Fuzzy Situations

Oftentimes, science teachers ask students to use their writing skills to answer an essay question about a specific concept in science. Students usually slip into a tried and true format for answering essay questions; state the question, state the answer, give a few explanations or list the points, then summarize the answer. The essay question is decidedly tunnel visioned- one answer is being sought. The student regurgitates the information presented in class or the text as a direct answer to the question.

Writing in science can be more creative and constructive than essay writing. Research has shown that creative writing in a subject area can create a feeling of discovery, a yearning for explanation, and a necessity to conceptualize in order to verbally "paint the picture".

Storytelling has been a valid avenue for relaying information and attitudes throughout cultures. In the book Tell me a Story, by Robert Schank, Macmillan Press (1990), he explains that "there are two aspects of intelligence [that] are critical for..humans. One is to have something to say, to know something worth telling, and the other is to be able to determine others' needs and abilities well enough to know what is worth telling them. To put this another way, our interest in telling and hearing stories is strongly related to the nature of intelligence."

Robert Schank describes the dilemma of every teacher:

"When people seem to truly understand what we have said, we give then high marks. But how can we determine that they have, in fact, understood us? We cannot really believe that intermittent head nodding and sage um-hums indicate real understanding. What else is there to go by? Our only recourse, outside of administering intelligence tests, is to listen to what our listeners say in response to what we have told them. The more they say back that seems to relate in a significant way to what we have said, the more they seem to have understood. In order to respond effectively, a listener must have something to say. We have a memory full of experiences that we can tell to others. Finding the right ones, having the right ones come to mind, having created accounts of the right ones in anticipation of their eventual use in this way, are all significant aspects of intelligent behavior."

Teachers of science may tap into the creative writing abilities of their students as well as probe their content knowledge and conceptual understanding by the use of fuzzy situations. Fuzzy situations are questions that differ from essays in the following ways:


  • they are told in story form


  • they require students to defend their predictions by linking the creative answer they design to facts and terminology of the content subjects underlying the situation.


  • they do not state many facts...they are fuzzy in details. The only facts given are ones to set the stage for the story.


  • there can be as many answers as there are students that answer the fuzzy situation.


  • they ask for prediction. The student must respond to the fuzzy situation by continuing the storyline and predicting an outcome.


  • they address situations in which the self and society are linked to science and technology in a manner so that the student can construct a concept of the subject content based on personal understanding of the interface of science and society.

Fuzzy situations may take many forms. They may be in the form of a question, a challenge, a letter to a member of a hypothetical committee, a real or hypothetical activity, or even a news bulletin. View a page of fuzzy situations written by science teachers.

Use of a fuzzy situation in the classroom:

Fuzzies may be used in many instructional ways in the classroom.

Fuzzies may be used at the beginning of a unit to assess prior knowledge on a subject. Students would experience a creative writing prediction centered around the content- but with no pressure to deliver the "correct" answer. In this manner, students can freely describe their concept of the situation and naturally define words and thoughts on the subject. The resulting fuzzy situation answer would be authentic, original, conceptual, and delineated by the student's prior knowledge.

From the answer, the teacher will have an understanding of how in depth the student's knowledge is, how a student conceptualizes the topic, what terms they can define, how they associate ideas, how they process and describe scientific explanations, and how they perceive the interface of science and society. Prior knowledge assessment is a powerful tool for the teacher. Knowledge of "where students are" can assist the teacher in developing lesson plans that will be appropriate, effective and challenging.

A fuzzy situation may be used as an ongoing challenge to be answered as the unit progresses. Students may identify their initial predictions and adjust or alter them according to new knowledge they are constructing in the classroom. The ongoing fuzzy project may then document their knowledge development and showcase their conceptual construction. Students may keep a "Fuzzy Log" of their thoughts and ideas about their prediction.

By using fuzzies as ongoing projects, teachers may foster an understanding of the scientific process of collecting data or information, the construction of knowledge, the reality of science and society interactions, and the power of prediction. Student's "Fuzzy Logs" will be evidence of their learning.

A fuzzy situation may be used as a final assessment. The story may be carefully written as to incorporate all topics covered in the unit. The students could then make their unique predictions and then back them up with the knowledge they have constructed throughout the unit. The teacher would then grade the fuzzy on a rubric. Criteria for a successful fuzzy response may be shared with the students in order to ensure the caliber of response and solidify the expectation of the teacher. Criteria may include specifics or broader concepts. Here is an example of a fuzzy situation grading rubric.

Fuzzy situations may be used to empower students to take action on a science /technology/ and society issue. As a culminating experience for a unit, a fuzzy may provide opportunities for students to brainstorm possible solutions or resolutions for societal issues which require scientific understanding. The students may then propose actions they may implement in their school or community.

The fuzzy situation may be a tool used by the teacher to open a window from the classroom to the outside world. It may be the initiator of the process of converting theory and book knowledge to practice.

Additional Challenges!!


If you have ideas for the use of fuzzy situations in the classroom or you have developed interesting fuzzy situations, email Dr. Nydia Hanna.