Sarah Evans, Philip Bell, Abby Rhinehart
Applied Science, Engineering, Education, Life Science, Physical Science
Material Type:
Graduate / Professional
  • Assessment
  • Equity
  • K-12 Science
  • Science Education
  • wa-pd
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
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    ACESSE Resource C - Making Science Instruction Compelling for All Students

    ACESSE Resource C - Making Science Instruction Compelling for All Students


    How can science instruction be meaningfullyconnected to the out-of-school lives of students? In this professional development, we will consider how to design formative assessments that build on learners’ interest and knowledge, promoting equity and social justice in the process. The material for this resource comes from a series of PD sessions on formative assessment originally developed by Philip Bell and Shelley Stromholt.

    We will be updating this Facilitator's Guide for ACESSE Resource C with the most up to date information about this resource over time. If you encounter problesm with this resources, you can contact us at

    This resource was refined through a 13-state collaboration to make the resource more broadly useful. If you choose to adapt these materials, please attribute the source and that it was work funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).


    In this workshop, we will consider how to design formative assessments that build on learners’ interest and knowledge, promoting equity and social justice in the process. The material for this resource comes from a series of PD sessions on formative assessment originally developed by Philip Bell and Shelley Stromholt.

    [estimated time: 1 min]


    BACKGROUND: To download this resource as a PowerPoint file, please see the Resource Library on the right side of this screen. There you will also find a link to a Facilitator’s Guide for this resource (

    This resource was refined through a 13-state collaboration to make the resource more broadly useful. If you choose to adapt these materials, please attribute the source and that it was work funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    Slide 1

    Students learn science best...

    The NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education and the resulting Next Generation Science Standards include a signature focus on using inclusive instructional approaches to engage students in integrated three-dimensional science learning. This necessitates building teacher capacity for new approaches to cognitive and cultural formative assessment (two concepts which will be defined later in the presentation).

    Today we will be exploring how to meaningfully “overlap” science instruction with the lives of students. A recent ACESSE survey has shown that many teachers want to know how to connect science instruction to the out-of-school lives of youth. This session will give concrete strategies to do this.

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 2

    Overview of the Session Goals

    There are three goals for this session… ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 3

    Educational Inequities Persist

    Educational equity and social justice are a central part of the Framework vision, but there is a tendency for them “slide off the table” when people sink into implementation work. We are going to work to stay focused on important dimensions of equity as we do this work.

    ((READ SLIDE & highlight some different “lived experiences” that matter locally. Optional activity: debrief local educational inequities with the participants and relate them to possible / actual ways to respond.))

    [estimated time: 2-4 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 4

    Dimensions of Equitable Science Instruction

    This is the table of contents of the Equity chapter in the NRC Framework. All of these dimensions are relevant to formative assessment, in general.

    [estimated time: 30 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 5

    Dimensions Specifically Relevant to Cultural Formative Assessment

    Here are the dimensions specifically relevant to cultural formative assessment.

    “Equalizing opportunity to learn” can include ensuring that time is spent on meaningful learning of science, that students have physical materials and experiences needed to support their learning, and that teachers are supported and prepared to engage students in sustained science learning.

    Importantly, the Framework highlights research-based ideas about inclusive science instruction that should be routinely used to engage learners in science learning. This also includes highlighting the cultural dimensions of science learning—how people make sense of the natural world in relation to the communities of which they are members. It also focuses on building on prior interest and identity and community sources, or funds, of knowledge.

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 6

    Science Learning Happens Across Settings

    To build on interest and identity, we need to take into account all of the places where learning happens, across students’ lives.

    In addition to school, this includes the places other than school where important science learning happens.

    ((READ the four categories on the slide))

    All significant learning is supported by multiple institutions. Different environments support different, related forms of science learning. Helping learners coordinate their learning across settings is a core equity strategy.

