Alaska Sea Grant

Will it Survive? Teacher Notes

Will it Survive? Teacher Notesseastar_3
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 an organism's dependence upon its physical environment. This probe is designed to determine whether students understand that organisms can survive only in environments in which their needs can be met.

The best response is C: The sea star will most likely die in the freshwater pond. Organisms have basic needs. For example, animals need to breathe and consume food. Organisms are uniquely suited to and can only survive in environments in which their specific needs are met. For any particular environment, some animals survive very well, some survive less well and some cannot survive at all. Individual organisms usually don't intentionally adapt to drastic changes in their environment by changing their physiology (such as gaining the ability to live in fresh water) or in their inherited behaviors (such as where they seek shelter). In this scenario, the sea star would die because the habitat change from saltwater to freshwater was so radical that its physical features, physiology, and behaviors no longer fit the environment.

probe_3_thAdministering the Probe
Read the scenario aloud to the students. If needed, read the choices aloud as well. Make sure that students understand they need to explain their reasoning. Teacher prompting may be needed for students to explain or elaborate on their responses. Non-leading prompts can be used to elicit responses as needed: Why did you choose that response? Tell me more. Teachers may also scribe the student’s verbal answer when appropriate.

Grade Level Curricular and Instructional Considerations
"During the elementary grades, students build understanding of biological concepts through direct experience with living things, their life cycles and their habitats."(National Science Education Standards, p. 127).

"The idea that organisms depend on their environment is not well developed in young children. In grades K-4, the focus should be on making sense of the way organisms live in their environments and on establishing the primary association of organisms with their environments. This should be followed in upper elementary by the secondary ideas of dependence on various aspects of the environment and of behaviors that help various animals survive." (National Science Education Standards, p.128)

Students should have opportunities to directly observe and investigate a variety of habitats and identify ways that various organisms satisfy their needs in the environments in which they are typically found. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p.116).

"Upper elementary school students may not believe food is a scarce resource in ecosystems, thinking that organisms can change their food at will according to the availability of particular sources." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 342).

National Science Education Standards
K – 4 The Characteristics of Organisms
  • Organisms have basic needs. For example, animals need air, water, and food; plants require air, water, nutrients and light. Organisms can suvive only in environments in which their needs can be met. The world has many different environments, and distinct environments support the life of different types of organisms.

K - 4    Organisms and Their Environments

  • An organism's patterns of behavior are related to the nature of that organism's environment, including the kinds and numbers of other organisms present, the availability of food and resources, and the physical characteristics of the environment. When the environment changes, some plants and animals survive and reproduce, and others die or move to new locations.

5 - 8 Regulation and Behavior

  • All organisms must be able to obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce and maintain stable internal conditions while living in a constantly changing external environment. Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or external environmental stimlulus. A behavioral response requires coordination and communication at many levels, including cells, organ systems, and whole organisms. Behavioral response is a set of actions determined in part by heredity and in part from experience.
5-8 Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
  • Species acquire many of their unique characteristics through biological adaptation, which involves the selection of naturally occurring variations in populations. Biological adaptations include changes in structures, behaviors, or physiology that enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment.
  • Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient to ensure its survival.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS 1993)
K - 2 Diversity of Life

  • Plants and animals have features that help them live in different environments.

3 – 5 Interdependence of Life

  • For any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
  • Changes in an organism's habitat are sometimes beneficial to it and sometimes harmful.


Related Probes in Uncovering Student Ideas in Science by Page Keeley  
Is it Living? V1, p.123
Habitat Change V2, p.143
Does it Have a Life Cycle? V3, p.111
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