David Orlin Hestenes, Ph.D. is a theoretical physicist and science educator. He is best known as chief architect of geometric algebra as a unified language for mathematics and physics, and as founder of Modelling Instruction, a research-based program to reform Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.
Since 1980, Hestenes has been developing a Modeling Theory of science and cognition, especially to guide the design of science instruction. The theory distinguishes sharply between conceptual models that constitute the content core of science and the mental models that are essential to understand them. Modeling Instruction is designed to engage students in all aspects of modeling, broadly conceived as constructing, testing, analyzing and applying scientific models. To assess the effectiveness of Modeling Instruction, Hestenes and his students developed the Force Concept Inventory,a tool for evaluating student understanding of introductory physics.
After a decade of education research to develop and validate the approach, Hestenes was awarded grants from the National Science Foundation for another decade to spread the Modeling Instruction Program nationwide. As of 2011, more than 4000 teachers had participated in summer workshops on modeling, including nearly 10% of the United States’ high school physics teachers. It is estimated that Modeling teachers reach more than 100,000 students each year.
One outcome of the program is that the teachers created their own non-profit organization, the American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA), to continue and expand the mission after government funding terminated. The AMTA has expanded to a nationwide community of teachers dedicated to addressing the nation’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education crisis. Another outcome of the Modeling Program was creation of a graduate program at Arizona State University for sustained professional development of STEM teachers. This provides a validated model for similar programs at universities across the country.