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Innovation through Institutional Integration (I³): The Modeling Institute


The Modeling Institute integrates the efforts of its most successful NSF-sponsored initiatives in STEM teacher education and more: Modeling Physics (numerous NSF programs); Project Pathways (MSP); Professional Learning Community Resources (TPC); Project Learning through Engineering Design and Prime the Pipeline Project (ITEST); Ask-a-Biologist (NSDL); SMALLab (CISE & IGERT); Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER); and MARS (NASA). The I³ Modeling Institute focuses on the integrative theme of critical educational junctures at the middle grades level.

The result of this I³ effort is intended to be the production of 200 middle grades teachers with STEM endorsements through a program of study that integrates modeling as the core construct; development of ten STEM sustainability-themed master’s level courses; persistence of these STEM teachers as professionals through the establishment of Scientific Villages (professional learning communities); STEM-net (a Phoenix area STEM teacher professional development network) and Ask-A-Scientist resources (a web-based portal for on-demand learning); and College For Kids (a summer camp for middle school students and practicum for nascent STEM middle grades teachers).

The I³ Modeling Institute draws upon ASU’s seminal work in modeling and employs it as the integrative construct, connecting mathematics and scientific content through meaningful activity. The I³ Modeling Institute’s theory of action emanates from research studies that show the capacity to create models of scientific phenomena and to test those models is dependent on the development of mathematical ways of thinking about the phenomena, including the ability to make sense of patterns in data. Moreover, studies of student learning demonstrate that context is critical for coming to understand mathematical concepts and skills. This project incorporates cutting-edge research-based instructional and assessment methods, centered on Modeling Instruction in a sustainability context.

Innovative aspects of the I³ Modeling Institute include: recruiting and preparing a large number of in-service elementary teachers to become middle grades STEM teachers; infusing the modeling construct into a master’s level STEM education program; integrating sustainability science as a problem-solving context in the science and mathematics courses; and coordinating across STEM departments, resulting in powerful linkages to research scientists as part of the STEM education learning community. The I³ Modeling Institute supports the career trajectory of elementary school teachers towards a disciplinary specialization that enables them to enrich the educational experiences of middle school students. The I³ Modeling Institute focuses on improving the learning of middle grades students, themselves. Research indicates that middle school is where interest in mathematics and science begins to wane, along with test scores and STEM career aspirations. I³ Modeling Institute graduates are equipped with a toolbox of knowledge and skills to engage students in dynamic mathematics and science learning.

The I³ Modeling Institute, developed in partnership with two of the fastest growing school districts in Arizona, leverages the most successful aspects of each of the programs to be integrated in order to generate an enduring STEM certification and professional development program for elementary school teachers to become middle school science and mathematics teachers in urban Phoenix and rural Maricopa county schools. Ultimately, the partnership upon which this program rests is the nucleus for a vibrant STEM education community supporting ongoing professional development and collaborations among university researchers and secondary STEM educators.



Start: September 15, 2009
End: August 31, 2014

Project Members:


Arizona State University

Project Website:

The Modeling Institute

Award Number: