This is a piece I wrote for Mark Anderson‘s Newsletter, May 2018. You can read that month’s edition of his Newsletter here.

The importance of modelling

I was recently talking about modelling with a colleague of mine, Dr Susie Nyman and she suggested using some everyday creative objects to help learners visualise difficult to grasp concepts. This resonated heavily with me following my reading of the work of the Learning Scientists on their website about Concrete Examples and so I developed a strategy of using this idea with my students.

In my subject, Physics, we often have to explain difficult concepts. Given my recent conversation, when I was planning the teaching of Year 7 about the solar system I decided to use Play-Doh as a means of helping them learn about the different sizes and scales of the planets, distances between them and how gravity interacts with them in their rotation around the Sun. From my model, learners were then able to, supported by me, to make their own models.

The lesson went really well and so given the success of this lesson, I have been developing this technique with a number of different classes with a few additional tweaks. You can see some of their efforts in the images below:

Pupil model of Polarisation (above)

Pupil models of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram

Use across the curriculum

In order to further deepen their knowledge of the concepts I thought it’d be great to have them create explainer videos where they would create a video. The video would have them either annotating photographs or videos of their models to explain key points by using text or by using their voice. Some learners attempted to create stop-frame animations using the Quik app. Some use Adobe Spark Video. It was a really good opportunity not only for them to evidence conceptual understanding but also to develop their digital and oracy skills.

The video below was made by a pupil using Adobe Spark Video.

The video below was made by a pupil using the Quik app.

While their videos are not perfect, they form a good base for class discussion and you can even play spot the mistake at the start of your next lesson. This serves as another great way to get pupils engaged in their learning on a deeper level.

Taking this further, the use of these everyday objects and creating explainer content can be used in subjects right across the curriculum, not just in Physics. Why not think about representing landforms in Geography or plotting three-dimensional graphs in Maths or the Product Life Cycle in Economics or the Kennedy assassination in History. There are so many ways in which you could apply this type of activity in the classroom. Not only did my learners love it (which whilst not essential, is a helpful by-product of the activity), their demonstrated understanding of the topic showed clear understanding.

Why modelling matters

As shown in the section of ‘Making Every Lesson Count’ looking at modelling and why it matters, this process of teacher explanation with joint practice, co-construction and application of their learning, in creating these videos, learners have shown their developing independence in applying their learning.

My interactions with learners through questioning, feedback and a bit of cajoling at times, I was able to help them to really show what they know. The activity helped to make visible where they had gaps in their knowledge too so I was able to help them further improve their outcomes in the moment rather than at the completion of the task.

Here is another example of a video a pupil of mine made to explain lenses using Adobe Spark Video:

Their subsequent low stakes test results completed using a mixture of QuizizzQuizlet and exam questions showed an improved ability to retrieve information on the topics compared to other topics. We are continuing to address the topics in our lessons to help with the process of embedding the information, as per the findings of retrieval practice theory.

If you’re considering using, or already have used, these tools for pupils to model and evidence their learning then please do get in touch and share some of the examples, I’d love to hear from you!


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