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Classification of Materials
Administration Procedures

6th-8th Grade Performance Task
Contributed by: The RAND Institute (RAND)


In this task, two-way classification is explained using pictures of people who differ in terms of age (old and young), position (sitting or standing), gender (male or female), and type of clothing (summer or winter). Students are shown how to classify the pictures into four mutually exclusive groups using two dimensions simultaneously (e.g. young-males, old-males, young-women, and old-women). This activity is the same for both parts of the task. In the materials classification section, students are given a collection of natural materials (e.g. sand, fur, rock, and pine cone) and are asked to create a two-way classification system. Then they are given a new material, a pencil, and asked where it fits in their system and why. The first task involves animals.

This task assesses students' abilities to classify, organize and present data, and describe objects and their characteristics.

Note: This activity contains two separate scoring guides. The first, developed in 1993, was used when the activity was administered to 6th graders. The second, a revised scoring guide (1994), was used when the tasks were given to 7th and 8th grade students. They reflect different approaches to awarding points for incomplete or contradictory responses - not different views of the desired outcomes. The change was made in 1994 to try to make the scoring process more efficient.

Overall Task Content Area:

Physical Science

Specific Knowledge Areas:

Understandings About Scientific Inquiry

Performance Expectations:

  • gathering, organizing, and representing data
  • formulating conclusions from investigational data

National Science Education Standards:

4 A SI 2: Understandings About Scientific Inquiry: Grades K-4
2.2 Scientists use different kinds of investigations depending on the questions they are trying to answer. Types of investigations include describing objects, events, and organisms; classifying them; and doing a fair test (experimenting).

4 A SI 1: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry: Grades K-4
1.4 Use data to construct a reasonable explanation. This aspect of the standard emphasizes the studentsí thinking as they use data to formulate explanations. Even at the earliest grade levels, students should learn what constitutes evidence and judge the merits or strength of the data and information that will be used to make explanations. After students propose an explanation, they will appeal to the knowledge and evidence they obtained to support their explanations. Students should check their explanations against scientific knowledge, experiences, and observations of others.

8 A SI 1: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry: Grades 5-8
1.8 Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry. Mathematics is essential to asking and answering questions about the natural world. Mathematics can be used to ask questions; to gather, organize, and present data; and to structure convincing explanations.

(Use the "hot" link on the PALS home page to check the full text of related National Science Education Standards, if desired.)

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:

Algebra (AL1): Understand patterns, relations and functions.

Data Analysis and Probability (DAP1): Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them.

Problem Solving (PS2): Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts.

Representation (REP3): Select, apply, and translate among mathematical representations to solve problems.

General Instructions to the Teacher:

Students will be working individually during this exercise.

Students should be ready to work as soon as the period begins. The materials should be set out at each lab station, if possible. A central supply area, if needed, should be easily accessible. All supplies should be clearly labeled.

Materials for "Classification of Materials":


  • Be careful.
  • Teachers and students should always exercise appropriate safety precautions and utilize appropriate laboratory safety procedures and equipment when working on science performance tasks.




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