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Standards-based assessment and Instruction


Archive for September, 2017

Where to Begin? Getting Started With Exemplars Science

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

By Tracy Lavallee, 4th Grade Teacher and Exemplars Science Consultant

Exemplars Science is not a stand-alone program.

Rather it is a supplemental program to help schools and districts bring standards-aligned, inquiry and performance-based instruction and assessment into their classrooms. The tasks can be used in a multitude of ways, for both instructional and assessment purposes.


Tips for Getting Started With Exemplars Science

  • Begin by looking at your curriculum. What units of study are you currently teaching? What concepts and skills are you assessing? When do you assess your students’ understanding? Where might you add formative assessment? Where could you add more inquiry-rich tasks? Do you currently use a rubric for assessment?
  • Start small. Pick one task to add to your existing unit, for instruction or assessment. Try it out.
  • Work with colleagues. It is very helpful to meet with colleagues and discuss possible tasks to use for assessment. This will add consistency at grade levels and can provide opportunities for teachers to share and analyze student work together. These rich conversations can help facilitate more effective instruction and differentiation, and deepen students’ understanding of sometimes complex concepts. It is also an opportunity to help each other be the best teachers we can be for our students.

Ways to Use Exemplars Science

  • Pre-Assessment Task: Often we forget the importance of pre-assessing students to see what they already know about a particular concept. A pre-assessment is a powerful tool for teaching. It gives us a starting place. It helps us to identify any misconceptions students may have so that we can design our instruction to address those.
  • Anchor Task: An anchor task is used at the beginning of a unit to engage students with the content and the materials. It can also be used to pre-assess students’ prior knowledge and a way to elicit misconceptions students may have. But its main purpose is engagement with the phenomenon. For a unit on electrical circuits, “Can You Light the Bulb?” (a 3-5 Exemplars investigation) is a great anchor task to try. During this investigation, students use materials to explore how to light a bulb, engage with the big ideas of the unit, grapple with a problem, collaborate with others, and communicate their thinking and learning.
  • Inquiry/Content Task: Many of the Exemplars tasks may be used to enrich units of study by adding more inquiry-based learning. They are also designed to help students deepen their conceptual understanding. For example, the 3-5 investigation, “Learning About Electricity, Part 2: How Many Electrical Circuits Can You Make?” engages students with concepts of parallel and series circuits and helps them to understand and demonstrate the difference. It also provides an opportunity for students to practice inquiry skills such as observation, designing and testing ideas, gathering data and communicating explanations and solutions. Many Exemplars science tasks are effective for teaching and practicing the skills of science and engineering.
  • Formative Assessment: Formative assessments happen throughout a unit. They can be very intentional as a means to gather information about what your students know and are able to do at different points. They can also be very informal check-ins to see what instructional modifications or changes need to be made to help students with certain concepts and skills. An example of a formative assessment in a unit on electricity might include the task, “Can You Get Two Light Bulbs to Light?” In this setting, this 3-5 task may be used to check on students’ understanding of circuits and how they work. Most Exemplars tasks can be used for formative assessment purposes.
  • Cumulative Assessment: Cumulative assessments are an important part of classroom assessment. They not only ask students to demonstrate conceptual understanding but serve as real-world opportunity for them to apply that understanding. Exemplars performance tasks are designed to be real-world applications of knowledge and skills. The 3-5 investigation “Can You Wire a House?” may be used at the end of the unit to assess students’ understanding of the concepts and their ability to communicate their understanding. It also asks students to apply their understanding to solve a problem and design a possible solution.

These are just a few suggestions for getting started with Exemplars Science. There is no right or wrong way to begin. The important thing is to begin. Have fun with it! Our tasks are teacher- and student-tested and approved. We are also here to help you and your school as you implement Exemplars into your teaching and to support you as you go.

Why Science Standards?

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

By Tracy Lavallee, 4th Grade Teacher and Exemplars Science Consultant

In 1985, the American Association for the Advancement of Science brought a group of scientists and educators together and created AAAS-Project 2061, which asserted what basic understandings were needed to ensure a scientifically literate citizenry.

From these understandings, the NRC (National Research Council) Science Standards were born. The NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) then took these standards to the next level and included a more integrated, 3-dimensional approach, as well as one that focuses strongly on inquiry, mathematics, and engineering as part of that scientific literacy.

Why is this important? Why do our students need to be scientifically literate citizens? The answer is obvious. If our children understand the why and the how of science, technology, and engineering, they are better able to make informed decisions as part of a democratic society. In order for students to do this, they must regularly engage with, investigate, and explain scientific phenomena.

Science education has long taken a back seat in schools across the country. The focus on math and literacy has forced many elementary schools and teachers to consider science education as optional, and only if there was time. It is very often a hit-or-miss opportunity for our students. It hasn’t been a priority in our schools for a long time. First AAAS and NRC, and now NGSS, are trying to change that.

The standards are not a curriculum. They are a scope and sequence of what our students should know and be able to do. They include not only the what, but the how. They also integrate reading, writing, and math and so much more. They connect concepts and allow students to explore these connections more deeply. They can become the heart and soul of what and how we teach.

Schools and teachers have the ability to bring this into their classrooms and to their students. It isn’t an add-on, but rather a way to enhance and enrich your students’ learning in new and significant ways. Science is all around us. It is a part of our everyday lives. Students are naturally curious and want to understand how the world works.

More than 20 years ago, Exemplars, a well-known name in math performance tasks, believed that science should be brought off the back burner. It started Exemplars Science, which was aligned to the NRC. Exemplars developed performance tasks to help teachers implement and assess these science standards. Over the years, the number of tasks has grown to include all strands of science as well as engineering. Like Exemplars Math, these tasks are teacher-developed and student-tested.

