When I was in college taking education courses I had 2 professors who harped on rubrics. Their logic was that rubrics placed students into a box and didn't allow for any flexibility and creative thinking. I left college thinking rubrics were a terrible way to assess students.
Fast forward to 2015 when I began teaching a course that was taught entirely via PBL (project based learning). PBL is a very fluid and flexible way to teach- you pose students a question and tell them what the final product will be, but the pathway to accomplish the product can look very different from student to student. (If you would like to read more about the PBL process, check out this blog post). Since rubrics were essentially a new grading tool for me, I had quite a learning curve ahead of me. Confession: I still don't love making rubrics, but I've learned how valuable they can be for both students and teachers. After using them for a few years now, here are some things I've learned:
WHY USE RUBRICS?
Ready to make some rubrics? Here are some tips:
TIPS FOR MAKING RUBRICS
TIPS FOR USING RUBRICS
FREE WEBSITES FOR RUBRIC CREATION
While you can use Microsoft word to make rubrics, there are websites out there that make the process easier. Two sites I like are:
Have any more rubric tips or questions? I'd love to hear them!
Group work. Love it? Or bane of your existence? Have you ever assigned a group assignment and had any of these problems?
We've all run into these problems as teachers, and often times its easier to just throw in the towel and go back to lecture-style teaching. But I would encourage you to not give up completely on group or collaborative assignments. By the time your students reach college, they will be much better off if they know how to study and work with peers. When they enter the work force they will likely have no choice but to collaborate with their colleagues (PLC's.... amiright?)
After teaching a PBL course for a few years that uses group work almost exclusively, I’ve had to learn how to monitor groups effectively. Here is my list of top 10 tips to keep your group work running smoothly:
1. CHOOSE YOUR GROUPS METHODICALLY.
Although students always beg to choose their own groups, 9 times out of 10 I choose them beforehand. The size of the group and the way I choose student groupings depends on the assignment. One way to help figure out group sizes is to map out the project tasks and estimate the work load. I tend to prefer groups of 3-4, but for some projects you might choose pairs or large groups. After I’ve figured out how many students I want in each group, I think about strengths and weaknesses of students and group them accordingly. For example, if the project is a formal debate, I make sure each team has a few strong speakers, some students that are good at researching, and others that are strong writers. Throughout the year as students get used to their classmates and working in groups will begin to step out of their comfort zones, but in the beginning it is really important you play to their strengths to help them feel like they are set up to succeed.
2. USE MODELS AND RUBRICS TO SET THE PROJECT EXPECTATIONS AND GOALS
It is the worst when you have spent 3 weeks on a project, students turn in or present their work, and the quality is nowhere near what you were expecting. To help avoid this, make the project expectations clear to students by passing out and reviewing the rubric, and showing them samples or models. One counter argument I always hear is “but if I show them a model, they just copy it.” If your project is set up to be engaging and encourages creativity, students won’t copy the sample.
The sample you show them doesn’t have to be a model of exemplary work… in fact it’s almost better if it’s not. That way you can have students analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the model and find ways to make improvements for their own project. Have them review the final grading rubric, allow them to ask any clarifying questions, and grade the sample. It will help them realize what an "A" project should look like.
3. HAVE CLEARLY DEFINED STUDENT ROLES
In order to avoid some students in the group working a lot harder than others, have defined job roles for the project along with formative checkpoints to make sure they are progressing. For example, for a forensic crime scene project, group roles could include: evidence collector, crime scene photographer, forensic science specialist, and reporter. Naturally, not every group role will have the exact same amount of work, so they need to learn how to help each other (more on this with tip #9).
4. GIVE STUDENTS SOME FREEDOM OF CHOICE
One way to get student buy in is by letting them have some freedom to make decisions in the project. In PBL, this is called student voice and choice. You can allow students to choose which roles they want, who their audience should be, their mode of presentation (powerpoint vs brochure or poster etc). If you are worried about them having too much freedom, you can require teacher approval of whatever they decide before moving on. Overall, you will have a lot more buy-in from students when they have had an opportunity to make group decisions.
