Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stepping Into Science Formative Assessment...Where Have You Been All of These Years?

It is amazing how excited you get when you are given a tremendous number of curriculum resources.  Correction...it is amazing how overwhelmed you get when you are given a tremendous amount of curriculum resources.  Slowly taking time to go through them to uncover new information takes time and patience.  Getting short, simple assignments for the books is helpful too.

This week I was given assignment along with my cohort colleagues to pour through two books. They are titled Uncovering Student Ideas in Science volumes 1 and 2.  The subtitle is 25 Formative Assessment Probes.

Where have you been all of these years? In science getting an idea of what students know in a clear coherent way is nearly impossible.  Students come into science class more than any other with diverse bits of knowledge that is not standardized or universal.  Science curriculums in elementary schools seem to vary and the amount of time spent in science I'm sure varies as well as a result of the tremendous push for reading instruction in the lower grades.  Kids love science. They have varying depths of knowledge.  This makes it difficult at times to assess what they already know before attempting to build on that prior knowledge.

Welcome Formative Assessment!

These books by Page Keeley, Francis Eberle, and Lynn Farrin, in the preface of the book outline the goal of these types of assessments. They say that formative assessment "when used deliberately and effectively, helps teachers find out what their students think and know at the beginning and throughout the instructional sequence". I love this idea.  Normally we would start a new topic, get a cursory feel for what the students know (because we don't have pre-asessments like in math) and then get to it.  The great thing is that you can get an idea of student pre-conceptions otherwise known as misconceptions. I love the line "they are assessments for learning, not assessments of learning." This makes so much sense.  We want to know what students know.  We don't want to over assess.  We do want the right information to help drive instruction.  These formative assessment probes are the right tool for the job.

Well today I used my first "Formative Assessment Probe".  . The goal was to "elicit students' thinking about specific ideas in science". Well, the ideas were properties of matter and conservation of mass.  The question was basically will the mass of ice in a bag change when it melts.  I had no idea what students would choose.  After going through all of the responses most of the students said that it would not change because there is the same amount of material in the bag.  Some common misconceptions were that "it takes up more room when melted so it has more mass" and "ice floats on water so water is heavier".  Knowing the thoughts of my students will help me to design instruction to help change preconceived ideas.  As the authors claim in the book, conceptions, if not addressed  may "get in the way" of new learning in the classroom.

The beauty of it all is that these assessments are quick, easy to administer, analyze, and discuss with students.  They make teaching and learning more effective in a subject in the elementary school realm has long been ignored.  Students can demonstrate their thinking and learning. Teachers can gain a much better handle on student thinking and understanding.  Another positive aspect of these probes is that they can be used for demonstration, class discussion, pre-assessment, ongoing assessment, or even as a summative assessment when appropriate.

Science is fun. Formative assessments help to make it even more fun to teach because you really delve deep into the ideas.   Through careful instruction, if you can help to turn the preconceptions into new learning and knowledge that students will have for a lifetime, it will lead to better science and scientists in the future.

Look into these tools.  I have five of these books. I can't wait to use them. Ask to borrow them. Thanks again Harry for the fantastic resources.

Here is a link to the website: http://uncoveringstudentideas.org/
Here is another link to science and curriculum:  http://www.curriculumtopicstudy.org/

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