Alternative Assessment in Science

An all too familiar cycle!

Every school has a discussion of the best ways to assess the knowledge of their students. The more we learn about standardized tests the more we learn that they are not always the best tool to judge if your students have truly absorbed the material. There are some amazing ways in science that teachers can alternatively assess their students without compromising the paper and pencil test. Science is a hands on subject that allows us to ask our students to use their knowledge in a hands on manner.

An all too familiar cycle!

An all too familiar cycle!

Here are some ways we can determine if our students are mastering material instead of traditional tests:


1) Lab Practicals

  • A lab practical doesn’t always have to be a lab “test”. A lab practical can mean a problem proposed to students they must solve using their knowledge. Inquiry can be a big part of this activity as we encourage our students to critically think out their problem using the scientific method. This is a step away from “programmed” labs that offer the students little opportunity to think on their feet.

2)  Technology Based Assessment

  • Podcasts can offer a window into the mind of a student. Ask them to create a video explaining their topic to their classmates. Be creative and allow their personality to take over as they use video to communicate.
  • Virtual labs and simulations can help students assess pieces of the course that your school’s budget can’t manage. If you want to simulate fly mating experiments or DNA technology – some piece of the curriculum that is unreachable – this form of assessment and learning can help you bridge many gaps.
  • Hand held classroom devices. These systems are expensive but worth their weight in gold. Each student can individually be assessed a little like a game show as they buzz in their answers. You get instant feedback on your laptop and can also see who’s paying attention and who really understands. This is also great when you have a student who needs a little more time to catch on or one that doesn’t like to be singled out. Everyone gets to participate 100% of the time.

3)  Science Fairs/Presentations

  • Students of every age can be asked to come up with an idea and test it. Science fairs are great ways to allow students to demonstrate their mastery of scientific thinking. The students can be restricted to topics that have been covered in the course for further assessment.

4) Field Trips

  • Students love them and we can use them to our advantage because kids love to get out into the open to learn. A well designed field trip can offer more assessment and application than 10 paper and pencil tests. The caveat is of course the amount of planning and organization that must be done.

As we move away from pure paper and pencil tests we can all benefit from having a few different forms of assessment in our grading systems in science. As the students migrate out of secondary school and into college they will be better served if we have taught them to think on their feet rather than to memorize facts.

Summer Professional Development for Teachers


Ahhhh….summer!!!  We get to work early, we make labs, stock chemical supply rooms and then go home to stay up half the night making better lessons and grading.  We’ve earned it!  So then why on Earth would we consider professional development?  In the end, professional development makes you a better teacher. It shows you new ways to teach and gives you more skills. Some professional development will open new doors or help you to teach a new course.



There are some things we can be doing before we hit the vacations this summer!

Here are some great professional development ideas!


NSTA Web Seminars

Benefits – never leaving your home to do professional development and cost effective.

A variety of topics and convenience.  A web seminar is a great way to add to your professional development in summer without traveling to do it. There are several courses and lots to learn.


AP Summer Institutes

If you are going to teach an AP course this year and you are new to teaching and advanced placement course this is a must do! You will not only teach better but you will learn the do’s and don’ts of teaching AP courses. The most important thing is you will hear from teachers who have been doing this. The hardest part of being new to an AP course is managing to fit all the material in. Let some veterans teach you how to do it.


American Museum of Natural History

There are also online courses available at the American Museum of Natural History. Topics like: Climate Change, Earth: Inside and Out, Genetics, Evolution and the Solar System are just a few of the many courses available. These courses can also count for graduate credit and/or continuing education credit.


The National Institutes of Health Professional Development

There are various locations and interesting workshops and summer programs for teachers in grades K through 12 to become involved in.


State and Local Opportunities

Every state and local schools/townships have a variety of opportunities for their teachers. The best way to find these is to go directly to your home state or local board of education