Science Teachers Want their “MTV”!

Science teachers want their MTV! And we aren’t taking about Music Television; We’re talking about Making Thinking Visible. “Making Thinking Visible” in the classroom is more than just providing students with worksheets or graphics to organize their thoughts. Making Thinking Visible is an educational ideal that aims to engage learners, develop understanding, support thinking, and promote student independence with their ideas and thoughts. In a science classroom, making thinking visible is an essential practice to encourage students to think critically in a structured manner. There are three ways that Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison encourage thinking visibly: “unpacking thinking,” “putting thinking at the center of the educational enterprise,” and “using thinking routines”. In this blog post, I will outline all of these practices from Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison’s Making Thinking Visible and give examples of how each can be carried out in the classroom!

Unpacking Thinking:

Unpacking thinking is one of the first strategies that Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison mention to make thinking visible. In order to “unpack thinking” it is imperative students ponder about the act of critical thinking itself. They need to be comfortable with the effort that it takes to think critically. Making concept maps for particular concepts helps students to think critically about the topic at hand. There are 6 integral “thinking moves” that should be outlined in these concept maps:

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
  2. Building explanations and interpretations
  3. Reasoning with evidence
  4. Making connections
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions

Using concept maps to address these 6 thinking exercises will help to make out students’ thinking visible . They will have a better understanding of the concepts at hand and organize their thinking in a visual way!

Putting Thinking at the Center of the Educational Enterprise:

In order for students gain developed critical thinking skills, the art of just “thinking” and analyzing concepts should be prioritized in the classroom, especially in science. Allowing students to analyze what they are learning will help them to understand the concept on a deeper level, which is crucial in the science classroom when dealing with processes and their causes. One way we can encourage prioritizing critical thinking in the classroom is by modeling an interest in ideas. For example, teachers can pose a question to their class that even he or she does not know the answer to. This is a powerful tactic, especially in the science classroom because it shows students that there will always be questions that we can not answer or have to really think about. We are always learning, and asking an authentic question during a class discussion is a way to make students’ and teachers’ thinking visible. They help promote class inquiry and discovery which allows learning to be framed as a complex and communal activity.

Establishing Thinking Routines:

A thinking routine is a fantastic resource to help facilitate visible thinking. Coming up with a prior plan to structure our thoughts is beneficial because it will allow both students and teachers to think about a topic with prior knowledge and a general grasp on the concept. Different thinking plans or routines can be used by both teachers and students, but in a science classroom, teachers can use these guidelines to create thinking routines for both them and their students:

  • Introducing and Exploring the Topic
  • Synthesizing and organizing the information gathered on the topic
  • Digging deeper into the topic

These three guidelines help frame how teachers present a lesson and how students will be able to perceive the information that they are learning. Thinking routines are a great skill to develop not only in a scientific-based inquiry class, but really for any educational setting.


  1. Lauren V,
    Science teachers do want their MTV! I love that title! I also like your idea about how to prioritize analyzing and critical thinking skill in the science classroom. I think proposing a question that no one knows is the most authentic way for the whole class to go through the inquiry process together!

    • Hi Riley! Thanks so much for replying to my post, I’m glad you found my title as amusing as I did! I completely agree with you when mentioning how posing an authentic question is the best way to engage students in classroom discussion, I like how you mentioned the students and the teacher can go through the inquiry process together!

  2. Hi Lauren! I really appreciated your blog post! You were able to concisely share why MTV strategies were so important. I think that if anyone were on the fence about using these strategies, I would just send them straight to your post! When you discuss modeling an interest in an idea within a classroom, how would you use the questions you generate or topics that you discuss here to dive into a lesson (or lessons)? Would you eventually tie back or would you leave these questions to be the initial motivators that don’t necessarily get answered because science is not always about having a final answer?

    • Hi Colleen! Thanks so much for replying to my post, I appreciate it and your kind words! That is a great question, I think that I would pose authentic questions as conversation starters in my classroom, but I also would try to use these questions to try to deepen my students’ understanding of the topic, so they could potentially come to an answer when modeling an interest in the classroom. Thank you again for your thoughtful response!

  3. Lauren, I always enjoy reading your blogs! Not only are they esthetically pleasing, but so informative as well!! You made excellent points in regards to the thinking moves of concept maps. Do you think establishing thinking routines differ with remote learning?

    • Hi Brooklyn! Thank you so much for your kind words, that is so sweet!! To answer your question, I definitely think establishing thinking routines will change with remote learning. Virtual knowledge acquisition is a lot different than in person, so students will need to come up with a routine that better suits them in this virtual environment, such as organizing or making plans in a different manner. Thanks for your thoughtful response!

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