Project 3 - Self Assessment Rubric
Shannan Muskopf

Assessing Activity

My classroom curriculum is described as a laboratory based science course, so much of the curriculum is designed to include activities that give students an opportunity to work with scientific technology and to collect data and analyze that data. The learners are often engaged in activities and tools within the classroom, but little of the learner’s time is spent engaged with tools and objects found outside the school. Logistically, many of the topics covered in biology are laboratory centered, and since most students don’t have a laboratory at home, the activities are limited to the classroom environment.

The laboratory based curriculum does encourage observation and reflection. Many of the labs are described as “open-ended” where students are given objects or data, and are asked to discuss with their peers what conclusions can be drawn from them. Students, therefore, share frequent observations about their activity with peers and interested adults. An example is a lab where students observe a fish, and slowly lower the water temperate, they observe and record data about the fish’s breathing rate and develop a hypothesis to explain what they have observed.

Students use some cognitive tools to support explorations and manipulations. Admittedly, many of the labs have been “dummied” down to make it easier for lower level students to achieve the goals. The recipe structure of the activities though improves the smoothness of the activity, often hinders the development of cognitive thinking. Students will often follow the recipe and do the minimal, without making broader connections. Though the labs will ask for the students to draw conclusions and evaluate data, many will just quickly write what happened to get the assignment done. For instance, in the fish lab, some students will go the extra mile, truly be curious about the fish’s behavior and even manipulate some other variables (like heating up the water). Other students will follow the directions, copy down their data and with as little effort as possible say “the fish breathed slower” as a conclusion.

Assessing Construction

Interest level varies among the learners. Learners frequently seem to be operating based on a sincere curiosity about the topic of study. The use of real tools and laboratory based activities does seem to motivate students to want to try things out and experiment, however this motivation drops considerably when the students get to the point of publishing their observations and conclusions. For example, in one activity, they are given a live earthworm and their task is to design experiments to discover what environment the earthworm prefers (they are given certain parameters to test - light/dark , cold/warm , moist/dry). They seem very motivated to play with their earthworm and flashlights and the cold packs, but they tended to moan and groan when it came to actually writing out their results.

Learners are often expected to make sense of new experiences and develop theories. Often, rather routinely in this case, because the class is designed to be lab-oriented, but it also contains a good deal of lecturing and direct instruction. So while students may have to develop theories about earthworm preferences, they will also spend a good amount of time memorizing the taxonomy and anatomy of the earthworm. Some of the labs do require the students to develop their own approach at solving problems, but the vast majority of the labs are basic, follow the instructions and answer the questions in the lab manual. Science teachers often describe one type of lab as a recipe lab, and the other type as an open-ended lab. Open ended labs are obviously more geared toward cognitive tools and mental modeling, but they are not used as frequently.

Assessing Cooperation

Students are often working in groups to solve problems and complete assignments. Learners are often immersed in activities in which collaboration with peers results in success. Many of the activities require the students to delegate duties within the group. For instance, in the earthworm activity, students work in groups of 4, and the groups must determine who is going to be the “worm wrangler”, the “equipment specialist”, the “data gatherer” and the “group leader”. I often put these types of group designations on the lab manual, because I’ve found that when students are given a particular job to do, the entire group becomes more responsible for the activity, since each individual has a specific job to do.

The majority of the coursework is done in class. Little of the learner’s time is spent gainfully engaged with experts outside of school. In fact, homework is rare in my class, most of the students do their work in class, and may have some reading assignments to do outside of class.

Because most of the course is set up to be activity of lab based, cooperation has been emphasized. Students learn early on that in order to be successful, they are going to have to learn to work with a group. After some practice and developing a group dynamic, the learners collaborate with ease. Negotiations become almost invisible, yet the ideas of all team members are valued.

