TExES Science 4-8 (116) Ultimate Guide and Practice Test
Preparing to take the TExES Science 4-8 exam?
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TExES Science 4-8 Quick Facts
The purpose of the TExES Science 4-8 (116) test is to ensure that examinees have the essential knowledge and skills to teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science to students in grades 4 through 8. This test will cover basic knowledge of lower-level science content, including physical and life sciences, earth and space sciences, and inquiry, process, and instructional practices.
There are 100 multiple choice questions to be taken over a span of 5 hours. Though the test is not divided into subtests, different amounts of the test are dedicated to each domain. Approximately 22% of the questions are dedicated to each of the first four domains, with the fifth domain garnering 13% of the questions. There may be some questions on the test that do not count toward your score. These pilot questions are included to gain data on how said questions perform under testing conditions for possible inclusion in scoring at a later date.
The standard fee for TExES exams is $116.
The score range will be between 100 and 300. A score of 240 or higher considered passing.
As recently as 2017, passing rates for the TExES Science 4-8 (116) exam were 61%, with an average score of 243 (source).
Avoid cramming just before the test. Schedule your review process to end one or two days ahead of your test date to eliminate the urge to cram. Learn about what will be on the exam well in advance, and assess your current level of knowledge over test content by taking a released exam before setting a study schedule. Identify your areas of weakness within the content matter and plan to spend more time reviewing those concepts than content you may have had access to more recently. Ideally, you should spend roughly three to four months studying ahead of the examination date. This will provide you with approximately three weeks to study each of the first four domains and two weeks to study the fifth domain. Make adjustments to spend more time in domains you do not perform as well on. To avoid burnout, break domains and standards into small chunks or groups to study each day. Include time in your study plan to familiarize yourself with the test format. This is best done by taking multiple practice exams. Taking multiple practice exams can also help you make adjustments in your study plan as needed. Be sure to adhere to testing environment rules when taking practice exams to ensure you are well prepared; try to find dates and times to take practice exams when you will have a full five hours available.
What test takers wish they’d known:
- For the TExES Science 4-8 (116) exam you will have access to a periodic table. An overview of the periodic table you are provided, as well as instructions on how to access it within the CAT software, can be found here.
- The test site is wheelchair-accessible, and all test takers have access to visual enhancement features (such as color contrast and enlarged font), comfort aids (complete list), and breaks (to use the restroom to take medications, to use an inhaler, etc.). Be aware that breaks do not stop the clock within your five-hour testing window.
- You will be able to go back to unanswered questions and/or change answers prior to submitting your test for scoring.
- You should try to arrive at the test site 15 to 30 minutes early with two forms of government-issued identification. Depending on your chosen test site, you may need to review the parking situation ahead of test day to avoid any unexpected in getting to your test site with ample time prior to the test start time. Be well prepared, keep an eye on the time during the test itself, and make use of testing strategies.
Information and screenshots obtained from Pearson.
Domain I: Scientific Inquiry and Processes
The Scientific Inquiry and Processes domain includes 22 questions. There are five competencies within this domain. Overarching concepts covered within these competencies include:
- Lab Safety
- Scientific Behavior
- Scientific Communication
- Effects of Science
- Unifying Framework
Let’s explore a few important specific topics that are likely to appear on the test.