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 7

    "All science learning can be understood as a cultural accomplishment"

    We all make sense of the world—and the universe actually—based on the history of our participation in specific communities. Communities engage in certain endeavors and not others, use specific values, and engage in specific thinking and making practices based on their history and their goals. These are our cultural communities. Working from this perspective, the Framework concludes that…

    ((READ QUOTE))

    Children and adults around the world explore their surroundings and converse about the seeming causes and consequences of the phenomena they observe, but they are raised in environments with varied exposures to activities that relate to different science and engineering domains (e.g., fishing, farming, computing). Research on science learning from a cultural perspective has been expanding over the past 20 years.

    Having the cultural perspective in play in science education helps move beyond more traditional, pervasive perspectives that ignore cultural variation and history. A cultural perspective brings the particulars of communities into focus. A cultural view is simultaneously rooted in a community’s history, current experiences, and future interests and possibilities.

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 8

    What does "culture" mean?

    ((READ SLIDE. Go slowly as this is likely new content for most people.))

    ((Describe a relevant example of the last bullet youth from non-dominant communities. One possibility: “When thinking about ELL students, we often focus on their difficulties producing spoken or written English rather than highlighting their increased executive functioning, their sophisticated interactional strategies for making sense of situations, and their diverse life experiences.))

    [estimated time 3-4 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 9

    Activity: Cultural Communities

    To sink further into a shared understanding of “culture” here is a definition from the Handbook of the Learning Sciences. We will relate this to the cultural communities we participate in.

    ((READ QUOTE. After doing so, give examples of the different dimensions of cultural life for one community many might be familiar with.))

    ((Engage the group in the activity shown.))

    [estimated time 5-7 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 10

    Optional Activity: Self-Documenting Our Cultures

    OPTIONAL ACTIVITY & SLIDE – do this OR the activity shown on the previous slide

    ((If you asked some or all participants to engage in the self-documentation of their areas of developing expertise, have those individuals share the images and descriptions they brought to the session. You may want to preview them before the session. People tend to bring pictures of their past and present hobbies, their previous occupations, and community activities they engage in. As people share their areas of expertise, ask them to highlight the cultural groups associated with using or developing that expertise. Some cultural groups may be from their past or online. People engage in specific social practices to develop and apply expertise.))

    (( Instructions for this pre-workshop activity are in the Facilitator’s Guide for this resource: ))

    [estimated time 5-7 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 11

    Activity: Science and Engineering Practices + Cultural Practices

    ((Read the first point))

    This is especially true now that the educational vision of the NRC Framework is centrally framed around the cultural practices of science and engineering.

    Science includes different sub-cultures. You may be an expert or developing expert in laboratory practice or computational practice or communication practice.

    ((READ QUOTE and set up the activity.))

    [estimated time 5 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 12

    Cultural Experiences Leveraged


    For example, the literature on science learning within Native American communities show that children often get brought into close observation skills that can be leveraged in science learning. Youth from agricultural communities often bring significant knowledge about plants and ecosystems that can be leveraged.

    So, based on their cultural experiences, students develop conceptual knowledge, repertoires of practice, and complex cognitive skills—which can be leveraged in instruction.

    [estimated time 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 13

    What does "culture" mean in science education?

    So, what cultural specifics might be relevant to science instruction?

    ((READ first set of bullets))

    Some examples of the ways this shows up in the world are: varied forms of question-asking, arguing, representing, narrating, and explaining as well as varied orientations to the natural and social world.

    [estimated time 3 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 14

    Educational Implications of Culture


    ((CONSIDER SAYING this additional quote from the Framework…))

    “Teachers pursuing a culturally responsive approach to instruction will need to understand the sense-making practices of particular communities, the science-related values that reside in them, and the historical relationship that exists between the community and local institutions of education.”

    ((Describe the activity to the group. Share an example based on your previous experience. Engage the group in discussion.))

    [estimated time 6-8 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 15

    Known Pitfalls When Taking Up Culturally Relevant Instruction

    There are some known pitfalls when engaging in culturally relevant instruction.

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 16

    The Role of Formative Assessments in the Classroom

    Now that we have a sense that all science learning is a cultural accomplishment, let’s briefly remind ourselves about the role of formative assessments in the classroom…

    [estimated time: 15 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 17

    Formative Assessment

    This is the definition for formative assessment we will use today to guide our work. This comes from an effort initiated by CCSSO (Council of Chief State Science Officers).

