To help students recognize that organizing things can make it easier to find things later.
This lesson is the first of a two-part series about organization and information retrieval. During these lessons, students observe that numbers, colors, folders, and other markings are used for keeping track of things in a particular order. Through group discussions, students begin to recognize that a value of storing things in a useful order is that it helps keep track of where things are and makes it easier for finding these things later.
Children are often required to keep folders, notebooks, journals, and/or portfolios to organize and store their work so it can be reviewed at a later date—the essence of an information storage and retrieval system. Children can help design and use simple strategies for storing and retrieving information that is recorded in the form of words and pictures on physical media (for example, audio and video cassette tapes, paper, and photographs). Using things such as personal folders, pockets mounted on the wall, and plastic file boxes located in workstations, students can learn that things need to have places where they can be stored—and if they are stored well, they are easier to find later. Things containing the same type of information can be assigned a special color or name that make it easier to store them correctly and to find them later. These experiences can provide students with the foundation they will need to address more sophisticated information-management problems in the future. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 201.)
Students begin with learning about the various organizing systems already in place in their classroom. You can expect that students at this level will understand that certain things "belong" in certain places. They have had experience with putting their toys away where they belong, for example. At school, they have already learned where to keep their pencils, where they can find paper towels, what to do with scrap paper, etc. It is likely, though, that students have not really thought about these things in terms of ordering, organizing, or systematizing. Some students may already understand that putting things "in their place" helps them know where things are, but others may not have linked the reason for ordering things with the act of ordering.
In Organization 1: Look at What I Organized!, students have opportunities to use and develop systems of organization in hands-on ways. They learn that systems of organization help make it easier to find things later. The hands-on and tangible learning experiences in this lesson serve as a foundation for understanding the fundamental organizing principles of creating and using computer files and folders, which is the focus of the second lesson. After students have studied the various systems in place in their classroom and have spent time talking about the role organizing plays in creating useful systems, they work in teams to develop their own systems of organization.
Organization 2: My Computer Folder helps students bridge their understanding of how and why we create systems of storage and organization to an elementary introduction to computers. In this lesson, students learn that computers store information that can later be retrieved. The hands-on and tangible learning experiences in the first part of this lesson serve as a foundation for understanding the fundamental organizing principles of creating and using computer files and folders. Students practice storing information in a file and learn how to create folders for storing their files. Students also close and reopen their folders and files in order to see that the computer saves their documents.
The main objective of this lesson is for students to realize that computers can store and organize information and that this information can be easily retrieved whenever they want to access it.
For the motivation activity, you will need a basket and index cards. On the index cards, write the names (include pictures for non-reading students) of various objects in the classroom that are stored. For example, pencils would be a good choice because they are items that you store in the classroom, whereas desks would not be a good choice because they are simply in the room.
Note: The activities in this lesson might be most appropriate for the beginning of the school year, as students are becoming familiar with how their classroom is organized. This lesson could also work well during any time of the year that you are introducing new materials to the students or bringing new materials into the classroom.
Students begin with learning about the various organizing systems already in place in their classroom. Have each student close his/her eyes and select one of the index cards you prepared from the basket. Ask students to find their items in the classroom and bring them to the front of the classroom (or a meeting place if you have one established in your room). Once everyone has retrieved their items, lead a brief discussion about how students located them. You might ask:
- Tell me about what you found.
- Where did you find it?
- How did you know where to find it? (For students who did not know, ask, “How did you find out where to look?”)
- Was it easy or hard to find? Why?
Collect the index cards, shuffle them a bit and have students select another card. Ask each student to find his/her object from the group of objects they had collected before. (You might want to shuffle these objects around and group them close together before this part of the activity, to make it more difficult for students to locate their objects. Or you could distribute them around the room but not in their correct storage spots.) We can assume that it will be more difficult for students to find their objects this time because their objects are not in their storage place, but rather grouped together randomly. Facilitate a discussion that highlights this difference from their first attempt to find their objects. You can use the same set of questions as above for this discussion.
When you are finished with this activity, students can put their objects away so that they will be easier to find the next time!
This activity works well at the beginning of the school year, as students are familiarizing themselves with the organization of the classroom. If you are doing this lesson well into the school year, consider choosing items that are not frequently used, a new set of items that you are bringing into the classroom, or any items that students might find fun and interesting to really help them become engaged with this activity.
Students are now ready to consider the different kinds of ordering systems in place in the classroom. Using chart paper, write the different storage places students already found when locating their objects. Students have already identified that it was easier to find an object when it was "in its place" than when it was not. They are now ready to think more about how this concept of keeping objects in particular places is, in part, how we create systems of order. In other words, students should begin to recognize that it is not just easier to find a pencil when there is a storage place specifically for pencils, the pencil storage place is also part of how the classroom is organized. The whole classroom operates as a system in which each thing has its place.
