Wednesday 13 May 2015

Toys, Science & SOLO; Classifying With 5 Year Olds

This term, is response to student voice gathered during term one, we are exploring ‘What’s Beneath…” A broad inquiry unit that has taken on a Science focus as indicated by our kids as a particular interest. As you might imagine, many pathways are being explored - What’s beneath the skin? What’s beneath the sea? Sky? My feet? Earlier this week one of my remarkable colleagues inspired my team with her class’ HookEd ‘Define Map’ using animal figurines. What a fabulous idea I thought, to get our new entrants and year ones engaged and motivated and participating in rich discussion!

So today, I had to try the idea out but I decided to use the Classify Rubric to sort an engineered box of mixed up figurines living, non-living and a few (now dubbed) ‘mysteries’...
I began only with the box, blank strips of paper on which to write the set titles they decided on and of course my ring bound HookEd Classify Visual Rubric.
I wasn’t too surprised that ‘Living’ was voiced first, as I purposefully questioned those children who had selected familiar animals. Non-living came up next (this was when I introduced the WALT), but it was more difficult for them to justify what to put in that set - this was when I went quiet and let the discussion flow among them - I let them make mistakes. I knew this was where the learning would take place as I, and other children, questioned them to justify choices later in the lesson.

There was laughter, discussion and engagement as they asked questions of each other, challenged each other, justified their opinions and changed their minds. They identified different familiar and unfamiliar living and non-living things, decided to create a subset of ‘Extinct’ animals and were perplexed and encouraged by the ‘mysteries’.
I find there is always one or two ‘experts’ every time we explore a new inquiry unit, who will challenge others, and ask more ‘but why… questions to extend their own learning, no matter what the topic! I refer to the rubric throughout the lesson and make sure that while the kids are learning about living and non living things, they are also learning the skill of ‘classifying’ which we defined together at the beginning of the lesson.

After a while, we took a break then came back to write a shared statement about our learning. We pooled our ideas together after a ‘Think, Pair, Share’ discussion and created this shared writing piece.

“Today when we looked in the box, all the things were mixed up! We wanted to sort the things into living and non-living groups. First we found a tree. We thought it was non-living but D***** thought it was living because it grows. We found a dinosaur. A***** said it used to be living but now all of them are dead - this means they are extinct. We made an extinct group. We found a tortoise and a fish and a fly. We put these in the living group because they can move - we have seen them!
We all put a thing into a group. We are still wondering what to do with the skeleton! It is a mystery for us.
M***** said ‘We could make an underwater group and a tree group and a group that lives  on land!” L***** said “We could make a zoo group”. We could classify the things in lots of ways!

Assessment: We think our learning today is Extended Abstract for classifying these living and non-living things because we are thinking of new ways to sort them!

(For the Visual Rubrics and HEAPS of resources see Pam's HookEd website +Pam Hook )

Yes, I know that technically ALL of the small plastic figurines we used are non-living - and I intend to challenge them with this a bit later in the unit - however the discussion generated today was rich, playful and fun as they imagined a real giraffe, fish, tree, fly, cricket… in their hands. We could have gazed at the images on the IWB, computer or tablet, we could have cut images out or drawn our own - we still might and add them to this, but the student voice was evidence at the end of our day when this activity was the highlight.

Where would you put Pinocchio? :-)


  1. Lovely post Bridget - using classification to look for similarities between diverse objects - living, non-living and dead (once living) is great activity when thinking like a scientist about living and non living things.

    I wonder what will happen when you introduce more examples of plants into the mix given young children's misconceptions about plants.

    Indeed how would your Junior team teachers categorise a fruit that has been removed from a plant - a freshly picked banana, pear, avocado or tomato? Is it living or dead - after all it continues to change colour and respire after it is picked? And why? Plastic is made from petroleum (fossil fuel derivatives) the end product of a few million years of natural decay of once-living organisms - early plastics were made from plants (biomass) also check out bioplastics - can you make an argument for plastic as a once living thing? Do we need to create a categories for - Living - Non-living but once part of living thing and Non-living and never part of a living thing

    This Scientic American article is pretty cool - Don't Know Much Biology: Our Trouble Classifying the Living World - Learning to categorize the life on our planet is surprisingly difficult for the human mind
    Children may be natural-born taxonomists, but they are not all that good at it. That is because they have a deep-wired urge to see the world as designed and simple—and to be at the center of it all. Apparently that impulse never entirely goes away.

  2. Hey Bridget,

    My name is Naomi Toland and I am a teacher in Stonefields School, Auckland. I was looking on Twitter today and growing my network of educators in New Zealand and I came across your learning.

    I love your findings and research into visible learning and how we can empower learners especially by growing student voice.

    I wanted to share some of my learning as well as I have similar passions and I have been interviewing people this year to share on my youtube channel - you can check it out here:

    I have interviewed teachers and students as well as people who are researching education and neuroscience for example I interviewed John Hattie and Nathan Wallis over the past few months.

    I am having a networking evening this Thursday in Speights, Stonefields and I thought you might be interested in attending. We strive to make learning fun for our kids so I want to make learning fun for us bigger kids too!! Let's learn together in an interactive, social setting! Here is the link to find out more: bit.

    Look forward to hearing from you! Thanks for your sharing!!