Uncovering Student Ideas in Science

Assessment Probes Strategies!
The first of two Web Seminars on Uncovering Student Ideas in Science was held on Thursday, April 27, 2006, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. The presenters were Page Keeley and Lynn Farrin, co-authors of the NSTA Press publication of the same name. Among the participants were a few teachers who had attended the face-to-face symposium at the NSTA National Conference in Science Education in Anaheim, CA.

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The session started with a general overview of the NSTA Web Seminar tools and how they can be used to facilitate interaction between the participants and the presenters. Seventy-nine participants were present in addition to the presenters and the NSTA staff. Participating educators represented the states of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Keeley started the presentation giving the participants an overview on formative assessment probes. In summary, probes help teachers find out what students are thinking before, during, and after instruction. They also help uncover the types of misconceptions students bring to their learning. The first example used by Farrin was the mirror problem. The audience answered a question via a poll, and then, before the responses were revealed, they were asked to stamp on a human scatterplot indicating the level of confidence of their response. Another similar strategy presented was the confidence traffic lighting. The second example was a question about the phases of the Moon. Here teachers read four student responses to a question about the reason for the phases of the Moon. Each participant voted for the student they thought had answered correctly. Keeley and Farrin used this example to model the Four Corners and Commit and Toss strategies. Teachers also learned and experienced the Sticky Bars strategy as well.

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Two additional examples covered in this session were questions about light reflection and about living and nonliving things. Here again, teachers responded to the questions first and then were asked to describe their confidence level. The presenters modeled two strategies - Card Sort and the Fishbowl. In the Fishbowl strategy, three volunteers were asked to have a 3-minute discussion on the phone about their responses to the question about living things. All other participants listened quietly to the discussion.

Finally, four additional strategies were mentioned, but not modeled. Strategies like think/pair/share, chain notes, 2-minute debates, and first and last thoughts. The presenters gave the participants an assignment - to use a probe with students and to share via the discussion listserv or the next web seminar what they learned from this experience. Throughout the presentation there were several opportunities for the participants to interact with each other and with the presenters by answering poll questions, chatting, stamping, and marking. The presenters also answered questions via the chat for 30 minutes after the program finished.

Here are some comments provided by the participants at the end of the Web Seminar:
  • "I really liked the format and the ability to organize our responses with the
    surveys and the stamping. The combined chat and voice was great - just
    like being in a real classroom."
  • "I was wondering how easy it would be to set up discussions with participants
    in schools I'm working with. I enjoyed the experience and thinking about how
    I could apply the ideas. I was re-acquainted with the value of student discussion
    about ideas."
  • "I enjoyed the information received - it can help improve my teaching and student learning. I am motivated to get the book and learn more. The homework assignment given will help us implement some of the strategies presented."
  • "This was my very first web seminar - but it was easy. Man, it moves fast! It is so exciting to "have access" to great minds. The future is bright for brilliant professional development!!!"

Thanks to the participants and to the presenters, Page and Lynn, for the learning opportunity, the interactions, and a job well done!

Web Seminar I Resources


See a recorded version of the Web Seminar.

If you are interested in purchasing the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science book, visit the NSTA online store

PDF files

For more information contact symposia@nsta.org

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Underwritten in part by NSTA Press