Distribute the Classroom Walk student sheet and have students work together in small groups to complete their worksheets (groups of 3-5 work well). Once students have finished their student sheets, ask them to stay in the same small groups to work on the What We Keep Here student sheet. When students have finished with both of these worksheets, help them reflect on what they have learned with a large group discussion. Refer back to the chart paper you used earlier in the lesson to record storage places and the two student sheets to help students visualize how all of these different ways of storing items help to keep the classroom as a whole organized. You might ask:
- Let's look at all the different places we keep things in our classroom. (Review what the class has recorded.)
- How many storage places have we found so far? (Count what the class has recorded. Also, tell students that storage places are the places we keep things.)
- What do you notice about these places?
- What types of things are similar about our storage places?
- What kinds of things are different about our storage places?
- What is helpful about having storage places?
- Why might we need more than one kind of place to store our things?
- Do we use all of these storage places the same way?
- What do you think would happen without places to put our things?
You will likely individualize these questions to match the types of organizing units students find in your classroom. The main goal of this discussion is to reinforce the first benchmark of this lesson, "There are different ways to store things so they can be easily found later."
With a firm understanding of this concept, students are now ready to create their own ordering system! Divide students into small groups again, although not the same groups as previously. Working in different groups will allow students to brainstorm together in fresh ways. You can really approach this part of the lesson in any number of ways. You may prefer to develop your own ideas, based on your particular classroom arrangement and practical needs and/or limitations. For those of you who are looking for additional ideas, perhaps one of the ideas listed below will work well in your classroom. (Be sure to have some organizing materials available for students to use in any way they see appropriate. Containers, colored circle stickers, pieces of paper, pencils, folders, hanging filing systems...anything you can think of!)
If you are doing this activity at the beginning of the school year, here are some commonly found classroom items that you can let students be in charge of organizing. They can help set up the classroom!
Invite students to organize the books in your classroom. Let them develop their own system of organization based on their own observations. For example, they may choose to sort by category, character, color, author, etc. Clearly, if your students are reading, they might organize by character, number of chapters, etc. Non-reading students may organize by size of book, color of book, or whether the cover is hard or soft.
Writing Tools Organizing
Have students sort through the various tools they use for drawing and writing. These may include pencils, pens, paint brushes, markers, and crayons. While they may sort by category of writing tool, they may surprise you and decide that all blue things go in one spot and all the yellow ones go in another. Again, let them be in charge of their system. You can provide students with some flat trays to help them sort the various writing tools.
Students can be in charge of organizing the various types of paper available to them. Plain white paper, construction paper, paper bound in notebooks, scrap paper, old newspaper, etc.
Students will have great fun deciding how their homework worksheets and written assignments are distributed to students. For practical reasons, you may offer students two or three organizing materials to work with, such as folders, baskets, and a hanging filing system with colored stickers.
If you are doing this activity later in the school year or are still looking for ideas, consider these ideas.
Visit a Grocery Store
Take a field trip to the grocery store and observe the ways items are organized (cereals are together, all fresh fruits are in one area, etc.) What would happen if everything in the grocery store were all mixed up?
Adopt a Classroom Pet
Students can help determine where to keep and how to store the pet supplies.
Ask the Students
Students often have ideas we have not thought of ourselves! Ask them what they would like to be in charge of organizing.
Whatever your students organize, they will get hands-on practice with thinking about how to organize items so that these items will be easy to find when they need them later. When they have finished developing their system of organization, have students complete the Look at What I Organized! student sheet. Although students should stay in their small groups, each student should fill out her/his own sheet.
Also, be sure to leave their systems in place in the classroom. This both validates their work and creates a way for them to continue building upon this foundational learning about organization. Any difficulties with students using these systems can serve as problem solving opportunities for the class.
To help students reflect upon systems of organization, ask them to create a map of their observations. Students can create a map or blueprint of the way their classroom is organized, and this can be posted in the classroom. If students complete this at the beginning of the year, it would be fun to have this posted for the fall open house for parents. If students prefer to create a map based on their field trip to the grocery store, or whatever other idea they may have pursued, ask them to replicate their observations in map form. This activity challenges students to create a visual image of what they did hands on, and helps them to reflect on how individual acts of ordering fit into the larger picture of system organization.
As you add things to the classroom, students can add to their map!
Science NetLinks has another lesson on information processing called Sorting.
Make several different types of one kind of item available to students for them to sort and classify using a variety of attributes. Buttons, shoes, rocks, and shells are just a few examples of items that work well for this type of activity. You can use containers, such as bowls or egg cartons for their sorting.
Challenge students to graph their sorting. Use masking tape on a table top to create a graph, and let students sort according to various attributes.