5. HAVE A GROUP NORMS CONTRACT
Even when you teach older grades, you will still have students whining “but (enter student name) just sits on her phone” or “(enter student name) never has his part ready on time.” Students need to learn how to self monitor and not run to the teacher with complaints. At the beginning of the project, have the group create a norms sheet that they all agree to and sign off on. If any students are breaking the norms during the project, they should be able to more effectively monitor themselves when they have a signed document to refer back to. They can say things like “Remember when we all agreed to have our work completed on time?”
6. TEACH STUDENTS TO GIVE EFFECTIVE PEER FEEDBACK
Throughout the project, you need to have students give each other peer feedback. This will take a lot of the work load and grading off your shoulders and you will end up with higher quality work. Depending on the project, you can a) choose to have students give feedback to others within their own group, or b) have them critique the work of other groups (this only works well when groups aren't competing with each other or trying to come up with really original ideas).
Some ways you can have students give each other feedback are:
7. CHECK IN WITH GROUPS OFTEN, REDIRECT, AND REMIND THEM OF THE END GOAL.
If your goal of assigning a group project is for you to have a little R&R at your desk, you have the wrong idea. You need to be constantly monitoring groups, checking in, and giving guidance. Students have a tendency to have side conversations about prom, check their phones, discuss their work schedule.... you know the drill. When you are walking around monitoring progress it will help nip these behaviors in the bud.
Also, sometimes students have been working hard and won't seek you out for help, but when you sit down with the group you realize they really need some redirection and suggestions. When this happens, take out the grading rubric, remind them of the final goal, and help align what they have done with the project expectations.
8. BE WILLING TO STEP BACK AND LET STUDENTS STRUGGLE
Now, I know I just told you to redirect groups and give suggestions when needed, but this does NOT mean tell them how to complete the assignment or do any hand holding. It is 100% okay to let them struggle! Part of their growth and learning process is to struggle along the way, brainstorm solutions to any problems that arise, and learn to overcome hurdles. Some of the best projects were ones that my students whined about the most. For example, I had students create animated videos on scratch.mit.edu, an introductory coding site. Partners were assigned a cell process (such as photosynthesis or DNA replication) and had to show me an animated version of that process by making a video. Let me tell you.... they whined and cried for 2 weeks about how hard it was. The struggle was real. But by the end, they had some awesome videos to show me that they were really proud of.
9. WHEN YOUR PART IS DONE, YOU AREN'T DONE. BE A TEAM PLAYER.
When you are nearing the end of the assignment, you might catch some students sitting back with their feet up. When I would ask "why aren't you working with your group?" I would often get the response "because my part is done."
We had many classroom conversations about how nobody is done until the entire group assignment is completed. There is ALWAYS work to be done. Sometimes it is helpful to give students a checklist of things they can do when their part is completed. It could include:
10. EVALUATE AND REFLECT
I always allow students to peer evaluate their group members at the end of a group assignment. It's not fair for everyone to receive the same grade if they didn't do equal amounts of work. Give students a grading rubric (it can be simple: rate your peer on a 1-5 scale on these 3 criteria) and have them rate their group members. I always tell them to be completely honest- no one will see the papers but me.
Once the group project is over, I also think it is valuable to have a classroom discussion on what went well and what didn't go well. How can we work better next time? Where did we fall short? Where did we exceed expectations? (These conversations are really valuable for you as the teacher so you can learn what to modify and tweak for the following school year). When students worked exceptionally hard, I would always try and have some sort of reward. It can be as simple as buying a box of otter pops or having a movie day (ideally related to the project), but allowing students to have a break at the end of a project giving them a brain break is always appreciated.
I hope you found some of these tips helpful and try a group project or two this year!
When we ask students to review each other's work and give feedback, we often hear...
"Why did you do that?" or
"It's just wrong." or
"It's good" (even when it's not).