Stay Safe in Labs
Lab safety is important to reduce risks and hazards within the science lab. Take time to familiarize yourself with basic guidelines for science labs, including:
- wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as closed-toed shoes, aprons, goggles, and gloves when necessary
- tying back long hair/clothing and removing dangling accessories like earrings
- keeping all objects and items away from the mouth, including food, drink, and writing utensils
- proper handwashing after removing gloves and before leaving the lab space
- never allowing experiments to be carried out without the instructor being present
- always informing the instructor in the incident of a spill or accident
- inspecting all lab equipment prior to beginning in order to avoid using cracked glassware or electric components with frayed wires
- proper etiquette and behavior within the lab, including keeping the lab bench clear of backpacks and other clutter, avoiding horseplay to avoid accidents, aiming heated test tubes away from other people, and wafting to detect smells
Common equipment found in a 4-8 classroom includes:
- areas for storing PPE (goggles cabinet, apron hooks)
- eyewash and safety showers (they may be combined or in separate areas of the room)
- pressurized nozzles on sinks
- first aid kits
- fire blankets
- (possibly) fume hoods
Take care to keep PPE clean and sanitized. Most goggles cabinets include timed UV sanitation and you should make use of this feature between labs. Eyewash and safety showers function to flush caustic materials off the skin and out of the eyes in the case of an emergency. Test them regularly to make sure they function properly ahead of accidents occurring. Pressurized nozzles on sinks are used in vacuum filtration setup, but should be fitted with hoses to avoid breaking glassware during cleaning. First aid kits and fire blankets should be used as needed in the case of an accident or emergency. In such cases they should be used while another person (teacher or student) notifies your campus nurse/officials. Fume hoods may or may not be present in your lab space and are designed to keep volatile gases from occupying air space within your classroom by funneling them through ducts to the exterior of the building.
The Metric System
The metric system was created for worldwide ease of use. The metric system is the international standard (SI) for measurements in science. The incorporation of base units combined with prefixes within base 10 to identify amounts makes it easy for multiples and factoring, which is useful in converting between units of the same measurement. For example, the prefix milli- always indicates 1000ths when compared to the base unit, so there are 1000 milliliters in 1 liter and 1000 milligrams in 1 gram. Likewise, the prefix kilo- means 1000s when compared to base, so 1000 meters equal 1 kilometer. By contrast, the customary system of inches, feet, yards, ounces, pounds, etc., does not conform to base ten, and as such it requires more memorization to recall that there are 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, 1760 yards to a mile, and so on.
Ethics and Science
As in most fields, ethics are defined within the purview of that field to identify rights and wrongs regarding our decision-making practices. Scientific advancements depend upon the reliability of previous research. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Scientific ethics exist to identify and discredit those who would cheat the system to gain fame or fortune through misrepresenting their work to the detriment of scientific understanding. One of the more famous examples of a scientist falsely purporting scientific discoveries was a man by the name of Charles Dawson in the late 1800s. Dawson made numerous discoveries of fossilized organisms, and to enhance his fame he usually named them after himself. His most memorable discovery was of what appeared to be humanoid remains that were billed as the missing link between humans and other great apes. Nearly 40 years after his death, it was discovered that Dawson’s humanoid discovery was an intricate fraud. Upon this realization, 38 more of Dawson’s discoveries were then reexamined and uncovered as fakes.
As teachers of science, it is our duty to instill in our students an understanding of good decision-making processes so as not to advance incorrect or harmful information. Teachers can promote the practice of scientific ethics by familiarizing themselves with how to identify verifiable resources and teaching these tools to their students. For example, websites ending in “.gov” and “.edu” are generally more credible sources of scientific information than those ending in “.com” or “.org” (depending on the organization).
Renewable vs. Nonrenewable
Renewable resources include solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, and biomass fuels harvested from organic waste. Nonrenewable resources include all fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, as well as nuclear power. Currently 84% of the world’s energy is generated from nonrenewable resources. As the number of humans increases along with their need for energy, the depletion of nonrenewable resources puts humans at risk of energy crises the world over. As a result, in recent years there has been a drive to advance and promote the use and development of renewable resources.
Form and Function
Sometimes expressed in the phrase “Structure dictates function,” the concept of form and function relates the physical structure of natural things to their purpose and the actions that they carry out within the system they belong to. For example, despite having similar skeletal structures, the forelimbs of various mammals will look vastly different according to the function that they serve in the animals’ life. Bats’ limbs are used for flight, whales’ limbs are used for propelling them through water, great apes’ limbs are used for grasping and holding, and elephants’ limbs have to bear a lot of weight. Likewise, in plants, leaf adaptations give us a view of structure and function. Spines provide protection, needles can withstand large masses of solid precipitation, tendrils coil and latch onto structures to provide stability, specialized leaves trap insects, and other leaves are designed for water and food storage.
