Public representations of students’ thinking
Even though you have a Big Idea and its ideal explanation in mind, you need to help kids reason about this explanation with ideas they currently have, otherwise they will merely learn to regurgitate your explanation. One way to begin working on students’ ideas is to make on-going public representations of them. There are several ways to do this, which we describe below.
Some of these representations can start on the first or second day of a unit. They are usually put on poster paper or on part of the board at the front or side of the room. These often remain up throughout the unit, and they are periodically revised as you ask students how their thinking has changed. This is typically done in whole class discussion.
Other public representations are best created after kids have had some experiences with science activities and with ideas from readings. Other kinds of representations support a final conversation about evidence and explanation. It is important to use at least one type of public record early in the unit and to use a complementary type later in the unit. These are many combinations of how these can be used in the same unit.
One caution here: In any representations of thinking, you may end up recording students’ ideas that are fragmented or not scientifically valid, however you don’t want to highlight incorrect ideas in ways that make students think they have unquestioned validity—students may believe alternative understandings are scientifically valid if they see them publicly displayed in ways that make them indistinguishable from more coherent concepts. The examples below show ways to record partial understandings and students’ questions and hypotheses without confusing them. As with all the other public records of kids’ thinking, the teacher must foster a classroom environment where everyone feels comfortable in sharing ideas and not constantly worrying about being “wrong.”