. Ask students to reflect on how their thinking changed. "I used to think __ and now I think __."

Step 6

Treat students’ models as sensemaking spaces. Students can create and revise models collaboratively through multiple modalities (drawing, writing, etc.), and use models to spark and document connections. Below are some additional considerations for modeling with students.

Explains modeling considerations to be revisited. Modeling Considerations Revisited: Be sure to... -Read generously -Ask follow up questions -Encourage students to share ideas and stories -Ask students to talk about what this reminds them of -Revisit models throughout the unit -Ask students to reflect on how their thinking has changed over time -Give lots of space (11x17 is great!) Be careful not to... -Ask or look for "right" answers -Assume this needs to be an individual activity -Use this as an assessment -Require written responses -Revisit models too often during a unit (model fatigue) -Put too much on the paper (over scaffold/worksheet-ify) -Draw for students -Ask students to copy a class model


How is science done? Students’ ways of knowing are integrated into the class in ways that honor students’ collective knowledge-building processes as opposed to individualistic learning.

What counts as science? Discussing evidence to revise ideas helps break down the notion that science is about right and wrong answers and allows multiple entry points for students. Students take an active role in deciding what counts as important in their learning as they revise models, disrupting the notion that the teacher is the one who decides what belongs in a scientific explanation.

Who gets to do science? Honoring the genius in all students interrupts the historical narrative that only white males can be scientists. Centering students’ evolving ideas creates a safe and inclusive learning community for all learners. Moreover, mindful selection of student work to be shared can counter inequitable narratives of “who is smart” in your classroom.

An instructor observing 3 students with their models.


Questions to consider when supporting students in revising models:

  • How can we understand students’ explanations as a whole instead of focusing on the correctness of their explanations?
  • How can we be open to divergent hypotheses and ideas? 
  • How can we honor and meaningfully integrate the ideas and experiences that students choose to share with us in our next instructional steps?
  • When asking students to model something, which observable events are relevant and meaningful to specific students?
  • How might the language used on a model be a barrier for some students? How can we invite students to use multiple languages, gestures, and other modes of communication? (Haverly et al., 2021)
  • How might pairs of students working together support language or physical ability needs?
  • How can we invite attention to differential impacts and social and environmental justice issues as students revise models?



Seeing a Kindergartener’s Model Evolve. One striking example I’ve seen of model revision in the primary grades occurred in Kaia Tomokiyo’s kindergarten class. The class was figuring out what happened to a puddle that appeared on the playground, and then disappeared. The picture below shows how one student modeled this at the beginning and end of the unit.

Initial Model: Final Model:
An initial model asking students "Where does a puddle come from? Where does the puddle go?" There is 2 boxes below the questions with an arrow drawn from the first box to the second one. An example of a student's response to the questions is shown. The first box on the left depicts a rain cloud with rain falling and a puddle below it. The second box on the right depicts the sun, a carrot, and the puddle with the ground in brown. An final model asking students "Where does a puddle come from? Where does the puddle go?" There is 2 boxes below the questions. An example of a student's response to the questions is shown. The first box on the left reads "At first the puddle is..." and depicts a cloud with lightning coming out of it and a puddle forming below it as well as a house. The second box on the right reads "Later the puddle is..." and depicts a small dark cloud, a few people, the sun, and a puddle.

If you look closely, a lot of the main ideas remain similar — there’s a rain or lightning storm creating the puddle on the left side, and there is a red (hot) sun involved on the right side. In fact, the student’s initial model shows more ideas for where the puddle might go, including down into the ground. But the student became fascinated by the idea of evaporation during the unit and represented and discussed some pretty big ideas along these lines in their final model. For instance, the red or heat now moves from the sun to the puddle, and water moves from the puddle into a cloud (shown by arrows, a representation they learned from another student). It was cool to see how the student increasingly represented connections and processes in their model and how they coordinated their thinking with ideas from peers, experiments, and texts. (Jennifer Richards, Northwestern University)

Teacher Educators & Professional Learning

Design Considerations


1.) Find out what teachers know about modeling. In a partnership with a local school district, we asked about elementary teachers’ perceptions of students’ strengths. We learned that…

A pie chart of teachers' perceptions of students' strengths in modeling (N=184 11/6/2020). When asked Taking an asset-based perspective, what strengths did you see in your students' models? the largest response "Understanding of specific ideas" with 71 out of 184 responses, and the lowest response was "Deep thinking/synthesizing ideas" with 9 out of 184 responses.

Given this data, we began professional learning by engaging teachers in conversations about why prior knowledge is important and challenging ideas about using models to assess vocabulary as teachers looked at student work. 

2.) Discuss why modeling and model revision is important in science and for equity. You could used one of the resources to support teachers

    1. Dr. Thompson’s Powerpoint on Supporting Educational Justice in the Early Years through Scientific Modeling
    2. Asynchronous professional development that examines critical approaches to scientific modeling 
    3. Dr. Windschilt’s Revising Models presentation

3.) Analyze student models. You could provide several sample models (i.e., see elementary examples) or ask teachers to bring models from their classrooms. Consider the diverse ideas, experiences, and ways of representing ideas seen on and across models and how different parts of the scaffold seemed to help or hinder students in showing their thinking. The Rapid Survey of Student Thinking or Funds of Knowledge tools may be useful here.

4.) Design a year long plan for supporting teachers. Here is a six minute video example of a professional learning community for a secondary science team: Engaging Teachers in and With Modeling in a year-long PLC. 

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This site is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Award #1907471 and #1315995