Math Insight

Communicating models project, part 1


Adapted from the ModelWorld component of the International Clinics on Infectious Disease Dynamics (ICI3D) Program, CC-BY International License.

In this project, you will go through a series of steps designed to help you develop your very own simplified conceptual model of a biological system.

Start by doing the following steps individually -- each person should develop their own model. Each person should turn in their own copy of this part of the project.

  1. Write down a question about a biological system that could be answered with a model.

    Write down the key outcome of interest for addressing your question. There may be multiple outcomes that you are interested in, but for now pick one primary outcome.

  2. Make a list of the processes that may affect the outcome of interest. This is a brainstorming step, and you should not worry about how important these processes are nor should you wrack your brain to make sure you identify every possible process that might be involved.

  3. Make a list of relevant characteristics of the components in your biological system. These could be categorical or continuous, and you should use your question from 1. as a guide to the best way to describe continuous characteristics. This step is also a brainstorming step - write down whatever comes to mind.

  4. Identify what you think are the most important processes and characteristics among those identified above for addressing your question. If you are unable to select only a subset of the processes and characteristics identified, you are probably trying to understand too much all at once. Identify a smaller question that will help inform the answer to your broad question. For example, instead of asking how something occurs, you may pick a particular component that may be part of how something occurs and ask whether (and when) it can ever sufficiently explain the phenomenon of interest on its own.

  5. Reconcile your process and characteristic lists by identifying how the most important processes relate to the most important characteristics. If you are missing any categories of individuals necessary to complete the important processes, or have categories that aren’t related to others through any of the listed processes, adjust your lists.

  6. Write down an equation or set of equations for your model. You can draw a diagram that represents your model as well, if that helps you.

    On a separate sheet of paper, hand draw or print a clean, clearly labeled version of your model equations/diagram and bring it with you to share during the next class session. This should be labeled clearly enough that someone unfamiliar with your model would be able to understand it. Write your question at the top of the page.

    Be sure to represent all of the individual characteristics and processes of interest that you identified in the step above. If you use any letters or symbols in your model (chances are you will!), include a key that clearly state what each symbol/letter/abbreviation means.