May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Sorting Activities Reveal Student Thinking

Posted: Thursday, December 1st, 2011

by Lisa Hegdahl

When I was in grade school, I helped my older brother with a homework assignment.  Inside a shoebox were a variety of objects he told me to sort into two piles.  When finished, he asked me to sort the items a second time into two different piles.  The teacher gave the students the assignment to show that the same objects can be grouped in different ways depending on the perceptions of the person doing the sorting.  The sorting of items, terms, and ideas can be used in today’s classrooms to give teacher’s insight into how their students think.

Sorting real items or pictures of real items into two groups is a useful way to find out what students know about a concept prior to instruction.  Through the act of sorting, the teacher can observe students interacting and thinking about new material.  At the California Science Education Conference a year ago, a teacher shared a sorting activity that I now use as an introductory and closing lesson.   The instructor gives students 15 laminated photographs of various representations of elements, compounds, and mixtures.  Students put the pictures into either a “Yes” pile or a “No” pile, with the students deciding on the criteria for “Yes” and “No”.  While watching and listening to students as they sort the items, it becomes clear which students readily identify the pictures as elements, compounds, and mixtures, and which students view them as random photographs.  Used as an opening and closing lesson, this kind of sort can show student growth over the course of an instructional unit.

Using Venn diagrams to assess how firmly students have grasped concepts is another way to use the sorting strategy.  Teachers will see which students put items into the correct sections.  But, even more eye opening, is noticing which students have made enough connections to accurately place items into the overlapping Venn areas.   I use Venn diagram sorts for almost all the units I teach.  Students receive card stock paper with a pre-printed Venn diagram as well as a sheet of terms, pictures, and descriptions for them to cut out and paste into the diagram.   Middle school students enjoy the kinesthetics of cutting out the pieces and pasting them onto the Venn diagram, as well as the opportunity to discuss with their group members the placement of the items.

Sorting activities are a quick and easy way to visually and auditorily assess the knowledge of students.  The hands-on aspect, as well as the opportunities to have critical thinking conversations with classmates, makes these activities invaluable. Whether determining prior knowledge or mastery of concepts, sorting can reveal how students are processing science material. The nature of the sorting lesson is limited only by the imagination of the teacher.

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and CSTA’s middle school director.

 

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for CSTA.

One Response

  1. I love this idea! I think I’ll try reinforcing concepts with my AP Environmental science students.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.