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.
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The leaderboard is a display of both academic and behavioral progress for my students. The results are tabulated separately in the academic and behavioral games. In the academic game, the focus is on the experience points earned by students in academic activities. Experience points in the academic game are only awarded to students once they have mastered an activity. Once they have mastered the activity, points are added to the leaderboard. We review the academic leaderboard and recognize individuals who have made it to the top or who have made significant progress in the class. For the leaderboard in the behavior game, I use Classcraft to display students' points. This display can be sorted by experience points, health points, or action points depending on what is the required view. From my experience, the two leaderboards help steer a cooperative sense of competition among a lot of my students. It also motivates them to continue learning and sharing. Although much of this is external motivation at the beginning of the year, I see a shift towards internal motivation in regards to behavior and academic progress as the year continues. Students are much more willing to learn for learning's sake instead of a prize or written/verbal recognition as they become more accustomed to these behavior and academic qualities. The academic leaderboard displays the rankings of students in all three of my earth science classes. The behavior game on Classcraft is solely based on the students in that particular period.
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.