    ((READ QUOTE))

    Note how broad this definition is. It goes beyond written assessments to include conversations with students, and it highlights how students engage meaningfully in the process.

    [estimated time: 30 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 18

    The Role of Formative Assessment

    ((READ SLIDE))

    This is a scientific conclusion from the cognitive sciences about the role of feedback in learning science.

    Formative assessment is just the formal name we use in education for diagnostic feedback in social learning arrangements.

    [estimated time: 30 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 19

    The Formative Assessment Process

    The Formative Assessment process can be understood as involving four steps.

    [estimated time: 30 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 20

    Cultural Formative Assessment to Support Equity & Social Justice

    There are important roles for what we will call “cultural formative assessments” in advancing equity and social justice goals. For example, instruction can help students use science to help solve the problems in their community—or to society at large.

    ((READ guiding questions on the slide))

    Name specific groups of concern within the region or state for the audience to think about.

    ((Direct the room to engage in the small group discussion. Debrief.))

    [estimated time: 5-7 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 21

    Four Kinds of Formative Assessment

    It is important to realize that there are different kinds of formative assessment interventions—and that some are more focused on the learning and teaching of science than others. We are going to quickly review four major kinds, then focus on the one most relevant to our purposes in this session…

    [estimated time: 15 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 22

    Assessment for Learning

    This URL goes to a 6-page brief, which summarizes a “Handbook of Research on Teaching” chapter on what we know about different models of formative assessment interventions. The conclusions are based on a systematic review of research on formative assessment models implemented in the past 20 years.

    Each model is one that you've probably encountered in your school or district. Not all of them are effective, though, at improving science learning. We want to introduce them to you, so you can recognize the ones with the most potential.

    [estimated time: 30 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 23

    Different Formative Assessment Intervention Models

    The most prevalent one is Data-Driven Decision Making (DDDM). DDDM involves the use of end-of-year test score data and data from interim or benchmark assessments to improve learning. 

    You've likely seen the kind of graph shown here. It shows the form of data that often comes back to teachers to use for improvement. It shows who might be struggling in what domains. Notably, it does not include any student work or a sense of how students might be struggling. Nor does it include resources about what to do to help students who are struggling.

    It is worth noting that DDDM does NOT employ an explicit theory of student learning (e.g., behaviorist, cognitive, social). It is also worth noting that well-designed studies that have tested this intervention approach have not proven effective in improving student achievement outcomes as desired.

    A second popular approach is Strategy-Focused Formative Assessment. This is the approach presented by Black and William, who famously argued for the importance of formative assessment in improving student learning. It's called strategy focused, because the strategies promoted are ones that can work across different subject areas. In other words, they are not science-specific. It cannot specifically inform how science teaching should be guided.

    The next two models use discipline-specific theories of learning.

    [estimated time: 3min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 24

    Cognitive Formative Assessment

    The next two models use discipline-specific theories of learning.

    ((READ SLIDE))

    There are two prominent learning theories used to implement Cognitive Formative Assessment: Learning Progressions and Facets of Reasoning. These two are slightly different from one another, but both have some evidence that using them can improve student learning in science. A Learning Progressions approach emphasizes that student learning can build over time in a step-by-step fashion, as students' reasoning becomes more sophisticated. A Facets approach views student thinking in a more "piece-like" fashion, and views understanding as developing through encounters with lots of different types of phenomena and problems in a domain in a more bottom-up way. Understanding develops as students connect these different ideas to one another. 

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 25

    Cultural Formative Assessment

    The last model is the newest one—and it is the least prevalent in schools. It is also the one we’ll focus on further today. 

    ((READ SLIDE))

    The NRC Framework vision highlights the importance of having instruction build on prior interest and identity—suggesting that this is as important as building on prior cognitive understanding and knowledge. Cultural formative assessment can be used to do build on that prior knowledge—and to surface the funds of knowledge that reside in local communities related to science topics being taught. It helps make science instruction personally and culturally relevant.