And that’s some very basic information about the Scientific Inquiry and Processes domain.
Domain II: Physical Science
The Physical Science domain includes 22 questions. There are five competencies within this domain. Overarching concepts covered within these competencies include:
- Forces and Motion
- Chemical and Physical Properties and Changes
Let’s explore a few important specific topics that are likely to appear on the test.
Newton’s Second Law
Newton’s laws define and describe the forces acting on objects and include the law of inertia, the law of acceleration, and the law of action and reaction. At the heart of Newton’s laws is the law of acceleration, which says that acceleration is produced by force acting on a mass. Force is an action that can cause motion, mass is the amount of matter in an object, and acceleration is the rate of change in an object’s velocity. The more mass an object has, the greater inertia it has. Inertia is the tendency for the motion of an object to remain unchanged. If the object is in motion, it will stay in motion, and if it is at rest, it will stay at rest, unless a force acts upon the object to change this motion or lack thereof. When a force acts upon an object, there will be a reaction to that action.
In practical terms, this means that instructors should be familiar with how to calculate force (F), mass (m), and acceleration (a). The formula for F is F = m ∙ a and the SI unit for force is the newton, N, defined as the amount of force it takes to accelerate 1 kilogram at 1 meter per second squared (N = kg ∙ m/s²). Consider the following two examples:
A force of 40N causes an acceleration of 5 m/s2 on a cart. What is the mass of the cart?
F = m ∙ a F = 40N a = 5 m/s2
m = F ÷ a
m = 40N ÷ 5m/s²
m = 8kg
How great a force would be needed to accelerate a 60kg object at 20 m/s2?
F = m ∙ a m = 60kg a = 20 m/s2
F = 60kg ∙ 20m/s²
F = 1200N
Physical vs. Chemical Changes
A physical change is any change that does not lead to a new substance being produced, so that the identity of the substance stays the same. The best example is that of changes in states of matter, such as boiling water or melting ice. A chemical change is any change that does lead to a new substance being produced. A change in the identity of the substance takes place as chemical bonds between atoms are broken and/or formed.
There are four main observations that indicate that a chemical change has occurred: (1) production of a gas or observation of bubbles, (2) production of a solid or observation of a precipitate, (3) change in color, or (4) changes in temperature of the surroundings.
A classic example of a chemical change is the burning of wood: Gas is produced in the form of smoke, there is a change in temperature in the form of heat released, and there is a color change as wood turns to ash. Other observations that may indicate a chemical change has occurred include changes in smell (always waft!) and the production of light, with or without heat.
Mixtures vs. Solutions
All matter has mass and takes up space, which is also known as having volume. Matter can be divided into mixtures and pure substances. Pure substances can be further divided into compounds and elements: Compounds can be separated chemically, while elements cannot be separated chemically. Compounds are multiple atoms of more than one type of element forming bonds between atoms.
All mixtures can be physically separated through techniques like filtration and distillation. Mixtures can be further divided into homogeneous mixtures and heterogeneous mixtures. Homogeneous mixtures are those that are uniform throughout the sample, whereas heterogeneous mixtures are those that are not uniform throughout the sample. Another name for a homogeneous mixture is a solution: Every sample of a solution will have the same composition.
A sample of dirt would be an example of a heterogeneous mixture because no two samples will be exactly the same in composition. Lactated Ringer’s solution, used by medical personnel to restore electrolyte and fluid levels in patients, is an example of a homogeneous mixture, because every sample of lactated Ringer’s will have the same composition of water, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride, and sodium lactate.
