Moving from examples to understanding an abstract concept - Google Slides and the Frayer Model - Digital Literacy Dover

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Moving from examples to understanding an abstract concept - Google Slides and the Frayer Model

A approach lots of people are exploring this year is how do we scaffold students towards conceptual understandings and track and assess this growth.  In the work of Lynn Erickson and other theorists, this begins with the idea of concept formation or concept acquisition.

What do we mean by concepts?

As explained by Erickson, concepts are mental constructs that are abstract, timeless and universal. (Erickson & Lanning, 2014, p.33) They can be either broad in their context such as the concepts about change, interdependence or systems which are potentially interdisciplinary in nature or subject specific concepts such as velocity, unemployment or herbivores. These are also distinguished as macro or micro concepts, where micro concepts become evident in the depth of subject knowledge in each discipline.

Teaching to support conceptual acquisition:

One activity I see and utilise frequently is the classic sort, organise and group activity where you provide a wide arrange of examples relating to the concept and get students to identify similarities, differences and connections. In this Economics example, I was scaffolding students towards an understanding that:
products are related and the price change in one product can impact demand of related products. eg. complements and substitutes
In this case students quickly sort examples of products being substitutable or complementary to each other, but they often muddle the nuances of the relationship and the relative strengths of connections between goods that is evident when prices change.

Consolidating understanding: The Frayer Model

A perfect follow on activity is to use a diagram called the Frayer Model to get the students to record their understanding. The Frayer Model is essentially a graphical organiser you can use to capture either prior knowledge about a concept as a pre-assessment, to capture thinking after an activity, or as a tool to revisit and refine as students learn more about the concept through an inquiry.
  • an operational definition; in subject terminology what does the idea mean?
  • characteristics; what are the unique properties of the word that are shared by the examples.
  • examples; in what examples are these properties clearly illustrated?
  • non-examples; in what examples are these properties not illustrated?
The prompt asking students to list non-examples is really important as this is where you can identify some misconceptions. For instance peanut butter and jam (or jelly) might seems to be a complement for some people, but might be substitutes for others and a non-example.

Capturing the thinking: Google Slides

You can of course facilitate this in different ways e.g. pairs, groups on poster paper, but I have found using a Google Slides template as an effective way of scaffolding the students but also being able to track their work. It is a good tool where you can give comments, and where students can go back to as the learning progresses and make changes. It is also useful if you want students to scroll and see other students examples and ideas.

Click here to make a copy of the template

Together the two approaches are an important tool to help students build understanding which can later help them transfer and apply ideas to other situations.

Other related posts to explore:

The following are posts written by colleagues at the East Campus of United World College of South East Asia in Singapore. These cover the same ideas but from different subject angles.
  1. Open Sorting for Concept Formation
  2. Learning Concept words in EAL and transfer strategies
  3. Concept acquisition and misconceptions

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