Float-a-Boat: Student Choice Assessments and Cooperative Grading
Lesson 5 of 18
Objective: Students will be able to communicate the results of an investigation and work with a peer to assess their learning to determine a final grade.
Who doesn't love a water park? Other than the hydrophobes in our midst, middle school students are enthusiastic about roller coasters, water slides and giant water toilet bowls. The Float-a-Boat series of lessons is designed as a pre-assessment and introduction to planning and carrying out scientific investigations and engineering design processes (SP3 Planning and Carrying Out Investigations). From beginning to end, students are engaged in investigation and design process to ask questions and define problems (SP1) about "lazy river boats" at the waterpark; analyze and interpret data (SP4); use mathematics and computational thinking (SP5); construct explanations and design solutions (SP6); and engage in argument from evidence (SP7) In this particular lesson, students also obtain, evaluate and communicate information (SP8).
Additional connections to Common Core Mathematical Standards in Measurement and Data occur when students use measurement of mass to collect data and then analyze their data during Part 3 and Part 4 of the lesson. Students also access Common Core Language Arts Standards when writing arguments from evidence in Part 4 of the lesson.
While I use this series of lessons as an introduction and pre-assessment, the lessons can also be used or re-used to explore many different concepts including: mass, weight, displacement, forces and Newton's Laws of Motion (PS2.A: Forces and Motion). Rather than trying to teach all of these concepts at one time, I choose to concentrate on scientific practice learning objectives and tailor the activities, discussions and assessment to match the objectives.
This series of lessons also provides opportunities to make connections to several cross cutting concepts. The Float-a-Boat Investigation represents a system model in which students define the system and test ideas about the system (CCC4). Additionally, students test the stability of the system when changes are made (CCC7) by looking at cause and effect (CCC2) and structure and function (CCC6) of their boats.
The Float-a-Boat series of lessons is a scientific inquiry and engineering design investigation that including lessons taught over the span of 1 - 2 weeks. To help manage the magnitude of this activity, you will find the project split into 4 parts.
- Part 1 includes the ENGAGE and EXPLORE components of the lesson; Time: 2-3 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.
- Part 2 includes the EXPLAIN and EXTEND components of the lesson; Time: 2-3 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.
- Part 3 includes a follow up data analysis activity called "Float-a-Boat: Student Rubric Creation and Authentic Data Analysis"; Time: 1 50-minute lesson.
- Part 4 includes the EVALUATE component of the lesson called: "Float-a-Boat: Student Choice Assessments and Cooperative Grading": Time: 1 - 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block period.
When given the chance to think and respond creatively, middle school students produce interesting and insightful conclusions about what they have learned. Mini-projects are an alternative to standard lab conclusions that provide several benefits.
Making room for creativity engages students to create evidence of learning that compliments learning styles and divergent thinking. Additionally, incorporating choice is a sure bet to increase student engagement. Students communicate more authentically, as scientists do, when they are allowed multiple representations of their understanding such as: writing arguments, creating visuals and presenting their findings in different formats.
On the standards-based aspect of mini-projects, students are asked to practice important synthesis skills that the Common Core Language Arts Standards promote and access more rigorous levels of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy. A hidden benefit of mini-projects is that student work moves from "so much of the same" to "much more fun to grade"!
In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, ask students to think about the following prompt:
To share what you learned from the Float-a-Boat Design Challenge, what would your ideal project include?
If students need more guidance, they can be reminded to think about format, types of information to include and how to incorporate creativity. As students share their ideas with the class, enthusiasm builds when the feedback about their ideas is positive: "So, you want to make a movie to show what you have learned? OK!" or "You will create a 3-D model sculpture with an exhibit tag explaining the work? Why not?!" In fact, so many different ideas can start flying around, that it can be a fun challenge to rein it all in!
Explore, Explain and Extend
The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. To help students explore their ideas about their projects, students review, with the class, the required parameters of the Float a Boat Analysis and Conclusion Project and the parts of the project in which they can make their own creative choices (Part 1: Plan).
As part of this introduction to the project, also review the rubric in Part 2: Create. When reviewing the rubric, use the strategy of reviewing exemplars: Float-a-Boat Final Project Student Work to illustrate expectations. This helps address the student need for structure in open-ended projects. Reviewing exemplars makes expectations "visible". Remember when reviewing an exemplar to have students identify what they believe is "proficient, grade level" work - otherwise the potential for misinterpretation of an exemplar element goes unseen until the end of the project. Students can establish a set of criteria such as Student Generated Criteria to define concrete expectations.
For a project like this, it is important to strike a balance between providing students with enough guidance while allowing choice and creative freedom. For additional discussion of my response to this student need, visit the reflection in this section: Striking a Balance Between Guidance and Student Choice.
Students then spend time planning during class. During planning time, I encourage students to consult with me, so we can identify areas of confusion or concern, assess how the structure of their project choices affects the function of the project (CCC: Structure and Function) and make a plan for any resources students need to complete the project.
The EXPLAIN stage of the lesson provides students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned and the EXTEND stage allows students to apply new knowledge to a novel situation. Students both explain what they have learned and apply their knowledge when they create their projects.
The EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. Since this is our first project of the year, students need several things in terms of assessment. Students need useful feedback on one hand; on the other hand, students need a positive first experience with grading and assessment. Self and peer assessment provides both of these factors to students.
Using the Self and Peer Assessment Reflection, students work in pairs to present and explain their work to each other. Using the simplified rubric provided, the student pairs assess their projects. This practice in self reflection encourages students to think critically about their own work, identifying areas of challenge and success. After using the rubric to assign a grade to the project, students write an argument using evidence and reasoning (SP7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence) to defend their grade.
Since students work with a partner to assign a grade, the grade becomes more meaningful. As explained in this video, students tend to be brutally honest about their own work:
During this process, it is still important to provide feedback to students. In most cases, students' self assessment agrees with a teacher-generated grade using the rubric in the Float a Boat Analysis and Conclusion Project. Unless there is serious discrepancy in perception about the quality or completeness of students' work, I use the grade they generated. This is an important step in building trust with students as they continue to work and learn in the science classroom. As shown in this student work, Float-a-Boat Final Project Self and Peer Assessment Student Example, the student defended their grade with adequate evidence and reasoning in such a way that I felt confident that they accurately recognized the proficiency of their work.