Alaska Sea Grant

Salmon Run Collapse Teacher Notes

Formative Assessment Probeschinook_sm
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 what constitutes the physical environment.

The following items from the list are factors from the physical environment: course of the river, runoff from mining, riverbed materials, flood, amount of shade, amount of sediment in the river water, dam in the river, ocean temperatures, timing of breakup, earthquake, amount of rainfall, water chemistry, cloud cover, direction of wind, boat traffic, landslide, and discarded fishing nets in the water.

The following items from the list are factors from the biological environment: algae bloom, number of fish caught by predators, salmon fat reserves, age of the salmon, population of fish parasites, and amount of food for salmon.

The following items from the list are not environmental factors but socio/political/economic factors: fishing regulations, price of salmon, and people's eating choices.

Administering the Probe
Give students adequate time and encouragement to fully develop their explanations of how they identified factors of the physical environment. The explanation will incorporate the student's rule or generalized definition of "physical environment". For the purposes of this probe, after essentially sorting the items in the list into "physical environment" and "not physical environment", students' writing and teacher attention should focus on developing their ideas about the physical environment rather than further defining or categorizing those factors in the "not physical environment".

Grade Level Curricular and Instructional Considerations
At the elementary grades, students can investigate the concept that environments consist of the space, conditions and factors that affect individuals and populations as well as examining various changes that happen in the environment. As students reach middle school, they can understand more sophisticated and abstract concepts related to the enviroment including societal challenges, natural hazards and linkages among populations, resources and the environment.

Students can grasp the general notion that species depend on one another and the environment for survival. Their awareness must be supported by knowledge of the kinds of physical conditions that organisms can cope with, the kinds of environments created by interaction of organisms with one another, and the complexity of such systems. Students should become acquainted with many different examples of ecosystems, starting with very familiar local examples. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 115)

Students should be guided from specific examples to a more systematic view of the kinds of interactions that take place. The full-blown concept of ecosystem (and that term) is best left until students have many of the pieces ready to put in place. Prior knowledge of the relationships between organisms and environment should be integrated with students’ growing knowledge of the earth sciences. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 117)

Ecosystems are shaped by the nonliving environment of land and water – solar radiation, rainfall, mineral concentrations, temperature, and topography. The world contains a wide diversity of physical conditions, which creates a wide variety of environments, including freshwater and oceanic. The linked and fluctuating interactions of life forms and environment compose a total ecosystem; understanding any one part of it well requires knowledge of how that part interacts with others.

Related Benchmarks for Science Literacy
6-8 Interdependence of Life
  • In all environments – freshwater, marine, forest, desert, grassland, mountain, and others- organisms with similar needs may compete with one another for resources, including food, space, water, air, and shelter. In any particular environment, the growth and survival of organisms depend on the physical conditions.

Related National Science Education Standards
5-8 Populations and Ecosystems

  • A population consists of all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time. All populations living together and the physical factors with which they interact compose an ecosystem.


Related Probes in Uncovering Student Ideas in Science by Page Keeley
Global Warming V4, p. 147.
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