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The Science Teacher


Traditionally, teachers assess students' physics understanding through lab activities, responses to open-ended word problems, and tests. But there's another way to measure student understanding, one in which students apply their learning to the world around them. This article shows how to implement student portfolios, which allow students to set goals they can monitor throughout the year and actively participate in assessment. When students build portfolios, they can evaluate and reflect on their own work, promoting engagement with the course and content (Danielson and Abrutyn 1997), and teachers can better assess students' goal movement and see growth in students' conceptual understanding. Portfolio assessment is a powerful motivator because students get to make choices (Tomlinson 1999), personalize learning goals, choose the assignments they want to include, and focus on areas of interest. Portfolios provide insight into students as individuals, revealing alternative conceptions and incomplete understandings (Danielson and Abrutyn 1997). Teachers can differentiate how students convey understanding based on readiness, interest, or learning profiles (Tomlinson 1999) and have opportunities to communicate with parents about student work (Nickleson 2004). The first author has implemented a physics portfolio project in two different general-level high school physics courses over the past six years. Students provide pictures of their understanding and make real-world connections as they learn, addressing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Achieve Inc. 2013) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (NGAC and CCSSO 2010). Students reflect on their studies and goals for the course and provide evidence of their learning throughout the year, allowing the teacher to formatively assess both student progress and the course itself.



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