In the long 6 weeks since my last post, a lot has happened, both in my Geometry class and outside of it.* The last time I wrote we were in the throes of similarity, struggling with the most difficult of theorems. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, we moved on to circles after spring break. I knew Circles would be no picnic either; students who have had difficulty pulling apart sketches of triangles and parallelograms can become overwhelmed by the complexity of the circle problems. We worked our way through the unit slowly – one day of concepts, two days of practice; I felt like I was keeping the students moving through sheer force of my will (to their credit, they continued to persevere), until we reached the more difficult angle and segment problems. With the end of the term in sight, I knew it was time to begin a final assessment.
The course terminates in a Regents exam, but the class is split 50/50 along the line of will or won’t take. For many of my students, the exam they have already passed (Algebra 1) fulfills the graduation requirement, and they have no intention of sitting for another test. But the other half of the class wants to take the exam (or, in my opinion, should challenge themselves to prepare and take it), and needs a lot of preparation. I need to somehow measure the growth the students have made over the term, as well as the first 2 terms of the course; the traditional assessments done in class have not yielded great results, but I know that they have been learning. Conferring and brainstorming with my colleague, I reached into my pedagogical carpetbag (a la Mary Poppins) and decided to put together what was dubbed at a former school of mine the HOTS and LOTS chart.
This acronym (referring to Higher Order and Lower Order Thinking Skills) is a huge choice board. It has 8 columns, one for each major unit, and 5 levels of complexity, very roughly aligned with Bloom’s Taxonomy. The students need to complete one activity for each unit, including only one at the lowest level and at least one at the highest level. I’ve spend an inordinate amount of time over the last 8 years searching and saving resources, and had a nice selection of activities from which to choose. I created a rubric and a log with specific instructions, put samples of each activity in color coded plastic sleeves, created new work groups, and prepared to launch the project. For those students who were going to prepare for the Regents exam, I have 8 Review sheets comprised of past Regents questions. They will work through the sheets one at a time, and each will be graded. They will have the benefit of cooperative groups and classroom resources (which includes teacher assistance). And they get a log, too.
So we launched the final project last week. We spent one day discussing the whole idea of the final assessment, and the students had a chance to review the choice board and look at the sample activities. They asked good questions, like whether this project could save them from failing (the answer being yes, if their work substantiated growth), and could they do the project and take the Regents exam as well (of course!). As the students were milling around looking at the activities, I observed them, a little nervously, but with excitement. I knew that everything I have been doing for the last 8 years has prepared me for this – crafting an activity that meets a wide range of needs, involves student choice (and thus higher engagement) and accountability, and sets the stage for what will hopefully a great learning experience for everyone. I looked back on all the noble failures (a.k.a. learning opportunities) I had over the years, and all the nuggets I squirreled away from blogs, TED talks, twitter chats, and articles, and knew that I was bringing my best game to this class.
*I made this quilt.