Electric circuits are closed loops through which energy is conducted in the form of a flow of electrons. All electric currents have at minimum three parts: (1) a source of energy/electrons, (2) a conductive material, usually metal wire, and (3) a load, or a device that will be using the electrical energy as a power source. The flow of electrons is called a current. Voltage, sometimes referred to as electromotive force (EMF), is the force that pushes charges to move through circuit wires. Voltage can also be a measurement of the ratio of potential difference between two substances. A load device within a circuit creates resistance in the circuit; that is, it impedes the flow of electrons or current. Resistance is measured in ohms. When there is a low resistance connection, or “short,” within a circuit, this can sometimes lead to excessive flow of power through the short. Short circuits produce very high temperatures due to a high dissipation in the circuit and can cause damage in the form of exploding wires.
When working with electrical circuits, you must always take care to ground yourself and make sure there is no power flowing to the source before handling. Human bodies are highly conductive of electrical current and as such can short-circuit an electrical loop, potentially leading to damage to both the circuit and yourself. Always test electrical outlets with a multimeter to ensure that they are not drawing power. Never touch electrical components with wet hands. Use the back of your hand whenever possible, as the reaction to electrical charge is to flex your hand muscles, which can result in actively holding onto the electrical source in the case of accidental electrocution.
Endothermic vs. Exothermic
Exothermic chemical reactions are those that release energy in the form of heat or light. Releasing heat causes the surroundings to warm up. A common example of an exothermic chemical reaction is a non-electric hand warmer. Endothermic chemical reactions are those that absorb energy in the form of heat. Absorbing heat causes the surroundings to cool. A common example of an endothermic chemical reaction is chemical ice packs. Exothermic reactions in the form of combustion of hydrocarbons, or cellular respiration, are responsible in part for the homeostasis of body temperature in ectotherms.
And that’s some very basic information about the Physical Science domain.
Domain III: Life Science
The Life Science domain includes 22 questions. There are five competencies within this domain. Overarching concepts covered within these competencies include:
- Energy Flow
Let’s explore a few important specific topics that are likely to appear on the test.
Human Body Systems
DNA vs RNA
DNA is an acronym standing for deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is a double helix structure consisting of a sugar-phosphate backbone that connects up the middle like a ladder where nitrogenous bases through hydrogen bonds form the “rungs” of the ladder. The deoxyribo- part of the name for DNA refers to the sugar ribose that is missing oxygen in the form of replacing a hydroxyl group with a regular hydrogen atom. RNA is an acronym standing for ribonucleic acid. Like DNA, its structure also consists of a sugar-phosphate backbone; however, whereas the DNA structure is a double helix, the RNA structure is a single strand. The ribo- refers to the sugar ribose, with its complete complement of hydroxyl groups. Each unit combining a sugar, a phosphate, and a nitrogenous base is called a nucleotide, regardless of whether the reference is to DNA or RNA.
There are five nitrogenous bases found in nucleic acids. Nitrogenous bases can be either purines or pyrimidines. Purines include adenine (A) and guanine (G), while pyrimidines include cytosine (C), thymine (T), and uracil (U). Purines bond to pyrimidines through hydrogen bonds to form the rungs on the ladder of DNA’s double helix. Adenine (A) always bonds with thymine (T) and guanine (G) always bonds with cytosine (C). In RNA, uracil (U) replaces thymine (T).
DNA carries within it genes that code for specific proteins that lead to phenotypic expression within organisms. Every three nucleotides on a DNA strand are called a codon, and will match up to an anticodon within RNA. Expression of the DNA code is generally undertaken by transcription of the genetic code within the nucleus of a cell by RNA. Once RNA leaves the nucleus and enters the cytoplasm, ribosomes translate the code into amino acids that then fold further into proteins.
There are two major types of DNA mutations: point mutation and frameshift. Point mutations involve the substitution of just one nucleotide within the DNA code. Point mutations can have one of three results. Silent point mutations usually occur in the third nucleotide of a codon and are often harmless, as the first two nucleotides are generally more important in coding for amino acids. Missense point mutations occur often in the first or second nucleotide of a codon and can be harmless or harmful depending on the structure of the new amino acid being coded for. If the old amino acid and the new amino acid are similar enough in structure, there may be no real effect on the folding of protein moving forward. However, if there is a very large difference in structure between the old amino acid and the new amino acid, this may hamper folding of the protein moving forward, resulting in a malfunctioning protein. Nonsense point mutations are when a codon coding for an amino acid is changed into a stop codon that truncates the amino acid chain. In this instance, it is nearly always a harmful mutation, because the protein that was originally coded for cannot form in its entirety.
