Science and Children cover, March 2009Classifying Classification describes how a team of first-grade teachers examined their own instruction in classification and how it related to their state standards. Check out the rubric they created and how it could be adapted for older students. They also have a continuum for classification activities: matching, sorting, categorizing, and interpreting. I wonder how many teachers of older students repeat these activities without knowing what the students have done in the younger grades? Are we challenging students along a continuum or doing the same level of activities again and again?
The SciLinks database has some good resources and lesson ideas on the topic at the K-4 level. Websites for the middle grades and high school can be accessed by entering classification as a keyword for lists of websites related to classification systems, classification of rocks, and the basis for classification.
The students’ activities described in Shark Teeth helped them to learn that scientists classify for a purpose. And the authors describe how the students also learned how to use the graphing feature of Excel (with which many adults struggle!). The SciLinks keyword sharks has websites listed for grades 9-12, but you can preview and select any that would be appropriate for your students or as background information for yourself.
We often think of classification in terms of living things, but Does Light Go Through It? shows that even very young children can describe patterns and characteristics. I think that even older students would understand vocabulary such as opaque, transparent, and translucent if they have some hands-on experiences to explore the concepts.
The February issue of Science Scope has a “Classification” theme also. Many of the activities in that issue could be adapted for younger (or older) students. I’ve found that with any of these classification activities, the point is not for students to get a “correct” answer. The real value is in the discussions students have about the similarities and differences of the objects and in the teacher’s guidance through the processes. You can learn a lot by listening and guiding when necessary as students develop their skills in observation, description, measuring, graphing, summarizing via their journals, and making connections.
My experiences at an Orioles game will never be the same after reading What Makes a Curveball Curve. Check out SciLinks for websites describing and investigating the science behind many sports.

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