Teaching students to give effective feedback is hard and takes a lot of student practice. And then more practice. If you are using project based learning in your classroom, peer feedback is a vital part of the process (you can read more about PBL here). But it's worth it when you get to the point where students give feedback that is meaningful and actionable, and you are receiving higher quality work at the end. It's going to save you a lot of grading time!
So, where do you begin?
1. Always begin by modeling what good feedback looks like.
Pass out a sample lab report, essay, or whatever assignment your class will be completing. Walk the students through the strengths and weaknesses of the assignment, and show them that feedback needs to be specific in order for the person to improve. Show them how it is possible to be honest and be kind at the same time.
2. Don't ask them to give feedback on everything all at once.
It can be overwhelming if a student gets back their lab report or essay and it is covered from top to bottom in red pen. Instead, beak it down into smaller chunks. On the first round of feedback, have students look for and highlight the thesis or hypothesis and write in tips to make it more clear. On the second round have them look for and highlight supporting details or data and write in any clarifying questions. On the third round they can check for grammatical errors.... you get the picture. By breaking it down into smaller, manageable chunks you are making it easier on both the student giving the feedback and the student receiving the feedback.
3. Feedback should be actionable.
Make sure that if students leave comments, they need to be actionable. If they just write "paragraph needs work" in the margin, that isn't helpful. Why does it need work? What specifically needs to be improved? If the feedback isn't clear, the author of the assignment can go back and ask "What did you mean when you wrote this?" and get some clarification.
4. Feedback should be timely.
One mistake is waiting until the very end of the assignment or project to do a round of peer evaluations. If the assignment is due on a Friday and you wait until Wednesday or Thursday to give feedback, it can be too late. Students are busy after school with jobs and sports and need time to make edits. By giving feedback multiple times along the way, it will save them a lot of frustration and time at the end. Also, plan ahead and build in class time for editing instead of having them do it all at home.
5. Feedback can be anonymous.
Sometimes students don't want to offend or hurt feelings when giving feedback, so they only leave nice comments instead of being completely honest. By providing methods of anonymous feedback such as sticky notes, gallery walks, or removing names and numbering the papers instead, you are allowing students to be more honest in their critique. That being said, you are opening the door to negative comments as well. Be sure to go over expectations with students prior to the activity, and if problems do arise, have a way to track down the offender (try different pen colors or group them in small groups to narrow down the possibilities).
I love this video of "Austin's Butterfly" and show it to my high school students even though it is of elementary kiddos. It shows the process of giving feedback where "they were specific but they weren't mean about it."
Sentence frames are also a great way for students to give structured feedback, especially when they don't know where to begin. If you would like to check out some FREE peer feedback forms I have used with my students, you can download them here.
Want a fun way to change up how you assess your students? While there is value in giving multiple choice assessments (students need to have these test taking skills to pass the ACT and SAT), I also like to change it up. Not all students do well with multiple choice or written tests, and offering creative ways for students to show their learning is always fun.
I recently finished my cells unit, and asked students to create an infographic on an organelle. We used the website piktochart.com which is free. (There are paid upgrades, but everything students need is available with the free account). Students found the website to be relatively user friendly- everything is click and drag.
The project students about 4 class periods to complete. The first day I showed the students sample infographics and we discussed what characteristics were of a good infographic. If you want some samples of quality infographics there are a TON on pinterest. Then I had students do background research on their organelle (I required a minimum of 5 facts on their infographic). The following two class periods students created their infographics and do some peer editing. On day 4 students finalized their edits and submitted them to me. The biggest hiccup we tried to avoid was it turning into a power point slide with a bunch of text. I reminded them that the goal of an infographic is to use images to make complex information quick and easy to understand. For example, if you state that the average US meal travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, how can you help the reader visualize that? (It's roughly the distance from New Orleans to Phoenix, so they could include a map).
Here are some sample infographics we came up with:
Prior to turning in the inforaphics we did a few rounds of peer feedback and editing. This will save you a lot of time later when you go to grade them. After editing students shared the link to their infographics in an email to me, but you could easily have them upload it to google classroom or canvas if you use these tools. Also, if your library can print them poster size they are great for classroom decor!