There are two types of frameshift mutations: deletion and insertion. As the name frameshift implies, an extra nucleotide is inserted or a nucleotide is deleted and the entire DNA code “shifts” over to accommodate the missing or extra nucleotide. Unless an entire codon is deleted or inserted this results in a completely different sequence of amino acids being coded for. The intended proteins cannot be built properly. Frameshift is nearly always a harmful mutation.
Homeostasis is the maintenance of stable equilibrium and within organisms includes regulation of temperature, blood pH, blood salinity, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and gas concentration. Maintenance of homeostasis within mammals is facilitated by a structure within the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus connects the endocrine system with the nervous system by controlling the unconscious or autonomic processes, motor functions, and the interactions of the pituitary gland. For example, when the core body temperature drops, an autonomic response results in shivering and increase in motion of muscles to produce friction and warm the body up. Similarly, if the temperature of the body rises too high, the hypothalamus enacts the endocrine system to relax smooth muscles and dilate blood vessels in order to pull heat away from the skin’s surface and prompts the sweat glands to release fluid so as to cool the surface of the skin via evaporative cooling.
Food chains track the flow of energy throughout ecological systems. Energy flow always starts with plants and other photosynthetic organisms, also called producers, capturing energy from the sun’s rays and storing them in compounds to be used later in the process of cellular respiration, which is common to all organisms. The second energy level of a food chain is herbivores, or primary consumers. Secondary consumers are often omnivores and may consume both plants and other animals. Secondary consumers make up the third energy level within a food chain. The higher up the food chain, the more likely an organism is to be a carnivore, eating only other animals.
Together multiple food chains create a food web. As energy moves from one energy level to the next, only 10% of the energy moves on to the organism that carries out the consumption. The other 90% of the energy is “lost” to metabolic processes. It is important to remember that even after death an organism is providing transference of energy to decomposers within a food chain or food web. Decomposers’ primary role is to break down deceased organisms into nutrients that are returned to the soil and used by producers as the cycle begins again. In the example given, maize is the first level of the food chain and the producer that captures energy from the sun as it grows, storing the energy in compounds within the kernels. The locust is the primary consumer and the second level in the food chain. The locust feeds on the maize, taking only 10% of the energy in the process of consumption. The lizard is the third level of the food chain and a secondary consumer, feeding on the locust and taking 10% of the energy in the locust. Finally, the snake is the fourth energy level and the tertiary consumer, feeding on the lizard and taking 10% of the energy in the lizard.
And that’s some very basic information about the Life Science domain.
Domain IV: Earth and Space Science
The Earth and Space Science domain includes 22 questions. There are five competencies within this domain. Overarching concepts covered within these competencies include:
- Earth Systems and History
- Earth Cycles
- Climate and Weather
- Space Science
- Earth-Moon-Sun System
Let’s explore a few important specific topics that are likely to appear on the test.
Surface Water vs Groundwater
As the name implies, surface water is water that collects above ground. Examples of surface water include rivers, lakes, and streams. Groundwater, as its name implies, is water underground in the soil and in pores within the rock bed. The water table is a line at which the ground below the table is saturated with water. Porous rock that holds and transports groundwater is defined as an aquifer. Aquifers can be classified as either unconfined or confined. Unconfined aquifers have exposure to land surface while confined aquifers are completely underground. Wells can be drilled into the ground and access groundwater within aquifers. The number and types of wells and the extent to which they are used can actually change the level of the water table. In addition to being conscious of what compounds are transported in human and agricultural runoff, water users must pay attention to what their drawing of water out of aquifers does to affect change in the water table.
