Taking a Peek Inside Our Student’s Brains

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend where after a while you need to stop and ask, “how did we get on this topic?” You started talking about how your days went, but now you’re somehow discussing whether beavers or otters are better (otters, no question). The human brain is weird, it’ll make connections sometimes when we aren’t even paying attention.

And somehow as science teachers, we’re supposed to help our students train and use their brains to solve some of the worlds leading issues. Sounds like an uphill battle to me. However, there are methods to opening up our brains and making our thinking visible. These strategies are called MTV (making thinking visible) strategies and they are perfect for a science classroom.

Why are MTVs helpful in a science classroom?

Well, I’m sure they’re helpful in any other classroom. However, they are especially useful in a science classroom because content isn’t always the most important part of a science class.

Yes, a lot of the information we teach in our science classes is important and the students may use it later in life. However, all of our students will undoubtedly use things like critical thinking and problem solving at some point in their life. I argue that those skills are the most important part of science classrooms. In order to see how our students are progressing in their problem solving and critical thinking skills we need to see inside their heads. These MTV strategies help us do that.

Here is the author of the book Making Thinking Visible, explaining why it is so important to document students’ thinking.

Strategy #1: Headlines!

This strategy is relatively simple, but it’s a great way to gain insight into what students are thinking in terms of the core of what they’re learning.

The Headlines strategy takes place after a learning experience has finished, that can be the end of a unit or a field trip or even watching a movie. After the experience, have the students take some time and consider what they to be at the core of what they just learned. Have the students write down a single sentence that encompasses that main idea succinctly and digestibly. Next students will share their “headlines” and through discussion the class will find commonalities among all the headlines.

Once the discussion is done I suggest taking their headlines and posting them all over the walls of the classroom. This will allow students to look at them and consider what they’ve learned at anytime for the rest of the year.

Strategy #2: Tug-of-War

This next strategy is great for skills like assessing evidence and supporting arguments.

Students will be faced with two opposing sides of an argument. There are plenty of different arguments for science, and even arguments that have been answered could work like is the Earth round. The class is divided into two teams and each team is assigned a side of the argument. The teams find evidence that support their side of the argument, then, they put evidence up on some board that everyone can see. The students on each team decide what their best evidence is and place it near the center of the board as “tugs.” The activity ends with the class discussing which side had better arguments.

Not only are the students working collaboratively, but they are making arguments and assessing evidence in a way that is constructive. These are the types of skills that can be translated to any field of study.

Strategy #3: I used to thing…, Now I think

This final strategy is great for getting an idea for how students’ thinking has grown and what they’ve learned.

It’s very simple. Using the two sentence stems in the name of the strategy, the students write two sentences to help reflect upon a topic they just learned. So after a unit or the like, the students will write one sentence that starts with “I used to think…” and another that starts with “Now I think.”

This helps us as teachers and students get insight into how well we tackled misconceptions in the class. It also helps us get a picture of the steps the student took to get to the knowledge they now currently have.

These three strategies only really scratch the surface of all the possible MTV strategies. There are strategies that are more or less complex and useful in different ways. With these strategies we can really help our students be prepared for whatever field or profession they go into.

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