If you are interested in checking out the forms and grading rubric I used for this project, you can check them out here.
I hope your students have fun creating them!
Guest speakers can be such a powerful tool to your classroom and are hugely underutilized. I don't think I truly understood their value until I started teaching project based learning. Part of PBL includes having a public audience (you can check out a blog post on this topic here). As I developed projects and started bringing in people from the community it made a huge impact on my students.
Why are they so powerful? First, students are used to hearing us teach every day, and don't always give us 100% of their attention (who am I kidding, they RARELY give us 100% of their attention). But whenever I've had a guest speaker come in, the students seem to hang on to their every word. Another reason they are invaluable is because they can bring in a level of specialized content knowledge that you don't have.
For example, I recently had my students complete a project where they had to design a food truck. We had been learning about sustainable agriculture, macromolecules, and nutrition. Students were asking questions I didn't have specific answers for, like how much local ingredients would cost and how they could decrease their company's carbon footprint. I could have done some internet research to help them find the answers, but why not go straight to the source? I sent a quick email to the owner of a farm not too far from our school asking if students could ask her some questions over the phone about her business. She was more than happy to speak to them and talk about her organic farm and the struggles of starting a small business. They were able to record the phone conversation and refer back to it later as they prepared for their presentations.
Where to find guest speakers
I promise when you begin to reach out to people in the community, you will be surprised how willing they are to come in and speak to your students. You won't always get a yes, and you won't always find people that can stay all day and speak to multiple class periods. (One way to solve the multiple class periods issue is to record the presentation and show it to your other classes). I've had luck tracking down people willing to speak to my students from almost all of the places listed below:
The Beauty of Modern Technology
While it is always ideal to have someone come in and meet with your students personally, this isn't always possible. But there are other options! Websites such as www.skypeascientist.com allow you to do a skype or google hangout session with a scientist. You choose which type of scientist you would like to skype with based on what you are teaching and they will match you up accordingly.
I've also had students do phone interviews with multiple people ranging from professors at our local university to food truck owners. If you email people and ask if they have 10 minutes to spare for a quick phone conversation they will almost always say yes. As a bonus, it is good practice for students to learn how to speak professionally on the phone.
A closing tip....
Most guest speakers that come in aren't used to speaking to teens. They do a great job, but don't have the same practice you do. One thing I've noticed is that they aren't used to what us teachers call "wait time." They tend to ask a question to students, wait about 2 seconds, and then answer it if they don't see hands go up.
When the guest speaker comes, pull them aside quickly and give them a gentle tip to wait a while after asking students a question. Explain to them that students need much longer processing time than adults. I've never had anyone be offended by me giving them this tip, and it's made the classroom discussions much better.
Good luck finding a guest speaker and enjoying a day of listening and learning instead of teaching!
We all have those few students who slack during the semester, have a 57%, and come begging for extra credit before grades are due. For many teachers the answer is....
... and I totally get it. Grading late work is no fun and I'm not going to go out of my way to find extra credit assignments. But there have been times where I have a student who is honestly working their butt off and deserve a small boost. Here are a list of extra credit opportunities that are actually worthwhile (opposed to bringing in boxes of tissues or cleaning your lab tables!) Some require more effort than others, so you can decide how much each assignment should be worth.
1. Crash Course Videos:
Have your students watch a crash course video on a topic you have learned about and ask them to write a summary of the video. You can find the crash course videos on youtube here.
2. Have students record themselves doing a home experiment. For example, you can have them test Newton's 1st law of motion by pulling a tablecloth out from under the dishes. Need ideas of what they can try? Check out Steve Spangler's Sick Science videos on youtube, have them watch a video, try it at home, and write a small summary of how/why it works.
3. Have students do service for a scientific cause.
I would love for all students to leave my classroom knowing that it is important to leave the world a better place than we found it. Service could include doing a neighborhood clean-up, starting a garden, or participating in a citizen science project. Have them do a write-up of what they did and get a parent signature.
