My STEM Units

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Using Project-Based STEM to Prep for the Digital Test

The first day jitters are over.  You know every student's name.  You also know who can't sit next to their friend and who will correct you every time you make a mistake on the board.  Your literature circles are humming along nicely and your Socratic seminars are lively yet respectful.  You are a Common Core ninja.  You got this.

And then your principal shows you the new digital assessment.

Oh, you weren't surprised to see the "cite your evidence from the text" ELA question.  You didn't bat an eyelash at the "justify your reasoning" prompt on the Math test.  But, "drag and drop", "highlight the phrase", and "align the protractor"!?  One principal asked, "is this testing them on the standards or testing them on their use of technology?"  The answer is, "yes".

In Arizona, we have renamed the Common Core State Standards to the Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards.  The name says it all.  We are preparing them for college and career.  Even at the base level, an application for Wal-Mart is completed online....with a time limit.  Big rig (18 wheeler) drivers  have to use handhelds when they deliver their loads.  Even college classes that meet in person, in a real room, still have components which students must complete online .  It stands to reason that if we are going to prepare our students for college and career, then we must bring technology into the classroom.  

Educational technology is not a new concept.  Teachers have been incorporating ed tech into classrooms for years.  But to what degree?  Is the only laptop in the room for teacher use?  Are the students merely viewing videos once as a "reward"?   It stands to reason that citizens of the 21st century will be taught to use technology, engage with technology, and then be tested on it.

To read more about Digital Learning and Digital Assessments, read these posts:
Digital Testing Requires Digital Learning
Digital Learning Day, Every Day
The New Digital Assessment
PARCC Sample Test Answers and Rationale

Connecting STEM to Digital Assessments

By now, everyone knows that the T in STEM stands for Technology.  But an iPad app here and a typed essay there is not sufficient for 21st century learners.  Digital natives crave to create technology, not merely consume it.  So, how do we do that in a way that is meaningful to them?  Enter Project-Based STEM units.

A new research report released last week notes the importance of project-based STEM units:
high-quality project-based curricula might be able to help narrow the science education achievement gap in children from low-income backgrounds or other groups that are underrepresented in STEM fields. (Ingfei Chen)

What Does This Look Like?

If you have not seen examples of the new digital assessments (PARCC, Smarter Balanced, or Arizona), I encourage you to do that.  Below, I will show some examples of digital skills on the assessments and how we are using STEM units to teach and foster those skills.

Charts and Grids
The chart above is a page from the 5th grade ELA assessment.  Notice that the students must be able to toggle back and forth between two texts and one video.  Students must also know how to use the scrolling bar to read the entire text.  Only after all that, will the students be ready to answer the question by filling in the chart.  Daunting?  Perhaps.  Impossible?  No.  Just take a look at how I incorporated the digital skill of charts/grids into 5th grade STEM.
After students engage with a simulation they enter data in a grid/chart.  There is a lot of Gradual Release of Responsibility in our STEM units, as we go through the stages of "I do, we do, you do".  This activity is done whole class.  For many students, this is their first experience with a digital chart.  But as we can see from the sample assessments, it won't be their last.

The screenshot above is from the 6th grade ELA assessment.  Showing videos in class is not new but referring to time stamps might be.  Another shift is the reference back to the video as "visual text".  Teachers are adept at asking students to refer back to their text yet rarely require students to refer directly back to a video.  Now, take a look at how I incorporated analyzing visual text into our 4th grade STEM unit.

On this page, you see that students are asked to take notes while viewing the video.  This is a "student page" of the online unit, so the students have control of the video.  They can pause to take notes, rewind to review sections, and fast forward to go directly to certain time stamps. On pages after this example, students are asked to respond to their visual text, citing evidence with time stamps.

Drag and Drop
The screenshot above is from the 3rd grade ELA assessment.  On this page, you see that students are asked to drag the blue boxes into the correct box.  You might think that drag and drop is so easy.  And it is.  When you have a mouse.  But many students will take the assessment on a touch screen tablet.  When the students attempt to drag the boxes, the entire screen moves.  It is important to practice drag and drop activities with the touch screen so the students know how to manipulate the boxes.  Now, look at the drag and drop activity in our 3rd grade STEM unit.

This screenshot from our 3rd grade STEM unit shows that the students will indeed get the practice of dragging and dropping.  The activity is not superficial, yet integral to the STEM unit.

There are many more digital tools that students must navigate in order to "show what they know" on the big digital assessment.  We have analyzed each grade level (ELA and Math) to embed those digital tools where appropriate.  Subscribe to this blog (on the right sidebar) to get a notification when I post the digital tools on the Math sample assessments that I have embedded into our STEM units.  I encourage you to use project-based STEM units to embed those digital tools to make the learning relevant.  "Relevance makes rigor possible" (Dr. Dagget).

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