Reviewed by Carla Billups
5th Grade Science/Math Teacher
This is the sixth book in Page Keeley’s series of formative assessment probes, but it's the first volume dedicated entirely to life science. The range of topics spans kindergarten to high school and covers life and its diversity, structure, the needs of living things, ecosystems, reproduction, heredity, and human biology.
The book is set up in a teacher-friendly manner, beginning with a probe, moving through an explanation of the probe (including the answer), and continuing with instructional considerations and how the probe ties in with the National Science Education Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy. The information about each probe also includes related research and suggestions for use.
For me, the most helpful information was what students at the grade level at which I teach should understand about the probes and the related research. Both gave me a clearer picture of what is developmentally appropriate for my students. I also learned information about content that is not my area of expertise. I feel I can administer the probes to my students and guide them through a discussion about the topics.
These probes are also useful in working with other teachers, as they allow adults to think more about their understanding of various topics. I have used these in science workshops with teachers and for the fun of it, and I've sat with other adults and on my own and have read through a few of the probes to really check my own content understanding. Each probe makes one think and helps clarify one's understanding.
The probes are meant to be used in formative assessment, and there are many different ways to do so. Probe answers can be given with or without student names on them, and they can be used for discussion. I used several on the bus on a class field trip. I read the probe to the students, gave them discussion time with their seatmates, and then we discussed it as a group. They can be used as think-pair-shares, in small-group discussions, or as exit slips; the main thing is that it helps teachers assess their students' understanding of the particular probe. I have used them before and after lessons to see if students understood a particular concept. They are very useful, easy to use, and help teachers really understand what students understand.
Review posted on 6/6/2011