Models are simplified representations of more complex systems that help scientists structure the knowledge they acquire. As such, they are ubiquitous and invaluable in scientific research and communication. Because science education strives to make classroom activities more closely reflect science in practice, models have become integral teaching and learning tools woven throughout the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Although model-based learning and curriculum are not novel in educational theory, only recently has modeling taken center stage in K–12 national standards for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes. We present a variety of examples to outline the importance of various types of models and the practice of modeling in biological research, as well as the emphasis of NGSS on their use in both classroom learning and assessment. We then suggest best practices for creating and modifying models in the context of student-driven inquiry and demonstrate that even subtle incorporation of modeling into existing science curricula can help achieve student learning outcomes, particularly for English-language learners. In closing, we express the value of models and modeling in life beyond the classroom and research laboratory, and highlight the critical importance of “model literacy” for the next generation of scientists, engineers, and problem-solvers.

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