4. Complete a book report.
Ask students to read a science-related book and write a book report on it. The book should be approved by the teacher prior to beginning. There are a ton of science related books out there that students would enjoy such as "Stiff" or "Packing for Mars" by Mary Roach, "The Martian" by Andy Weir, or "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. You can read another blog post that includes more book recommendations here. (Want a comprehensive book list your students can choose from? CLICK HERE).
5. Watch a science documentary:
There are a ton of free science documentaries out there that can be found on youtube (or netflix if they have an account). The documentary should be approved by the teacher prior to beginning. Ask students to write a 1-2 page summary of the documentary, what they learned, and how it impacts their life. (This could also work for podcasts!)
Have any other great extra credit ideas? Leave them in the comments!
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You made it to the last blog post in this 4 part series! If you missed any of the previous posts, you can click below to get caught up:
#1: What is PBL?
#2: Getting Started
#3: The Product
This last blog post will be about extending learning beyond the classroom with a public audience and community partnerships.
Why a Public Audience?
After students have worked hard for multiple weeks on a project, it is important to have people to showcase it to. The students should have their audience in mind as they create the product, as it needs to be presented on the appropriate level. Public audiences could include:
Students need to feel like they belong to the community they live in. Statistics show that the time many students get into trouble is the few hours right after school before they head home. If students build positive relationships with community members we can strengthen a community built on trust, empathy, and acceptance. You might be surprised at how many community members will jump at the chance to be a part of your project. One tip: You don't have to be the one to reach out. Get your students on the phone! A lot of times adults might turn you down when you call, but if a student calls they are more willing to come and help out.
I know PBL can seem overwhelming and daunting at first, but the payoff is huge. If you need help, drop your questions in the comments below! Good luck!
You are on part 3 of a 4 part blog post on PBL in the science classroom. If you missed the previous posts, CLICK HERE to head back to blog post 1- "What is PBL?" or CLICK HERE to head back to blog post 2- "How to get started". This blog post will cover how to complete the meat of the project- the product.
Before the project launch, you should have come up with the product idea. Remember the product is the summative assignment you want students to complete by the end of the project. You should have 2 products: a group product and an individual product. This allows students to showcase their own learning as well as work with others to problem solve and learn to work cooperatively.
Student Voice and Choice
Students should given some sort of choice options throughout the project. How much freedom you give them depends on you. Voice and choice options could include:
Research and Sustained Inquiry
PBL takes a great deal of research on the students' part (remember, they are in charge, not you!). You will need to teach students about how to find reliable sources and how to cite them properly. Also, since projects usually take a few weeks to complete, how will you keep students engaged? You should plan ways to keep the project moving and on track.
Included in my PBL resource is a form for students to record their research and group forms for them to create norms, a group contract, and a status report form so you can easily check in with each group. You can check out this resource HERE.
Student Critique and Revision
It is important for students to be given opportunities to review, critique, and edit their work before the final product is due. While it is good to give feedback yourself, it is also good to teach students how to give feedback to each other. This can be difficult for students unless they have been taught how. Some tips include:
One more step to go- having a public audience. If you are ready, CLICK HERE to head to the last blog post in this PBL series. Don't forget to check out my PBL resource that includes a lot more details, student forms, grading rubrics, and sample projects by clicking on the image to the left!
In this blog post we are going to cover the first 3 steps to project based learning: the entry event, the driving question, and student need-to-knows. In case you missed the first part of this blog series- "What is PBL?" you can click here to go back and read it.
Before starting the project with your students, you should have mapped out what you want your students to learn about and create (the product). Suppose you are teaching about nutrition and macromolecules and you would like your students to create a recorded cooking show that walks you through a particular recipe. The next steps (and topic of this blog post) are planning how to introduce the project to your students.
