The fire story

The fire story

The fire story formative assessment is used to explore students' thinking about the question "what affects chemical change?" through a real-world problem. This formative assessment specifically probes students' understanding of energy and phase changes. There are several different explanations using different chemistry concepts that could be used to explain the phemomenon explained in the story. 


In this assessment students are asked to explain their observations about a phenomena involving a campfire. Students read about a family having a campfire which is then “extinguished” with water. The fire does not go out entirely however and students are asked to explain why that might happen. They are then presented with additional information about fire and energy and asked if the additional information changes their thinking. It was presented to the class as a google form and they were asked to give honest answers to the questions. Prior to giving this formative assessment, the students had been learning about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, bond enthalpies, and activation energy. This formative assessment was delivered online for 10th grade students in inclusion chemistry. The class has a very high percentage of ELL’s and students on IEPs. In the weeks previous to this assessment students had been learning about thermodynamics and energies of reactions.

Teacher reflections and remote learning

Overall, I feel this assessment was effective at uncovering students thinking about the topics we had been covering. While some students struggled to articulate their thinking, some had very robust thinking and were able to grapple effectively with the concepts presented. I think the format of a google form was particularly helpful as it allowed for a more “cognitive interview” format where students are given small bits of information at a time and asked to grapple with that information as it is presented. One small change I would make is asking students to write at least 1-2 sentences explaining to hold them more accountable to providing a robust response.

Examples of student work