Formative Asessment Questions

Formative assessment refers to the idea of finding out what students know in order for the instructor to adjust their upcoming instruction. Instructors don't want to bore their students covering things that 80% of the students already know, nor do they want grossly overshoot the students' level and offer what seems to be uninteligible nonsense to the students. Formative assessment questions allow the instructor to quickly get a feel for what students already know. Formative assessment questions also serve the purpose of engaging student prior knowledge.

Instructors should be aware that formative assessment questions can result in an instructor needing to think on their feet and alter instructional plans. If asked at the end of a lesson, the instructor can have time to contemplate student responses and design the next lesson accordingly, however, in most cases these questions are asked “on the fly” and may result in instructors spending more or less time on a topic than originally intended.

An example from our instruction was at the start of quantum mechanics the instructor told students to use their small whiteboards and “Write down the Shrodinger equation”. One year the vast majority of students wrote something down on their whiteboards, although it often took them over a full minute and there were often errors. This gave the instructor the opportunity to point out differences in the answers and draw attention to important aspects of the equation that students would might have otherwise missed. It also served the purpose of getting students to actively recall what they already had somewhere in their memories.

Interestingly, however, the exact same question two years later yielded only a handful of students writing anything on their boards and no single student with a completely correct answer. This cued the instructor to know that this group of students for some reason was less familiar with the Shrodinger equation and that the instructor needed to more actively dig out past student experiences with the Schrodinger equation and spend some additional up-front time getting them reaquainted with it.

List of Examples

Below is a list of some questions used in the past for formative assessment

* Write down the Schrodinger equation

* Write down the formula for the electric potential due to a point charge.

* Write down |r| in Cartesian coordinates.

* Write down how to find the determinant of a 2 x 2 matrix.

* Draw an Argand diagram for ei(pi/3).

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