Formative Assessment Probe
Assessment Earth & Space Science Elementary Grade 1
This is the new updated edition of the first book in the bestselling Uncovering Student Ideas in Science series. Like the first edition of volume 1, this book helps pinpoint what your students know (or think they know) so you can monitor their learning and adjust your teaching accordingly. Loaded with classroom-friendly features you can use immediately, the book includes 25 “probes”—brief, easily administered formative assessments designed to understand your students’ thinking about 60 core science concepts.
The purpose of this assessment probe is to elicit students’ ideas about the day/night cycle. The probe is designed to determine whether students recognize that Earth’s rotation explains why it is dark at night and light during the day.
Day/night cycle, rotation
The best answer is Talia’s: Earth spins completely around once a day. The reason for the day/night cycle is that Earth spins completely around on its axis approximately every 24 hours. When our location on Earth is turned away from the Sun, we have night (darkness). When our location on Earth is turned toward the Sun, we have day (daylight).
In the early primary years, students recognize that there is a repeating pattern of daytime and night, and that the amount of daylight changes throughout the year. At first, this is primarily observational with a focus on patterns. Observations of the Sun’s location make it look to them as if the Sun is the body that is moving, but it is important for students to trace this movement before introducing rotation. By third grade, students begin to learn about Earth’s motion to explain patterns. Now they can use models to move beyond their own location-based perspective to describe and explain how Earth’s rotation causes the day/night cycle. It is also important to make sure students have a concept of a spherical Earth before using models to explain Earth’s rotation. Gradually, the terms rotation and Earth’s axis are introduced when students are ready to link the concept to the phenomenon.
Middle School Students
Students’ understanding of the day/night cycle expands to include ideas about the effect of Earth’s tilt and the changing position of the Sun in the sky during different times of the year. They can look at patterns of sunrise and sunset and begin to recognize that the length of day (photoperiod) changes during different times of the year and with different locations on Earth. However, the orbital geometry involved in understanding this concept is still challenging. Students at this level may often confuse rotation with revolution.
High School Students
During high school, more complex and quantitative ideas about the Earth-Moon-Sun system are developed, along with the idea that other planets and their moons rotate at different speeds and have day/night cycles of varying lengths. They also examine changes in the tilt of Earth’s axis of rotation over a large time scale.
This probe can be used with students in grades 3–8. Terminology like rotation, spinning on an axis, and revolution are intentionally avoided to probe for conceptual understanding. Make sure students understand that night refers to the period of darkness when the Sun is not visible and that day refers to the period of daylight when the Sun is visible in the sky. Don’t assume that older students can explain this phenomenon.
K–2 ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars
3–5 ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System
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