Grade Contracts are a strategy I use to assess my students' progress towards mastery of defined sets of content and skill objectives and to provide feedback on their development at the end of each level in my blended learning class. Students review the mastery requirements for each level and decide whether they will pursue an "A," "B," "C," or "D" contract; in so doing, they understand and commit to what they must know and be able to do in order to earn the letter grade of the contracts they have chosen. Grade Contracts eliminate the superficiality of number grades on individual assignments and focus my students' attention on authentic demonstrations of mastery over time. This strategy also empowers my students to challenge themselves and to monitor and take responsibility for their own learning, which is an essential mindset shift in my largely self-paced class.
I formatively assess students through digital technology like Plickers, Kahoot, and Poll Everywhere. Plickers (Paper clickers) is a free software tool designed like QR codes to collect students’ answers to questions. I create questions on the Plickers website (www.plickers.com) and assign each student a card number. I will read and display the question on the SmartBoard and scan the room to determine students’ answers. The answers are displayed on my device in two colors (incorrect/correct) and in graphical form. This gives me a good visual of where students excel in the curriculum and where they struggle. I also use Kahoot (www.getkahoot.com) as a whole group assessment of students’ understanding. Kahoot allows me to write questions, allows for an allotted amount of time for each question to be answered, and for students to be ranked on time and the correctness of their answer. The students are fully engaged in this activity because it’s over material they’ve all covered, there is music that is aligned with the timer, and they get instant feedback. I also get a report showing their answers to the questions at the end of the game. I use this report, which uses conditional formatting, to show me which answers are correct and which are incorrect. I love how the visual gives me feedback on what students still need to master. I’ve also found Poll Everywhere (polleverywhere.com) to be a great way to formally assess my students. For instance, I asked my students to give me an example of something that is within the hydrosphere. They messaged their answers to our classroom code. It was then displayed on our SmartBoard as a word cloud. I’ve also used Poll Everywhere in conjunction with small group discussion groups with a checklist of skills and standards students need to achieve. For instance, I first used Poll Everywhere to check to see if students understood what objects would be in the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. I wanted to see if they understood the definitions before we moved onto more complex tasks. The word cloud created a list of all the objects in each sphere. I then had students take words from the word cloud and create drawings showing how the four spheres would interact. The students then shared their drawings via Apple TV and the SmartBoard in small groups. I gave verbal feedback in front of the group as well as asked probing questions if I needed to.
Experience Based Lab Introductions is a strategy I use to get students to start thinking about their prior knowledge and how it can be applied to a problem or challenge. For example, I use the story about Who Polluted the Clark Fork to set the stage for our water filter lab. The story allows students to use their knowledge-base to answer simple questions throughout the story. As the activity continues, I see students' perspectives change as more elements and variables are added to the story. The stories peak students' interest and bring a call to action into a classroom activity. This strategy is embedded in the Conceptual Change Model, where I'm trying to expose students' beliefs, confront and accommodate those beliefs, and then extend the concept to help students move beyond their misconceptions.
Genius Hour is an ongoing project in which my students identify and explore their scientific interests and passions. Developed every Friday for an entire semester during class, the project provides an opportunity for students to cultivate their research and critical thinking skills while engaging in a topic that is of interest to them. As part of the Genius Hour project, my students connect with "virtual partners" from outside our state in a collaborative effort to authenticate their projects even more. Genius Hour culminates in a demonstration of students' research findings in a format of the students' choosing. This year, I have included the use of Flipboard, an application that allows students to search for a variety of web-based resources and to curate these resources in a visually compelling and user-friendly way.