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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

Science Concepts Made Easy
Sharon Pettey-Taylor

As educators in compliance with the Professional Teaching Standards, organizing subject matter is an essential characteristic of demonstrating, supporting, and making subject-specific content accessible to all of our students.  

Science teachers are discovering the use of graphic organizers, originally used as literacy tools, to be highly effective in conveying key concepts in all areas of science instruction. According to research findings, they are instrumental and appealing to visual modalities of teaching and learning, and considered to be a more creative and simplistic resource in understanding complex approaches and solutions to science-based data.

Ms. Chante Glenn, along with her students, enjoy integrating graphic organizers into their Environmental Science and Living Environment classes at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn. Previously, we discussed her treatment of employing art forms in teaching the Living Environment (see my article, Science to Art!). It is not surprising, then, that her ability to differentiate would also include organizing information in this equally innovative manner.

In the following Q&A, she expresses her appreciation of graphic organizers in our pre- and post-mentoring conferences. In addition, we discuss their use in our periodic and formative assessments (in considering the diverse and developmental needs of her students).

Q: Ms. Glenn, in teaching higher-level concepts involving environmental issues, how have graphic organizers fit into your instructional objectives?

A: Using graphic organizers helps students to interpret complex scientific data. Science is a text laden subject and I had to find an alternate way to reach my marginal readers and visual learners. The learning objectives are met more readily when students have the opportunity to use this literacy technique. Graphic organizers take the text from class notes and/or textbook readings and sort it in a way where visual learners and students with low reading levels have the ability to now take in the information without feeling overwhelmed. Topics such as the history of scientific discoveries could also be made easy with the implementation of an underused graphic organizer, the timeline.

Q: Have you found, as an assessment tool, that graphic organizers increase student comprehension and/or retention of the subject matter being taught?  

A: As an assessment tool I was amazed at how well it could be implemented. After teaching a unit of biomes (i.e., the types, climate conditions, geographic regions, native plants and animals), I administered a quiz. The quiz had two text boxes with six spaces in each box, each space had the name of the biome on the left and the right text box was outlined for the plants and animals native to the biomes. On the left side of the graphic organizer students gave climate conditions and geographic regions. On the right side, native animals and plants were given by the students. More students received grades of 100% on that quiz than on any other quiz that semester.

Q: Would you recommend including graphic organizers as visual aids for student presentations and/or portfolio development?

A: Yes, actually graphic organizers make the science concepts easy to understand, interpret, and reiterate. The Living Environment students utilized graphic organizers such as flowcharts to show how scientific processes (i.e. digestion) occur in a stepwise manner and Venn diagrams to show the similarities and differences between cellular respiration and photosynthesis. Also, the Environmental Science students’ portfolios are definitely enhanced by the higher quiz scores on the graphic organizer assessments.

Thank you again, Ms. Glenn, for your willingness to share your insights, infusing the collaborative, creative spirit of “organizing subject matter” into your learning experiences.

Standard for Understanding and Organizing Subject Matter for Student Learning. The Professional Teaching Standards. New Teacher Center at The University of California, Santa Cruz, 2004.
Google.com – Graphic Organizers in Science


Many thanks to the staff and administration of:
Boys and Girls High School
Brooklyn, NY

Spencer D.A. Holder, Principal
Christopher Smith, AP Administration
Catrina Williams, AP, Science Department

Do you have a comment, question, or suggestion about this article? E-mail Sharon.


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