In order to tackle the Science curriculum, my second graders have needed to build some basic skills. First, we spent a lot of time carefully observing and describing things, both living and non-living. It took a lot of prompting and practice to help them develop observation skills, but now, for the most part, they can look at any given object or creature with an eye to being able to describe it. They look for color, pattern, size, shape, and texture. We practiced drawing and labeling and writing descriptive sentences in order to share our observations.
So, when it was time to make groups based on some similar property, I thought they were ready to explore on their own.
I thought wrong.
I asked the kids to look at a few objects and describe each one individually. Then, I separated out two objects at a time and asked which properties were the same. Sometimes there was only one similar property, sometimes several. Then I stated our goal: Scientists make categories to sort matter into groups with similar properties. Today, our goal is to make groups of these objects based on some properties that we have been using to describe solid matter. I decided to have the students sort the supplies on their desks both because there were a few different properties by which they could organize categories and because the chaos of the morning interrupted my prep time to gather other materials (the honest description of an urban teacher’s day). We reviewed some properties that might make good groups and then I set them to work. I was disheartened to see every table begin sorting strictly by color. I interrupted the work, made note of the good sense of cooperation in the groups, had some groups share how they decided to sort, and challenged a group to come up with some other property to base their categories on. I thought most groups would want to change tack to avoid being the same as everyone else. Only one team rose to the challenge. They made two big groups on their desks: cylinders and non-cylinders. Well, it was something we could work with.
After this lesson, I looked back at the old Math curriculum and dug out some cards used to help students see different ways to sort a group. The cards have creature faces, some with antennae, some without, some with rectangle faces, some with oval, some with triangle noses, some with circle noses. Depending on the property by which you decided to sort, a face card could go in many different groups. I added these cards to my Science box, with a note to use them before we jump into the unit on matter next year. I’m hoping that they can see that each object has many different properties so a yellow marker can be in a group called “yellow” or a group called “cylinders” or a group called “long and thin” or even a group called “can be used to write with”. The possibilities are many.
This lesson was a reminder to slow down and make time in each day to back up and review basic concepts as needed.