BOX 7.3 Physical Models

Physical models, like models of solar systems or elbows, are microcosms of systems that draw heavily on children’s intuitions about resemblance to sustain the relationship between the world being modeled and the model itself. The photograph below displays a child’s model of the elbow. Note, for instance, the rubber bands that mimic the connective function of ligaments and the wooden dowels that are arranged so that their translation in the vertical plane cannot exceed 180 degrees. Though the search for function is supported by initial resemblance, what counts as resemblance typically changes as children revise their models. For example, attempts to make models exemplify elbow motion often lead to an interest in the way muscles might be arranged (from Lehrer and Schauble, 1996a, b).

Child’s Model of on Elbow

verely limited unless one also has access to such mathematical concepts as variability and uncertainty. Hence, the practice of modeling introduces the further explorations of important “big ideas” in disciplines.


Increasingly, approaches to early mathematics teaching incorporate the premises that all learning involves extending understanding to new situations, that young children come to school with many ideas about mathematics, that knowledge relevant to a new setting is not always accessed spontaneously, and that learning can be enhanced by respecting and encouraging

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