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March 26, 2021

Spring [Your Science Instruction] Forward: 5 Steps to Implementing MBI

Model-Based Inquiry (MBI) is an engaging, NGSS-aligned, research-based approach to science instruction (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2008).

There are 5 steps to implementing MBI:

  1. Plan your instructional units around meaningful real world phenomena
  2. Elicit and work from students initial ideas
  3. Engage students in ongoing and in-depth sense making
  4. Provide students with opportunities to revisit and revise their thinking
  5. Have students apply their learning to a new, related phenomenon

In the following video, we introduce you to Model-Based Inquiry and provide you with a peek into what it looks like in action (in our very own AUSL classrooms). After you watch the video, scroll down to read more about the 5 steps to implementing MBI, as well as 3 tips for improving your teaching practice immediately. Enjoy!

Welcome to MBI

 5 Steps to Implementing MBI

(1) Plan your instructional units around meaningful real world phenomena:

  • Here are some examples of phenomena that have been taught in AUSL classrooms:
Welcome to MBI Phenomenon

(2) Elicit and work from students initial ideas:

  • Have students create explanatory models (a combination of pictures and writing), using their prior knowledge to explain why they think the phenomenon occurred. Be sure to have students focus on the unobservable (causes), in addition to the observable (effects).
  • Have students make predictions whenever possible
  • Have students come up with hypotheses (tentative explanations) for the phenomenon at hand, before engaging in investigations, and/or about new phenomena
  • Elicit, organize, and use relevant student questions about the phenomenon/topic to guide your unit
  • Have students complete an anticipation guide

(3) Engage students in ongoing and in-depth sense making:

  • Use your regular curriculum and/or online resources (e.g., PhET)
  • Select and sequence activities strategically (in order to ensure alignment with NGSS, to fill in gaps in student understanding, to build onto what students already know, and to address the key ideas needed to explain the phenomenon at hand)

(4) Provide students with opportunities to revisit and revise their thinking:

  • Have students revisit their hypotheses, questions, and tentative models periodically in order to make changes/additions/deletions based on evidence from their sense-making activities
  • Have large-scale, public representations of student learning available in the classroom to jog student memory and serve as a reminder of their learning experiences (e.g., create and revise a whole-class model, add a row to a summary chart at the end of each new sense-making activity)

(5) Have students apply their learning to a new, related phenomenon:

  • In order to ensure students have internalized what they have been taught, see if they can apply the science ideas they have learned to a new, related phenomenon.
  • Here are some examples of phenomena that can be explained with the same science ideas as the phenomena in section 1:
New Puzzling Phenomena Examples_March Blog

If you’re not yet ready for full-blown MBI, don’t be discouraged! Here are 3 tips for improving your science teaching practice immediately:

1. Flip the order of your instruction:

  • Allow students to explore and do the lab before you teach them the science vocabulary (this way students have an idea already in mind when you do introduce the new terminology and can better internalize the information).

2. Try out modeling on a small scale:

  • Have students draw explanatory models of simpler phenomena that are taught in one class period (e.g., evaporation, compression, etc.). Eventually you will become comfortable having students construct models that involve several underlying science ideas.
Young_Syringe model

3. Keep your eyes peeled for real world connections to the science concepts you’re teaching.

  • This way you can incorporate these examples in your lessons whenever opportunities arise!

Note: Model-Based Inquiry emerged from the research of Mark Windschitl and Jessica Thompson at the University of Washington. Check out the great resources on their website:


Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2008). Beyond the scientific method: Model‐based inquiry as a new paradigm of preference for school science investigations. Science education92(5), 941-967.


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