Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Zoom In

Last year, the G1 teachers with whom I work conceptually reviewed a unit of inquiry that is largely based on Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards in Science. In the unit, the teachers want students:
  • to know the different attributes used to describe rocks (knowledge-based benchmark),
  • to be able to group and classify rocks by those attributes (skill-based benchmark),
  • to be able to identify similarities and differences between soil and rocks (skill-based benchmark), and
  • to be able to identify and describe large and small objects made of Earth Materials (skill-based benchmark).
As part of the review process, the teachers identified the big ideas (called concepts) that they want their students to understand:
  • Form
  • Change
  • Causation
  • Observation
  • Description
  • Comparison
  • Classification
  • Material
Ultimately, the teachers want their students to understand that "observing the environment leads to discoveries." By wording this enduring understanding in this way, teachers can easily transfer this idea to other areas of the content, not just science.

To kick off this unit, I was invited to lead a class of G1 students through a provocation.

While planning for this provocation, I used similar steps I have used previously to teach conceptually (until it becomes more natural for me to teach with these BIG IDEAS in mind). However, I've recently seen a need to make a couple of changes:

1. Start with a concept.
2. Pick a specific, concrete example of a person, place, situation, or thing that illustrates that concept and 3. create an opportunity for students to explore that concrete example. 
4. 3. Check for understanding by having them write a concept statement.
5. 4. Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.

1. Start with a concept.

I want the G1 students to understand that you have to make careful and close observations to really learn about something.

2. Pick a specific, concrete example of a person, place, situation, or thing that illustrates that concept and create an opportunity for students to explore that concrete example.

To give students the opportunity to think about observing carefully and closely in order to really learn about something, I decided to use the thinking routine "Zoom In" from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison.

Although it has nothing to do with rocks (or perhaps because it has nothing to do with rocks) I wanted to use an image from a book by Carmen Lomas Garza, "a Chicana narrative artist who creates images about the everyday events in the lives of Mexican Americans based on her memories and experiences in Texas and California," (from Garza's website). The specific image I used was from the story "Birthday Party" from the book Family Pictures / Cuadros de Familia.

At first, I showed the students a small bit of the image and asked them, "What do you observe?" and "What is your hypothesis of what is happening?" Students recorded their observations and hypotheses on a blank sheet of paper (samples of these observation recording sheets follow).

Students observed leaves, a tree, branches, and sky but they weren't really able to form a hypothesis of what was happening. We discussed that is the case because they didn't have a lot of information, so I revealed a bit more of the image.

With this new revelation, I asked them, "What new things do you observe?" and "How has your hypothesis of what is happening changed?"

Students noticed the flowers, the fence, and the woman with the crutches. They thought she might be planting a garden, but still weren't very sure what was happening because how can a woman with crutches successfully plant a garden? I pointed out to the students that their observations were actually leading to more questions.

We repeated this process three more times.

Students observed the woman's friend and thought she had invited her over for lunch.

Students observed more people and the man with the piñata. They then hypothesized that they were at a birthday party, which I challenged them on. I asked, "what is typically at a birthday party?" to which they responded "cake and presents." Because they didn't see any of that in the image, we re-hypothesized that this was an image of a party, but that we couldn't confirm what kind of party it was.

After revealing the entire image to the kids, they did observe the cake and the presents and therefore were able to confirm their original hypothesis that this was indeed a birthday party.

Next, in the routine I asked the students if they had any lingering questions. Some asked:

  • How old is the girl?
  • Why are there so many people there? Babies, children, and adults all at the same party?!
  • Are her cousins there?
  • Is the girl hitting the piñata the birthday girl?
  • What game are they playing in the corner?

Below, are some samples of the students' observation recording sheets.

I observe a leaf and tree branches and sky. The new observation: a person with a crutch. The new observation: She invited her sister. She had a party for her grandson as a fiesta. Its called a fiesta. She had a big big big big fiesta party.

I observe I see leaves and sky. There is a lady and a fence and she broke her leg. Her friend is visiting her. They are having a party. A girl is hitting the piñanta and there are cake and presents.

