Significant figures clusters

authors Catherine Zavacki and Anjana IyerOne challenge as an educator is to not wear yourself out with mounds of paperwork while at the same time evaluating the understanding of all your students. One way we have found to formatively assess our students without creating extra paperwork is through a kinesthetic activity. This allows time for the students to interact with each other, to ask questions and gain understanding, and at the same time you, the teacher, can visually evaluate students’ understanding based on their movements. The following activity is used for students to demonstrate understanding of significant figures.

Prior to this lesson the students have had instruction on determining how many significant figures a number contains. To begin the activity have all the students stand up around the room. Either using a projector or large notecards display a number (example, 4125). The students would then move around and join together in groups of four to signify there are four significant figures in the number. Change the number (example, 1.0057) and the students would regroup with five people standing together to signify there are five significant figures. When the students are grouped together you can enhance this activity by adding a class cohesion component with some “get-to-know-you” questions, such as their favorite food, favorite animal, favorite song or favorite subject. After giving them a moment to answer, you can move on to the next number. To end the activity, the last number you can display should have one significant figure so they all separate and then can go back to their seats. This activity can be accomplished in about 5 to 10 minutes depending on your class cohesion questions.

We learned that there is value in some students not being part of a grouping, keeping in mind not to give negative attention to students who are “ungrouped”. Students are reminded that this grouping exercise is about the “number”, not the person. As soon as you see students are in clusters, you can confirm the answer and move on to the next number. As students complete the activity, teachers can jot down quick notes using their student rosters to flag students who are struggling to get the answer correct. Using quick check marks on your roster, you can gather information to be translated into the gradebook.