By: Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey
Physics teacher Jesse Nunez uses graphic organizers in his class to check his students’ understanding of content. He teaches his students a number of tools early in the school year and then invites them to use different tools to demonstrate their content knowledge. He does not provide photocopies of graphic organizers or require that students all use the same graphic organizer at the same time. During their unit of study on states of matter, Arian created a concept map explaining her knowledge of solids, liquids, and gases (see Figure 5.6). Mr. Nunez reviewed Arian’s concept map and noted that she understood each of the three states of matter but wondered if she comprehended the interactions and relationships between and among these states of matter.
Inspiration. Like many things in our world, graphic organizers can also go digital. The Inspiration and Kidspiration software programs allow users to create visual tools—graphic organizers—on the screen (see www.inspiration.com for information). Current versions of the software allow users to import text, transform ideas and graphics, and select from a range of graphic organizers and tools.
Royer and Royer (2004) wondered if there was any difference in the complexity of the concept maps students would create if they had access to computers to complete the tasks. They compared the graphic organizers created by 52 students in biology classes that used either paper and pencil or computers with Inspiration software. Their findings suggest that there are significant positive outcomes when students create graphic organizers in a digital environment. Mastropieri, Scruggs, and Graetz (2003) document similar results and make similar recommendations for students who struggle with reading or who have disabilities.
During their study of insects, complete and incomplete metamorphosis, and life cycles, the students in Jenny Olson’s class spent time at a learning center creating visual representations of their understanding using Inspiration. Javier created the visual representation—a concept map—of complete metamorphosis found in Figure 5.7. Ms. Olson noticed that Javier had an understanding of the stages of complete metamorphosis and had collected some interesting details about each stage from the various books he had read. However, she also noted that his visual representation did not communicate the stage and cycle information critical to understanding the process of metamorphosis and the insect life cycle. She decided to meet with him and discuss his graphic organizer. Through questioning, she led Javier to understand how to represent his learning visually. She also had the opportunity to solidify his understanding that eggs become larvae, larvae become pupae, pupae become adults, and then the adults lay eggs.
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