May 16, 2016

Do, Check or Grade? Projects

I asked Twitter on Thursday what I should blog about. And that day they wanted to know what's worth holding kids accountable for and how to do it. I wrote about Homework and Classwork so far. When I taught geometry I did a lot of projects that involved making posters and coloring. Now that I have PreCalc and Algebra 1 I do some color coding of graphs but no posters. Since I don't do anything big that feels like a project I call them graded assignments. There are some assignments we do in class that are important enough I want to grade them. So I kind of lied in my last post when I said I didn't grade classwork, but I defined my way out of that lie at the beginning of the post!

Honors PreCalculus:
We do one graded assignment per unit. Students have the opportunity to start in class and typically have to do some parts at home. Sometimes students work in groups but usually these are individual tasks. The difference between these and a test are that I will help them and they can work together even if it's not a group project. If it is a group project there are still individual components to be sure everyone contributed. Also, there tends to be an element of choice to make them more interesting to grade. Students get to choose a ferris wheel to model, an exponential context to analyze, a photo to match etc.

They are graded out of a random number of points, whatever fits the assignment best. I really hate rubrics, there are too many words and they feel too vague. I give students checklists and each item is worth 1-2 points. This post has all of the ones I did in 2012-2013, while I've modified the assignments a bit the list is mostly the same as this year. (I called these things investigations back then). I should really write up the rest of them, I am surprised I've never shared my version of the ferris wheel assignment!

Graded assignments count as 30% of their grade. They are due on a particular day and I collect all of them whether students are done or not. When I return them they're marked up with highlighters and students can resubmit a corrected version for an improved grade. They have until the end of the quarter to submit/resubmit and raise their grade. Math Practice Portfolios fall under this category too.

Algebra 1:
Things work the same way as precalc but ninth graders get less choice it appears. I hadn't really thought about that before, but I guess it's true. In Algebra I collect problems in context (like this distance one) and less contextual challenges like Henri's designs (students do get some choice in that one!). I'll have to make a nice list of these too. That's part of our end of the year goal as we write up our curriculum. Someday it'll be organized.

Since we're doing standards based grading these assignments are graded by topic. For the distance graph assignment this year I had students answer the questions and write equations for each segment. The questions are all about rate of change, so students earned a score out of 5 for that topic. Then they earned a separate score out of 5 for their equations. We also are allowing students to submit/resubmit assignments from any quarter since their grade is a cumulative average rather than a fresh start each quarter.

General Projects Conclusions
I want to grade some work where students have a chance to take as much time as they want and collaborate. I try to pick a comprehensive assignment for each unit, and also one that is interesting. Students need to be able to demonstrate their basic skills on quizzes, but they also need to apply those skills. I also think it's important to balance grades. Projects are low pressure assessments, students need the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding in that climate as well as high(er) pressure assessments like tests. I never want to grade a parent's ability to do math so students are given ample time to work on these assignments in class.

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