Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Nip it in the Bud" Using Formative E-Assessment

I remember growing up and listening to my grandmother proclaim to my father, "Eugene, that is a bad habit, we need to nip it in the bud, before it gets really bad."  The saying, "Nip it in the Bud", comes from plant origins, whereby gardeners would pull off buds of plants to prevent them from growing any bigger.  According to, if you nip something in the bud, you stop a problem from becoming serious by dealing with it as soon as you notice it. 

In education, this could translate into using formative assessment to diagnose student problems before they write a unit test, midterm or final exam.  One of the promising practices in using formative e-assessment, is that it will give you rich assessment data in a timely manner before errors fossilize.  Many top performing schools use common formative assessment on a frequent basis. Then, they analyze these results, make adjustments to their teaching, and re-teach individual students before the student takes any kind of summative assessment.  
At my current school, we embarked on a study to see if using formative e-assessment would help raise student achievement in grade 9 science.  Two grade 9 science teachers developed over 1000 multiple choice type questions and used Moodle to deliver these question to grade 9 science students in the form of practice tests (self assessments).  Students were encouraged to take the self assessments as many times as they liked.  Each time the student submitted the self assessment, the computer would score their attempt.  Rich feedback would be available to students at the bottom of each question to act as extra information to further enhance learning, as indicated by the red font in the picture below.

Has using formative e-assessment raised achievement in grade 9 science?  Action research in the field of education is always challenging because there are so many factors that could attribute to a rise in student achievement beyond the strategy you employed.  That said, our end of year exam results over the last three  years have shown promising signs that may lead to a conclusion that formative e-assessment is helping our grade 9 science students achieve mastery.  The graph below shows what percentage of students achieved a score of 85% or higher(standard of excellence) on the end of year exam.  There is a remarkable trend in the last 3 years of the graph, which were the years we employed formative e-assessment.  

Electronic assessment has gained considerable criticism over the years.  Some claim that multiple choice questions are a poor way to assess learning.  I would agree with this claim, if it was the only way we assess students.  It is important to note that our school did not abandon other forms of assessment.  We continue to use portfolios, projects and a variety of assessment practices to ensure students are given an opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a plethora of modalities.  Our formative e-assessment project is giving students and teachers the opportunity to understand what students know, what they do not know, and is affording them the opportunity to take actions to fill in the gap in a timely manner.  We are finding that formative e-assessment is promoting student responsibility and building student self efficacy.  This low-risk approach to formative assessment in Moodle is enabling students to build self confidence.   Students do not engage in activities they believe will lead to negative outcomes.  With the help of formative e-assessments, students are engaged in their learning and more motivated to seek help and review material, because they are encouraged to make multiple attempts at constructing knowledge.

If your school is implementing a similar strategy, or considering employing this type of assessment, I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Building a PLN around Science Experiments on Twitter

Twitter has become an amazing platform for teachers to share and connect with other educators around the world.  When I first joined just over a year ago, I was apprehensive about what to tweet about.  However, with a year under my belt, I am starting to find a niche in regards to what to share.

As a science teacher, it is essential to offer an interactive hands-on experience.  Allowing students to inquire and solve problems is fundamental to a strong science education.  This year, as students embark on a science experiment or tackle a science problem, I have my iPhone handy to capture a picture (without student faces) of what they are doing and post it on twitter to share and solicit ideas from other science teachers around the world.  Here is a sample of some of those tweets:

Sharing my Tweets with others about science experiments we are doing has provided me with many benefits.

1.  Fostering Communication Beyond 140 Characters -  I have often received comments, words of encouragement, questions and ideas from other science teachers regarding how the experiment was conducted, what we used for materials, alternate ways to conduct the experiment  and what we collected for results.  This has opened the door for rich meaningful communication.  In the next few months, I am hoping to connect with another class in USA to do a joint experiment, Skype about our results, discuss conclusions and debate suggestions for improvement to the experimental design. 

2.  Soliciting Global Feedback Lab Reports-  On occasion, I have tweeted a scanned copy of a student lab report (with the name removed) and asked for advice and feedback on how the hypothesis or conclusion might be assessed or improved.  This has been powerful feedback for to align my assessment skills.

3. Expanding my Idea Bank of Experiments- Many of the experiments and labs that I do in class come from ideas in the teacher resource manual and textbook I have used for many years.  However, since I have been tweeting about some of the experiments I do, I have had other science teachers reciprocate ideas of other labs they do, which has helped me quickly build my repertoire of possible labs.

So, what are my next steps from here?  I know twitter uses hashtags (#) to allow users to post tweets on certain topics.  For example, #edchat and #edtech are very popular twitter hashtags for educators.  I wonder if one could be started for posting anything related to science experiments?  The next time I post a photo about what we are doing for a science experiment or a student lab report I will use this hashtag #sciexperiments in hopes to start a growing trend for science teachers to collaborate on the scientific method.