In the age of data-driven instruction, I struggle to have data on every subject area. I refuse to give my students more tests when they are already tested enough at age 8. I have plenty of informal data through observations and conversations, but I fear that a parent will want concrete data when a student is struggling.
Last year, my county purchased the Keeley Probes. These probes are quick, formative assessments that drive student thinking and push students to explain their thoughts and ideas. They give teachers immediate data on students’ thinking. The probes use common, everyday materials to help students form hypotheses. For example, we are currently learning about changing states of matter in science. The probes around this subject are about lemonade, ice, wet jeans, and balloons. All of these items are things that students are familiar with and can easily draw conclusions about. NC DPI has aligned these formative assessments for teachers to easily use.
These probes steer away from the traditional scientific method format that limits student thinking. In this traditional format, students spend more time copying materials and steps in an experiment than recording observations and thoughts. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it sends the message that the steps in the process are more important than the findings. Second, students waste time copying. Third, students are not pushed to explain their thinking.
While I do think that the scientific method is worth being taught, I think that most of the information should already be typed and just handed to the student. The only thing students need to record is their thinking and observations. Real scientists draw pictures, jot notes, and have notebooks that look more like this:
Instead of just asking students to form a hypothesis, Keeley Probes require students to explain their hypothesis. For example, if a student’s hypothesis is “I think that air has mass,” this would be an acceptable hypothesis for the scientific method. Keeley Probes already have these simple statements written for students to circle, and then they must explain why they made that choice.
Another great feature of the Keeley Probes is the brief teacher’s guide before each probe. It is quick and easy to read. It understands that all teachers of science are not experts in the science field. In this teacher’s guide, there is a section that explains common misconceptions. It breaks misconceptions down by misconceptions at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. This is helpful because it predicts students’ misunderstandings and can help the teacher be intentional with language and teaching.
I used this floating balloon probe a couple weeks ago before doing a lab to show my students that air does have mass. As the teacher guide explains, students at the elementary level have a hard time understanding that air has mass and takes up space because you can’t see it. Many students also predicted that the balloon without air would weigh more because “air makes things weigh less.” I made a “scale” using a ruler and students glued the scientific method in their science notebooks. I love that this experiment shows that air takes up space and has mass, therefore it is matter!