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Flexibility Web: An Activator/Assessment Tool

Judith Aguiar, Science Resource Teacher, Fall River, Massachusetts
March 03, 2004 | FOSS in Schools


Typical student web before starting the FOSS Pebbles, Sand, and Silt module at grade two.

In Fall River we know that students learn best when they are involved in real investigations and have a kit-based program. We recently got our state test results for science, and our students did well compared to other districts in the state that have similar demographics. We know what we're doing is good, but teachers are not always sure what their students are learning. So we are trying to help teachers with the assessment piece. The assessment tool we are using is called a flexibility web.

A flexibility web (also known as a concept web or concept map) is a visual representation of what a student knows about a concept or topic (graphic organizer). Flexibility webs can be used in several ways as a tool to help both students and teachers. Used at the beginning of a study, it helps students to focus in on the topic being presented. Teachers gain information about what the students already know about a topic and if they have misconceptions that need to be addressed. This information can help teachers when planning future lessons. At the end of a lesson or study, the web is returned to the students and they add new information about the topic. Teachers can see if misconceptions have been rectified. When students correctly use lines and or words to connect ideas and concepts on their web, they are using a higher level of thinking and demonstrating a clear understanding of the topic. The ability to use a graphic organizer like the flexibility web is another goal we have for our students.

The following example describes how I used a flexibility web with a group of second graders as they began the FOSS Pebbles, Sand, and Silt Module. The first investigation, First Rocks, asks students to observe, compare, and sort rocks. Before we began the study I was interested in knowing what the students already knew about rocks. I used a flexibility web because I could gather information about each student's prior knowledge and use this same tool to assess their mastery of the standards at the end of our study. (Please note that I engaged in other formative assessments as we went along.)


A typical flexibility web after students have completed the FOSS Pebbles, Sand, and Silt module in second grade.

In the center of a piece of paper, I wrote the word Rocks. I drew several lines out from this central word. I made a copy of this master for each student. Students wrote their ideas on these lines. They worked alone and wrote at least five words or short phrases that demonstrated what they already knew about rocks. (I was surprised to learn that several students were not able to write five ideas about rocks.) When this was completed, I asked students to share their ideas and we developed a class chart titled "What We Know about Rocks." The chart remained up for viewing during the study. We added new information that students felt was important as we continued with the investigations. The students dated their papers, and I collected them.

At the end of the study I returned the students' webs to them, and they added all of the new ideas and concepts they had learned. Students used a colored pencil to indicate their changes and their growth in understanding. Because we have specific state standards that students are expected to understand, we periodically checked in with students and had them demonstrate their understanding in a variety of ways (e.g., drawings, notebook entries, performance tasks, discussions). FOSS includes specific support for formative and summative assessment in each Teacher Guide.

The flexibility web worked really well for the two classes in which I used it. Teachers could see what the students had learned. Students were quite proud to see how much more they were able to add to their webs the second time around. I have found that a flexibility web works well with a variety of learners as well as with special-needs students.

Judy Aguiar
104 Circle Drive
Somerset, MA 02726