Model Building

I am in the process of writing about how my classes build each physics model. I will gather the posts here as they are written. I am listing them here in the order that we build them in my classes.

CVPM – Building the Constant Velocity Particle Model

BFPM — Building the Balanced Force Particle Model
See also… Common Types of Forces (BFPM cheat sheet)
See also… Force Vector Addition Diagrams
See alsoGravitational Force Experiment
See alsoSpring Force Experiment
See also… Building Newton’s 3rd Law
See also… Problem Solving Lab Stations for Newton’s 1st Law

CAPM — Building the Constant Acceleration Particle Model (2018)
Old Version… Building the Constant Acceleration Particle Model (2011)

UBFPM — Building the Unbalanced Force Particle Model
See alsoForce Vector Addition Diagrams
See also… Problem Solving Lab Stations for Newton’s 2nd Law

MTM — Building the Momentum Transfer Model
See also… Momentum Bar Charts (IF Charts, IFF Charts)

PMPM — Building the Projectile Motion Particle Model
See also“This is a Boss Equation.”

ETM — Building the Energy Transfer Model
See alsoCommon Types of Energy (ETM cheat sheet)
See alsoEnergy Pie Charts
See also
Energy Bar Charts (LOL Diagrams)

OPM — Building the Oscillating Particle Model

CFPM — Building the Central Force Particle Model

CPM – Building the Charged Particle Model
See also… Coulomb’s Law

29 thoughts on “Model Building

  1. Ms. O’Shea-

    Do you know any good books that explain the modeling process?


    Bradley Shadrix
    Physics Teacher
    Athens, Georgia

  2. Thank you for your generosity in putting these materials together. I’ve read probably near 1000 pages on Modeling theory and am 100% onboard. What has amazed me, however, is just how little there is available in the way of direct in-class application, nuts and bolts instructions and guidance on constructing my own modeling curriculum.

    I’m completing my 1st full year as a high school physics teacher (after coming over from a 15 year career in engineering and construction) and have quickly grown to see the massive flaws in traditional teaching. Again, I thank you for your generosity, as I am excited to go home tonight and pour through your work. I will be working hard right to September to implement this successfully.

    1. Fifty Modeling Workshops in high school physics, chemistry,  physical science, and biology are offered each summer, in many states. Modeling Workshops are peer-led. Modeling Instruction is designated by the U.S. Department of Education as an Exemplary K-12 science program.

      Some sites offer stipends, usually for in-state teachers.  Graduate credit is available at some sites. Pre-service teachers and TYC faculty are welcome too.

      For info: .
      Most workshops are described also at .

  3. Hi Kelly,
    My name is Connie Arriola and I teach at Lancaster High School in the Antelope Valley of southern California. I’ve taught chemistry for 6 years and this year will be teaching physics for the first time. I’ve been to two modeling workshops- one in 2007 and the other in 2011–and absolutely loved it, but both times I was concentrating on how I could use it in Chem. I’m excited about implementing the modeling method in its natural setting. My question for you is, do you have a description of how you go about the very beginning of the year? Do you do a Scientific Method unit? I’ve done the spaghetti lab with my chem students and since many of them will be taking physics I don’ t want to redo this.

    I’m also on a block schedule where students meet every other day for 120 minutes. I know you don’t believe in homework but I’m thinking that my students may need something to keep information and understanding from “leaking out” of their brains. I’m also interested in what you think of Phet and The Physics Classroom.

    Thanks for all your help with blogs and materials. You are awesome!

    1. Hi Connie,

      Sorry for the delayed response!

      I start the year by handing out binders, then saying something like, “Hey everyone, I want to show you something cool. Let’s go next door (to the lab).” Then we do the constant velocity experiment (motorized cart). I don’t buy the scientific method (science is about making models, not hypotheses, right?). I also don’t think they need an intro to the class. I think they can learn it by doing it. Of course, I also teach students who are mostly pretty comfortable with math concepts (graphing, etc), so I don’t need to give a lot of support there at the start of the year. If you’re teaching students who have already done Chem Modeling, I’d imagine that you wouldn’t especially need an intro unit either, right?

