Actual “Backwards Planning”

January 8, 2012 at 2:21 PM Leave a comment

Yeah, yeah, yeah, start with the assessment and aim your curriculum at what it is you want kids to know and be able to do. Sounds great. But secretly, pretty much every time, we try to remember what exactly we taught them this last unit and then try to make a test after the fact. Sometimes just barely ahead of test day, arrgh.

This year, for better and sometimes worse, we are forced to do four common assessments at each grade level that may not be multiple choice. It IS a good idea. In theory. In practice, it’s hard to bring together teachers from the “kings and queens of our class room” culture. We’ve come up with two so far at eighth grade. The second was for the Density and Buoyancy Assessment . The version I’m sharing is not the final, final version but for reasons of timing etc, it’s the version used in my class room this year.

Because we had to do this just ahead of teaching the unit, we really did have to drag out the science standards, and our school’s 21st Century skills departmental goals, look over what was done last year and consider what we wanted our kids to know and be able to do. And because it’s open ended questions, we took the step of letting the kids see the assessment from the start of the unit, so they also know exactly where they are headed and what the expectations will be. Feels more respectful and more real-life too. I suppose they could have memorized dad’s right answer, but in the end, they’ll have so much practice with the concepts and skills that they might as well learn them for themselves. I actually heard kids going out of the door last week repeating “1a, 2c, 3d…” for the next period’s multiple choice test. How sad is that?

As we were making decisions about what activities to include and what to cut, having the assessment properly sorted out really helped. I was also more mindful about separating out introducing a hard concept like buoyancy (with a rather intense, two day 12. Why do some things float lab) and practicing using the concept in a more fun and light-hearted way (Salad Dressing Science and how marshmallows float in hot chocolate just before the holiday break). It’s too hard for most of us to have rigor AND food fun in the same period. One tends to spoil the other. By the way, both these activities have teacher notes for materials and set up included after the student pages. Both labs have been tweaked in the light of our experiences too.

We used last year’s 2010 Density and Buoyancy short answer and multiple choice test (+ answer sheets) as a way for students to analyze their strengths and weakenesses before sending them home to review only the stuff they got wrong. That whole metacognitive thing is so important and so humbling too – admitting that you DON’T know something, brrr. But big time-saver too. Why bother with what you already know?

How are they doing? So far, their force diagrams for buoyant objects are great. We have yet to moderate the rest of the theory paper. The set up for the lab test on Monday is done (phew – see the teacher notes at the end of the assessment for help with that if you plan to use it.) I’m feeling anxious, with all the pouring of liquids and plopping in solids, it’s been basically bath time in 8th grade science class the last four weeks. Will report back in a few days when we’ve had time to grade it and analyze the results. Stay tuned.


Entry filed under: Assessment and grading, Chemistry topics, Critical Thinking, Education Psychology, Food science, Physics Topics, Reflections. Tags: , , , , , , .

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