Cucumber Seeds Probe #1 From Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 1: 25 New 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.


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4 Wrong book linked...

This probe comes from "Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes" NOT "Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes". Otherwise a good place to start for this PE. In addition the VIEW RESOURCE link takes you too "Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 2: 25 More Formative Assessment Probes"


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 living and nonliving things, specifically if seeds are alive in their dormant state. The resource can be used to engage students in the topic at the beginning of a unit on the topic of the living versus nonliving or to assess their understanding along the way.  

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

MS-LS1-1 Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells; either one cell or many different numbers and types of cells.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on developing evidence that living things are made of cells, distinguishing between living and non-living things, and understanding that living things may be made of one cell or many and varied cells.

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
How the body is an interacting subsystem composed of cells is used in this probe to explore cells as the basic unit of life, specifically if seeds are alive in their dormant state. An assessment probe is designed to be integrated into classroom instruction. Their purpose is to promote student thinking and to open up opportunities for learning. They are best used at the beginning of instruction to elicit students’ prior knowledge or 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. These probes should never be graded, as this diminishes their utility as formative assessment tools to monitor student progress. This probe can be used at the beginning of a lesson to assess students’ prior understanding of what is living and what is nonliving. Later, it should be revisited to monitor understanding of the concept while being taught. At this later stage, the students can use evidence learned throughout the lesson progression to support their argument. This can be accomplished by students 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 Cucumber Seeds probe, students are given two different answers to the problem of whether or not seeds in a packet are alive. 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 Cucumber Seeds probe, students are given two different answers to the problem. To take full advantage of this learning opportunity, teachers will need to engage students in small-group and/or whole-class discussions. Since there are only two responses, the teacher can use “Philosophical Chairs”, which is a technique that allows students to critically think, verbally ponder, and logically write their beliefs. 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 keep the discussion going without giving the correct answer.

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
Since, this probe only focuses on living versus nonliving, it should be used as part of a learning progression, where students learn not only what constitutes life but also the life processes carried out by cells. Combining this probe with two other probes Is It Made of Cells? and Seedlings in a Jar from Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 1: 25 Formative Assessment Probes will allow for probing for a wider range of student ideas, as they are making sense of the disciplinary core ideas through a variety of learning activities.

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 how all life is made up of one or more cells. For living cells to grow, new cells must arise from other living cells and not dead cells, so the seeds in the packet must be alive. Also, make the connection between dormancy and growth once they are planted. The cellular level, is at a scale not observable with the naked eye, whereas there is the macroscopic level, where students can plant seeds and watch them grow into plants. The Powers of Ten video is a wonderful way to expose students to different scales.

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 (are seeds in a packet alive?) and then creating an argument about this relationship. The crosscutting concept of Scale, Proportion, and Quantity is an integral part of making that argument, as the students see the difference in dormancy and growth. The resource could serve as a good opener to begin the topic of living and nonliving, 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, evaluate students’ growth, or as a Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning activity.

  • Instructional Supports: Use of this assessment probe is one of the instructional strategies in an instructional sequence that can include investigations, 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, such as “Philosophical Chairs”, which allows students to critically think, verbally ponder and logically write their beliefs 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. Based on evidence gathered during discussions and activities, these can be adjusted as students grow in their understanding of what it means to be alive.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -