Does it Have a Life Cycle?

Science and Children, November 2010 Page Keeley, Francis Eberle, Chad Dorsey
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Assessment Item , Article , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This formative assessment probe originally appeared in Uncovering Student Ideas in Science (Keeley, P., F. Eberle, and C. Dorsey. 2008. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press ). In this Science and Children article, Page Keeley outlines various ways it might be used in the classroom to identify and correct student misconceptions and to promote discourse. This probe asks students to identify organisms that have a life cycle from a list of plants and animals. Through class discussion, students discover that all of the organisms have a life cycle.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 2
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

3-LS1-1 Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

Clarification Statement: Changes organisms go through during their life form a pattern.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment of plant life cycles is limited to those of flowering plants. Assessment does not include details of human reproduction.

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
As a formative assessment probe, this resource is useful at the beginning of a unit. It can help to connect with and extend learning from first grade Performance Expectation 1-LS3-1, which addresses similarities and differences between young plants and animals and their parents. It can also serve to assess student misconceptions to guide instruction.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In addition to assessing student misconceptions, this probe can be used to elicit student reasoning and provide an opportunity for rich classroom discourse, as discussed in Instructional Supports (below).

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Use of this probe at the start of a unit can provide a basis for exploring the life cycles of animals. To more fully address this DCI, the teacher will need to provide opportunities to understand the different types of animal life cycles as well as the life cycles of plants. Emphasis should be placed on the commonalities between the life cycles of various organisms (especially those between plants and animals), so that students can see that all share the pattern of birth, growth and development, reproduction, and death.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Since this probe is designed to elicit student ideas about plant and animal life cycles, the teacher should incorporate activities into a unit that explicitly identifies patterns in the life cycles of many kinds of organisms. Once patterns and their variations have been identified, questions should arise that can lead students to construct explanations about plant and animal classification and deepen understanding of their life cycles.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Since the probe is designed specifically as a formative assessment, it is not intended to be a three-dimensional learning activity. By building experiences around the probe in the ways suggested, different life cycles can serve as phenomena that require student explanations, models, and argument from evidence, and an opportunity for them to see the patterns and commonalities present in the life cycles of diverse organisms.

  • Instructional Supports: The article provides suggestions for using the probe as an independent, group, or whole class activity, as well as ideas for modifying the list of organisms when appropriate. Removing unfamiliar organisms from the list and/or replacing some with locally significant organisms or pictures would help to address diverse learners' needs. Using the "card sort" technique is suggested in the article, which has small groups of students discussing whether to put each organism into one of three categories, providing opportunity for rich discourse. Students could have opportunities to express, clarify, justify, and justify their ideas and to respond to peer and teacher feedback orally and/or in written form. Teachers that own the book would benefit from the supporting information including: curricular connections, additional suggestions for instruction and assessment, analysis of research surrounding common misconceptions for students of all ages, and connections to other standards.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This probe can provide meaningful monitoring of student progress if used in some of the ways suggested in the article. Formative assessment of student preconceptions at the start of a unit is important, and it can be extended by listening to student discourse as students share reasoning with the class or in small groups. Teachers that use the suggested card sort activity may want to have students revisit the cards they sorted in the formative assessment after each activity to reflect on earlier ideas and decide if they find any new life cycles in an organism for which they originally did not see a life cycle. The probe can be also be used to elicit student-created models of life cycles during instruction and as a summative assessment near the end of a unit.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Although this resource does not include a technologically interactive component, the article provides a link to a full page download of the probe and to the front matter of Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 1. This has valuable information for teachers unfamiliar with use of formative assessment probes.