1. The Entry Event
The entry event is how you will introduce the project to your students to get them engaged in the topic. When I was in college they taught us the term "anticipatory set" which is the same idea. Per my example: how will you get students excited about macromolecules and nutrition? Some things you could use as an entry event could include:
2. The Driving Question
The driving question is the main question you want students to be able to answer by the end of the project. A good driving question is engaging, complex, requires critical thinking, and is not something students can just go Google the answer to. Make the wording of the question student friendly. You want the students to be excited about the question, so it doesn't have to directly address the product. For the nutrition project, a good driving question might be "Are all foods created equal?" This question not only piques your interest, but is also broad enough it can be taken down multiple roads; not just nutritional value but also the carbon footprint of the ingredients, water usage, flavors, cultural significance, and more.
If you live in a state that uses NGSS standards, you are in luck. Since NGSS standards are performance based, they can easily be turned into a driving question. For example:
3. Need to Knows
Once you introduce the project to the students, the next step is to have them create a list of need-to-knows. This is a list of all the things students think they will need to know in order to answer the driving question and complete the project. For the nutrition project, need to knows might include:
Are you interested in learning more about these first three steps? I have a PBL resource available in my TpT store that includes more details, project planning forms, over 40 possible student product options, and 100 possible driving questions that span all science disciplines. You can check it out HERE.
Ready to learn about the next 3 steps of PBL? CLICK HERE to head over to the next blog post!
The past few years I’ve had the opportunity to teach a course entirely through project based learning. Our local university approached a couple of schools in our district and asked us if we were interested in teaching a cross-curricular PBL program where our grade 12 students can earn college credits. Ummmm…. heck yeah! Basically, the students travel as a cohort to 3 common classes- English, biology, and sustainability. The students work on projects that integrate all the content areas. It has been truly rewarding to teach a class where students are assessed on their conceptual knowledge and performance opposed to how they score on a multiple choice test.
I've learned a ton about project based learning through trial and error, and am here to share tips with you in a 4 part blog series.
Part 1: What is PBL?
Part 2: How to plan and get started
Part 3: Implementing the project and creating the product
Part 4: Beyond the classroom (public audience)
So what exactly is PBL?
Project based learning is much different than just throwing a project into your curriculum. Project based learning is a shift in the entire way you teach and run your classroom. Take a look at the chart below that compares project based learning with traditional classrooms:
One of the biggest differences between PBL and traditional instruction is that you as the teacher are not in the driver's seat. You pose a question to them that they will need to solve, but they drive the process. This question is generally complex, will need a lot of research to answer, and will cover more than one discipline (see the 2nd blog post in this series to learn more about driving questions).
Why choose PBL?
Imagine a classroom where students are truly engaged in the content, they feel like the concepts are applicable to their lives, and they have to use critical thinking skills on a daily basis in order to solve a problem. Project based learning can take that student who usually zones out in class and turn him or her into a leader. When you choose the right topic, it brings your content to life and students feel like they have ownership over their learning. I'm currently in my 3rd year teaching PBL, and I've seen engagement skyrocket. Not only that, but learning goes much deeper. In PBL, students solve a real problem, opposed to doing a traditional project like build a model of a cell that doesn't require any critical thinking.
One criticism of PBL...
One thing that students might complain about is that the majority of the PBL process is done in groups. If you have a student that doesn't like working in groups then they might complain. One way to combat this problem is:
What are the steps of PBL?
Project based learning occurs in 7 main steps. In the next blog post, I will cover the entry event, driving question, and student need-to-knows. In the 3rd blog post, I will talk about the meat of the project- creating the product and all that comes with it. In the last blog post I will discuss why it is so important to have a public audience and build community partnerships.
Before you continue, there are 2 words you need to know so you don't get confused. The words "project" and "product" mean very different things in the PBL process.
The PROJECT is the overall process of PBL that includes the 7 steps listed above. It is everything needed to complete the process from start to finish.
The PRODUCT is what students create at the end of the project to demonstrate their learning. It might be an essay, a cookbook, a podcast, or a fundraiser. (More on this in the 3rd blog post).
Alright, are you ready to dive in? Click here to head over to the 2nd blog post in the series!