All living things have a carbon base. Carbon is also a major component in many minerals and rocks, such as limestone, dolomite, and calcite. Carbon flows between reservoirs where carbon is stored, including the atmosphere, the biosphere, the hydrosphere, and the lithosphere. Each reservoir exchanges carbon at different rates. Most of carbon is stored in the lithosphere; however, movement of carbon is extremely slow through the lithosphere. Together movement of carbon through the lithosphere, the ocean, and the atmosphere make up what is referred to as the slow carbon cycle. By contrast, the fast carbon cycle is the movement of carbon through the biosphere, or life forms.
The slow carbon cycle starts with chemical weathering, as carbon in the atmosphere combines with water to produce acid rain, interacting with the water cycle. As rocks are dissolved by acid rain, ions are carried through the water cycle in surface water that ends up in the ocean. These ions combine with carbon in the ocean to form minerals like calcium carbonate that are used by shell-building organisms and plankton. When these organisms die, they sink to the floor of the ocean, where layers of shell and sediment become cemented into rock, such as limestone, and carbon is incorporated into the rock cycle. Carbon is released from the rock cycle back into the atmosphere via volcanic eruptions. Carbon dioxide exchange between the atmosphere and the hydrosphere also occurs at the surface of the ocean.
Plants and other photosynthetic organisms like phytoplankton are major components of the fast carbon cycle. Photosynthetic organisms capture carbon dioxide and use energy from the sun to store carbon and energy in sugars through photosynthesis, at which point carbon enters food webs. Organisms go through cellular respiration and release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. When they die, decay processes return carbon to the soil. Routine forest fires can also return carbon to the atmosphere and the soil as well.
One significant consideration in assessing the carbon cycle is the impact that humans and industrialization have had on it. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas found within rocks and formed through processes in the rock cycle are harnessed and used by humans to fuel our energy needs. In the process, pollution processes release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
Weather vs Climate
The greatest difference between weather and climate is time. It can be said that climate is the expectation and weather is what you end up getting. It’s possible to get a strong cold front that dips temperatures into the 60s in mid-August in South Texas, but that would not be expected summer climate for that locale. The weather of a specific region is reliant on atmospheric changes, whereas its climate is dependent upon seasonal changes that are related to conditions such as the Earth’s position in orbit at various times of the year. Climate involves a long-term average of temperatures, humidity, seasonal winds and currents, and average precipitation levels. Weather can change in a matter of hours whereas climate changes occur mostly over weeks and even months with some climate events like El Niño taking years to affect major changes.
Types of Galaxies
Galaxies are collections of gas and dust containing stars. They are held together by gravity and come in three major categories: spiral, elliptical, and irregular. The names for these types of galaxies offer insight into their shapes. Irregular galaxies have no particular shape to them. They are the youngest type of galaxy and on average are some of the smallest galaxies. Spiral galaxies have the shape of a rotating disc with a bulge at the center. Spiral galaxies typically contain many middle-aged stars. In fact, our solar system resides within a spiral galaxy called the Milky Way and our sun is a middle-aged star. Spiral galaxies tend to be some of the largest. The most abundant type of galaxies are elliptical galaxies. Elliptical galaxies tend to look like a flattened ball or football. Elliptical galaxies also have the widest range of sizes and contain the oldest stars.
ESA/Hubble: Irregular galaxy
ESA/Hubble: Spiral galaxy
ESA/Hubble: Elliptical galaxy
Importance of the Fossil Record
Fossils are remains left behind of past life on Earth. These remains can be bones, shells, leaves, tracks, burrows, and impressions that are preserved in rock layers. Because fossils are preserved within rock layers, we can use them for establishing geologic timelines and approximate dates of specific events in geologic time. For example, in the image below, fossils in rock layer D would be older than any other fossils in layers A, B, or C because layers of rock stack on preexisting layers. Logic dictates that before layer C can form, layer D must already be present. Using techniques such as radiometric dating we can determine how old a rock or fossil is and use that information to fill in gaps in the geologic timeline. For example, if data informs us that rock layer D is 425 million years old and that rock layer B is 415 million years old, we can infer that any fossils found in rock layer C range between 425 and 415 million years in age.
