Uncovering Student Ideas in Science: 25 More Formative Assessment
Probes is a book with a very interesting concept. You're probably asking, "What in the world is a formative assessment probe?" It's a question used informally by a teacher to assess a student's
understanding of a concept before, during, and after instruction on that
The purpose of a formative assessment probe is two-fold. First, it gives the teacher insight into student misconceptions that need to be addressed through instruction. Second, it helps make sure the student has understood the concept.
Each formative assessment probe offers one question on a certain science topic. Multiple-choice answers are offered, followed by a space in which the student explains why he chose a particular answer. My understanding is that the question can be answered in written form or orally.
Each question is appropriate for any age child from elementary through high school. Obviously, a high school student should have a deeper understanding of a particular scientific concept than an elementary student, so the book provides the teacher with acceptable answers for elementary, middle school, and high school students.
Since this may be a new concept, I'll try to give a clear example of one
of the probes. In "Boiling Time and Temperature," the student is given
the following question: "Ernesto is heating a pure liquid on a stove.
He records the temperature a minute after the liquid starts to boil. After
20 minutes of boiling, he records the temperature again. When Ernesto
compares the first temperature with the second, what do you think he will
find? Circle your prediction." The
student circles one of three choices:
• The boiling temperature did not
• The boiling temperature decreased.
• The boiling temperature increased.
Finally, the student is asked to explain
his thinking, and several lines are provided for doing so.
Following this prompt (and all others) are the teacher notes. These
notes explain the purpose of the probe and provide a list of related
scientific concepts. There is also an explanation of the correct answer.
This is followed by possible answers the teacher might expect from
the three different age levels. Directions and suggestions are given
for how to administer the probe and how to teach the topic for the
The teacher section tells which specific National Science Education
Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy are met through the
probes and instruction. There is also a section of related research
that can help the teacher understand why certain misconceptions are
formed by students.
Using these probes before instruction is supposed to help the teacher
see how to better teach the concept, as he or she should be able to
learn what the students already understand and what they don't. The same probe
used during or after instruction should help the teacher see if his or
her teaching was effective and/or what the student still needs to understand
Of the 25 probes, 11 cover physical science topics, 8 cover life science
topics and 6 cover earth and space topics. As with most secular science
curriculums, you will find at least one reference to "millions of years" and possibly other evolutionary teachings. Because of the book's nature, there is no reason you can't
leave out a particular probe if you like.
This book is not written directly to homeschoolers, but a parent could
easily use the formative probe assessments within the homeschool setting.
This book is not intended to be a complete science curriculum. Instead,
it can be used to supplement something you are already using. The
only hard part for me would be in remembering to pull this book out
when the particular themes addressed in the book are covered in the
science curriculum I'm using.
On the other hand, it could be used independently as you decide to pull
out a lesson and go for it.