I observe a little of a tree branch and the tree is a sky. A fence and a lady in crutches and a flower in a garden. I think she's reaching for something. There's her sister, I think. A piñata I think and kids and more people and I think a dog and it might be a party and it might be a birthday. I see a cake and presents and even more people and a girl with a stick and blindfold.

Its getting dark. Sky. I think that someone is under playing. A women is under the tree right behind the fence and she has a broken leg? There's a little grass. I think she's looking for something. I think she is talking to someone and she doesn't like it and she is told her, "Would you like some pie?" They're having a party and I see someone doing something. I think the lady is setting up the piñata. They're gathering around the girl because she is going to hit that piñata first. See someone saying look she is going to hit the piñata and they are watching that girl hit the piñata.

leaves. branch. I wonder what the person is doing. cups. bag. having a dinner. a drink. flowers. ropes. presents. cake. sky. fence. nest. plants. adults. person. piñata. cat or a dog. birthday party. kids.

I observe smiling (?) Sky! I observe that it is a party. I observe planting. I observe her mom is helping. Maybe they're having a party.

Leaves branches sky. Girl little grass someone hurt flowers fence crutch. Girl carrying a bag. Kids kids talking adults adults talking kids playing. a lot of people piñata cups cake presents.
A tree and sky. they're going to cut down a tree. A girl broke her arm and forest. Her mom is probably mad? A lot of kids! And a piñata. A cake and drinks and presents.
3. Check for understanding.

Next, I told the students to forget about the specific picture and think about the BIG IDEA of observation. I asked them to finish the phrase, "I have to make careful and close observations because ..."

Below are some representative samples of the students' thinking.

This student understands the basic idea: that we must make careful and close observations so we can learn.

During the lesson, I asked students who needs to look carefully and closely and students responded with dectectives, spies, and scientists. This student's response shows that she understands this BIG IDEA (concept) also transfers to artists.

This student knows that careful and close observations help us learn more things, but I really like that this student is also including that when we take more time and look closely, we "have more thinking".
Next, I had all the students read their responses to the class. If someone read a new idea, we added it to the class's concept statement (using a different colored marker to graphically show how much the statement changed with the addition of new ideas.

Finally, we rewrote the statement to which they can refer throughout the entire unit.

4. Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.

I was impressed by the first graders' keen eye during the Zoom In routine, but I was more impressed by their ability to write down all their observations. Having every child write down their observations during the thinking routine assured that everyone was engaged and also gave them an authentic reason to write. The teacher could review their observation sheets and give mini-lessons on a number of things related to writing: spelling patterns, punctuation, spacing, capitalization, question formation, etc.

The students' concept statement right now includes some ideas that are not always true; for instance, we don't always have fun when we look carefully and closely. Moving forward, I would suggest to this teacher that she set up opportunities for looking closely and carefully that aren't necessarily fun (looking through the lost and found, for example). As the students explore more concrete examples where they must observe, describe, classify, hypothesize, and draw conclusions, I would recommend that they continually revisit this concept statement and make changes as necessary.

After reading about how I used the thinking routine Zoom In to get students to develop an understanding of the importance of observing carefully and closely, how could you or have you used thinking routines to develop students' understanding of life's BIG IDEAS?


  1. I love everything about this! Seriously. And with G1 students! Love it. Favorite part: that you have the big idea of "observing the environment leads to discoveries" which totally sets the stage for their new role as Geologists. I think this could be a great lead-in to other science based units as well and will be sharing with our G2 team who are about to start a unit on Light and Sound. Thank you so much - this is just what I needed to read!

    1. Hello Sonya, I'm so glad you found this useful. Yes, the Central Idea is abstract and broad enough that it could transfer to other scientific contexts, but also to other situations as well: a mathematician has to observe carefully to discover what the problem is and which mathematical tool she'll need to solve it; a reader has to observe carefully to discover what the author is trying to communicate through words, pictures, & other text features; a historian has to observe carefully to discover why something happened.

      If your G2 team ends up using this thinking routine, please share. Good luck!