The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews

With so many products available we often need a little help in making our curriculum choices. The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine family understands because we are in the same boat! Do you need more information on a product before you buy? With over 5,500 products listed in 52 easy-to-use categories, much of the information you need to know is only a click away! Let our reviewer-families help yours.
Do you want to get the word out about your product or service to the homeschool community? Email Tess Hamre and share a little about what you´d like showcased, and we can help with that!

Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Vol II Review by Cindy West

By Page Keeley, Francis Eberle, Joyce Tugal
NSTA Press
1840 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201

Uncovering Student Ideas in Science: 25 More Formative Assessment Probes is a book with a very interesting concept. You're probably asking, "What in the world is a formative assessment probe?" It's a question used informally by a teacher to assess a student's understanding of a concept before, during, and after instruction on that topic.

The purpose of a formative assessment probe is two-fold. First, it gives the teacher insight into student misconceptions that need to be addressed through instruction. Second, it helps make sure the student has understood the concept.

Each formative assessment probe offers one question on a certain science topic. Multiple-choice answers are offered, followed by a space in which the student explains why he chose a particular answer. My understanding is that the question can be answered in written form or orally.

Each question is appropriate for any age child from elementary through high school. Obviously, a high school student should have a deeper understanding of a particular scientific concept than an elementary student, so the book provides the teacher with acceptable answers for elementary, middle school, and high school students.

Since this may be a new concept, I'll try to give a clear example of one of the probes. In "Boiling Time and Temperature," the student is given the following question: "Ernesto is heating a pure liquid on a stove. He records the temperature a minute after the liquid starts to boil. After 20 minutes of boiling, he records the temperature again. When Ernesto compares the first temperature with the second, what do you think he will find? Circle your prediction." The student circles one of three choices:

• The boiling temperature did not change.
• The boiling temperature decreased.
• The boiling temperature increased.

Finally, the student is asked to explain his thinking, and several lines are provided for doing so.

Following this prompt (and all others) are the teacher notes. These notes explain the purpose of the probe and provide a list of related scientific concepts. There is also an explanation of the correct answer. This is followed by possible answers the teacher might expect from the three different age levels. Directions and suggestions are given for how to administer the probe and how to teach the topic for the expected understanding.

The teacher section tells which specific National Science Education Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy are met through the probes and instruction. There is also a section of related research that can help the teacher understand why certain misconceptions are formed by students.

Using these probes before instruction is supposed to help the teacher see how to better teach the concept, as he or she should be able to learn what the students already understand and what they don't. The same probe used during or after instruction should help the teacher see if his or her teaching was effective and/or what the student still needs to understand better.

Of the 25 probes, 11 cover physical science topics, 8 cover life science topics and 6 cover earth and space topics. As with most secular science curriculums, you will find at least one reference to "millions of years" and possibly other evolutionary teachings. Because of the book's nature, there is no reason you can't leave out a particular probe if you like.

This book is not written directly to homeschoolers, but a parent could easily use the formative probe assessments within the homeschool setting. This book is not intended to be a complete science curriculum. Instead, it can be used to supplement something you are already using. The only hard part for me would be in remembering to pull this book out when the particular themes addressed in the book are covered in the science curriculum I'm using. On the other hand, it could be used independently as you decide to pull out a lesson and go for it.

Product review by Cindy West, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2009