Monday, February 24, 2014

Reflections: History of Slavery Through Time.

We are finished!  A month later than planned, this due to two reasons.  Snow and Fantasticness.

Snow days on a block schedule are MURDER.  I didn't see my 8th graders for an entire week.  But I did get to spend three days cuddled with my girls at home...  If this wasn't a "no fault" year for state assessments I would be freaking out about how much time I have lost and how behind I am from previous years.  I am hoping the changes in standards and testing will help keep me more relaxed on my schedule.

Fantasticness.  It became apparent very early on in the project (after day one..) that in order to give the kids enough time for their ideas to turn in to products, this was going to take a lot longer than I previously thought.


That said.  I thought a list of pros and cons would be good for anyone thinking of doing a similar project.  Here is a list of what WE came up with (I say "we" because the kids helped me with this, their struggles, their reflections, and their successes.)

* The students worked independently. They thrived when challenged with LESS instruction from me.  They came up with ideas for projects I never would have thought to assign.  The level of UNIQUE creativity was just amazing.

* They enjoyed the project and talked about it outside of class.  Kids who NEVER do homework were working on this outside of class.  They didn't see it as homework.  I never once heard "When am I going to need to know this?"

* They explored new apps, if they didn't know how to do something they wanted done, THEY looked it up or WE collaborated together to figure something out.  Sometimes as teachers we can get frustrated with the lack of student understanding and just give in and give out answers (don't act like you've never done it...), but this project took that away.  I truly didn't know the answers to some of their questions.  They had to be independent, collaborate with their partner and seek out the answer for themselves. 

* We had some STANDOUT presentations that were just AMAZING, the projects that weren't great were good.  And even the projects that turned out to be duds (and there definitely were...), those students still LEARNED MORE about slavery than if I would have just given a test.

* Many groups wanted to do humorous presentations.  Slavery isn't funny.  After hearing some of the ideas we had to figure out ways to either scrap the funny concept all together or put humor in the characters rather than the subject.  After doing this project I have thought about moving it to a different unit of study (maybe Constitutional Convention) where there could be some humor added, but that comes at the beginning of the school year and I'm not sure if the kids would be ready.  Lost of thinking to do here...

* Early finishers.  I mentioned before that this took quite a bit of time for those groups that were working super hard and going that extra mile.  Well that was true for about 90% of the groups.  There were about 10% who finished early.  I had one group done in a day and a half.  What to do with them?  For this project, I pretty much left them alone as long as they weren't bothering or distracting other groups.  They were good to use as recorders and I could give them simple tasks to do for me.  I know when I do this next time I need to have something in place for them to do.  Maybe something truly awful and boring so they will want to do anything and everything to make their project better.  Any ideas out there???

*  Grading is hard...I didn't create a specific rubric based on specific guidelines that I didn't set.  I started out saying here's what you need to do
  1. Have technology:  That's easy.  No technology no points.  They all have technology in some way shape or form.
  2. Be creative.  This is the really hard one.  It is hard to justify one groups creativity vs. another.  I tried to link it to having a job in the future.  Someday you may have to give a presentation to a client.  If they don't like it, they don't buy it, or hire you, or pick your firm.  I am your client.  Impress me.  PowerPoint presentations will get a low creativity score. 
  3. Presentation:  You have to be part of the presentation whether you are speaking, acting, drawing, singing etc... PRACTICE. 
I'm still not convinced that I graded this correctly.  Do letter grades even match this type of project?  This is truly the most difficult part of the entire project for me.  Letting go of the control was easy, but justifying the letter grade is VERY difficult. 

After some more reflection and exploration into rubrics, I have found ways to assess this project in the future.  Rubistar has some great ideas on how to score originality (a MUCH better word than creativity).  There ways to give expectations without limiting the possibilities. 

* Absences??? This problem didn't hit each group of students, but the ones who did experience the sick partner would probably say this is the biggest problem they had.  Absence can't be helped and they can frustrate the best and brightest students.  One thing I will do for sure next year is make sure the kids share project information from iPad to iPad.  If the partner who has ALL the material on his or her iPad is gone, this leaves the other out to dry.  Maybe that will solve itself if I move the project to the beginning of the school year and not smack dab in the middle of flu season.

All in all, this was a great project and I enjoyed seeing the results it yielded.  This being the first time I let go of the control, I liked it and hope to have more adventures with this method in the future.