Baby Mice

Page Keeley
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Assessment Item
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 is one of 25 assessment probes from the book,” Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 2: 25 More Formative Assessment Probes”, by Page Keeley and co-authors. All assessment probes in this collection are aligned to a particular science concept and field-tested by several teachers in classes of diverse student backgrounds. The purpose of this assessment probe is to elicit students’ ideas about inheritance of genetic traits. The probe is designed to reveal the ideas students have about how traits, in this case fur color, are passed on to offspring. The resource can be used to engage students in the topic or to assess their understanding along the way.  The probe can be used at the beginning of a unit on inheritance and sexual reproduction.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

MS-LS3-2 Develop and use a model to describe why asexual reproduction results in offspring with identical genetic information and sexual reproduction results in offspring with genetic variation.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using models such as Punnett squares, diagrams, and simulations to describe the cause and effect relationship of gene transmission from parent(s) to offspring and resulting genetic variation.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Assessment probes are designed to be integrated into classroom instruction. Their purpose it to promote student thinking and open up opportunities for learning. They are best used at the beginning of instruction to elicit students’ prior knowledge and during instruction to monitor developing understanding. Assessment probes provide the teacher with information about what students think about a concept, not only revealing incorrect responses, but also partially correct, or correct responses and reasoning. These data can be used by the teacher to modify instruction and/or provide feedback to students. Assessment probes should never be graded, as this diminishes their utility as formative assessment tools. This probe can be used at the beginning of a lesson on the inheritance patterns with sexual reproduction to assess prior knowledge. Later it should be revisited to monitor understanding of the concepts of meiosis, genes, chromosomes, DNA, and fertilization.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In science and in the classroom, the practice of engaging in argument from evidence will often precede the development of a generally accepted explanation for a phenomenon. By administering a probe at the beginning and during instruction, the teacher is making student thinking explicit as students inquire about a specific phenomenon. It is helpful to invest the time to allow all student ideas to be made public, e.g. by posting the answer choices on a chart in front of the class and engaging students in a discussion of the justifications for each of the choices. This creates a culture of learning, where individuals’ ideas are valued in contrast to the “correct” answer. Encouraging students to discuss the different answers and justification with a partner or in small group, or as a class, supports the development of productive talk in the science classroom. It encourages students to take risks, listen carefully to each other, and encourages the learner to continue to reflect on their own learning as the lesson unfolds, and thus promotes a safe classroom environment, building a community of learners. In the Baby Mice probe, students are given seven different answers to the problem of the color of fur of offspring with a white fur mother and a black fur father. To take full advantage of this learning opportunity, teachers will need to engage students in small-group and/or whole-class discussions of the various claims of baby mice with different fur colors. Students can journal their ideas in their science notebooks after the discussions, and later they should be re-visited to see if their ideas have changed. The whole idea of a probe is to allow the students to arrive at a justification for the correct response. The teacher should just keep the discussion going without giving the correct answer.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The teacher needs to engage students in a process of evaluating the pairing of genes from the mother and father. The teacher needs to probe students further to develop the idea that each parent has two genes but only one is passed onto the offspring and the expression of these traits are different with different genes. In the progress of the unit the teacher should include other traits to make the connection that patterns of inheritance can be both similar and dissimilar depending on the specific trait. A second formative probe, “Eye Color” found in Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes, is a great addition to the unit since it explores more complex genetic traits with multiple genes.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This probe is a great beginning to the understanding of dominant and recessive traits, but will also lead to discussions on other forms of inheritance. The teacher needs to address misconceptions that all traits are inherited in the same way as fur color is in mice.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The probe provides opportunities to develop and use specific elements of the disciplinary core idea, by engaging students in a scenario (determining the color of fur in mice offspring) and then creating an argument about an explanation of why. The crosscutting concept of cause and effect is an integral part of making that argument. The resource will serve as a good opener to begin the topic as it will elicit students’ prior knowledge. The teacher can use the probe again in the middle and at the end of instruction to check for understanding and evaluate students’ growth.

  • Instructional Supports: Use of this assessment probe is one of the instructional strategies in an instructional sequence that can include investigations, models/simulation, reading, or analyzing real data. Revisiting the probe in the middle and at the end of the instructional sequence, will support students in monitoring their own learning, especially if students are being asked to share with each other what changes they made to their explanation. The accompanying teacher notes provide good content background, a progression of student understanding from elementary to middle school to high school, common misconceptions, and suggestions for implementation and instruction. Providing a context with which students can identify is helpful for English Language Learners. Student responses to the assessment probe can be used to differentiate instruction. Using a probe does not always have to involve writing. Alternatives include listening to students discuss probes, observing students test ideas from the probes, and having students draw their ideas.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This resource can be used to formatively assess the students and allows the teacher the flexibility to use again in the middle and at the end of instruction to monitor the growth of students’ understanding. The teacher notes discuss expected student understanding at different grade bands but not at different levels of understanding within those grade bands, and a rubric is not provided. The information gained from the student responses to this probe should provide useful information to plan and adjust instruction. The teacher notes contain some specific suggestions for instruction and assessment. Based on their selected response answer choices, students could be assigned or self-assign to different answer choices and discuss explanations with other students in that small group. A large group discussion of the class choices and their explanation can be a good start to come to a consensus of what the class thinks at the outset of instruction, as students are making arguments for and against different choices. Journaling in a science notebook can be used to revisit previous explanations and based on evidence gathered during discussions and activities these can be adjusted.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not have a technological component.