Understanding Check 1

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Students will be assessed for their understanding of basic logical and mathematical skills required for studying physics.

Big Idea

Formative assessments help communicate students' thought processes to teachers.


During the first few weeks of school the number of students on my roster is fluid. It can change based on enrollment needs and student transfers into our school. With this in mind, I offer an understanding check to assess how many students are proficient in basic physic skills. These skills included graphing, explaining the scientific method, deriving a mathematical expression from graphical data and solving a real-world problem based on Archimedes' principle. I use this understanding check to assess the starting point for each student's analysis skills. 

The goal of this lesson is to assess student understanding of basic physics skills like an understanding of the scientific method, generating an expression for a physical quantity based on graphical data and predicting the behavior of an object based on the forces acting upon it. This lesson addresses the HSN-RN.A.2, and HSF-IF.C.7a standards as a way to evaluate student current progress toward proficiency in basic physics concepts and mathematical reasoning. This lesson also addresses the Practices of Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Engaging in Argument from Evidence and by asking students to use mathematical reasoning to create expressions for the relationships between independent and dependent variables as well as to explain if a ball will float or sink in water according to Archimedes' principle. 

Think Out Loud

10 minutes

During this section of the lesson, I ask students to write three physics concepts from this unit that they are struggling with in their notebooks. Student rank their challenges from most challenging to least challenging concepts. Students then discuss their challenges with their table mates. The team of four students then think out loud and discusses each topic with their table mates. Student responses include "Graphing Data", "Identifying variables" and "Archimedes' principle".

I want this understanding check to be reflective of the skills which students are competent in thus far in the semester because I want to assess how well students internalize the information from class. I grade each problem on the assessment using a five-point scale that ranges from a "Not Yet" to "Highly Proficient".  I assess student work as advanced beginner work if the work is incomplete or lacks mathematical reasoning. I assess student work as proficient if solutions are clearly written and include the correct steps and annotations. After I grade the understanding checks, I cycle back and reteach any concepts that less than 85% of the class show competency in because I want to ensure that their lack of understanding is not compounded by my teaching style or any other external force.

Because this lesson is shorter than most of my lessons (it is a half day schedule), I have a short question and answer session where students can write down questions on sticky notes they would like to ask me that are related to the understanding check; they adhere their notes to the interactive whiteboard.

Understanding Check

30 minutes

Within this section of the lesson, students complete an assessment of their basic physics skills. After I distribute the understanding checks, students sit at tables with dividers and take the assessment individually. The only tools students may use during the assessment are a writing utensil and a scientific calculator. After 30 minutes pass, I collect the assessments to grade and return at the end of the week. 

The first and fifth problem on this Understanding Check relate to labs and challenge problems from the first week of school; several of the students who are new to my roster missed these activities, but I still want to give them the opportunity to demonstrate their proficiency. I also want to give students who have completed the labs and challenge problems a chance to show growth in understanding.  I include a student response that shows proficiency in applying the G.I.R.L.S. protocol from a previous lesson to an Archimedes' principle problem. I choose this example of Student Work on Archimedes Principle because this student is able to identify the variables in each relationship that is given, composes a goal statement for the unknown in the problem and uses complete sentences that incorporates the evidence to support his claim that the ball would indeed float if its weight was offset by the weight of the displaced water (the buoyant force of the water).

Each problem on the assessment corresponds to a standard, which I grade on a five point scale from a "Not Yet" to "Highly Proficient". For example, when I assess problems with graphs, I check that students include an informative title, label each axis with appropriate names and units and use a scale that maximizes the graph area. I assess student solutions that correctly identify the independent and dependent variables, have a title and axes labels and a mathematical model for the line of best fit to the data as being highly proficient. On the other hand, I assess student solutions where the independent and dependent variables are incorrectly labeled or the axes are flipped with the "Not Yet" designation.


5 minutes

After 45 minutes have elapsed, I collect the understanding checks and ask students to check our class Edmodo wall for a reading assignment. I grade the understanding checks and record student performance in our digital grade book. I reteach any concept that less than 80% of the class is unable to demonstrate proficiency on during the understanding check. I also create short videos to post on our class Edmodo wall that explain concepts that students struggle with during the assessment. I ask students to read the first chapter of our openStax textbook which is about the nature of physics including quantities, accuracy, precision and units of measurement. I want students to build a conceptual understanding of physics. I use this text because it is an introductory college physics textbook that shows connections between physics models.