This was a Grade 7 group of 16 students last October. Students were working on a unit called 'The Universe and Me'

  • Aim (what I want them to learn)
    • In terms of subject matter

lots of information about astronomy (names of famous astronomers & major discoveries) - that it has been in use/applied by humans for 10's of 1000's of years (for a variety of reasons, but primarily survival)- it is/has been a source of great controversy (belief systems & Galileo/Hypatia/Copernicus) - recording of history can be 'hit and miss' and/or systematically altered by groups (gaps in information = missing/lost information NOT that there isn't any)

    • In terms of thinking

variables (how to identify and make use of them) - how to analyse and evaluate a source (in terms of information/reliability/bias/effectiveness etc) - how to compare sources - how to contrast sources - how to analyse information from a range of sources - how to build a more reliable information source of your own (synthesis/creating) 

  • Materials I am going to use (with a link to specific materials if possible)

7 timelines found on the internet (this activity grew out of my own search for a link to a good astronomy timeline for the pupils - the timelines I found all had major gaps/omissions/biases)








2. Lesson / task description – after

  • Students worked in small groups to do all the following activities;

    STEP 1: Student read through and discussed the timelines and gave feedback on their first impressions. Then I asked them to put them in order "from best to worst" which they regarded as an impossible task.

  • All groups attempted the task but answers were all very different and students couldn't give a coherent explanation of their choices (emphasis is put on being able to back up your choice not on any one correct order) - leading to a need for another way to do the task

  • STEP 2: Reintroduce idea of looking at variables (students are used to idea of variables but as something you can physically measure with a ruler for example) - and reintroduce rubrics (they have used them in English to evaluate presentations and written stories. Working as a whole class draw a grid on the board (but without variables or descriptors) to show general structure

  • Students created rubrics by working out variables (= parameters) and values (descriptions not numbers) and putting them into a scoring grid (i.e. rubrics are essentially ENV models used as scoring cards) students were given 3 as the minimum number of variables but they could use more if they felt it was needed

  • Students, in their groups, evaluated all 7 timelines using their self-made rubrics (compare & contrast), then they swapped rubrics to see how others did theirs (STEP 3 - reflecting on how using variables helped them accomplish the task), then used rubric and scores to give written evaluation of each source (i.e. written critique of sources and information using parameters extracted during the lessons) this time they found that the best and worst timeline were the same between groups! (although the order of the ones in the middle differed slightly)

  • Students synthesised a whole new and 'more complete' timeline and then, as a whole class, evaluated their product using the evaluation grid they had made. This was a very long piece which was made on an old fax paper roll using a proper scale to allow them to "see"  certain patterns and gaps :

  • STEP 3: students reflected on how their product compared with the 7 original sources. They also looked at some very large gaps in the timeline vs. areas of intense activity and came up with ideas as to why such gaps may exist (they realised by discussing with each other that the gaps did not indicate a lack of exploration/inquiry during that time but instead a lack of records - which is an important concept)

    Teacher’s role (what the teacher actually did and how)
  • selecting the groups - introducing the materials - setting the TASK (challenge) - organising feedback from groups - overseeing creation of rubrics (when students were missing an important variable I would ask questions in that group to encourage further exploration - if  a group was totally stuck I would give an example from another non-related topic) - inreviewing the final product we sat on the floor and looked at the 15m timeline on the wall and discussed the very apparent features - I avioded giving information but provoked with questions e.g. "do you notice anything?" "why do you think that is then?" and many students would respond each building on anothers response or disagreeing Yay :)) 

3. Overall reflection on the lesson / task

  • Aim aspect (to what extent did we reach the aims?)

to a large extent - students were able to extend idea of variables to a non-numerical context (analysis) - all students learned or revised how to construct a scoring rubric using the variables and understood how the rubric could be used to evaluate sources -

  • Questions / conclusions for the future & missed opportunities!

Next time I do this activity I will ask the students to score their final product and look for ways to publish it.

Also as a further thinking aim I would have them write out the steps (algorithm) for source analysis and evaluation - this was definitely an opportunity I missed here!! They could have definitely used their algorithms in languages and humanities tasks. It would have allowed for physical as well as mental transfer of thinking processes and an opportunity for meta-reflection.

I did not see this opportunity until I had reflected on the task myself in terms of showing it to others.


# Deidre Jennings 2014-04-16 14:11
I use this exercise every year now with grade 7 kids (age 12-13).

I have added the source evaluation stage and a supporting worksheet to differentiate/scaffold the activity for kids who are not up to drawing the table for themselves.

I found a further use for this in teaching parents. It is not a science task really so it (a) doesn't make them nervous and (b) at first glance it looks terribly easy to an adult (it's just words).

The objective is that the adults come to an understanding of concept based task rather than a content based task. The timelines are just illustrative detail and the concepts (function of a timeline - bias - what is good research - variables and values in texts - the need to evaluate every source and how to do that) and thinking training (identification - analysis - evaluation and synthesis) are what really matter.

In going through it with a group of parents I 'short-circuit' parts of the exercise ;
1. when I see they have the concept of a variable I then jump to the list created by the kids,
2. when I see that they have the concept of values - same thing
3. I then show them an evaluation rubric created by the kids and explain how the students select only some variables from their lists using the function of the timeline as a guide.
4. Finally explain to parents how 'seeing' the difficulty of evaluation without a process (Step 1) compares to ease of evaluation & synthesis with a process AND that this is metacognition - thinking about HOW they learn.
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