Human Body Probe #23 From Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 2: 25 More Formative Assessment Probes

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 Life Science, Volume 1: 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. The purpose of this assessment probe is to elicit students’ ideas about how the body is an interacting subsystem composed of cells. The probe is designed to see if students recognize that multicellular organisms are an organized group of cells and not a structure that is filled up with cells. The resource can be used to engage students in the topic at the beginning of a unit on the human body or to assess their understanding along the way.  

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

MS-LS1-3 Use argument supported by evidence for how the body is a system of interacting subsystems composed of groups of cells.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the conceptual understanding that cells form tissues and tissues form organs specialized for particular body functions. Examples could include the interaction of subsystems within a system and the normal functioning of those systems.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the mechanism of one body system independent of others. Assessment is limited to the circulatory, excretory, digestive, respiratory, muscular, and nervous systems.

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 is to promote student thinking and open up opportunities for learning. They are effective when 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. This not only reveals incorrect responses, but also partially correct, or correct responses in addition to reasoning. These data can be used by the teacher to modify instruction and/or provide feedback to students. 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 Human Body to assess prior knowledge of cell organization in multicellular organisms. Later it could be revisited to monitor understanding of the concepts of organs and organ systems. At this later stage, students can use evidence from the body systems lesson progression to support their argument. Students can accomplish this by writing a claim, evidence, reasoning (CER) report, using the additional information obtained since the original probe.

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 the Human Body probe, students are given three different answers to the problem of the connection between cells and the human body. 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, for example, 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 Human Body probe, students are given three different answers to the problem of cells and the human body 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 cell organization in the human body. Students can journal their ideas in their science notebooks after the discussions, and later these ideas should be re-visited to see if they 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 discussion that focuses on the idea about the hierarchical arrangement of the human body. From previous lessons students may have learned that cells are the basic unit of life and connect cells, tissue, organs, and organ systems. This probe allows them to see that the human body is not just a container to hold cells but rather a well organized cellular structure associated with function. This probe helps uncover students' ideas about this disciplinary core idea. Teachers may then want to help their students develop a model of the interaction of cells within body systems. The teacher could probe students further to develop the idea that there are multiple interactions that happen in a body, to emphasize the concept of interacting subsystems.

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 make sure that students understand the hierarchy of cellular organization in multicellular organisms. It is important to students’ understanding that the teacher clarify the distinction between the three responses. The first response means the body is cellular- composed entirely of cells or material that comes from cells. The second response means that the body has a covering, inside which are cells, such as organs, which have cells inside them. The final response means that the body has a covering, not made of cells, that contains cells and other material not made of cells.

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 (how are cells related to the human body) and then creating an argument about this relationship. The crosscutting concept of systems and system models 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 evaluate students’ growth in their understanding of the phenomenon.

  • 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 it 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 consensus of what the class thinks at the outset of instruction, as students are making arguments for and against different choices. Journalling 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: - none -