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.
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 “Habitat Change” assessment probe is written in the format of a prediction probe, asking students to predict what would happen to divos (imaginary animals living on an island with warm climate and plenty of tree ants, the divo’s source of food) if the environment on that island changes dramatically, and all of the tree ants die. Students are asked to “circle any of the things you think happened to most of the divos living on the island after their habitat changed” (p. 143, Keeley, 2007). Each of the distractors represents a commonly held student misconception about adaptation; one of the choices represents the scientific conception. The second part of the assessment probe asks students to explain their thinking, i.e. explain how they decided what effect the change in the divos’ habitat would have on most of the divos. This formative assessment probe elicits whether or not students think that individuals intentionally can change their physical characteristics (fur length and thickness, or teeth or mouthparts) or their inherited behaviors (digging holes to live in, hibernating in cold weather) in response to a change in the environment.