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Formative Assessment in Life Science

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Page Keeley Page Keeley 4700 Points

Hello All,
I'd love to have a discussion with teachers who are using the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science life science formative assessment probes or the FACTs (formative assessment classroom techniques). As the author of this series, I'm always interested in learning more about how you are using them, what successes (or challenges) you have had in using them, what you have learned about your students' ideas, or what questions do you have about formative assessment? I'm working on several new books and your feedback helps point me in the direction that will be most useful to you. Please jump in and share any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or questions you have for me or for others who are using formative assessment tools and resources with life science topics. Looking forward to 'talking' with you!
Page Keeley, Past-President of NSTA and NSTA Press Author

Louise McMinn Louise McMinn 5600 Points

Hi Page, I have used the probes at the beginning of a unit. I am currently teaching seventh grade, and it can be difficult to get some students to respond, the easy answer is "I don't know". With encouragement, I can get most to respond in some way. I now also ask that they add one or more questions that they have about the content of the probe. I post the questions in the room, and we answer them as we go through the unit. This has been more successful than having them write traditional KWL's.

Page Keeley Page Keeley 4700 Points

Louise, Thanks for sharing. The probes are typically designed to prevent "I don't know" responses since the answer choices are based on commonly held ideas and students can choose an answer that best matches their thinking, even if they are not completely sure. Perhaps the reason you get "I don't knows" is because students have difficulty explaining their thinking. Have you used the C-E-R Framework and other tools to help students scaffold their explanations? Many teachers have told me it makes a huge difference in the quality of explanations students write in response to the probe, which is the most important part as far as using a probe formatively to understand students' thinking.

Karen Weir-Brown Karen Weir-Brown 25355 Points

Page, Your post asks about use of the life science probes and although I don't teach life science, I use numerous earth and physical science probes in class and LOVE them! I've presented to my school board the tremendous value in using the probes and am happy to report that our district has now purchased multiple sets for use at the elementary and middle school levels. One of my colleagues came in just this week asking if there might be a life science probe I could recommend for her to use with an upcoming lesson. As you mention, using the probes in conjunction with CER has changed the level of discussion in class. I am grateful for learning about your books from a webinar last year as part of the new teacher academy and I look forward to more books from you!

Page, I work in JCPS in Louisville Kentucky and have lucky to been able to see you speak. I have really embraced the probes this year for Life Science. I have tried different ways to use the probes. I have cut up the answers and have had my students work in groups on the probes, I have also used the game four corners and have had the kids defend their answer and try to get other students to move to their corner based on their argument. I also will give a probe at the beginning of the unit and then revisit it at the end to see how the students have changed their answer based on the content knowledge they learned throughout the unit. I think the probes do a good job at addressing misconceptions for my 8th grade students.

Page Keeley Page Keeley 4700 Points

Karen and Mary- Thanks for sharing. It sounds like you have developed a true learner-centered environment with your use of formative assessment! Have you tried the lines of argumentation FACT (formative assessment classroom technique) with the probes? It's a great way to engage students in the scientific practice of argumentation while uncovering their ideas. Page

Claire Reinburg Claire Reinburg 495 Points

Hello, All,

For teachers who would like to read one of the formative assessment probes from Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Volume 1, NSTA Press has posted a free sample chapter, 'The Virus Debate.' The table of contents and index area also included in this excerpt.


Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

Here is a nice site for misconception in Middle School Science This web site was developed to make MOSART's assessment instruments available to individuals involved in science education. The tests are free and can be accessed after completion of four online tutorials that explain test design, use, scoring, and interpretation of results. Each MOSART assessment instrument comprises a set of multiple-choice items that are linked to the K–12 physical science and earth science content, and K–8 life science content in the NRC National Science Education Standards, as well as to the research literature documenting misconceptions concerning science concepts. (Mathematics does not fall within MOSART's scope.)

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