    It includes strategies like finding out what students are interested in and what experiences they've had that might be relevant to choosing a focus for instruction. It also involves strategies of learning about students' identities in science: Do they see science as something that they could do in their future? Then, it involves using this data to adjust course in ways that promote greater linkages between students' everyday lives and classroom instruction, as the Framework calls for.

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 26

    Small Group Discussion

    ((READ SLIDE and set up small group reflection followed by whole room debrief))

    [estimated time: 3-5 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 27

    Cultural Formative Assessment Focused on Learning Interests & Experiences

    Now we will sink in to one model for cultural formative assessment called self-documentation.

    [estimated time: 15 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 28

    3D Learning is Powerful

    The 3D image of learning in the NRC Framework is based on research that shows the benefit of engaging students in making sense of natural phenomena through sustained investigations—and learning how to design solutions to science-related problems.

    [estimated time: 30 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 29

    We actually need 5D Learning!

    We want to stay focused issues of equity in science instruction. To do this, we need to consider not only the three dimensions of science learning, but also focus on interest and identity. Student interest and identity are mentioned in the Framework every time the three dimensions are deeply discussed—and they one of the five guiding principles of the vision. Cultural formative assessments take interest and identity into account in the shaping of instruction.

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 30


    Self-documentation is a general instructional strategy developed by learning scientists in the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) center to support culturally relevant instruction. It can be used to surface youth interests, identities, and aspects of their out-of-school lives.

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 31

    Building on Prior Interest & Identity

    This quote from the Framework summarizes the rationale… ((READ SLIDE and continue to next slide))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 32

    Building on Prior Interest & Identity

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 33

    Building on Prior Interest & Identity

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 34

    Self-Documentation as Cultural Formative Assessment

    Now we’ll focus on one example of cultural formative assessments: self-documentation or “self-doc.” This strategy is also outlined in STEM Teaching Tool #31.

    ((Stop and have participants read the resource))

    [estimated time: 5 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 35

    Overview of the Micros & Me Curriculum

    University of Washington researchers partnered with a 5th grade teacher to develop the self-doc activity as part of a project focused on the adaptation of a microbiology curriculum kit in a culturally, racially and ethnically diverse school in South Seattle. The goal was to provide an opportunity to surface the everyday practices of students, their families, and their communities, in relation to microbiology, and drive student-led investigations based on questions of interest to them.

    Here is the overview of what students did in the curriculum:

    ((briefly summarize slide at the top-level bullets; people can ask about the second-level of bullets))

    [2 min]

    Note: There is more detail given here than will likely be needed for this session- this is just to show where self-doc was situated in the greater flow of the curriculum and how it was leveraged to generate potential investigations. For example, it’s not necessary to know what a germ simulation is for this presentation.

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 36

    Surfacing cultural health practices through self-documentation

    Students were sent home with cameras and asked to document health practices in their community as a way to bridge the practices of science class and community activities. [Specific prompts and sample captions are on the next slide.]

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 37

    Making Out-of-School Practices and Interests Visible

    For each image, students identified what was in the picture, where the picture was taken, and what activity the picture explained. Additionally, students wrote about how they understood the activity in the picture to be related to staying healthy or getting well.

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 38

    Self-Doc in the Classroom

    Then, the teacher took all of these photos, sorted them and generated a list of community health practices and topics that involved microorganisms. This list became the source of possible investigations students would carry out to learn more about microorganisms in their community.

    Some of the investigations the class included:

    Microorganisms in the school (sampling and studying microorganisms)

    Beneficial micros (yeast fair test, yogurt making)

    Handwashing technique fair test

    Effectiveness of “green” cleaners fair test

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 39

    Activity: Student Self-Docs

    Now, we’ll take a look at this student data. On each table, we have a subset of student self-doc work.

    ((READ SLIDE, launch the activity, and after small group work debrief the three questions with the whole group))

    [estimated time: 10 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 40

    Designing Cultural Formative Assessments

    Now let’s do some thinking about designing and using cultural formative assessments in the classroom.

