Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup

Case Studies in Science Education

Tom — Grade 5

Teacher Profile

Name Tom
Experience First-year teacher
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 5; all subjects
Classroom 26 students; 10% special needs
Demographics Suburban school in affluent town
Science Teaching 50-minute sessions; twice per week
Curriculum Life, physical, and earth sciences; District specified
Other Shares teaching responsibilities with Andy, another first-year teacher, who was initially brought into the classroom to assist with special needs students


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

A cracker activity serves as the introduction for learning more about the human digestive system. Tom uses crackers to encourage students to consider the role of saliva and its enzymes in digesting food. Later, as a means of assessing students' understandings, Tom asks his students to write three paragraphs on digestion.

Tom is very aware of the diverse learners in his class and knows that traditional assessments serve some students very well, while not reflecting other students' understandings. This year Tom wants to experiment with alternative assessment techniques. By doing so, he hopes to make it possible for all students to represent successfully what they know, as well as to inform him and others of the understandings each student has built.

Cracker Activity

As a way of introducing students to the concept of digestion, students chew two crackers for five minutes before swallowing, observe what changes occur in the crackers, and then formulate a group hypothesis to explain what happened.

Discussion Questions

What teaching philosophies are evident in Tom's classroom?

What are your views on more traditional forms of assessment?

What assessment strategies might teachers use to help all students demonstrate their understandings?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

To show their understandings of electricity, Tom provides students with opportunities to represent what they have learned in several ways. Students create Cinquain poems, journal entries, Venn diagrams, and story boards. Each mode of assessment appeals to different types of learners. Tom discovers that these assessments also serve as learning experiences, making them an embedded part of teaching and learning.

Electricity Assessments

After exploring electricity and circuits, students use what they have learned to create poems, journal entries, Venn diagrams, and story boards to reflect their understandings.

Discussion Questions

What information can be derived from the assessment strategies Tom attempted?

What impact do you think alternative assessment has on the process of teaching? On the process of learning?

What additional forms of assessment might be useful for meeting the needs of diverse learners?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Tom discovers that different forms of assessment may be more or less appropriate for different scientific concepts. Here, students use concept mapping to show what they know about electricity. Tom finds that concept mapping is particularly useful because it is open ended, allowing for the extent of students' understandings and depths of students' interpretations to be represented.

Tom adds to his growing conceptualization of assessment by suggesting that any assessment is only as beneficial as the degree to which we understand a student's prior knowledge. When teachers know this, then any assessment is a valuable tool for evaluating what students have learned over a finite period of time.

Tom wonders about asking students to choose for themselves which method of assessment they prefer and looks forward to learning more about alternative assessment in the years to come.

Electromagnet Activity

As they continue their study of electricity, pairs of students use a nail, copper wire, and a battery to make an electromagnet. Students test their electromagnets by using them to pick up paper clips.

Discussion Questions

How would you critique concept mapping as a way of detecting what students understand about a scientific concept?

What forms of assessment might help capture change in students' scientific understandings over time?

How would you solve the problem of linking alternative assessment to grading?


© Annenberg Foundation 2017. All rights reserved. Legal Policy