Supporting on-going changes in thinking

Why do we use these particular practices?Throughout any unit of instruction, students are frequently engaged in different types of activity. For example, students might do hands-on work with materials, use computer simulations, conduct observations of phenomena, design experiments, or collect and analyze different types of data. The purpose of this set of practices is to help students develop new ideas to use in revising explanations and models for the anchoring phenomena.

We want to make clear that this set of practices should be repeated multiple times throughout a unit. Multiple activities and multiple rounds of sense making are required to build towards a deep understanding of an explanatory model. A single activity is not enough to accomplish this.


Some important links to learn more about this set of practices:

Orientation videos that show this set of practices in action

Supporting on-going changes in students’ thinking—the primer for learning about it

Supporting on-going changes in students’ thinking—the tool for designing your own lessons

We want to note here that this page does not describe the practices in depth—that is done in the primer document (see above). We also recommend that you watch the orientation videos to see these practices in action.

Brief intro about what the practices look like

You can start with a brief presentation about a science idea that students will need, in order to make sense of the upcoming activity. Students need ideas to use as leverage. What do we mean by this? The explanatory model that underlies your anchoring event will have unobservable processes, structures, events that explain what is observable. These might include features that are inaccessible (i.e. the layers of the earth or how the brain senses carbon dioxide levels in the blood), structures or processes that are too small (i.e. atomic structures, chemical reactions), or that are conceptual (i.e. selective pressure, the compression feature of sound waves, unbalanced forces). Our point is that powerful forms of explanation describe why something happens using unobservable events and processes. Students cannot “discover” all of these unobservables, many of them have to be presented.

Following this you engage students with observations or data. This is where investigations can come in, working with second hand data, or doing lab activities. Whatever your activity, provide written and verbal guidance; and physically model the procedures if you have ELL students. You are going to have students working in small groups. You should have written about 4 good questions on an index card to refer to as you visit each group. These are called “back-pocket questions.”

The purpose for visiting each group is not to check to see how far along they are procedurally (if they falter at this you need to revisit how you are giving directions and modeling what they are to do). Rather, your visits are to listen to their current thinking, then ask questions that either probe more of their thinking, to re-direct them to some part of the activity or representations they are working with that is important to further their understanding.

In the next step you return to whole class conversation. This is where you can help students see broad trends or patterns of data from different groups in the classroom. You then need to help students “map” these onto a real world situation. “How does what we’ve learned in this activity help us explain our anchoring event?” Students’ new questions should be addressed, not put on the shelf. It’s also important to note that teachers should try to get students to talk to each other, not just to respond to the authority figure in the room.

In the final step the whole class returns to some public representations of students’ thinking that you’ve chosen for this unit. You can read about these public representations—especially what we call Face-to-face tools—on the Tools page.

Whatever the type of public record, have a whole class conversation about what should be added, taken off, linked together, questioned, etc. Finally, ask “What questions does this leave us with?”, “What are you not sure about after doing this activity?”, “What additional information do we need?”

Remember, the video cases we have on this site are your best resources for seeing these practices come alive.


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