Part 1: Starting the Year Strong with Sensemaking in Your Science Class

Eric Rhoades

As the new school year begins, this is a great opportunity to spark curiosity and critical thinking in our students. One of the most powerful ways to achieve this is by embracing the concept of sense-making. Sense-making encourages students to go beyond rote memorization, fostering a deeper understanding of concepts and promoting independent and collective thinking through discourse. 

Empowering Student Autonomy

Sense-making in science  empowers students to take ownership and holds them accountable for their learning.. By actively involving students in constructing their understanding, we give students the tools to become self-directed learners. Students are encouraged to explore, question, and experiment, fostering a sense of autonomy and curiosity that will serve them well beyond their school years. 

Creating a Dynamic Classroom Environment

A sense-making approach not only benefits students but also transforms the classroom into a dynamic and collaborative learning space that supports the Virginia Profile of a Graduate. Encouraging students to engage in discussions, share their interpretations, and collaborate on solving problems creates an environment rich with diverse perspectives and ideas. This interactive atmosphere nurtures a love for learning and a confidence that students need to be successful. Discussion has an effect size of .82 according to John Hattie’s most recent research (.40 is the typical effect size). . 

Fostering Deeper Understanding

Sense-making is about more than just memorizing facts; it’s about understanding the “why” and “how” behind the science. By presenting students with phenomena, real-world problems, or questions at the beginning of each unit, educators can inspire curiosity and encourage students to explore and uncover solutions. This approach not only piques their interest but also lays the groundwork for a deeper, more meaningful understanding of scientific concepts.

Cultivating Critical Thinking

Starting the year with sense-making sets the tone for critical thinking throughout the school year. When students are encouraged to ask questions, analyze data, and draw their own conclusions, they develop valuable critical thinking skills that extend far beyond the classroom. Sense-making challenges students to think independently, evaluate evidence, and make informed decisions—a crucial skill set they will carry on into adulthood.

Promoting Lifelong Learning

When students are taught how to make sense of the world around them, they are equipped with a skill that extends far beyond their time in the classroom. Sense-making encourages a mindset of lifelong learning, where individuals continuously seek out knowledge, evaluate information critically, and apply their understanding to new situations. This approach sets students up for success in an ever-evolving world where adaptability and critical thinking are paramount.

As you start a new school year, starting with sense-making. It will make a huge difference in the culture of your class.  By fostering a deeper understanding of concepts, cultivating critical thinking skills, empowering student autonomy, promoting lifelong learning, and creating an engaging classroom environment, you can set the stage for a successful school year. As we embrace the power of sense-making, we inspire the next generation of inquisitive minds, critical thinkers, and lifelong learners.

In the upcoming blog post of this series, we will continue to explore the practical applications of sensemaking and discover how it creates a student-centered classroom. 

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