Models in a Scientific Community

The 7th grade science class is approaching the end of our study about ecosystems named A Balanced Biosphere. The Gateway middle school is piloting curriculum from Stanford’s educational research arm, known as SCALE. If you’re interested, here’s an introduction.

The curriculum is already paying dividends. I love how students deepen their understanding by participating in a scientific community. Feedback loops—from partners, teams, and the class as a whole—help students calibrate as they build new ideas onto their prior knowledge.

Recently, teams of students were tasked with drafting an ecosystem model that would capture how living and non-living organisms interact. After their initial attempts, students read and annotated a page of text on the subject. Teams then revised their models.

Circle Model
Top Down Model
Spaghetti Junction Model?

The heart of the experience came next, when teams “published” their model, presenting it to the community for feedback. Immediately I saw echoes of what happens in the adult world of science publications.

The kids evaluated each other’s work. For each model a team visited, they wrote one compliment and one question. Kids were totally engrossed and really curious about how other teams built a model so different from their own. They loved talking about points of confusion, poking holes in what they saw as faults in the models. They were gracious and found plenty of positive things to say.

The conversations that emerged helped all students deepen their understanding. 

  • “Why did you put the soil on the bottom with the decomposers instead of with the water and sunlight?”
  • “What does this striped arrow mean? It doesn’t make sense. Why isn’t it in your key?
  • “What do all your arrows mean? I can’t tell how you organized this. Could you write an explanation?”

During the entire process, kids takes ownership of making their questions known. In this final clip you hear a student asking, “Do we still not know how carbon dioxide’s made?” and her friend replies, “Yeah, know one knows, yet.” 

By continuing to participate in feedback loops with their peers, these young scientists are sure to find the answers to all their questions while they continue to ask more!