      I haven’t used Phet or The Physics Classroom. I don’t think myelin can leak out of brains. I don’t have any problems jumping straight back in after 3 week vacations, so I don’t worry when I don’t get to see them for a few days. When they’re doing the physics, using graphical methods, and really understanding physics… they tend to know it. They need to practice, certainly, but I don’t know if I could come up with one assignment that every person in the class needed to practice (let alone coming up with such an assignment every day of the school year!). These are just my own thoughts, though, and I’m certainly in the very, very tiny minority with them. There’s also no one right way of doing things, and our students are definitely in different situations (even just boarding school vs. not).

      Hope that helps some!


  4. Hi Kelly,

    I’ll do my best to ask a targeted question so I don’t take up to much of your time. I’ve downloaded your curriculum and was wondering if you have a model of a well-filled-out model sheet. I’m not completely clear what that will look like when complete. Thanks.

        1. Aha… well, it’s sort of open for whatever anyone wants to use it to do. I never collect their packets. They belong to the students forever and ever (a thing I tell them often when they start to get antsy about what they should write and where). There’s definitely not one right way to do things, so whatever works for the kid goes there. I don’t think it’s necessarily that important of a space on the CVPM packet. Later packets have front pages with more significant spaces on them.

          That might not have been that helpful, sorry. :/ But I also try to stay away from trying to define what an ideal packet looks like. I think ideal means something different for each kid, depending on what they need at the time.

          The general feel for the front of the packet is that it is a place where we tend to collect useful things (that is, things that we are likely to use as a quick reference later in the year— when we just need to quickly check on what we said about how to figure out the direction of a friction force (parallel to the surface, not “opposite the motion” like we thought before checking), for example—without needing to look through the guts of the packet) as we go. The back of the packet is often a space for the model summary and concept map—where we rethinking and represent useful things and big ideas after we finish the packet.

            1. Model Summary is like the Pokemon card of the model. It tells all the powers and when they’re useful. Concept map helps represent how the different models are connected. Both are totally student-generated and vary from person to person.

  5. Hi Kelly my name is Linda and I took the physics modeling workshop this summer with Brian Carpenter and Chas Deremer. Brian talked about you in class with the system schema for forces and I love your blog. I teach conceptual physics students and I usually start my class with mechanical waves and light. I am having a difficult time finding models for mechanical waves. Do you know of a model or where I could do to look for one? What do you think about starting with waves versus constant velocity? I would appreciate your advice. Thanks

    1. Hey Linda. Thanks for the note!

      First—there are definitely wave modeling materials in the larger set of physics modeling materials. If you can’t find them somewhere on the AMTA site or in the materials they gave you in the class, let me know, and I will investigate. They should be in the “2nd semester” materials (that’s where they are in the folders on my computer, anyway). There are Light models and Mechanical Wave model materials.

      In terms of where to start—I know I haven’t definitively figured that out for myself yet. Starting with waves is appealing because it’s a topic that’s a definite crowd-pleaser. And I think the materials for light at least seem not to assume students have studied everything else first (my honors students always find them sort of slow and obvious when we get to them at the very end of the year because they feel more like the constant velocity model from back in September). On the other hand, I really like the idea of adding in waves (and therefore radiating) as another way of transferring energy in and out of the system. And the best times I’ve had going through waves have been when we’ve jumped full force into talking about them as transporting energy. I think they add to the whole big picture of energy (which is one of the, if not the most, central concerns of the physics class I’ve been teaching). So I feel split about it. I think it could definitely be a good way to start just depending on the overall storyline you’re setting up for the year, what the kids can handle and how you need to draw them into the class (which you’ll know better, of course, since you know your students/school), etc. And any path out of the kinematics doldrums of the fall is probably a good choice in my book!

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