Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 3: Another 25 Formative Assessment Probes

NSTA Press Book (also see downloadable pdf version of this book) by: Page Keeley, Francis Eberle, and Chad Dorsey

Because you demanded it! Since publication of Volume 1 of this series, thousands of teachers are using these innovative classroom tools to improve student learning in science. Following in the footsteps of earlier volumes in the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science series, this all-new book provides short, easy-to-administer probes that determine what misconceptions students bring to the classroom about the nature of science and about physical, life, Earth, and space sciences. This new volume in our bestselling series provides more topic areas for classroom use as well as guidance on how teachers can use the probes for their own learning.

As outlined in previous volumes, teachers—like their students—can have misconceptions that come to the fore when administering the probes. Volume 3 provides 10 detailed suggestions for teachers on how to use the probes to uncover, accurately assess, and correct their own preconceptions as well as their students’ (e.g., do the probes yourself, examine student responses with other teachers, embed the probes into existing professional development programs, select specific areas to focus on, examine student thinking across grade spans, categorize ideas, and crunch data to create classroom profiles).

Volume 3 offers five life science probes, seven Earth and space science probes, ten physical science probes, and three nature of science probes. This volume is an invaluable resource for classroom teachers, preservice teachers, professional developers, and college science and preservice faculty.

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Reviews (9)
  • on Tue Jun 23, 2009 12:17 AM

This book is an great book to have in your science library. It is a necessity for any Science Teacher K-12. The probes are assessment tools that every teacher can use to ask questions varying in degree. These probes can provoke lively discussion, encourage argumentation in small groups, and also support students in thinking on their own. All 25 sections in this book are presented in a clear and concise way. It is easy to read and provides teachers with ideas of how to vary their instructional strategies.

Christina Ramsey  (, )
Christina Ramsey (, )

  • on Wed Jul 16, 2008 10:25 AM

I have all three volumes of this very informative series. It was perfect when I was completing National Board Certification. It allows the teacher to learn what the student already knows and helps to drive further instruction and design of activities for any unit.

Rita L  (Memphis, TN)
Rita L (Memphis, TN)

  • on Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:04 PM

A terrific book and resource for science teachers. Useful for pre-testing and evaluation of students in September. But this book has assessments that can be used thoughout the year too. I do not yet have Vol. 1 or 2 but I am planning on getting them. Great summer read to think about for fall.

Joanne M  (, )
Joanne M (, )

  • on Tue Jul 15, 2008 12:40 PM

The 25 formative assessment probes in this book, like the first two volumes, are a wonderful resource for teachers interested in - - among other things - - understanding how and why students don't understand/accept key concepts even after repeated instruction. This book is very readable and actionable.

Robert Gilmore  (Milford, MA)
Robert Gilmore (Milford, MA)

  • on Mon Jul 14, 2008 1:25 PM

These probes are excellent for tickling out the prior ideas of students (and teachers during PD sessions). I use them frequently and love that the resource keeps expanding.

Annette Brickley  (Bangor, ME)
Annette Brickley (Bangor, ME)

  • on Thu Jul 24, 2008 7:33 AM

I used the series Uncovering Student Ideas in Science in two of my workshops on lecture-free teaching. These sessions were for high school and middle school science teachers. In one instance, the teachers (with whom I had worked previously) picked one of the formative assessments, tried it in their classrooms before the scheduled workshop date, and reported to the rest of the group about how it worked. In the second instance, I brought the books to the workshop and gave the teachers about 30 minutes to find an assessment appropriate for one of their classes, make copies for the other participants, and try the assessment on the workshop participants. In both cases each presentation was followed by critique and suggestions from other workshop participants.

Bonnie Wood  (Presque Isle, ME)
Bonnie Wood (Presque Isle, ME)

  • on Tue Jul 22, 2008 11:50 AM

Our NSTA president, Page Keeley, and colleagues have again provided an excellent source for helping determine student conceptualizations and understanding of various science topics. This is the third book in the series, and having used the prior two I find this one of similar quality. “Uncovering Student Ideas” books are filled with short science scenarios that have students make an educated guess in answering a question regarding a phenomenon. Then, and this is the extremely important part, students must provide in writing their reason for choosing their answer. An example of a classic activity will help illustrate the book’s structure. On page 57 is the student handout (which may also be projected to save paper) asking students to guess the fewest number of wires a person would need to make a light bulb light, given the bulb and a battery. Students can pick 1, 2, 3, or 4 pieces of wire. Then they are asked to “Explain your thinking about how to light the bulb. Draw a picture to support your explanation.” I use these books with my STEM graduate students who teach in elementary classrooms as “visiting scientists” as well as their partner teachers. It is often hard to remember what you didn’t know and misconceptions you might have held as a young student. The multitude of examples in the books provide my university students with a unique look into how their elementary students might look at a concept completely differently than they would ever expect. The graduate students use the scenarios as pre- and post-assessment activities in their classrooms. While most of them don’t need the follow-up science concept background information provided, their classroom teaching partners find that information valuable. Even some of the graduate student scientists have found some of the scenarios to be challenging and many workshop discussions have been generated through the use of the activities. Whether used for pre-assessment, formative assessment, or summative assessment, the information you will get from using the activities in these books will inform your teaching and enlighten you to what has been learned and what still needs further clarification.

Paul Allan  (Moscow, ID)
Paul Allan (Moscow, ID)

  • on Tue Jul 15, 2008 3:40 PM

Uncovering Student Ideas in Science is a wonderful resource that provides valuable quick assessment to what students understand about given concepts before instruction begins. In addition to providing ready-made assessments, the model used also allows teachers to create their own assessments for concepts not addressed.

Julie Conlon  (West Lafayette, IN)
Julie Conlon (West Lafayette, IN)

  • on Tue Jul 15, 2008 2:38 PM

these little assessments (although I wouldn't really call them assessments) are great to use. students really do have many misconceptions about simple concepts in science. this allows you to find where their problems lie and can really start some good discussions.

Joe  (Saint Louis, MO)
Joe (Saint Louis, MO)

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