Physical Science Probes Every Teacher Needs

Uncovering Student Ideas in Physical Science Vol. 3: 32 New Matter and Energy Formative Assessment Probes 
By Page Keeley and Susan Cooper
(NSTA Press, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

If you are familiar with Page Keeley probes, here is another great book to add to the series, now at number 11. If you are not familiar with these probes, you are in for a treat.

While at first glance these activities look like simple formative assessment pieces that can easily be used as a Do Now exercise, these probes provide much greater depth than you might expect. Page Keeley is known for her probes. They are well researched and target essential understandings that students may come to class confused about, due to life experience.

This volume, which focuses on matter and energy, is divided into four sections: 1) concept of matter and the particle model of matter; 2) properties of matter; 3) classifying matter, chemical properties and chemical reactions; and 4) nuclear processes and energy.

These probes are designed to be used by teachers for assessments that will  inform future teaching, not to arrive at a score or right and wrong answer. As such, 10 forms of probes are used that help students find the BEST answer while airing and discussing all ideas surrounding these crosscutting concepts – along with why and how evidence supports the various ideas. The distractors are strategically placed to increase student discussion and discernment.

Each probe is presented in both English and Spanish followed by teacher notes. The teacher notes are essential reading, as is the book’s introduction, and provide the purpose and type of each probe, as well as the explanation for the best choice, tips on how to best administer the probe, an overview of the related disciplinary core ideas, and research about the topic (with the references to seminal texts). Teachers will also find suggestions for teaching and assessing in ways that best identify and clarify student misunderstandings and misconceptions so that they are not carried forward.

This is so much more than a book of quick formative assessments. These probes, provided by a leading authority in probe creation, are carefully chosen, researched, worded and explained to give students a strong understanding of key underlying concepts in the field of physical science. This is a supplemental text that every teacher of physical science will want.

Dr. Laura Von Staden is currently a Middle School Gifted Math and Science teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees in her school district, works closely with the local university, and writes curriculum. She is also a professional development consultant and previously served as an Exceptional Student Education Specialist and as a mentor. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology.

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