Science 101: Why do we classify things in science?by: William C. Robertson, Ph.D.

Journal ArticleDigital resources are stored online in your NSTA Library.

Each year, in thousands of classrooms across the country, students classify animals, rocks, and other things as part of their science studies. Each year, thousands of students no doubt ask, “Why in the heck are we doing this?” Classifying things according to their properties and characteristics is a big part of science, but what’s the purpose? Why do it in science class, and why do scientists do it as part of their work? Discover the answers to these questions in this month’s column.

  • Elementary
Publication Date

Community ActivitySaved in 221 Libraries

Reviews (2)
  • on Tue Nov 08, 2016 8:57 PM

Just as there are in other subject, the science standards come with a set of skills that all students should practice and master during their schooling years. I really like how in this article, Robertson, identifies scenarios for classification, such as rocks in Earth Science, animals in Life Science, or elements in Chemistry. However, as opposed to simply justifying the need for students to learn classification as a process skill, he reminds the reader that students should not learn to classify just for the sake of classifying. His argument that students should not learn the classification system of organisms and then proceed into a unit on ecosystems is compelling and thought provoking. “Classification in the classroom should lead toward the understanding of concepts, or at least should be done with an eye toward the ultimate purpose” (Robertson, 2008, p.72). Robertson’s thoughts are definitely ones that I agree with and can take back to my classrooms and colleagues. In this time in education, it is so important to provide students with purposeful instruction and use of skills. Our goals needs to be for students to apply the science skills learned, not just know what they mean.

Hilary P
Hilary P

  • on Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:08 PM

As the author points out classification in the classroom should lead to the understanding of concepts. Classification for the simple act of doing it is not recommended. There is a simple activity described for students to do with peanuts in their shell. But as the author points out, classification activities should be limited in use. This is an interesting view that I fully agree with.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

Free - NSTA Members

$1.29 - Nonmembers

Login or Create a Free Account to add this resource to your library.