Research School Network: Using models in Science FAR approach – how to select and use scientific models effectively in the classroom


Using models in Science

FAR approach – how to select and use scientific models effectively in the classroom

by Blackpool Research School
on the

Using models to exemplify a scientific idea is a key part of scientific pedagogy. So much so, that teachers will often have a selection of go to’ models which they use year in, year out to demonstrate key concepts. But how can we ensure that models are being used in the most effective way?

The Education Endowment Foundation’s Improving Secondary Science’ guidance report recommends the use of models as a key strategy for supporting students’ understanding of scientific concepts. The evidence highlights the importance of carefully planning which model is used, whilst also explicitly teaching similarities and differences between the concept and the model.

The Focus, Action and Reflection (FAR) approach is one way to think about the use of a model before, during and after a lesson. This strategy starts by guiding teachers through the planning process by asking them to reflect on the complexity of the scientific concept and whether the ideas within their chosen model are familiar to the students. For use of the model in a lesson to be effective, the FAR approach suggests that the features of the model are discussed with the class and any limitations are explored. It also provides reflection questions to help teachers plan for any future use once the lesson is complete.

One particular topic where models are useful is Electricity- especially at KS3 when concepts are first introduced and a multitude of misconceptions need to be addressed. Whilst there are a number of models to support the teaching of Electricity, a commonly used one is the delivery van model.

Here is how the FAR approach can be used for the delivery van model:

Focus (before the lesson):

Concept that will be taught during the lesson

KS3 Electricity:
- Introduction to the features of a simple circuit
- Electrical current as the rate of flow of charge
- Potential difference as the amount of energy per unit charge


KS3 students:
- Covered basic concepts at KS2 but this often means that there is a large range of misconceptions held
- Familiar with the term flow’ have understanding of concept for water
- May have idea about charge’ from studying the atom


The delivery van model:
Students are familiar with the key parts of the delivery van model.

Action (during the lesson):

Comparing the features of the model to a simple circuit:

- The bakery acts like the battery or cell in a circuit
- The road represents the wires in a circuit
- The vans represent the charges
- The loaves of bread represent the energy transferred by the charges
- The movement of the vans represents the flow of the charge (current)
- The shop represents a component in the circuit

This model can also be used to support the teaching of more complex ideas like voltage verses potential difference. Students can compare the amount of bread being supplied by the bakery with the amount being delivered to the shop with how this would change if there were multiple shops on the delivery route. Once the students are familiar with the key concepts of electricity, the limitations of the model can also be explored. For example resistance, the slowing down of current, is not easily explained using the delivery van model.


Following the lesson, reflection upon the clarity of the explanations and whether any simplification is needed for future classes could be helpful. Furthermore, ways to extend the learning could be planned for, perhaps by introducing another electricity model to encourage students to critique the models.

Whichever model you use, the evidence is clear – planning is key. Making sure that students are familiar with the ideas shown as well as clear instruction of how the model relates to the concept is essential. Reflecting upon practice and planning for future use highlights that there isn’t a one size fits all’ approach when it comes to using models in science.

Lauren Stephenson - Assistant Director of Blackpool Research School

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