Concept Attainment

On this page are listed some teaching strategies related to "concept attainment" teaching.

Sorting activity

Concepts being developed: files and their locations, names and attributes

Hand students (or groups of students) sets of cards such as these, which have the drive letter, file location, file name and extension written on them. Ask them to "sort them", stating that there will be many different ways in which they can be sorted.

There are, deliberately, a range of different ways in which these cards can be sorted, each is an expression of a particular concept, for instance:
  • by drive letter
  • by folder
  • alphabetically by file name
  • alphabetically by extension
  • those with suitable file names
  • those saved in suitable locations

Once students have sorted the cards in one particular manner, ask them to sort again. And a third time. Etc. Push them to think about the different attributes of files, and the suitability of names. Some will initially group them into drives/folders and will take some considerable encouragement to think of how they might be sorted in any other way - it is this "push" which will help consolidate the concepts.

The activity could be extended using increasingly large selection of examples, but also by adding file attributes (eg read only, archived, etc), or by using UNC paths in addition to (or instead of) drive letters. Nor need this type of activity be restricted to family "win32" file names. More complicated examples using the permissions systems under NTFS or Unix would, for instance, be possible.

Possible advantage of this task: Likely to be quick to do (10 minutes or so), and so could be used to revise concepts of files (and file management) at the forefront of students' minds to supplement the regularly intoned "please ensure you have saved your work in a suitable place". This would require several sets of cards. In a more complex form, could be used to introduce new concepts such as date stamps, attributes; or even UNC paths, alternate file systems (eg Unix style, where case sensitivity is important), ownership or permissions.

20 Questions

Concepts being developed: drives, folders, files - their names and attributes

Tell the class "I'm thinking of a file", and that take it in turns to ask a question, to which the teacher can only answer "yes" or "no". Examples of questions might be "does it's name start with A?", "was it created before 2004?", "is its extention .xls?" Eventually, student(s) will hone in on a file. Of course, this approach would work best if students have computers in front of them, and can investigate a folder as the activity progresses.

The activity can be varied by specifying the folder in which the files are created, or not. Or perhaps simply specifying the drive letter. Or the initial question can be ask as "I'm thinking of a folder", "I'm thinking of a drive", or more generally "I'm thinking of an object on a disk".

Possible advantage of this task: likely to be quick to do (but typically longer than the card task above), and so could be used to revise concepts of files (and file management) at the forefront of students' minds.

Treasure Hunts
Concepts being developed: drives, folders, path names, extensions

I have used quite a good "treasure hunt" task for file management for a number of years, which I should document here.

An interesting approach to the same kind of thing - a file management task based on a "murder mystery" is detailed on I am in the process of adapting this for Year 7 students as an assessment task.

Unplugged activities

The resource "computer science unplugged" has some nifty teaching ideas Not sure that they're all about conceptual understanding, but I'll not it here so that I don't forget about it, and classify it later.