Thursday, October 22, 2009

Part 3 - The sacrifices

The final post in the series on criticisms of SBG. This was probably the second biggest hurdle for me.

This was my dilemma: How do I include my rocket project in standards-based grading?

For background, the rocket project is my favorite project of the year. Students build and test paper rockets. Here's a video from last year's class blog. I loved it. They built multiple rockets and had three different launches. In the end their grade was based on three things:

  1. How high their rocket went
  2. How straight the flight was
  3. Their ability to describe and calculate the forces acting on their rocket would I include this giant project in my grading system? Unfortunately, there isn't a California standard that had to do with building rockets. I could have included it in my general Science Skills standard but really it didn't fit. I was worried I would have to abandon the project all together. In the end it wasn't really a sacrifice. I simply changed how it was assessed. My standards all include a performance assessment component. Not only do they need to be able to calculate speed on a test, they also need to be able to set up and perform an experiment to find the speed of an object.

So in the end I only had to get rid of options 1 and 2 for the grade. It seems simple now but this caused me a lot of angst. I think this worked out for the best too. In the past so many kids failed just because they didn't complete their rocket or their car. If they really don't want to make a rocket, they can come up with an alternate assignment. I have a number of students who didn't complete the car and now are just coming after school to figure out the speed.

The biggest surprise for me was that I had the same number of students complete the car as before when it was, "Do the car or you fail."

Now what did I actually have to sacrifice? I got rid of quite a few labs. It turns out that a lot of labs I do are only tangentially related to the standards. Basically, I did them because they were fun. For me, that was really hard. One of the reasons science teachers become science teachers is that it gives us an excuse to blow stuff up. Are my student's suffering because of it? I don't think so. It turns out my definition of fun is not the same as most of my kids. It also turns out that if I looked or thought a little harder I could come up with a replacement lab that's more aligned.

I think you don't have to sacrifice your pet project if you don't want to. You just have to change the emphasis. Instead of my students building a junk car and trying to get it to roll five meters, they attempted to find the difference in speed between a high incline and a low incline. If a student has learned everything they've needed to learn, why should they fail just because they thought the car was a stupid project?

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to let you know how much I am appreciating your blogs. I am a math teacher, currently without a math class, but as I get ready to jump back in I am certain I am heading in the Standards-based direction. Your discussion here of the "disadvantages" has been very helpful for me to really think things through. It is important to be aware of the arguments against and be ready with an answer. Thanks!