Alaska Sea Grant

What Does Science Look Like? Teacher Notes

Formative Assessment Probes
The brief, formative assessment resources included with these units are called "assessment probes." They are called "probes" because they are designed to probe and uncover student thinking. Teacher and researcher Page Keeley has written extensively about the probes as part of the Curriculum Topic Study approach to analyzing science and mathematics topics. See the Curriculum Topic Study website for more information. 

These probes are designed to be used diagnostically and formatively. They are intended to help you to tap into students' thinking about particular science topics -- topics that are identified by the National Science Education Standards as significant and developmentally appropriate for the target age level of the unit. While they are intended to sample students' thinking (and to probe for common misconceptions), they are NOT intended to measure what students have learned as a result of the unit content. We encourage you to use these tools--and to develop your own--to better understand each student's development as a learner, and to modify your teaching accordingly.

Ongoing assessment throughout the investigations is important for several reasons. It can reveal when students are confused or have misunderstandings, need more time to investigate, or need more explanation. You can tailor the investigations to meet the needs of your students, and change direction whenever necessary. Frequent assessment does not have to be time consuming or tedious. A quick assessment can give you a lot of information about student comprehension and understanding.

The purpose of this assessment probe is to elicit students’ ideas about how sound science practices can help us answer questions about the world around us. Discussion may also reveal students' logical thinking, imagination, and bias as it affects scientific decisions.

The best response is Ann's. Ann uses the most thorough scientific practice of observation, collecting data, and recording for presentation. "Full inquiry involves asking a simple question, completing an investigation, answering the question and presenting the results to others. In elementary grades, students begin to develop the physical and intellectural abilities of scientific inquiry. They can design investigations to try things to see what happens – they tend to focus on concrete results of tests and will entertain the idea of a fair test (a test in which only one variable at a time is changed)." (National Science Education Standards, p.122)

Administering the Probe
We suggest that this scenario probe be administered in small groups or one-on-one, to help with reading the probe. This setting will also ensure that the students' reasoning is clear, whether their responses are verbal or written. Teacher prompting may be needed for students to go beyond guessing, to explain and/or elaborate on their responses to clarify their level of understanding. Non-leading prompts in a neutral tone of voice might include: Tell me more… Why did you choose that response? How does that response seem like real science?

Grade Level Curricular and Instructional Considerations
"From their very first day in school, students should be actively engaged in learning to view the world scientifically. That means encouraging them to ask questions about nature and to seek answers, collect things, count and measure things, make qualitative observations, organize collections and observations, discuss findings, etc. Getting into the spirit of science and liking science are what count most. Awareness of the scientific world view can come later." A point to emphasize at this age is consistency through repeating observations and investigations. Results and inconsistencies are meant to stimulate curiosity and engage students in taking an interest in their environment and the workings of nature. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 6)

K-4 Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.
  • Plan and conduct a simple investigation.
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses.
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation.
  • Communicate investigations and explanations.

(National Science Education Standards, p. 122)

Science demands evidence, anywhere from observation to contrived settings. It is a blend of imagination and logic. This is practiced in developing hypotheses and proving them, making predictions and explaining results. The creditability of science theories often comes from the ability to show relationships among phenomena that previously seemed unrelated. (Science for All Americans, p. 4)

Young students tend to accept evidence that supports their prior beliefs and disregard evidence that contradicts those beiefs. This attitude tends to fade over time and through experience.

National Science Education Standards
K-4 Science as Inquiry, Content Standard A
As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop:

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

American Association for the Advancement of Science Benchmarks
Scientific Inquiry K-2

  • People can often learn about things around them by just observing those things carefully, but sometimes they can learn more by doing something to the things and noting what happens.
  • Tools such as thermometers, magnifiers, rulers, or balances often give more information about things than can be obtained by just observing things without their help.
  • Describing things as accurately as possible is important in science because it enables people to compare their observations with those of others.
  • When people give different descriptions of the same thing, it is usually a good idea to make some fresh observations instead of just arguing about who is right.

Scientific Inquiry 3-5

  • Scientific investigations may take many different forms, including observing what things are like or what is happening somewhere, collecting specimens for analysis, and doing experiments. Investigations can focus on physical, biological, and social questions.
  • Results of scientific investigations are seldom exactly the same, but if the differences are large, it is important to try to figure out why. One reason for following directions carefully and for keeping records of one's work is to provide information on what might have caused the differences.
  • Scientists' explanations about what happens in the world come partly from what they observe, partly from what tthey think. Sometimes scientists have different explanations for the same set of observations. That usually leads to their making more observations to resolve the differences.
  • Scientists do not pay much attention to claims about how something they know about works unless the claims are backed up with evidence that can be confirmed and with a logical argument.


Related Probes in Uncovering Student Ideas in Science by Page Keeley
Is it a Theory? V3, p.83
Doing Science, V3, p.93
What is a Hypothesis? V3, p.101
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