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.
ThingLink is an online software used to make images interactive. This year, I've used it during a project/problem-based learning (PBL) activity, in which students did a series of tasks to collect data on a soil site of their choice (please see my "Model Overview" to learn about how I use Levels in my classroom). They collected this data and saved it for the final activity, the Soil Report, which asked the students to compile all the information they learned about their soil site and to post it on a ThingLink. This ThingLink was then used to make a target on the larger map of Paracini Ponds (the field site we visited), which was also its own ThingLink. The insight I was looking to gain from the completion of this activity was whether students could take scientific data from a field exercise, analyze it, and make a decision about how the land should be used.
Guided Microscope Investigations are investigations done by two students. The student pairings are usually chosen by the students or made by me as a result of the students’ progress on their current level. During these investigations, students examine slides they've created during labs. They work as a team to complete a task related to the content being covered in class. Students often record what they see in the microscope using Educreations, an app on the iPad. As a result of having a blended classroom where students progress in a self-paced way, I’m able to provide this one-on-one guided instruction without having to worry about what the rest of the class is or should be doing.
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.