Exemplars recently edited and aligned its performance tasks with the NGSS as a way to help teachers navigate these new and perhaps unfamiliar standards. The posts in this blog series will be a way for us to help you navigate and implement the standards and Exemplars Science in your classroom.

Why science standards? Because, now more than ever, we need scientifically literate students. And because now you have Exemplars Science to help you bring these standards to life in your classroom and to inspire our future generation of citizens.

Time for Science

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

By Tracy Lavallee, 4th Grade Teacher and Exemplars Science Consultant

Time. It seems we never have enough time. Not enough time to teach everything we need to teach. And science is usually the subject most affected by this lack of time.

It is easy to put it off and focus on other important things like math and literacy. But in doing so, we are doing a great disservice to our students.

Science education offers a multitude of opportunities for rich, engaging, and interdisciplinary learning. Science is the way of understanding the world in which our students live and scientific literacy is more important now than ever. Science opens up new ways of exploring, investigating, thinking, and explaining. It is hands-on and minds-on. The benefits of science are many: engagement, wonder, curiosity, enthusiasm, excitement, asking questions, solving problems, teamwork, and a desire to learn more. But, how do we find the time for this?

It involves getting creative with time and making the time for science. It involves a shift in our perception from seeing science as an extra, an add-on, to recognizing it is an important and integral part of our instructional program.

How Do We Find the Time?

Simple. We make the time. We think about the big picture of learning. We think about big concepts, big skills, and big ideas. Where does science fit in? Everywhere!

Are you teaching claims and evidence? Making models? Collecting and interpreting data? Doing a reading unit on weather or other non-fiction topics? Practicing writing procedures, opinions or non-fiction? Studying the history of inventions, the gold rush, or current events? The possibilities are endless for ways to integrate science into what we currently are teaching.

If we think about the habits of mind in science – perseverance, communication, questioning, curiosity, openness to new ideas, creativity, reasoning, logic, collaboration, and innovation to name a few – these are truly habits of mind we want our students to develop in all subjects and in life. Science fosters these naturally in our students and enables them to bring these habits of mind into all they do learn and experience.

NGSS can help us find the time. Each performance expectation has key integration components with the Common Core ELA and Math standards.

Exemplars Science can help too. Each science task has interdisciplinary links to social studies, language arts, mathematics, technology, outdoor learning and even music and movement!

Once you find the time, try taking it one step further. Try having science as your main theme, and integrate the rest of your instructional program into that theme. Not only does this help with time, but it allows students to see the inherent connections between all subjects and all things. Exemplars can help you do that as well.

Science doesn’t have to be a separate subject to be fit in when there are a few spare minutes. It can be the heart and soul of our instructional program. As teachers, it is within our power to engage students with all the wonders and phenomena of our natural world. We just have to make the time.

How Can Exemplars Support Best Practices in Science?

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

By Tracy Lavallee, 4th Grade Teacher and Exemplars Science Consultant

Long gone are the days of the stand and deliver as an effective way to teach. Science instruction is now more about sense-making than memorization.

Science is no longer a fixed set of facts and information to be memorized, but rather a way to experience and understand how our world works through a more open-ended and student-centered approach. It is no longer lab experiments with one correct answer, but rather an inquiry-based approach to designing and conducting investigations to answer students’ own questions about science concepts.

Science today helps students build on prior experiences and guides them through experiential opportunities that allow them to construct a deeper understanding of science concepts and to authentically use the skills of science. Science pedagogy has changed in many meaningful and important ways. Best practices in science have been around now for a while. But what are those best practices and how can Exemplars support them in the classroom?

What are Best Practices in the Science Classroom?

Best practices in science can best be defined as students thinking, doing, talking and collaborating about science. The effective science classroom is learner-, knowledge-, assessment-, and community-centered.

  • It means taking students from where they are with their prior knowledge and developing and guiding them to a deeper conceptual understanding.
  • It means engaging students with real-world ideas and problems and allowing them to grapple with and construct genuine meaning.
  • It means opportunities for rich discourse with others and to be reflective about how their preconceptions and misconceptions have changed.
  •  It means seeing science as dynamic and interconnected.

According to NSTA’s, Designing Effective Science Instruction: What Works in Science Classrooms,  (Anne Tweed, 2009) best practices mean that teachers should:

  •  Assess for prior student understanding of the science concepts.
  • Actively involve students in the learning process.
  • Help students be more metacognitive so that they can acknowledge the science concepts they understand, the goals for their learning, and the criteria for determining achievement of the learning goals.
  • Ensure that learning is interactive and include effective classroom discussions.

The Changing Role of Assessment

One of the most important aspects of effective instruction is the changing role of assessment. Assessment should be ongoing and shared with students. It is both formative for instruction and cumulative to assess student learning.

Formative assessment provides a way for teachers to focus instruction on what and how students are learning. Incorporating formative assessments as part of instruction results in creating an environment focused on learning for all.

Formative assessment is a process, one in which information about student learning is gathered and then used to modify teaching and learning activities to best meet the needs and interests of students. It also means involving students in the assessment process and helping them to be more reflective and engaged in their own learning.

Exemplars Supports Best Practices

Exemplars Science is a standards-based assessment program. It is designed to help teachers use formative and cumulative assessments in their classrooms in a more focused and intentional way. It offers teachers opportunities to assess students’ learning throughout a unit of study and engages students in their learning and assessment with performance-based tasks and rubrics.

Exemplars tasks are created by teachers and utilize the 5E model (Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, and Evaluation) for instruction and assessment. The tasks are aligned with both NRC and NGSS standards. They are hands-on and open-ended allowing students to construct and explain their understanding of concepts while using the skills of scientists and engineers. Exemplars can help teachers design and facilitate effective science instruction and assessment. Using Exemplars Science in the classroom is best practice.

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