Putting It All Together: Making Visual CER to Explain States of Matter

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SWBAT correctly create a graphic organizers that depicts the factors and results of changes to states of matter and observe/explain the structure of water in solid form.

Big Idea

This activity gives students the ability to closely observe the structure of matter and identify the processes that cause each change of state. They will also observe and explain why ice acts as it does.


This lessons addresses NGSS Standards: MS-PS1-1 and MS-PS1-4. Crosscutting Concepts-Cause and Effect and Matter and Energy, and Science and Engineering Practice 2 (Developing and Using Models), 6 (Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions) and 7 (Engaging in Argument from Evidence).  The inspiration for the lesson comes from the American Chemical Society.

I believe that deepening student understanding requires the use of constant assessment strategies that challenge student beliefs, encourage reflection and promote deeper conceptual understanding.

This lesson allows me to take the pulse of the class, as I circulate around the room and listen to their group discussions.  If I notice a discrepancy, then I ask students to go back to certain evidence collected in various lessons and apply that to their discussions.  For example, if students are mixing up ice and water, I ask them to go back to the lesson where they investigated ice formation.  They then go back to see that ice should be the one that is the most spread out, because the polar attractions cause the water molecules to create hexagonal shapes.  

This activity asks students to cut out pictures of unknown phases of matter, arrows and phrases of various physical changes, such as melting, freezing, etc.  Students then arrange the pieces into a logical order, based on their present understanding of phase changes.  Students them have to label their work with evidence that supports their decisions to arrange their organizer the way they did.

The final assessment occurs when they turn in their graphical organizers and I compare their evidence to the placement of various parts of the organizer, which allows me to give them feedback on their ability to use evidence to support arguments.  Within their group students are also able to build important communication skills. as well.

Creating Initial Graphic Organizer for Changes in State

8 minutes

The first step after students have cut out all pieces is to arrange them in front of them, based on how they should look.  I want students to each create the organizer in front of them and then share their ideas with their group.  Everyone in the group will present their idea and others in the group will critique their models.  I really want students to use evidence to support their critiques and decisions, so I remind them that they have observations and evidence from various investigations involving this topic.  Students are required to have their notebooks open to promote the action of finding evidence to support their ideas.  Likewise, if someone doesn't agree with another student's critique, I want them to be able to support their argument with evidence and reasoning.  In a way, this activity is a visual Claims-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) statement, in that, as opposed to writing out paragraphs, students are representing their understanding with pictures and evidence written next to their pictures.  

Students Create Final Version of Visual CER

25 minutes

Students should now have enough feedback from their group discussions to create their final visual CER.  I give students access to glue and a piece of paper to complete the project and advise them to save room so they can write the evidence required to support their decisions.

Based on the finality of gluing items to paper, I urge students to have evidence to support their decision before they glue everything down.  This helps ensure that the are making evidence-based decisions to determine the final placement of each piece on their poster.

Students work until they have completed the assignment.  If they need more time they can work on it at home and turn it at our next class.


10 minutes

Now that students have their graphic organizers complete, I want them to share with their groups.  In particular, they will share their graphic organizers and the specific evidence that they used to support their decisions.  Based on the diverse investigations and research that students may have in their notebooks, it is interesting to see how different pieces of evidence can be used to defend the same ideas.  If this runs into the following class then we will continue to celebrate our development of deeper conceptual understanding then.