Using BioInteractive Resources for Formative and Summative Assessments
Many of my ninth grade biology students come from middle school believing that they are content-area experts and that they can show their expertise through simple multiple choice exams they study for the night before.
In an effort to move my students away from equating mastery of multiple choice questions with scientific expertise, I made a concerted effort to get them more actively engaged in their learning by using more formative assessments and fewer traditional summative assessments. I found that resources from HHMI BioInteractive worked quite well as both formative and summative assessments.
We began our molecular genetics unit by reading the 1953 Nature article from Watson and Crick to build background knowledge and practice critical reading skills. We then viewed the short film The Double Helix and worked on the “Student Quiz” in table groups as we watched. I used the suggested pause points as described in the “In-Depth Film Guide” to help my students focus.
Through discussion of the quiz and answers and our unit objectives, students, working in table groups, generated a list of topics and concepts they needed to understand in the unit. First, they felt they needed a review of DNA structure: bases, backbone, and bonding patterns. They weren’t confident about the two groups of bases. Additionally, their understanding of DNA replication was limited.
I then used the “Teacher Guide: DNA” to select video shorts and animations that would support my students’ understanding and linked them on our class’s Google Classroom for my students to access. My students used these resources as they completed a DNA replication poster project. The assignment had students not only arranging nitrogenous bases to show pairing but also diagramming the process of replication, including the major enzymes involved.
As we studied DNA structure, function, and replication, I used the “Pulse-Chase Primer: The Meselson-Stahl Experiment” as a summative assessment. I asked my students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of DNA’s structure as they worked in pairs to compare and contrast three models of DNA replication; I then assessed their understanding based on their ability to explain the results of the Meselson-Stahl experiment. Each student in a pair wrote their explanations individually but could rely on their partner to help clarify questions.
The end of our unit on genetics provided an additional place to make changes to our assessment strategies. I was seeking a way to push my students into applying their knowledge of genetics and get them thinking on an evolutionary scale. I used the short film The Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection in Humans and the associated activity, “Mendelian Genetics, Probability, Pedigree, and Chi-Square Statistics” as a summative assessment. In the class leading up to the assessment, we watched the short film and reviewed genetics concepts they had been learning.
Over most of two class periods, each table group member focused on completing and sharing one section of the activity. Each section of the activity was then reviewed by the entire table group, and a final draft was submitted for assessment.
This type of summative assessment brought several changes to the more common, high-anxiety testing environment. I noticed immediately that the levels of effort and engagement were high for all of my students. Even my most reluctant students were willing to participate in the activity. There wasn’t an opportunity for a student to just record their answers and turn in their test. While walking around the room, I listened to groups connecting phenotypes to genotypes based on pedigrees. I heard them explaining Mendelian inheritance patterns based on what they saw in pedigrees. The interconnectedness of the chi-square analysis in the exercise pushed my students to evaluate the mathematical validity of their work. Throughout the assessment, my students’ work was focused and driven, and I heard them holding each other accountable for understanding the course material.
As I assessed their work, I noted that student explanations were more complete compared to explanations past students had provided on a test question about similar topics. This was true for all of my students. Having them apply their knowledge to a novel situation seems to have been a more accurate measure of their understanding, and working in teams helped support the learning of all students. Rather than telling each other exactly what to write, students gave each other honest feedback about the merits and areas for improvement in each other’s answers.
And when I asked for feedback from my students about the process, the most common response was that they were more confident in their ability to apply their understanding because the assessment “was just like what we had done in class,” meaning that they had to synthesize knowledge from activities they’d already completed. They found working in teams initially intimidating and frustrating, but in the end, most found it rewarding because they “got to talk about their answers.”
Using the engaging and relevant BioInteractive resources as both formative and summative assessments helped me guide my students’ understanding and allowed me to measure their understanding by asking them to apply what they’ve been learning in class.
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Chris Hedeen is a high school biology and geology teacher living along the Clackamas River near Oregon City, Oregon. He enjoys challenging students to approach their learning in new and inventive ways and helping them to become lifelong learners. He spends most of his time away from school hiking, fly fishing, gardening, and learning with his family.
Kenyatta McKie describes how she uses The Biology of Skin Color short film to allow students to think of their own hypothesis on how skin color evolved.
Helen Snodgrass describes how she uses BioInteractive's The Biology of Skin Color film and "Evidence for Selection" activity to show students how humans have evolved over time.