Academy of Science and Arts

Pioneering SCIENCE MODELING INSTITUTE Launching in September, 2012

World-leading scientists to rev up engine to drive rapid, deep and sustained K-12
STEM education reform throughout the United States


PHOENIX, ARIZONA and SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, JULY 25, 2012: Internet technology pioneer and philanthropist Joe Firmage has joined with physicist David Hestenes to create the Science Modeling Institute to stoke the engine of reform in mathematics and science education nationwide. The partners forming the Institute, a primary component of the Academy of Science and Arts, assert that the key to education reform is empowering teachers as agents of change.

What needs reform, and how does the engine work?

Rapid emergence of a global economy driven by science and technology has precipitated a crisis in the education systems of all nations. Cries of alarm continue to echo throughout the news media as U.S. education falls further and further behind, not only behind the pace of technological change, but also the educational performance of other countries. Blue-ribbon committees have called for comprehensive K-12 education reform across all the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines. “STEM education” has become a code word for the crisis.

“The U.S. education system, with critical functions and responsibilities dispersed among schools, school districts, colleges of education and government agencies, has proven to be too ponderous and unfocussed to enact significant reform,” said Dr. David Hestenes, Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Arizona State University. “Briefly put, our education system lacks institutional and systemic mechanisms for rapid adaptive change. Help is on the way.”

“With fifteen years of funding from the National Science Foundation, the Modeling Instruction Program, led by renowned physicist David Hestenes, has designed, built and tested a prototype engine to drive STEM education reform at a national scale. I am privileged to have come to know David over recent years, and to realize the importance of his breakthrough insights in both quantum physics and mathematics at that critical core of frontier science research,” said Mr. Firmage, Founder of the Academy of Science and Arts, a parent institution dedicated to the mission of catalyzing a small number of essential, large-scale programs in the continuing quest for advancement of science and education.
In its long development experience, the Modeling Program has determined that critical components for a fully functional engine to drive STEM education reform include:

  • Intensive summer Modeling Workshops to introduce teachers to modeling curriculum materials and teaching techniques for specific STEM courses. Graduates of the workshops who practice Modeling in their own teaching proudly call themselves “Modelers.”
  • A secure online evaluation system to provide teachers with feedback on student learning and data for evaluating the whole program.
  • A nationwide network of online support for the Community of Modelers.
  • Expert curriculum development teams to continually revise and expand the extensive store of modeling curriculum materials, and maintain a Modeling Curriculum Repository that provides Modelers with online access to the most up-to-date materials.
  • Annual Leadership Workshops to engage teachers in constructive critique of the whole program and honing their own leadership skills.

Not all of these components have been fully implemented. However, the most crucial component of the engine, the Modeling Workshops, has been extensively implemented with spectacular outcomes that are unprecedented in the history of education.

Though Modeling Workshops were first developed for high school physics, they proved to be so popular that, by teacher demand, the methodology was extended to chemistry, introductory physical science and, most recently, a pilot Workshop for biology. To date, more than 4,500 teachers from 49 states have attended at least one Modeling Workshop, including nearly 10% of all the physics teachers in the United States. The most significant and unanticipated outcome of these Workshops has been the spontaneous formation of a cohesive Modeling Community –– a community of STEM teachers with a common vision of good teaching and a rich body of shared knowledge. The vigor of the modeling community is shown by the steady activity on five subject-specific Modeling listservs, with regular (usually daily) posts on questions, commentary and topical discussions. The Modeling Physics Listserv has operated since 1995 and currently has 2,600 subscribers.

Besides its unprecedented buy-in from participating teachers in this field, the effectiveness of Modeling Instruction has been firmly established by several quantitative studies on student learning. To cite one example, in 2001, after a two-year review of existing K-12 science programs by an Expert Panel commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, Modeling Instruction was the only high school program to be awarded an exemplary rating. Broad recognition from the physics community came in 2002 when David Hestenes was awarded the Oersted Medal, the most prestigious honor bestowed by the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Support from the National Science Foundation ended in 2005 after creation of a graduate degree program for in-service teachers in the physics department at Arizona State University. All courses in the program are tailored to meet the needs of teachers, so they are scheduled in the summer, and, in addition to Modeling Workshops for graduate credit, the program offers a wide range of courses on advanced topics in science and engineering taught by research faculty. This is the only program of its kind in the United States. As such, it serves as a model for teacher professional development by other universities.

Just as government funding was running out in 2005, a group of Modelers spontaneously created the American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA), an organization of, by, and for STEM teachers to keep the Modeling Program alive. Alive and vibrant, the Program continues with a steady stream of summer Modeling Workshops while awaiting funding for a massive build-up of activities. This testifies to the deep commitment of the Modeling Community to STEM education reform. “It is time for their heroic contribution to STEM education to get the recognition and support it deserves,” stated Hestenes.

What accounts for the unprecedented success of the Modeling Instruction Program?

Teachers point to the way it integrates curriculum and pedagogy. The curriculum for each scientific domain is reorganized around a small number of scientific models as the content core of the domain. The pedagogy promotes scientific inquiry centered on making and using models as the procedural core of scientific knowledge. Teachers learn to guide student inquiry by organizing activities and classroom discourse around constructing and applying scientific models to understand real physical systems and processes and defending their conclusions with rational argument and evidence. To master all this requires careful design of Modeling Workshops and intense participation by teachers.

Scientific modeling is a system of behaviors that cannot be packaged in a textbook. Though Modeling Instruction was originally developed for physics teaching, its general principles of instructional design are applicable to all STEM disciplines. Indeed, “models and modeling” are recognized in the National Standards for science and mathematics education as unifying themes for all disciplines. Only the Modeling Program has fully implemented these themes.

To institutionalize the Modeling Instruction Program as a service to the nation, Joe Firmage has secured funding for the “Science Modeling Institute” (SMI) with David Hestenes as its Director. SMI will partner strongly with the AMTA to implement the entire program, including all the components of the engine described above. They share the common goal of establishing and maintaining a teacher-centered engine for sustained STEM education reform, including:

  • A national STEM Teacher Network –– a professional community of practice dedicated to mobilizing and supporting teachers as agents of STEM education reform.
  • A nationwide STEM Partner Network of university/college science departments providing (1) sites for summer workshops and courses, (2) support for a local network of STEM teachers (3) coordination with pre-service teacher preparation and induction programs.
  • Consulting services to schools and school districts about curriculum and teaching reform, including installation of a fully integrated STEM curriculum.

Such reform is inherently systemic. Thus, STEM education reform will not take off until all components of the “engine for change” are fully functional.

About the Academy of Science and Arts

The Academy of Science and Arts is an umbrella institution with the mission of advancing breakthrough science research, education and consequential sustainable economic development worldwide. The Academy is in the process of launching in several stages, and may be tracked at

About the Science Modeling Institute

The Science Modeling Institute is dedicated to developing and maintaining a flexible, integrated system of high-quality STEM curriculum materials for modeling instruction, and to fostering cooperation between university faculty and teachers to give students rich experience in the STEM disciplines. For details about modeling instruction and the AMTA, see


National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine (2005). Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, National Academies Press, 2007. (2010) Rising above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly approaching a Category 5, National Academies Press, 2010.

Hestenes, D., Megowan-Romanowicz, C., Osborn-Popp, S., Jackson, J., & Culbertson, R. (2011). A graduate program for high school physics and physical science teachers. American Journal of Physics, 79(9), 971-979.

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