Lesson Summary


Students will define and identify models and simulations. They will work in groups to propose a simulation that could be used to investigate a hypothesis.


  • Students will identify real-world examples of models and simulations.
  • Students will understand that models and simulations are used to generate new knowledge, as well as to formulate, refine, and test hypotheses.
  • Students will understand that simulations allow hypotheses to be tested without the constraints of the real world.


  1. Getting Started (5 min)
  2. Introduction to Content (10 min)
  3. Guided Activities (30 min)
    1. Define and Identify Models and Simulations [10 min]
    2. Use Models and Simulations to Answer Questions [20 min]
  4. Wrap Up (5 min)


Some of the ideas in this lesson were adapted from the CS10K community site, https://sites.google.com/site/mobilecsp/lesson-plans/realworldmodels

Learning Objectives

CSP Objectives

Big Idea - Abstraction
  • EU 2.3 - Models and simulations use abstraction to generate new understanding and knowledge.
    • LO 2.3.1 - Use models and simulations to represent phenomena. [P3]
      • EK 2.3.1C - Models often omit unnecessary features of the objects or phenomena that are being modeled.
      • EK 2.3.1D - Simulations mimic real-world events without the cost or danger of building and testing the phenomena in the real world.
    • LO 2.3.2 - Use models and simulations to formulate, refine, and test hypotheses. [P3]
      • EK 2.3.2A - Models and simulations facilitate the formulation and refinement of hypotheses related to the objects or phenomena under consideration.
      • EK 2.3.2B - Hypotheses are formulated to explain the objects or phenomena being modeled.
      • EK 2.3.2C - Hypotheses are refined by examining the insights that models and simulations provide into the objects or phenomena.
Big Idea - Data
  • EU 3.1 - People use computer programs to process information to gain insight and knowledge.
    • LO 3.1.3 - Explain the insight and knowledge gained from digitally processed data by using appropriate visualizations, notations, and precise language. [P5]
      • EK 3.1.3E - Interactivity with data is an aspect of communicating.
Big Idea - Impact
  • EU 7.1 - Computing enhances communication, interaction, and cognition.
    • LO 7.1.1 - Explain how computing innovations affect communication, interaction, and cognition. [P4]
      • EK 7.1.1F - Public data provides widespread access and enables solutions to identified problems.
  • EU 7.3 - Computing has global effects — both beneficial and harmful — on people and society.
    • LO 7.3.1 - Analyze the beneficial and harmful effects of computing. [P4]
      • EK 7.3.1J - Technology enables the collection, use, and exploitation of information about, by, and for individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • EU 7.4 - Computing innovations influence and are influenced by the economic, social, and cultural contexts in which they are designed and used.
    • LO 7.4.1 - Explain the connections between computing and real-world contexts, including economic, social, and cultural contexts. [P1]
      • EK 7.4.1B - Mobile, wireless, and networked computing have an impact on innovation throughout the world.

Math Common Core Practice:

  • MP4: Model with mathematics.

Common Core ELA:

  • RST 12.7 - Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media
  • RST 12.8 - Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text

NGSS Practices:

  • 2. Developing and using models

Key Concepts

  • Models and simulations are used to generate new knowledge, as well as to formulate, refine, and test hypotheses.
  • Simulations allow hypotheses to be tested without the constraints of the real world.

Essential Questions

  • How can computational models and simulations help generate new understanding and knowledge?

Teacher Resources

Student computer usage for this lesson is: optional

These videos supplement the material covered in this lesson:


Lesson Plan

Getting Started (5 min)  


  • Journal: If I flip a coin 10 times, is it possible to predict exactly how many times it will come up heads? Why or why not?
  • A weather forecaster presented a forecast with a 20% chance of precipitation the next day.  The next day it rained.  Explain how the forecast may still have been correct.


Introduction to Content (10 min)

Introduce Vocabulary

Choose one of the simulations at Phet simulations and answer the following.


  • What models are being used?
  • What details are included?
  • What details are omitted?
  • What does the simulation seem to show?


View these two videos

Bill Nye and a scaled model of the solar system (4:17)


Computer Generated Model of a Solar System (2:41)


Guided Activities (30 min)

Students create a journal entry responding to these two questions:

What was a main idea presented by each video?

What aspect(s) of the models helped make that point?

Students discuss each of the following with elbow partners then groups.

How do the models in these videos depend on computing?

Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each model. What understanding can be better drawn from the first model and what understanding can better be drawn from the second?

What questions could be answered using these two models?

From each group students share at least one response to each prompt.

Define and Identify Models and Simulations [10 min]

Examples of models (do not need to show the entire videos for student understanding):


  • Watch this video of a human heart simulation: Multi-scale Multi-physics Heart Simulator UT-Heart (5:15) (watch up to 2:00; the rest is interesting but not necessary).
  • What’s an advantage to having so many data points? What about a disadvantage? (A supercomputer is necessary to run the simulation.)
  • How can you test a parachute to be used on Mars? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jOzxEOlDJg (1:11)? Describe the physical test. Before that test, they create models and simulate on the computer - why? (It is very costly to run a test and to create an actual parachute. First be sure an idea passes a simulated test, then build it.)



Examples of Simulations:



Have students find and share simulations in each of the following:


  • Financial (e.g., stock market forecasting)
  • Weather (e.g., predicting the path of hurricanes)
  • Space (e.g., predicting the path of an asteroid)
  • Sports (e.g., predicting championships)


Use Models and Simulations to Refine Questions [20 min]


  • Select one of the simulations explored today.
  • Write a question the simulation could help answer.
  • Run the simulation and write an answer to your question.
  • Exchange your results with your elbow partner.
  • Refine your elbow partners question
  • Write an answer to the new question.


Wrap Up (5 min)

Journal: Have students record the definitions (in their own words) of the vocabulary used in this lesson: probability, model, simulation, and hypothesis.

Evidence of Learning

Formative Assessment

  • Can students define models and simulations in their own words (and understand the difference)?
  • During the activity, are students able to identify particular characteristics that will be included in a model and simulation as well as characteristics that are to be excluded?