Modeling Instruction at Drexel

What is Modeling Instruction (MI)?

Modeling Instruction (MI) was first developed for the use in high school classrooms at Arizona State University and has since been implemented at the undergraduate level. MI is built on the idea that building, validating, deploying, and ultimately revising models is the central practice in science. Accordingly, the idea behind MI is to have students learn by building, validating, deploying and revising models. The curriculum and pedagogy are designed to be student centered where students build models by engaging in discussion, problem solving, and experimentation. Conceptual models are purposeful coordinated sets of representations (e.g., graphs, equations, diagrams, or written descriptions) of a particular class of phenomena that exist in the shared social domain of discourse. What this means is we focus on having students analyze phenomena by creating representations that allow them to predict and explain. In classes, students explore phenomena through experimentation or simulation, they make small whiteboards that summarize their work and then they share these in board meetings. The instructor acts as a facilitator and guide.

Listen to Eric Brewe's interview on Teach Better Podcast about Modeling Instruction

White board depicting student models

Students work together and bring their ideas to life on white boards

Dr. Brewe expands on a concept modeled by a student during a 'board meeting'

Students work in groups to solve problems and build models, they then discuss and share their work during a 'board meeting'

Students Presenting work

Two major pillars of MI are discussion and student centered learning. Students have a lot of time to talk and think together whether that be one on one, in their groups, or during a board meeting.

Why MI?

MI is focused on building conceptual models through student centered learning, group work, and discussion. In MI classes, students interact with one another constantly and build social networks. Published work on the MI classroom shows evidence that students have more developed conceptual understanding and are also more likely to continue in physics. In MI classes the rate of: dropping, failing, or withdrawing (DFW) is lower compared to that of a "traditional" lecture.

Adapted MI versus "Traditional" Lecture Hall

Modeling Curriculum materials have been developed for Studio-format classes. At Drexel University, Introductory Physics is 4 credits. In the "Traditional" Lecture, students go to lecture and recitation twice a week and lab every other week. In the MI class, students go to class twice a week, recitation twice a week, and lab every other week. In "Traditional" Lecture professors go over material and students sometimes answer 'clicker' questions and interact with just the students sitting immediately next to them in the lecture hall. Because we do not have a classroom suitable to studio-format, we are adapting the MI curriculum materials for an Adapted MI class. In the Adapted MI class, the class is 2 hours twice a week, the professor leads one session and the TAs leads the other session. Students learn and practice material in class in their groups on portable white boards and present their: models, solutions, and ideas to the rest of the class.

"Traditional" Lecture

  • 50 minute lectures, twice/week

  • 50 minute recitations, twice/week

  • 120 minute lab, once every other week


  • 110 minute class, twice / week

  • 120 minute lab, once every other week

Student Stories


I liked the emphasis on graph and the idea that models and reality are separate. We often had discussions about the levels of abstraction each of us chose to have in our answers and we often talked about system schema and assumptions and simplifications.

I came into this class knowing the content already but it definitely was a breath of fresh air that helped mature my understanding of physics and science as a whole. We didn't have discussions like this in my old physics class.


I liked the overall interactive, discussion-based instruction. This class was much, much more understandable and helpful than my traditional lecture-based classes.


I liked how it was not a lecture. It was cooperative and engaging. Working on problems in groups and then explaining to the class or having other classmates explain the problem helped me focus in the class and learn about difficult physics concepts. I liked how we learned and used different ways of representing the answer to the problem because this helped me better understand topics; some of which I already learned but didn't have in depth understanding of.

Publications on MI

Brewe, E. (2008). Modeling theory applied: Modeling Instruction in introductory physics. American Journal of Physics 76, 1155

Brewe, E., Kramer, L., & O’Brien, G. (2009). Modeling instruction: Positive attitudinal shifts in introductory physics measured with CLASS. Phys.Rev. 5(1), 013102.

Brewe, E., Sawtelle, V., Kramer, L. H., O’Brien, G. E., Rodriguez, I., & Pamelá, P. (2010). Toward equity through participation in Modeling Instruction in introductory university physics. Phys. Rev. 6, 010106.

Brewe, E., Traxler, A., Garza, J. D., & Kramer, L. H. (2013). Extending positive CLASS results across multiple instructors and multiple classes of Modeling Instruction. Phys. Rev. 9, 020116.

McPadden, D., & Brewe, E. (2017). Impact of the second semester University Modeling Instruction course on students' representation choices. Phys. Rev. 13, 020129.