And that’s some very basic information about the Earth and Space Science domain.
Domain V: Science Learning, Instruction, and Assessment
The Science Learning, Instruction, and Assessment domain includes 13 questions. There are three competencies within this domain. Overarching concepts covered within these competencies include:
- Teaching Strategies
- Scientific Behavior
- Scientific Communication
Let’s explore a few important specific topics that are likely to appear on the test.
Bloom’s taxonomy is a model categorizing educational objectives into an organized hierarchy of depth of knowledge. The lowest level on the hierarchy is now called Remember, in which the expectation is that students are able to recall basic facts and concepts. This is best exemplified by definitions, memorization, and forming lists. The next level of the hierarchy is Understand, in which the expectation is that students will be able to explain ideas and concepts. The ability to classify, discuss, describe, and explain is the hallmark of this level of knowledge. Apply is the next level on the hierarchy, which requires students to be able to use information they’ve learned in new situations. To show mastery of this level of knowledge, students solve problems, interpret data, and carry out calculations. The next level is Analyze, in which students begin differentiating between ideas, comparing and contrasting concepts, and carrying out experiments. Near the top of the hierarchy is Evaluate, in which students develop the ability to justify, defend, and critique the application of a concept. The highest level in the hierarchy is Create, in which students construct, design, or develop new or original work based on the concepts they’ve studied.
Lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy provide necessary foundations for moving into higher levels of thinking. Familiarity with Bloom’s allows the educator insight into the pacing and introduction of new concepts, when to circle back and reinforce content that has been covered previously, and identifying appropriate ways to assess concepts within the course. Look to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for your grade level content matter, as the verbs used in the TEKS will help you identify what depth of knowledge you should aim for within Bloom’s Taxonomy. For example: Forces, energy, and motion are concepts introduced to Texas students beginning in kindergarten. The verbs move from “observe and describe” to “demonstrate and record” to “trace and compare,” which is a clear progression from Understand. Apply and finally Analyze before the TEKS add an additional second component to forces, energy, and motion starting in the 3rd grade. By the time students reach 4th grade, the verb in the force and motions TEKS becomes “design” incorporating the highest order of thinking, Create.
Knowing the progression of learning objectives and expectations allows educator and students alike to identify where they have been previously in their learning and where they are expected to go with the current content, even previewing (where appropriate) where they will take the content in the future. Keeping these targets in mind allows the educator to incorporate lessons, activities, and questions at an appropriate level. For instance, by 8th grade students “demonstrate and calculate” unbalanced forces and the changes they can effect on motion of objects. While a review of previous objectives may be appropriate to activate prior learning or to check for understanding, the focus at this level should be on using activities that push students to apply interpretation of data through calculations. Care must be taken to move past simple recall of definitions of terms for force, energy, and motion, as this would be the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy. Provide real world examples of balanced and unbalanced forces to ensure relevance, as students work to predict changes in speed and/or direction of an object’s motion using free body diagrams. The emphasis should be on their ability to calculate such changes. For example, consider the following question:
What direction and with how much net force will the soccer ball move when kicked?
When planning activities, consider extensions that take your students one level higher than how they will be assessed on their STAAR exams. Since the lower levels of Bloom’s are foundational and required for success at higher levels, this technique can boost student confidence when they are taking the test and realize that where they are being assessed is below their highest level of learning success. At the very least, push students to be able to answer questions regarding the hows and whys of the concepts you are teaching.
In Texas it is not uncommon to encounter students in the classroom with little to no English proficiency. Such English-language learners or ELLs deserve the same access to the content as their English proficient counterparts. Science can be particularly frustrating when you have limited proficiency in the language it is being taught in. Take care not to speak too quickly and make sure to enunciate key terms to avoid unnecessary confusion. Focus on visual literacy, making sure to provide (and require ELLs to use) visuals with terms and definitions. Some ways to incorporate visuals into literacy within the content are through using techniques such as anchor charts, graphic organizers, and word walls that draw connections between the necessary vocabulary and the concepts. Other techniques for learning vocabulary that are helpful for ELLs can benefit all learners in the classroom. Draw on previous knowledge in the lexicon and focus on word parts such as roots, prefixes, and suffixes to activate prior knowledge. For example, you might observe that the root of the word “solstice” is “sol-”, which is “sun” in Spanish, in order to make the connection that a solstice occurs when an axial pole is being illuminated fully by the sun.
