teaching with digital models

The Educator’s Guide to Teaching with Digital Interactive Models

Posted by SM Bruner on

BrainPOP’s GameUp features simulations, interactive models, and (of course) games. Each of these three types of resources have a unique purpose and benefit for students:

  • Simulations are Dynamic representations that allow students to form and test mental models by experimentation, offering a safe place to tinker and experiment with systems to which students might otherwise not have access.
  • Interactive models are visualizations that allow students to actively explore rich information on a topic
  • Games often combine and expand on these elements with compelling ways and reasons to engage with the tool and inspire students to develop mastery of the material

What an Interactive Model Is (and Isn’t)

Interactive models are visualizations that allow students to actively explore rich information on a topic. They are best used as an information resource for a broader activity.

Interactive models offer rich multimedia representations of the subject material that students can manipulate and explore. However, there’s no way to win or lose at an interactive model and, unlike simulations, interactive models do not directly support forming and testing hypotheses.

Build a Tree is a good example of an interactive model. Students can click different parts of a tree to enlarge illustrations and read detailed descriptions. Dragging the tree’s parts into a central area to “build the tree” gives the player a loose goal but doesn’t necessarily engage the student with the rich content of the interactive model. We recommend using the tool within a broader activity: our Build a Tree Lesson Ideas page has some excellent example activities.

How to Introduce an Interactive Model to Your Class

Because interactive models are best used within the context of a broader activity, you’ll want to consider how the model you’re using fits into your unit of study as a whole.

You might want to start by demonstrating how to use the interactive model, and ask guiding questions to facilitate student thinking. For example, in Chef Solus’ Build-A-Meal, students plan fictional meals and analyze their nutritional content based on feedback provided through the tool.  You can have create a meal together as a class and discuss the nutritional content, then have a student volunteer create a different meal for the class to analyze together. Once students are familiar with the interactive model, they can then explore it on their own.

An interactive model could also be used to introduce a unit of study to the class, by allowing students to explore the model on their own and make inferences about the topic.

How to Maximize Learning with Interactive Models

Interactive models support student-directed learning and offer engaging displays of all kinds of information. Here are some suggestions for making the most of interactive models with your students:

  • Give students a specific purpose for exploring the model. As a class, you can brainstorm specific questions that students might explore.
  • Pair students up to explore the model with a partner. The collaborative use of models will encourage students to verbalize their thinking.
  • Project the model on your interactive whiteboard as a whole class teaching tool in order to model use and facilitate discussion.

Remember: interactive models are best used within the context of a broader activity.