Start to Finish

Here is an example of how to take new concepts from start to finish while providing choice to students all along the way. This sample is a description from Toby Carpenter, an 8th grade Science teacher at Karrer Middle School in Dublin. She used this format to teach her students the differences between asteroids, meteors, meteorites, and comets. This is a link to her Wikispaces page.

Pretest
Students take a pre-test over the standards of the unit to determine their level of understanding and experience on the impending concepts to be studied.

Kickoff All-Class Video or Activity
The whole class watches a short video or does an activity relating to the concepts to be studied. The students fill out "I Wonder" cards. These cards allow kids to get down on paper the curiosities they have about the concepts. These cards will be used by some students later as part of extension choices.

Concept Acquisition
Students are given a note-taking sheet or chart to guide them through the concept components... the "I can" statements. Around the room are a number of stations. There may be 3 or 4 stations for each concept. The stations vary by learning style and depth of concept development. One station may have a video to watch, while another has links to a couple quality websites. Perhaps another station has a hands-on activity or an article to read.

Students are responsible to go to as many stations for each concept as it takes to fully understand that concept. Perhaps they only need to go to one station for one concept, but need to go to 3 stations for a concept that is more difficult for them to wrap their heads around. Answer keys and charts are hung in the front of the room for students to check their work along the way.

Provide students with an area to post questions about concepts so that classmates can respond to each other. This could be a discussion thread in your Wiki or Moodle, a shared Google Doc, or a piece of chart paper in the front of the room.

Students can choose to work independently, or they can work in a group.

Extension for Students Demonstrating Mastery on Pretest
Students who demonstrate mastery of the basic concepts on the pretest have a choice of how they extend their understanding.
  • Take the "I Wonder" cards and investigate the answers.
  • Create a Digital Learning Object with classmates as the audience
  • Participate in building a Wiki page for each of the concepts. Include DLOs they have created.
  • Take a topic that fits into one of the concepts, and study it in depth. Create a project to communicate findings.

Formative Assessment
Once students feel they have a grasp on the concepts of the unit, they can take a formative assessment. If they perform well on the formative assessment, they can move onto the communication of the concepts in final project form. If not, they'll need to go back to visit some more learning stations.

Communication of Concepts to an Audience
At the end of a unit, students are to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts by creating a project to communicate their understanding to an audience. The teacher provides a rubric to students. The rubric measures level of understanding around the concepts, and the ability to communicate those concepts to an audience. Having a rubric that has a focus such as that allows for students to choose ANY project type (computer or not), and any audience. Sometimes a younger audience is a good choice. Communicating with a younger audience requires that even difficult concepts be simplified. Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Project Ideas
slideshow, commercial, stop-motion movie, skit, song or rap, brochure, digital storybook, logo design, graphic organizer, presentation, website, word cloud, interview, lip dub, movie poster, billboard design, comic strip, scrapbook, wiki, graph, survey, book cover design, flyer, speech, debate, chart, database, electronic bibliography, etc...

Assessments
Grades should not reflect effort. Grades should only reflect a student's level of content mastery.

Homework, classwork, and participation are the vehicle of learning, not the demonstration of mastery. Homework, classwork, and participation is not graded. It is tracked to show the relationship between the effort/process and the level of mastery.

Pre-test and formative assessments are only used for "dipstick" purposes to determine students' level of understanding along the way. It is not graded.

Students' final projects are graded using a rubric. All projects, regardless of type, use the same rubric. Project rubrics should not be project-specific, but should be based on the level of understanding of the concepts that are communicated by students. The final project is the student's opportunity to demonstrate his level of understanding. Student grades, therefor, truly reflect the level of concept mastery.

Sample Project

In AP Biology, students were given the task of reading a book (fiction, or non-fiction) that pertained to the topic of Biology. The students had an extensive list of approved books from which to pick, or they could choose their own book with their teacher's approval. Students were given the project description, and a rubric. The rubric was focused on communication of the content of the book they read rather than the tool or product.

We provided one day for a "commercial" of a variety of project ideas. If a student chose one of the presented ideas, we provided them with a website complete with examples and video tutorials. Students were given the option to use any of those project ideas, or pick a project of their choice.
Support Website
Project Description
Project Rubric