No More Plants

Page Keeley
Type Category
Assessment Materials
Assessment Item , 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 is one of 25 assessment probes from the book,” Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Volume 1: 25 New 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 the role of plants in a terrestrial ecosystem. The probe is designed to determine if students recognize that all animals depend on plants, whether or not they eat plants. The resource can be used to engage students in the topic or to assess their understanding along the way.  The probe can be used as a class discussion starter.  

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on recognizing patterns in data and making warranted inferences about changes in populations, and on evaluating empirical evidence supporting arguments about changes to ecosystems.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This assessment probe can serve as one component in a series of learning activities that lead the students to develop an explanation on how changes to physical and biological components of an ecosystem affect populations. The teacher will need to use this resource as part of a sequence of instructional activities that build student understanding that all matter in an ecosystem traces back to plants and all energy traces back to the sun. This resource could serve as an introduction to the concept or to check students’ prior knowledge. Since the performance expectation includes using empirical evidence to construct an argument, the teacher subsequently should engage students in an investigation where students gather data to support their idea . The teacher could then engage the class in a discussion where students revisit the arguments from the initial responses to the assessment probe, and determine the validity of each statement. 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.

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. For the “No More Plants” probe, asking students to agree with one of the four friends and to justify their selected response will support students in clarifying their own ideas about the consequences of a change in one component of an ecosystem on a population. 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 and underlying processes. Since the probe does not have an accompanying activity where students gather evidence, the teacher subsequently should engage students in an investigation where they gather data (empirical evidence) to support their argument. Such activities could have them tracing the source of matter and energy in an ecosystem to realize that all organisms depend on plants for matter and energy. An activity such as creation of a food web would give students data that they can use to support their argument.

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 contributing parts of an ecosystem and determine that plants are the source of the energy and matter for the living parts of the ecosystem. The teacher needs to probe students further to develop the idea that any change in one component is going to affect the populations of other organisms. The teacher should use multiple examples of changes in producers and consumers to make it clear that all parts of the ecosystem are interrelated.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The crosscutting concept should be explicitly discussed within the context of the change in the plant population. The teacher should engage the students in an activity that initially shows a stable ecosystem. The students should measure the effects of a change in one population to evaluate the change that occurs in the rest of the ecosystem. This relationship could be the basis for some formative assessment questions or exit tickets as students work on their understanding of the concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The probe provides opportunities to develop and use specific elements of the disciplinary core idea to make sense of phenomena and/or to design solutions to problems. The resource will serve as a good opener to begin the topic as it will elicit students’ prior knowledge. Teacher can use the probe again at the end of instruction to evaluate students’ growth in understanding the concept.

  • Instructional Supports: The probe engages students in a fictitious situation, involving an imaginary trip to an island. Thinking about a specific situation when they make their claim, helps students identify with the context. By asking students to transfer their current understanding of the concept of ecosystem dynamics to this fictitious situation, student responses will reveal how fragile/firm their understanding of the science concepts is. 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 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 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, e.g. when introducing simple food chains, always trace the matter and energy back to plants (and the energy back to the sun). 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 consensus of what the class thinks at the outset of instruction, as students are making arguments for and against different choices. The responses can be revisited as instruction progresses and students can suggest that certain choices should be removed based on evidence gathered during the activities.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -