One of the best things about Accelerate Learning—STEMscopes—and one of the reasons I enjoy working here—is that the company interacts a lot with its clients, the teachers and students. Each member of the Curriculum Development Team is a former classroom science teacher who deeply believes students learn best through engagement, exploration, and discussion. We work hard to design lessons that fit the model, and we love seeing good teaching happen. Recently, something occurred that speaks to the kind of teaching we love to see and also sheds some light on our development process.
A teacher who uses STEMscopes posted the following tweet on Twitter in reference to one of the assessment questions in our NGSS curriculum:
The first thing to note is that this is an excellent example of using social media successfully in the education arena. A teacher utilizing modern technology to involve the questions' creators as well as high-profile science educators in a discussion about science concepts reminds students that social media can be used for more than just posting pictures of appetizing meals. A large part of the scientific process involves collaborating with other to explore different points of view and build a clearer picture of concepts. We are very happy to see that one of our teacher users models this for his or her students, and we would love to take a peek inside that classroom. We wager this kind of teaching approach inspires students to actively explore and discuss their experiences as they build their understandings. We would also bet that a classroom discussion about this particular question prompted the Tweet.
This Tweet provides an opportunity to discuss some of the difficulties we have creating assessment questions. Anyone involved in education knows that multiple-choice questions are low level by design. The question writer does all the work and struggles to cover all the possibilities and variables, leaving the student to simply pick which one of the four formats in our products, such as CERs, open-ended-response questions, and writing responses. That said, we do understand that multiple-choice questions are convenient and sometimes necessary, so we are happy to provide them to our users.
This Tweeted question poses a significant challenges for students. Collision physics can be very complex, even without elements like friction. To arrive at an exact answer, you must use formulas that take into account the mass and velocity of the objects. In this case, the question is written in a way that assesses student understanding of the transfer of energy between colliding objects. However, it is a fourth grade-level standard that does not involve mathematical calculations that would be too complex for most fourth graders anyway. As curriculum and assessment creators, we are challenged with designing assessments that address and assess the standard, yet remain grade-level appropriate and scientifically accurate.
In this case, we missed the mark. Assuming a perfect elastic collision occurs in which the total energy of the system is conserved, the larger ball would keep rolling after the collision—at a slower speed—and the smaller ball would move faster than the original speed of the larger ball due to its lower mass. So, while answer A is the best available one, it is not scientifically accurate because the larger ball would continue moving.
This is an excellent example of the power of conversation and collaboration. Thanks to our users who value discussion a teacher used social media to initiate a conversation about a scientific issue. We will be making a correction to one of the questions in our curriculum as a result. This is the kind of thing that we at Accelerate Learning love to see and be a part of, and we look forward to more interaction like this with our teacher and students because we, too, are lifelong learners who love what we do.