Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Environmental Education Research Group

Re-imagining futures in STEME

Modelling Motion: A STEM unit for upper primary and lower secondary teachers

The Modelling Motion lessons provide students with an authentic STEM experience where mathematics is central to understanding the science and technology.

“I liked how the activities built from each other, so although they were separate activities, they actually formed part of a package of STEM activities.” Amanda, Year 7 Trial Teacher

“They’re investigations and the kids are doing hands-on things and finding out things for themselves, which is how I see STEM.”​ Felicity, Year 5/6 Trial Teacher

Our modern understanding of motion began with Galileo’s measurement and modelling of simple motions of a ball on a slope. The ‘Modelling Motion’ unit of seven lessons for Years 5, 6 or 7 draws on Galileo’s experiments to systematically develop students’ ability to model using graphs derived directly from the motion, with all the uncertainties and errors of the real world.

“The graphing aspect is really important because students struggle with those ideas, particularly with labelling axes and reading graphs, and the problem solving and the critical thinking aspects. I liked how the activities tease out what to think about—what’s happening and why it’s happening, which constitutes a deeper level of thinking.”​ Amanda, Year 7 Trial Teacher

Using detailed lesson plans and clear student workbooks, teachers challenge students to use simple equipment to predict, observe and represent motion. Students create a series of graphs to directly represent motion, time falling balls, and construct instruments to measure forces in one and then two dimensions. They then interpret these representations to develop concepts of force and motion.

“I liked the student workbooks. I liked how students had space without a whole lot of lines to write or draw their thoughts. The questions were guided, they weren’t too difficult. I also liked how in the teacher’s notes there was background information for teachers.”  Amanda, Year 7 Trial Teacher

A focus of the unit is on students constructing, sharing, and comparing their models in small groups and in whole-class discussions. Activities and projects are included to extend students’ understanding, together with pre- and post-assessments to gauge the impact of the activities on student understanding.

“In the last lesson, I saw how much students drew on all seven activities to work out that the path of the ball was going to be a curve. I hadn’t realised that they had got that much value out of the lessons. It really was worthwhile in terms of students’ ability to now look at data, collect it, and be able to talk about the different variables or the mistakes that might have been made.”  Felicity, Year 5/6 Trial Teacher

Finding activities that use mathematics authentically to integrate the STEM subjects has often proved challenging. The Modelling Motion lessons provide students with an authentic STEM experience where mathematics is central to understanding the science and technology.

The materials were developed by Susie Groves, Brian Doig and John Cripps Clark of Deakin University, and Julian Williams of the University of Manchester. They were extensively trialled in primary and secondary schools at Years 5, 6, 7 and 8.

The Modelling Motion unit is available at: