One of the key components of project based learning is giving students opportunities to be autonomous and to make their own academic choices. When students are given a choice they feel they have control over their own learning, which allows them to develop a sense of responsibility and self-motivation.
When learners feel that sense of ownership, they are more likely to engage in academic tasks and persist in learning, even when faced with obstacles. This is why I developed several lines of study that the students could use to show their mastery of the evolution concepts.
Now this may seem like a management nightmare. Students have not only a choice of project, but also several choices within each project, so you may be asking just how to manage something like this. The reality is that the students that participate in this learning experience take ownership of it. The teacher becomes a sideline coach, available to direct students to resources and provide advice on how to deal with challenges.
The Evolution project is run over the span of at least two weeks and is aimed at addressing the following standards:
Students participating in this project are involved in practicing the following Science and Engineering Practices:
SP4: Analyze and interpret data - as they research the different topics and determine similarities and differences in their findings.
SP6: Construct explanations and designing solutions - as they explain their ideas and support them using multiple lines of evidence.
SP7: Engage in argument from evidence - as they formulate evidence based on data and collaborate with each other in searching for the best explanation.
SP8: Obtain, evaluate and communicate information - as they present their work, communicating their research and engage in discussions with peers defending their arguments.
As students explore evolutionary relationships or the development of specific features, they engage in the following Crosscutting Concepts:
Cause and Effect:
I navigate to the task page of the project website, and tell students that they have a choice on what to do. I show each of the different options and talk very briefly about them. I tell students that before they get into any sort of team and start agreeing on who they are working with it is important to look at each option and decide for themselves what they would like to do.
I explain that they will be given an opportunity to look over each project and rubric, and ask clarification questions. Then, they will submit a project assignment request that identifies their choice, a brief explanation of why they would like to work on that specific topic, and the skills they believe are needed to complete the project. This last question is posed so that the students do a little introspection and realize that there is some hard work ahead of them.
Note to teachers: The project request form linked here is intended for you to make a copy, and modify it if you wish. The form was created using Google Docs, but I have unlinked it from the response sheet so you will not get the student responses if you use it directly.
This is what students had to say about why they chose a particular project.
Once the students have turned in their project request form, I use the sort feature to catalogue the responses to the first question. Once I have the responses sorted by topic, I share the response form with the class and have them read each other's answers to the second and third questions. My goal here is that the students realize the different perspectives on choice of projects and skills needed.
As students are doing this, I am quickly placing them into groups based on their choices. I prefer that students are in triads for this project. However, since this project is all about choice, I am flexible in the grouping. I might have students working individually (if only one student chose a specific topic, and is able to work alone), or a group of 4 (if I have as many students that might struggle in a partnership). This is where knowing the students abilities and personalities well is key.
Here you can see the distribution of student interest for this project. I obtained this navigating to the Google form responses and clicking on "show summary of responses".
I announce the teams and have students change seats so members are sitting close together. I tell the students that the next step is to work together to identify the format of the final product as well as the specific requirements for their project. This means that they should read the project description and the rubric, looking for "what needs to be done".
I display the Project Management Document, (PDF in resources) and explain how to use it. Once clarification questions on the use of the project management document have been answered, I have one member from each team make a copy of the document, share it with the other members of the team and with me. This document acts as the main form of communication and accountability between the team and myself.
Note to teachers: The project management document gives students a framework to develop their project and puts them firmly in control of their work. It first asks that students identify the question that their project must answer as well as all the requirements. Then, it asks that the students backward map their project. This is a key element of all project work which allows students to visualize the work that needs to be done. Watch the different reactions the students had to create their own timeline for the project.
Before the beginning of the first project work day, I review all the Project Management Documents shared with me, making any needed comments directly on them. I focus the review on the identification of the requirements, as well as the tasks identified by the students as needing to be accomplished. I am including some of samples (Plan1, Plan2, Plan3, Plan4) where you can see the comments made directly on the work submitted by students.
On each project workday, the agenda is as follows:
1. The "press-secretary" for the day opens the project management sheet and shares any feedback from the teacher with the team. (5 min)
2. The team discusses the identified task(s) that need to be addressed, and determines the goals for the day. (5 min)
3. Students work independently/collaboratively and perform the tasks required to meet the goals. (40 minutes)
4. Meet with team to review accomplishments, determine self-assigned homework and type any questions or concerns on the project management document. (10 minutes)
5. Before leaving, the "press secretary" shares the project management document with the teacher. (1 minute)
On the last project workday (Day 10), I ask the press-secretary for that day to submit their final product to the Edmodo assignment created for that purpose and verify that it is working. This makes for easier navigation on presentation day as all digital products and pictures are in one central location.
Note to teachers: In this video, students share their experience midway through the project. Although some students feel more confident than others, they all agree that progress is being made.
One of the key components of this type of project is that the students need to receive timely feedback on the work they are doing. The way I handle this for this project is through the project management document. Every evening while the project is running I go over each team's project management document and offer suggestions, request a draft is submitted for feedback to myself or to peer editors, invite members of the team to a meeting on the next day, etc. This really depends on what was submitted - sometimes no feedback is necessary other than "keep doing what you are doing". But it is important to say something, daily.
This daily formative assessment allows me to keep track of where everyone is and helps to identify potential problems and correct them before presentations.