Discover how Explorify can help with assessment.
Assessment is something teachers do all the time, yet assessment in science is a topic teachers often say they worry about. Let's walk through a teaching sequence about classification.
Assessment is integral to good teaching – we can’t plan teaching sequences without understanding what our pupils already know and can do, and we’re constantly listening to our children’s comments and questions to evaluate their progress in lessons. We do ‘assessment’ all the time. And yet, assessment in science is a topic that teachers often say they worry about. Perhaps it’s because we use assessment in so many different ways and it is the use of assessment for accountability that is the issue.
So how can Explorify help? How can formative assessment be used summatively? Let’s consider an example using related objectives from the UK curricula about classification and how this helps us to understand the characteristics of living things. The teaching principles are illustrated below with example activities for ages 5-6 but are appropriate for all primary ages:
1. Starting a teaching and learning sequence
What do children understand about classifying living things?
Look at an odd one out such as Terrific Tree Dwellers. The children don’t need to know the names of these animals to talk about them. Ask them to consider:
- What can they see?
- How do they know that they can see an insect, a mammal and a bird?
- What can they tell about their habitats?
As the children talk about how the creatures are similar, prompt them to talk about what makes an animal alive. What features do they have in common?
Understanding differences helps us to group and classify living things. As each child chooses their odd one out, ask them to write down their choice and explain their reason. You might like them to expand on their thinking in a short task for writing later, selecting vocabulary carefully to explain their ideas. That way you will also have a record of their ideas.
The replies that children give in response to your teacher prompts can be helpful in gauging the next steps for teaching and reintroducing specific vocabulary such as invertebrate, vertebrate, mammal, habitat, environment, diversity, characteristics, interdependence and classification.
For example, for the objective "describe how living things are classified into broad groups according to common observable characteristics and based on similarities and differences, including microorganisms, plants and animals" (England) children might be able to infer that the sloth is a mammal because it has fur, and therefore gives birth to live young.
2. Progressing through a learning sequence about classification
Lightmakers provides images of three living things that are less familiar to pupils but have a common feature that is interesting: bioluminescence. Prompt the children to talk about what they see and to use the differences to help them to classify them and explain their ideas.
As each child chooses their odd one out, can they explain why they think each one is a light maker? How would it benefit the organisms?
For example, for the objective "I can identify and classify examples of living things, past and present, to help me appreciate their diversity" (Scotland) pupils might assign each living thing to its broader group and talk about how glowing in the dark might be useful to a firefly.
3. After a learning sequence about classification
We all want to know how much children can transfer their understating to less familiar contexts. It’s useful to do this as a teaching and learning sequence comes to an end, but also to follow up in the following term to be sure that learning has embedded, and Explorify activities can be really helpful for this. In this way, our assessment moves from being formative to summative.
Perfect pinchers shows three birds that are found in very different habitats. They are all birds but can be sub-grouped. Looking at the similarities and differences will help children think about the ways they might be sub-grouped. Can the children also talk about how each bird is adapted for its environment? Do they realise how important the shapes of their beaks are?
For the objective "pupils should use and develop their skills knowledge and understanding by investigating how animals and plants are independent yet rely on each other for survival" (Wales) do children link the adaptations of birds’ beaks to their food and the food chain?
Puddle pals has images of inhabitants of rock pools that will be unfamiliar to many pupils. Can the children work out what sort of creatures they are from the features they can see? Are they able to think about how the creatures are adapted to survive when the tide goes out and water evaporates from the rock pool? Are children using appropriate scientific vocabulary?
For the objective "animals and plants together form ecosystems, and interdependence within systems is essential" (Northern Ireland) do pupils recognise that a rock pool is an ecosystem and understand that plants and animals within it are interdependent? What can they say about the plants and animals that will survive in a rock pool?
4. So, what about accountability and assessment?
Just as you make judgements on what a child understands and the skills they display during formative assessment, these observations add up for a summative judgement too. You don’t need to set a specific test – but be rigorous: teaching something doesn’t mean children have learned it. Explorify activities can help you revisit topics, to refresh minds and ensure that the vocabulary isn’t forgotten. If your summative judgement is immediately after a teaching and learning sequence it will be fresh in children’s minds, but if you revisit a topic a little later, children will develop skills to retain and reuse the vocabulary and for some children, that extra time might be what’s needed for them to assimilate all their learning and make better sense of it.
In England pupils should "use the observable features of plants, animals and micro-organisms to group, classify and identify them into broad groups, using keys or other methods". Explorify activities develop observation skills and discussion develops critical thinking.
5. How can I support better science assessment in my school?
Planning for assessment when you plan teaching and learning sequences is very important. At the outset, we should think about what our children will do and say to demonstrate their progress and understanding. The Association for Science Education has produced excellent free and easy to access resources (PLAN) that support teachers with this approach, and include some annotated work from children too.