Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Archaeological Dig - Presentations & The Soft Deadline

The last few blog posts have been detailing the project that my 8th graders have spent the first portion of the school year working on.  I wanted to introduce the various topics of the school year to my students through the interaction and identification of historical artifacts.  I have split the blog posts about this project into three different sections.  (Click on the first two to read those posts)
  1. The Set-Up
  2. The Dig & Identification of Artifacts
  3. The Presentation and Reflection
The students spent the previous week(s) working on learning the basics of archaeology, participating in an actual dig, and identifying the artifacts they found.  And now that they have a good idea of what they uncovered and what the event of their dig represents, it's time to put it all together in order to present their findings to the class.  

I originally set out to have this blog post be about the requirements I set up for the presentation the students would give.  But then, on one of my evenings of attempting professional development in the comfort of my PJ's and watching Facebook Live videos about PBL (an area I'm very interested in, and slowly learning more about).  I stumbled upon some cool ideas...which happens often with PD in my PJs!  (Try it sometime!)

The first.  Allowing for student voice and choice in their presentations.  And while I absolutely love the idea of including more student voice and choice in my classroom.  I decided that this project wasn't the place for it.  Why?  Because past experience with allowing students to choose their presentation format ends up with one or two REALLY COOL ONES and the rest barely above crap. Harsh?  Yes, but part of allowing student to choose the way they present means that the learning is more focused in the process and the final product doesn't necessarily end up "pretty."

You see...I wanted these to be "pretty."  As in, I wanted to teach the students what makes a good presentation.  Otherwise, I end up with paragraphs typed in calligraphy font and no pictures.  Ugh. I wanted to use this time to show the students how to make a quality presentation.  At the same time, I did relax on requirements of font types and background themes.  Spending more time on getting students to learn how to "talk to the audience" and not just read sentences that are projected on the board.  Later in the school year I can provide options for more voice and choice in student products, but for this particular project, part of the learning was also learning how to use the technology well.

Which brings me to probably one of my favorite new strategies that I discovered.  This will become standard in my class for all presentations given by my middle schoolers.  Are you ready...

The Soft Deadline.


Yeah, I hadn't ever heard of this before either.  But I'm telling you.  If you only pick up one thing, one strategy to use from my blog posts about the archaeological dig we did.  Take this one.  It's that good.

The idea of the "soft deadline" is to offer the students an opportunity to practice their oral presentation for the teacher in order to gain immediate feedback on what they could do to improve.  I LOVE THIS!

You see, this project/presentation was going to end up a pretty substantial chunk of the students' grades.  After hearing about the soft deadline idea, it really made me think about the fairness of that grade.  All the time, work, and effort put into a huge presentation with a huge grade and the only time they get to receive feedback from me is after it's done?  I didn't like that.  I have always made it a point that I am not out to trick my students or keep them from succeeding.  In fact, I want to do as much as I can to help them along the way.  This was simple.

To create sort of a timeline for you.  The students had 5 total days to work on the last portion of the project (identifying artifacts, theme, and creating the presentation).  We are on a block schedule so that meant 75 minute class periods.  The 6th day would be due date...presentation day.  On the 5th day (which was a Tuesday) I sent all groups to our large open lab to work.  Their goal, which they knew since day one, was to be ready to give a "practice presentation" to me in the classroom.

This would allow them to not only see what it looked like projected on the wall, but also interact with the technology, make sure the document was shared correctly with me, and go through who would be speaking and when.  I would provide them with immediate feedback that could help them take their presentation to the next level, if they chose to make the changes I suggested.

Out of about 24 groups total I had over half who were ready for the soft-deadline in time to practice their presentation with me.  The results were awesome.  EACH ONE OF THOSE GROUPS ended up with MUCH BETTER PRESENTATIONS and better overall grades than they would have had.

What about the half that weren't ready???

That ended up being a little bit of tough love from me and a lesson learned for them.  One of the biggest things that I end up trying to teach my students it to be independent workers and use the time given to accomplish goals.  Each day I would write on the board a list of things they should attempt to finish on a daily basis.  This was done to help them stay on track and keep them going.

This looked a little like...
  1. Complete the artifact analysis sheets.
  2. Begin corroboration chart to identify overall theme of tub.
  3. Show Mrs. Weber completed corroboration form.
  4. Read through instructions and begin to assign roles for Google Slides Presentation

However...other than walking around and checking on groups periodically, I DID NOT tell when to move from step to step.  They were in charge of making sure everything got done.

A chance to learn some natural consequences.  I had groups that were on task and busy the entire time.  They were my first to present on the soft-deadline day.  They were also some that received the highest grades.

I also had other groups that weren't on task all the time.  You know what?  That's ok...to a certain extent.  As long as the project got completed.  Some of those groups just missed out on the soft deadline opportunity.  Some needed it.  Badly.  Natural consequences.  Learned lessons.

At the conclusion of the project I had a couple outstanding presentations that were asked to come and repeat it again for the Board of Education at their monthly meeting.  This was a huge confidence boost to them and a chance to allow my students to "show off" for an audience outside of the classroom.  Awesome.

Interested in the project documents including rubrics?  Have questions about KCSS or the Walmart Community Grant?  Want to talk about different options to modify this project without funds, let's talk about it! Contact me on Twitter @JillWebs or on Facebook - Jill Weber-cms and we can collaborate!

Curious about PBL and the Live Facebook chats I've been following?  Find them on Facebook at LifePracticePBL and/or follow Ginger Lewman on Facebook and Twitter.  Seriously.  Follow her. I promise you'll find something you can use.

I am sure there will be more to come with my journey into PBL.  I am thinking our next project over the election will be a great time to allow for complete student voice and choice.  I may even dabble at having them create their own grading rubric and be part of the evaluation process.  What!?! Seriously. I think it could be awesome.  Stay tuned! 

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