September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Effective Formative Assessment: Gots and Needs

Posted: Monday, December 3rd, 2012

by Bethany Dixon

How do you use formative assessments to increase student achievement and drive curriculum pacing in your classroom? Assessment that informs instruction is critical for effective teaching, but time constraints and student engagement for an assessment that “doesn’t count” can be obstacles that are difficult to overcome. How can teachers possibly give timely, effective feedback on a daily basis while keeping their plans nimble and students engaged? At the AP Biology Leadership Academy this summer, Brooke Bourdelat-Parks from BSCS gave research-based, classroom-tested, and easy-to-implement strategies that can help you improve your formative assessments whether you teach 2nd graders or 2nd-year graduate students.

The Strategy: “Gots and Needs

Time Required:

Initial implementation:  10 Minutes (in a full-inclusion high school class: adjust for modeling and practice at different levels)

Additional implementations: 1 minute for student participation, 3 minutes for teacher review, 3 minutes the next class day.

How it works: Grammar of the title aside, this is my new favorite way to take the academic vitals of a class. “Gots and Needs” is a fast way to grab a formative assessment as students exit your room and the sticky note process makes it easy to grade and give next-day feedback.

Materials and Methods: Each student will need two sticky notes. On the first sticky note each student writes down one thing that they “Got” from today’s lesson. On the second sticky note students write down one thing they “Need” to improve their understanding of the topic. On the way out the door, students stick their “Got” on one location and their “Need” to another (e.g. I use two posters—“Gots” on the DNA poster, “Needs” on the Regulation poster—both are by the door on the way out).

For the next part I use an open file folder with the tab labeled for each class. I take the notes off the wall beginning with “Gots” on one side of my folder. Ideally, many students “Got” the same thing out of the class, something related to your objective written in their own words without prompting. “Gots” should be focused around a central topic. As I pull each one off, I stick similar ones together until I have three or four that cover the range of ideas well. I pull one sticky for myself and write down three bullet points that include students’ own words and recycle the rest. (Yes, as long as your school recycles mixed paper, according to the EPA, sticky notes are okay in the bin!) Next, I pull “Needs” and do the same thing, but these may be all over the place in terms of ideas because of the varying backgrounds and needs of your students. If you see distinct clusters, this is an indication of an instructional opportunity that should help your planning/intervention.

The next day after your bell-ringer or intro, you have a built-in, three-minute spiral review that dramatically increases student ownership in the classroom. Start by sharing their success: this is what YOU said that you “Got” yesterday in class (“Oh we learned something! I remember that!”). Next address their needs: “My teacher listens to us!” or, “Wow, I remember writing that yesterday!” Spending three minutes going over identified misunderstandings provides students with an opportunity to quickly correct their mistakes before you build on a topic that might have been difficult or needed reinforcement.


According to NSTA and NCATE’s 2012 NSTA Standards for Science Teacher Preparation, ( “The National Science Education Standards stated, “Science distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing and from other bodies of knowledge through the use of empirical standards, logical arguments, and skepticism (NRC, 1996, p. 201). It becomes necessary for the teacher to assess in order to determine how the student is thinking. “As students develop and … understand more science concepts and processes, their explanations should become more sophisticated … frequently reflecting a rich scientific knowledge base, evidence of logic, higher levels of analysis, and greater tolerance of criticism and uncertainty” (NRC, 1996, p. 117). As the student and teacher work together to correct misconceptions and build a more accurate and deep understanding of science, the skills learned become as important as the science itself (Atkin, 2002).”

Determining how students are thinking in a timely manner with enough foresight to adjust instruction is difficult in practice. Giving quality feedback takes time, and between Thanksgiving and Holiday Break, “time” is the ugliest of four-letter words. Adding simple-to-implement formative assessments like “Gots and Needs” helps students by increasing their metacognition (“What did I “get” today? What do I “need?”), giving them another point of contact with the  material (putting it on the sticky note), and contributing to their feelings of “belonging” to a classroom of active learners (“Others “got” or “needed” the same things I did!”).

The Trials:

I wouldn’t send you into the trenches without a research-backed, workshop-utilized strategy that I have personally used. Here are a few ways I’ve managed to wreck and reconcile “Gots and Needs” in my classroom.

  1. Two sticky notes per student: putting them on one seemed to save paper but ended up being a sorting nightmare because I couldn’t effectively separate them.
  2. One folder per class, separate each classes’ sticky notes. I tried to put all “Gots” and “Needs” for all three sections of general biology up at one time and visit it at the end of the day. This failed miserably because I couldn’t tell if students “Got” things overall…or if it was one class…or if a whole class “Needed” something or just a few students across different classes. Save the headache: separate folders, separate posters, separate classes.
  3. No names: really. Students are more likely to write candidly and honestly when they know you aren’t going to punish them for their candor. Swallow the anxiety, recycle the snarky statements (if you get them), and enjoy the positive feedback knowing that it wasn’t coerced. The first time I did this was terrifying, but it has been both confidence-boosting and humbling to see more realistic feedback. Re-wording a frustrated student response into a best-intentioned “Need” and reading it out loud to the class can go a long way into building relationships with students who normally feel marginalized.

Short and Sweet:

“Gots and Needs,” took the place of using a “Ticket out the door” for my classroom because it’s easier to implement. Instead of having a stack of responses to grade every day, I now have a poster of sticky notes that are succinct and require almost no grading time. Feedback is automatic and takes place the next day without having to spend any additional teacher time, other than what it takes to peel the sticky notes off the wall and sorting them. Because of this strategy, student participation in formative assessment has increased dramatically and student metacognition is boosted. When a lesson is successful, “Gots” are focused around a central theme and “Needs” vary. Using this method helps to adjust pacing without major overhauling of your instructional day.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please feel free to email me at



NSTA/NCATE Knowledge Base Supporting  2012 Standards:



Atkin, J. M (2002). Using assessment to help students learn. In R. W. Bybee (Ed), Learning science and the science of learning. (pp. 97-104), Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). 2012.NSTA Standards for Science Teacher Preparation.

National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

National Research Council. (2000). Inquiry and the national science education standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.