Within the group, usually the most capable learner will take on the job of team leader, no matter what activity they are doing. These roles seldom shift, I could probably predict exactly who is going to be doing what in any activity. Though the students do decide their own roles, they will almost always decide them in the same way. The most boisterous student will usually get the “team leader spot”, the quiet shy student will have the “data gatherer position”, the student that can’t be trusted to do either will be given the “worm wrangler” or “equipment specialist” job. Often these two jobs will also fall to the student who is the least motivated to do anything. Group members can then tell him or her to go get the flashlights, or go get the worm, and the team member will do so and feel his or her job is complete. So, even though students are allowed to choose, roles and responsibilities are shifted infrequently; most capable learners accept more responsibility than the less capable.

Assessing Authenticity

The tasks learners face have been designed for schools, and are separated into distinct subjects. Though some math does apply to science labs, where students are required to make graphs and evaluate trends in data, the majority of the instruction is strictly science based. There is no program in place to coordinate cross-curriculum or theme based units. Occasionally, I’ll try to add creative writing or historical themes to the lessons, but as a whole, the main focus is science.

Students are required to memorize facts. They may do a lab with earthworms where they generate hypotheses, conduct investigations and assess results, but for every one day spent on an activity like that, three to four days are spent in lecture and reading. Students are expected to know how an earthworm relates to other species, how it is classified, how it reproduces, and how it moves. They are required to memorize the anatomy of an earthworm and label it on a chart. Therefore, a large percentage of what is expected is memorization. Students sometimes (rarely) are asked to evaluate, synthesize, or create.

Much of the instruction down in class is lecture, read, worksheet format, though I have been actively trying to move toward a more constructivist approach where students become problem solvers. I’ve changed many of the lab worksheets to include open ended questions, where students have to think of how they can answer the question within the scientific method. I’ve removed many of the “recipes” in the labs to allow for more creativity and thought as students are required to essentially devise their own experiments. It seems as though both me and the students are learning with this approach, the labs don’t always go smooth and students often get off track. In this sense, students occasionally face ill-structured challenges and are expected to refine their problem as well as solve it.

The majority of the instruction and the majority of the labs still direct students toward a right or wrong answer. Even in the earthworm activity discussed earlier there is a right answer: earthworms prefer dark, moist, and cool environments. So even though the process is somewhat aligned with constructivist principles, the problems presented to learners tend to have right answers, correct solutions that the students are expected to eventually reach.

Assessing Intentionality

Before each unit, students are presented with goals of the unit, for instance in the unit on worms, students are given a list of objectives: define a worm, be able to identify the parts of a worm, list the parts of a worm, and describe a worm’s lifestyle. For this unit, as well as others, learners are generally engaged in activities that contribute to the attainment of specified goals.

The goals presented to the students come from the science curriculum guide, so that all teachers teaching the same subject have some uniformity. Learners are sometimes involved in the establishment of learning goals, as each teacher does have some freedom to veer off the chosen curriculum. In my class, the ecology unit starts with a brainstorming of a list of environmental concerns, students are asked to choose which topics they would like to learn about and establish their own goals. It is still directed, since I am required to cover specific topics and make sure my students have achieved specific objectives.

Learners’ progress is monitored by others, specifically the teacher. All projects, labs and worksheets are turned in for a grade, that grade decided by me based on either straight points or a rubric type evaluation. At no point do students monitor their own progress.

Little emphasis is placed on metacognition. There are few opportunities to discuss the learning process with peers or educators. Students do not have the opportunity to learn how to learn. Definitely an area I would like to improve upon. It is simpler to set the goals for the students, like do a reading assignment of fill out a worksheet. I have not approached this from a metacognitive standpoint where the students can discuss and evaluation their own processes. Certainly introducing mindtools and concept maps could improve this situation and I will try to incorporate this into my lessons next year.

Technology integration into the curriculum is just getting started at my district. We have a few technology lessons, where students explore web sites, answer questions or write reports. These lessons are specific to a particular unit. For instance, when learning about ecology, students visit “Recycle City” at the EPA site. Its a good lesson and does contribute to the learning goals of the ecology unit. Technology is not at this point making major contributions, instead it used to supplement specific unit objectives, therefore the use of technology contributes to the attainment of specified goals.