Today was the day when we needed to think about how we wanted to show that we had to master the standard on plants. I began the lesson with telling students that they needed all their notes and iPad out to talk about creating an appropriate exam.
This strategy of allowing kids to design or have a say in their testing proves to be an important part of personalized learning.
First we identified the portion of the NGSS standard we are mastering using an "I Can Statement." The standard stated with "I Can" helps students embrace the accountability of their learning and own the understanding.
4-LS1-1 I can construct an argument that plants have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth and reproduction.
Since we are focusing on mastering the plant portion of this standard, it is worded to fit. After students all read the I Can Statement aloud. I asked them what it meant?
One student told me that it was important to understand that plants have certain parts that help it grow and survive. I told my students that they needed to revisit a webpage on daffodils I had sent them the night before to review. This page is great because it is very appropriate for 4th grade and the photos are wonderfully labeled.
I told them that we were going to collaborate to decide what should be on this test that shows we mastered the standard.
I handed them a blank white piece of typing paper instead of using their iPads or a worksheet because I wanted them to have that blank white sheet as a space for their creativity, thoughts and drawings. This allowed them to design their test freely. I asked that they copy the 'I Can" statement off of the board so they could focus on the standard as they developed their tests. I knew they still needed concrete guidelines to work from so I created a task list on the board underneath the standard to help guide students in their work to develop a test for science. I listed on my whiteboard the following:
As a table group:
1.) Create a list of plant structures that are important as evidence to master the standard.
2.) Create two questions that are "thick milkshake questions" derived from their Woods study, Monster Plant study, or the daffodil study.
After a short question and answer period to clarify any misunderstandings of how this all was going to work, they were ready to begin. I gave them 10 minutes to start with the first task.
I wrote an example of a rich milkshake question about plant structures on the whiteboard.
My question: How do the roots of my plant provide what the plant needs to survive?
Students worked together in table groups to create a list of the most important parts of a daffodil that shows mastery of understanding the standard. This list will become the test. They used the website to help them choose plant parts as well as their science notes. I roved and simply listened to them discuss and offer up any misconceptions. The word "corona" was one that a few students had difficulty confusing with "cornea." I explained that precise vocabulary was important and helped them by pointing and sounding it out so they could notice that there was no "e" sound. Continual support of precise science language remains a priority. It was fun to watch students have candid conversations and engaged conversations about what was important to remember about daffodils and then hear them explain the purpose of the structure.
I had given them a time limit of 5 minutes. As soon as that time was up, I began writing and tallying their choices per group. I had listed the parts on the whiteboard and simply checked off their choices as I they went down the list. There was some controversy over the importance of including the filament. This was resolved and everyone could see how well their collaboration works as one team asked each other to decide.
When we were completely done, we had added "roots" to our list because roots form from the bulb of the daffodil and they felt it was important to include.
It was now time to come up with questions! Explaining the test again at this point helped them switch gears. I told them I would give them ten minutes to come up with one really "thick milkshake question." I reexplained an pointed to the example again to help them adjust their thinking and reminded them that they were to focus on the standard they had written at the top of their page. I gave them the choice of writing individual questions and agreeing on the best one, or writing one as a team. Again, this gives them the choice of the level of accountability. I could tell they were doing it both ways as I listened.
I roved the class again listening to conversations and answering questions as needed.
Just as we had shared the list, we shared our questions out loud. I had asked them to email the questions, telling them that I would choose two from their emails to include on the test. As I listened, I also explained that I liked that they were all "how and why" questions that showed high quality. However, I explained that some of them like, "How does the Venus Fly Trap react so quickly to kill its prey?" might be more of a research question and did not reflect what we had learned. The group was concerned about it. So I reworded the question to "How does a Venus Fly Trap's trap ( which is a specialized structure) work to help the plant survive?" They could see the difference right away. There was also attention to proper vocabulary usage and pronunciation. I explained again that precision in vocabulary was very important in being good scientists.
As I closed the lesson, I explained that I really liked all of their questions and that I would have a hard time choosing, but to be reassured they would all be able to construct an answer to them because they could use their notebook to help them.
I told them it was time for me to get busy and create their test that they had designed!