Making Learning Visual

For those of us that are teaching science using the NGSS, we know the importance of students creating and using models. I’ve recently been using them in place of (or at least in addition to) taking notes. We all have those kids who are just crazy artistically talented. But even those who aren’t can get something out of drawing their thoughts and notes instead of writing them. I also love that this method allows kids to show their progress, both to me AND themselves. Some teachers have students draw a model at the start of the unit and then again at the end. For this particular method, I have them do it several times in one class period.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Give the kids a blank piece of white paper and have them fold it into 4 boxes (“hamburger” style twice…). They number the boxes 1-4. In the first box, have them draw their current understanding of whatever topic or process they are going to learn about. I tell them to use whatever labels they know and add as much detail as they can. If they aren’t sure whether or not something’s right, DRAW IT ANYWAY! This isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s about thinking…. In the example below, we were learning about the structure of the sun.

2. When everyone is done, I show a short video and tell them to jot some notes down on the back of their paper. They should note things that are not on their current model or that are different from their current model. I like to use a goofy song or maybe something a little below grade level (I teach high school) for this one. This way students who had a pretty limited understanding to start with can get caught up without feeling overwhelmed  or “dumb” for not knowing it. Plus, let’s be honest- they actually love educational songs. =)

*Some of my favorite silly, scientifically accurate songs: Layers of the Sun    The Solar System Song  Too Small to be a Star

3. After the video, they draw a new model in box 2. It has to be more detailed than the first one they drew.

4. When everyone is done, I show another video and students take more notes. This one is more appropriate for our grade level and more detailed. I’m a huge fan of the Crash Course channel for these. Videos are usually about 10 minutes long and cover a variety of details (some of which were already in the first video for anyone who missed them the first time around).


*I think it’s really important with both videos NOT to tell students specifically what to write down. This way they don’t feel pressured to write down every detail or like they’re not doing it right (that last part is so important to engagement!). I find that they will write down what they need.


5. After the video, they draw a final model using information from the last video. This should be the most detailed drawing. I encourage students to use labels and colors on this one, too.

6. No more videos. In box 4, I ask students to write how their understanding of the concept changed from box 1 to 3. I tell them to do more than just tell me what they added (I can see that for myself). What I want to know is WHY they added to or changed their models. Were there things they didn’t know before? Did they find they had misconceptions? Was it just a matter of learning the right words to what they already knew? This step is sooooo important for the students. They are so focused on showing what they know that they don’t want to stop and think about what they don’t know. And if they don’t ask themselves what they don’t know, how will they learn to learn???

Here are the finished products:

sun sample 2

sun sample 1

OK, I know some of you want to know if/how I grade these. Yes, I do give points for them. Let’s be honest, it increases effort and decreases the number of kids who won’t even try. I don’t make it worth a lot of points (equal to about half of a homework assignment). If their model increases in detail and their box 4 explains their thought process, they get all the points. Simple.

I definitely recommend you give this a shot. I do still come back after this and do class notes to make sure everyone got all the info that I want them to have, but it makes it so much easier when they already have most of it. And then they are prepared to discuss and ask questions instead of me just standing in front of the class lecturing.

If you do something similar or try this out, I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Thanks for stopping by! =)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: