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Formative Assessment in Modeling Instruction

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Assessment 2010Formative Assessment in Modeling InstructionSynopsis of Modeling Instruction:In the Modeling Instruction Program, high school physics and chemistry teachers are trainedto be leaders in science teaching reform and technology infusion in their schools and schooldistricts. In a series of intensive workshops over two years, they are equipped with a robustteaching methodology for developing student abilities to make sense of physical experience,understand scientific claims, articulate coherent opinions of their own and defend them withcogent arguments, evaluate evidence in support of justified belief. More specifically, the teachers learn: (a) to organize course content around scientific modelsas coherent units of structured knowledge; (b) to engage students collaboratively in makingand using models to describe, to explain, to predict, to design and control physical andchemical phenomena; (c) to involve students in using computers as scientific tools forcollecting, organizing, analyzing, visualizing, and modeling real data; (d) to continuouslyimprove and update instruction with new software, instructional materials, and insights fromeducational research. To sum up, the modeling workshops provide a detailed implementationof the National Science Education Standards proposed by the National Research Council.Almost all teachers who have completed the modeling workshop series have embraced thenew teaching methodology. Their subsequent teaching effectiveness has been evaluated with atest of basic physics understanding on which there is public data for more than 10,000 highschool and college students. Students of teachers who have implemented the method mostfully achieved a high performance gain, surpassing that of students under traditional physicsinstruction approaching two standard deviations.FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT IN MODELING INSTRUCTIONModeling Instruction is aligned with the assessment standards of the National ScienceEducation Standards. The summary gives the flavor: “more emphasis on assessing what ismost highly valued, assessing rich, well-structured knowledge, assessing scientificunderstanding and reasoning, assessing to learn what students do understand, assessingachievement and opportunity to learn, students engaged in ongoing assessment of their workand that of others...” In the modeling method, embedded and authentic assessment are used.Clearly, one role of assessment is to ascertain student mastery of the skills and understandingof the concepts in the unit. An equally important role is the feedback it provides theinstructor, about the design of the activities and his or her implementation. The Modeling1Assessment 2010Method stresses formative assessment as well as summative. Formative assessment has fourmajor components: practice worksheets, lab write-ups, lab practicums and whiteboarding.Formative assessment includes developing a sound conceptual understanding using graphicaland diagrammatic representations before moving on to quantitative problem solving. To beconsistent with this end, assessment instruments provided in the instructional materials teststudents’ ability to interpret graphs and draw conclusions, as well as to solve quantitativeproblems using models developed on the basis of experiments done in class. As a simpleexample, here is a header for a series of questions from Unit V, Test v1.Below is the velocity vs. time graph for a train. Use the graph to answer questions7 –10.Students are asked to sketch the matching acceleration vs time graph. Then they are asked todetermine when (if ever) the net force acting on the train is zero, and during which intervalthe force is the greatest. They must provide rationale for their answers.In addition to lab write-ups, in which students report their findings using a format outlined inthe introductory section of the curriculum materials, the workshop manual providessuggestions for use of the lab practicum as a means to check student understanding. In thepracticum, an application problem (a one-period-project) is posed to the entire class. Theclass has a fixed time to figure out what model is appropriate to describe the situation, decidewhat measurements to make, collect and analyze data, then prepare a solution. This is theculminating activity in the unit that helps students review key principles for the unit test.Whiteboarding is the fourth major component of assessment. What's different here is that itserves purposes other than determining students' grades. First, it gives students a chance toreinforce their understanding of concepts; students don't really know what they think untilthey've heard themselves express the idea. Second, students are highly motivated tounderstand the question they are assigned to present. No one enjoys getting up before agroup of peers with nothing to say. During preparation, the instructor has the opportunity tohelp the students if no one in the group knows how to do the problem. Third, the activity isdiagnostic for it allows the instructor to determine how well the students have mastered the2Assessment 2010concept. Students must account for everything they do in solving a problem, explaining whythey had done it that way, and ultimately appealing to models developed on the basis ofexperiments that had been done in class. Instructors trained in the Modeling Method do nottake correct statements for granted. They always press for explicit articulation of students’thinking. When instructors hear fuzzy or incoherent explanations, they have the opportunityto help students deal with their incomplete conceptions before moving on to the next task.The two most frequently asked questions are, “Why do you say that?” and “How do you knowthat?” Presentations can be made sequentially (when groups present their solutions todifferent problems) or simultaneously (when groups display and compare the results of theirexperiments. In either approach, the instructor spends more time listening and guiding byquestioning than telling students what to


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