Baby Mice– Assessment Probe from Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Vol. 2

Page Keeley, Francis Eberle, Lynn Farrin
Type Category
Assessment 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 Life Science, Volume 2: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes”, by Page Keeley. 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. Assessment probes consist of the actual one-page probe for use with students, and a section of several pages with teacher notes. Teacher notes include information on the purpose of the probe, related science concepts, an explanation of all answer choices, curricular and instructional considerations, suggestions for administering the probe, related standards (National Science Education Standards, 1996), related ideas in Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993), related research, description of common student misconceptions, suggestions for instruction and assessment, and related NSTA science store publications and journal articles. An assessment probe is a purposefully designed, multi-grade level question that asks students to provide a two-part response. Part one consists of a selected response, and part two asks students to provide an explanation. This format helps teachers identify students’ existing ideas about phenomena or concepts, which can help inform the design of instruction. Assessment probes can also be used to engage students, encourage thinking, and promote sharing of ideas. When implementing probes in the classroom, the authors suggest using the probe to encourage teacher-student, student-teacher, and student-student feedback on learning. The “Baby Mice” probe elicits students’ ideas about the inheritance of genetic traits. The probe describes a scenario in which five black mice and two white mice resulted from the mating of a black male and a white female. The probe provides explanations about the phenotypes of the offspring from seven friends. Students are asked to select which friend they agree with the most and to explain their thinking. The probe can be used before instruction to elicit prior knowledge and identify students’ misconceptions. This information can be useful in planning instruction and determining students’ prior knowledge.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 12
  • Grade 11
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 9
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

HS-LS3-2 Make and defend a claim based on evidence that inheritable genetic variations may result from: (1) new genetic combinations through meiosis, (2) viable errors occurring during replication, and/or (3) mutations caused by environmental factors.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using data to support arguments for the way variation occurs.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the phases of meiosis or the biochemical mechanism of specific steps in the process.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the phases of meiosis or the biochemical mechanism of specific steps in the process.

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
The main idea of the probe is that traits are observable characteristics that are passed from parents to offspring and that an equal number of traits are passed from each parent to the offspring. The probe can be used to teach genetic terminology during instruction, as different student responses to the probe are being discussed. The probe helps students understand that a baby has full set of chromosomes that result from laws of segregation and independent assortment. The probe also supports students’ understanding that a Punnett square represents gamete formation and fertilization and is not simply done to get correct answers. Assessment probes are designed to be integrated into classroom instruction. 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.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The “Baby Mice” assessment probe supports the practice by asking students to use their prior knowledge of inheritance patterns and variation to evaluate seven claims about the appearance of the F1 generation in a population of mice. To engage students in the argumentation process, teachers can post the seven claims around the classroom and ask students to move to what they think is the correct answer. Students are given a few minutes to discuss their reasons for selecting the claim. Teachers can use a whole-class discussion approach to elicit students’ understanding of heredity or the passing of traits from parents to offspring and adjust instruction based on students’ responses.

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
The probe does not address how errors in DNA replication or how the environment can cause mutations. It elicits students’ misconceptions about the inheritance of genetic traits, providing an entry point for teachers to discuss the processes that lead to genetic variations. Teachers will need to make sure students understand the distribution of chromosomes during meiosis.

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
The probe allows teachers to address many of the misconceptions held by students on inheritance patterns. The black mice and white mice have the same number of genes that are expressed differently but one student claims that black mice have more traits than white mice. Teachers can address the cause and effect of each of the seven claims in a whole-class discussion.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The “Baby Mice” assessment probe supports Next Generation Science Standards by asking students to justify a claim with evidence and reasoning. The Disciplinary Core Idea is suggested and teachers need to help students make connections among DNA, gene, chromosomes, meiosis, mutations and traits. Most students have some prior knowledge of how traits are transmitted over generations but the probe allows teachers to address cause and effect misconceptions such as the idea that offspring inherit their dominant traits from the male parent.

  • Instructional Supports: This probe supports the argumentation model by asking students to make a claim about the inheritance of genetic traits. The teacher can extend the lesson by asking students to choose which claim is correct and develop a tentative argument to support their claim. The probe also elicits students’ prior knowledge and provides an opportunity for teacher to clarify misconceptions. The teacher’s notes provide background information on the mechanism of inheritance, related concept topics, related research, and suggestions for implementation and instruction. Information for helping teachers address common misconceptions is also included. This probe is not meant as a standalone lesson, only because technically it can be a “lesson” if you ask students to complete the probe and then discuss the answers as a class. That would take 45 minutes). It can be used to determine prior knowledge for planning purposes, to monitor student understanding during instruction, and to evaluate student learning after instruction and to evaluate student learning after instruction.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The teacher’s notes provide suggestions for administering the probe and assessment of the probe. However, specific assessment strategies are not included. Teachers need to include additional learning activities such as asking probing questions and requiring students to write scientific explanations that include the claim, sufficient evidence, and reasoning that link the evidence to the claim. Teacher’s feedback and whole-class discussion can support student thinking if revision is needed. A rubric is not included in the teacher’s notes and teachers need to create a claim-evidence-reasoning rubric for students, if they wish to use the probe in that way.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The probe does not provide a technology connection.