Right up front I want to tell everyone that this idea was not originally mine. And, even though my co-teacher championed this approach and convinced me to do this it is not his original thought either. But, if I want to give credit to anyone I will give him credit for encouraging me to consider using checklists for our projects.
So,what is the difference between a rubric and a checklist? In simple terms a rubric is open ended and gives the criteria that must be met and will, usually, give levels of performance that are expected. A checklist is just a listing of the criteria. This allows students, teachers, or parents to know that the criteria has or has not been met.
How do we create our checklist? We start with the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Standards, the 12 step design process, and our school’s learning outcomes. We teach PLTW’s Introduction to Engineering Design or IED. The fundamental approach to everything our students do is related to the 12 step design process. And, every project will have these 12 steps that must be met during the duration of the project. It should be noted that during the first couple of projects we were still introducing what each of these 12 steps looked like. Therefore we only covered those steps that have been explained. For the first time this year our current project will cover all of the 12 steps.
The next ingredient for our checklist is our learning outcomes. In each of the New Tech Network schools we create our learning outcomes that originate from a list of 21st Century Skills. Everything we do is graded using one or more of these outcomes. Our school uses nine learning outcomes. These learning outcomes are Written Communication, Oral Communication, Critical Thinking, Numeracy, Technology Literacy, Global and Community Engagement, Collaboration, Work Ethic, and our Engineering Content.
We take these two areas and create a spreadsheet that we can alter for each project based upon specific skills that we want our students to have that demonstrate mastery. Here is a checklist that is being created for our current project:
You will notice that not every item has a graded criteria. Some of the design steps don’t go well with every learning outcome. That is why we, as a school, have stated that we will cover every learning outcome at least 3 times for every 6 weeks grading period.
Now one of the first things we remind students to do each day is to see where in this checklist they are and what they still have left to do. We keep our schedule sequential so the students know what step they are working on each day. Then they just need to see how they will be assessed for each of the appropriate learning outcomes.
To give our students a chance to improve their grades we have also grouped our checklist in groups of 4 Design Steps. They will complete informal presentations of the 4 steps in each group and they will be graded at that time on all of the learning outcomes within that group. During the next grouping they have the ability to improve their grades by making corrections to any of the learning outcomes that they did not demonstrate mastery of in the previous grouping. Then, when all steps are complete, there is a formal presentation and the grades are locked in.
A final difference that we are trying this year is the idea of a mastery grade. If the student is only partially right on the initial time of assessment but the student takes time to correct any deficiencies by the time the project is complete we give them a zero or a 50% with the knowledge that that grade can come up to a passing final grade. This is helped by the fact that our students keep all of their work on a Google Site (part of our Google Apps Suite). As long as they ask us to regrade any of the 12 steps of the design process we will look at the improvements. The one caveat is that this request must be submitted prior to the formal presentation of their project.
My initial thoughts on this new process is that the students are understanding what it is that they need to complete to be successful in the class. They seem to be doing better, as a class, than in the past. There will always be students who do all that is required and will seek out extra material and we can guide them in that direction. But the weaker students are getting more accomplished and the overall knowledge level seems better than in previous years.