Many ELLs may actually do very well with conversational English but not the written word. ELLs at this level of learning excel in group settings where there is an emphasis on communicating verbally with group members as they work together to solve a problem, design an investigation, or analyze data. Encourage participation among your ELLs and consider pairing beginning and intermediate ELLs with more advanced ELLs, particularly if they speak the same home language.
Lastly, do not discount giving all students the opportunity to write frequently. Proficiency in academic English cannot come without practice. The use of writing prompts encourages ELLs and all students to expand their familiarity with and mastery of the English language and science concepts.
Types of Assessment
A variety of assessment methods is necessary in any classroom. Properly selecting, designing, and administering assessment in the classroom requires familiarity with the array of assessment methods. Performance assessment is any assessment that measures the application of knowledge and skills to new or authentic problems. Performance assessment should require higher-order thinking skills to apply conceptual knowledge to problems students have not seen before. For example, 6th grade TEKS require students to be able to calculate density, mass, and volume. Students should be able to use their knowledge of how density, mass, and volume are related, including the formula for density, to calculate unknown information about an object or to predict what might happen to another variable when one variable has been changed. A sample question: If a block has a mass of 10 g and 5 cm3 what is its density? or If the volume of a sample expands but its mass stays the same what happens to the sample’s density?
Self-assessment is the evaluation of student work and tracking progress by both students and teachers. This allows students to identify their own gaps in content knowledge in order to make plans to improve their comprehension level. Educators naturally assess student work and observe student success patterns to help them adjust their pace. However, putting some of this responsibility into student hands gives them ownership over their learning and helps create investment in growth.
Both performance assessments and self-assessments can be categorized as either formal or informal assessments. Major differences between formal and informal assessments include that formal assessments tend to be high-stakes whereas informal assessments are typically low-stakes. Formal assessments are very data-driven and provide comprehensive information used in comparisons in order to identify students’ knowledge and competency levels. We primarily see standardized assessment and exams as examples of formal assessment. By contrast, informal assessment is much more content- and performance-driven as opposed to being data-driven. Everyday grades such as projects, quizzes, portfolios, and daily activities fall into the category of informal assessment because they are designed to give both the teacher and the student feedback as they progress through their learning. Valid and informative informal assessments draw connections between concepts and real life examples.
Lastly, there are formative and summative assessments. These categories are very similar to formal and informal assessments, with a few key differences. Formative assessments take place while learning is still forming and solidifying. The purpose of formative assessments is to monitor progression through learning concepts. Formative assessments give both students and teachers the opportunity to examine results and outcomes throughout the learning process. These are low-stakes assessments that may come in the form of activities such as Think-Pair-Share, Argument Driven Inquiry, Polling, Admit/Exit Tickets, or Bell Ringers, or visual aids like concept maps and other graphic organizers. As the word summative implies, these assessments occurs at the summation of a set period of time, often at the end of a unit, semester, or year. The goal of summative assessments is evaluation of knowledge and skills. Summative assessments include unit exams, campus and district benchmark exams, end-of-semester exams, and state exams such as the STAAR and EOC exams. Additionally, summative assessments can be long-term projects, papers, or lab reports.
While there is some overlap in the types of assessment, it is important to make sure that as an educator you are intentional about the types and frequencies of each type of assessment you use throughout the unit, semester, and year. Make sure you’re providing enough opportunity for receiving feedback and self-evaluation by students ahead of formal and summative assessments in order to give students adequate time to make an investment in their own learning process.
And that’s some very basic information about the Science Learning, Instruction, and Assessment domain.