What are they thinking? Where did they get that idea?

Making Thinking Visible

Have you read “Making Thinking Visible”? You should.

Chemistry requires high levels of abstract thought along with applications of quantitative and qualitative concepts. I am a careful planner; I prepare examples and illustrations to guide students towards clear understandings one step at a time. Often though, I find myself wondering, “What is he/she thinking? Where did he/she get that idea?” This book has helped me to uncover student misconceptions and look into their thought processes regularly. A supervisor gave me the book in August, and it sat on my nightstand for several weeks. In my mind, it was going to be another book about visual learners and strategies for using images to increase engagement. I WAS WRONG. This book is different. It is not about visual learning; it focuses on making student thinking visible to the teacher. While still learning to use the visible thinking routines, I really feel more conscious of students’ understandings than ever.

Here is a sample activity that I adapted to fit my honor chemistry students’ needs:


Introduction to Stoichiometry: The Explanation Game

Prior knowledge/skills:

  • Students should have used molar mass, Avogadro’s number, and molar volume to make mole conversions.
  • Students should also be able to write and balance chemical equations.

Set-Up: Students should be sitting in homogeneous partners. I used their mole conversion performance data to choose the pairs.

Teacher Resources: I used the following slides to facilitate the activity. Be patient! My students really struggled at first as they had never been asked to build their own understandings in this way. I participated heavily by talking to each pair and guiding the conversations during our sharing time at each step. It was surprising how robotically they had been using conversion factors. Naming and explaining the purpose of each step of the problem is much more challenging than expected!

     Slide One: Making Individual, Silent Observations


     Slide Two: Applying Prior Vocabulary and Calculation Knowledge

  • Facilitator Note: I would call on student pairs to name one piece of the calculation using the appropriate vocabulary. Since I have a SmartBoard, I would write labels above each piece identified by student groups. If no group identifies the MOLE RATIO, don’t be surprised as it is likely the newest conversion factor. The facilitator may have to guide students to point it out.

     Slide Three: Analyzing New Calculation to Determine Purpose of Each Step

  • Facilitator Note: Again, I would call on student pairs to provide explanations for each feature. I also ask that they follow-up questions posed on the slide. The facilitator should highlight the purpose of the mole ratio to shift the calculation from the given compound to the unknown compound. Do not move on to the next slide until students understand that this calculation states that 4.1 grams of calcium chloride is related directly to 4.04 grams of sodium phosphate.

            Slide Four: Connecting the Calculation to a Chemical Equation

  • Facilitator Note: I would move from group to group quickly asking the students to find a relationship between calcium chloride and sodium phosphate in the chemical equation. Push the students to use the appropriate vocabulary telling you that calcium chloride and sodium phosphate are reacting with one another. Ask them to notice a quantitative relationship, too.

     Slide Five: Extending the Explanation to Synthesize a Question

  • Facilitator Note: Students often report that they have trouble understanding the wording of stoichiometry problems. I included this step to attempt to show them the direct relationship between words and calculations. You may choose to have two or three different groups to share the questions they developed.

     Slide Six: Making the Shift to Solving a First Stoichiometry Problem

  • Facilitator Note: I encourage my students to move step by step through this first problem. I wrote the steps on our board:
    • Step One: Write a balanced chemical equation representing what they’re reading.
    • Step Two: Look for a quantitative piece of information given in the problem. Remember numbers can be written as words, too.
    • Step Three:Use the “Explanation Game” example problem as a model as they begin to apply known conversion factors to solve this new problem.