    [estimated time: 15 sec]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 41

    Different Ways Cultural Assessment Can Guide Instruction

    Cultural formative assessments can guide instruction in different ways.

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 42

    Suggested Formats for Cultural Assessment

    Here are four different, suggested formats for cultural formative assessment.

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 43

    Periodic Survey

    This is what the periodic survey approach looks like. This comes from the iHub project in Colorado.

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 44

    Using Student Interests to Select Phenomena

    The iHub partnership identified 8-10 candidate phenomena that provided adequate opportunities to meet a “bundle” of standards (performance expectations).

    They then conducted surveys of students to see which of these phenomena they were interested in and analyzed the responses to select a focus for the curriculum unit.

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 45

    Exit Tickets of Learner Engagement

    Here’s an exit ticket example of a cultural formative assessment. It was developed by the Institute for Science and Math Education at the University of Washington to gauge student interest and engagement in project-based curriculum units.

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 46

    Tracking Engagement Dynamics Through Weekly Exit Tickets

    This is a visualization of student interest and engagement over time using these exit tickets. Each point represents an aspect of engagement and the colored shapes represent a week of data– so we can see by looking at the size and the shape of the colored lines, how engagement grew or shrank, or shifted in any of the five aspects, over time. By analyzing this data, we can think about why week 1 was not as enjoyable to students as other weeks, why they seemed to sink in and lose track of time only on weeks 2 and 6, and why they were not as compelled by the narrative of the unit in weeks 3 and 4.

    [estimated time: 2 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 47

    Cultural Formative Assessment & Your Curriculum

    To wrap up the session, let’s think about how cultural formative assessment might relate to a specific piece of curriculum.

    ((READ SLIDE and continue to the next one))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 48

    Goal: Establishing a New Interest

    Are you wanting to help students establish a new science-related interest?

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 49

    Goal: Personally Relevant Instruction

    Are you wanting to make the instructional experience more personally relevant?

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 50

    Goal: Connecting to Cultural Sources or "Funds" of Knowledge

    Are you wanting to surface and leverage a cultural source or “fund” of knowledge in the local community?

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 51

    Goal: Relating Science to a Community Project

    Are you wanting to connect the science you are teaching to a community science-related project? Is there an engineering design project they might engage in that leverages their scientific understanding?

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 52

    Goal: Learning about Possible Futures

    Are you wanting to help students learn about how the science they are learning relate to futures they may want to explore?

    ((READ SLIDE))

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 53

    Discussion: Applying Cultural Formative Assessment

    ((READ FIRST SENTENCE and let the group keep exploring their thinking about a cultural formative assessment))

    ((READ rest of the slide; have the group report out some of their ideas and answer their questions))

    [estimated time: 3 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 54

    Design a Self-Doc Assessment Task

    Let’s draft and refine a cultural formative assessment. In terms of designing one, the specifics will depend a bit on the format chosen. Here are instructions for developing a custom self-documentation assessment task…

    ((READ FIRST BULLET and highlight the different purposes for using a self-doc assessment task along with the sample prompts.))

    ((Launch the groups in the design work outlined below.))

    [estimated time 8-10 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 55


    Let’s review. We’ve covered a fair amount of ground today about the cultural dimensions of science learning and how cultural formative assessment can guide instruction. Reflect and share one or two insights you have had about culture and science instruction with your elbow partner.

    [estimated time: 1 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 56

    Improving the Resource

    ((READ SLIDE and ask participants to complete the survey. Clarify that this is information for the ACESSE team to refine the activities—and not about you as the facilitator.))

    [estimated time: 3-5 min]

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 57

    Thank you! For more info...

    Here are some resources and contact information for the authors of this PD unit. They hope you have found it useful. They welcome any feedback or suggestions on how to improve it.

    [estimated time: 30 sec]

    ((This resource was refined through a 13-state collaboration to make the resource more broadly useful. If you choose to adapt these materials, please attribute the source and that it was work funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).))

    ACESSE Resource C Slide 58