Sunday, September 17, 2006

Blogs as Assessment For Learning Tools

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As I said in my recent podcast with Bud, I want to have my kids do less "handing in" and more "publishing." An idea I picked up from Will Richardson. Thursday was the first "Don't hand it in. Publish it!" assignment for my AP Calculus class.

BACKGROUND
Warning: There's math in this. ;-)
We're doing a lightning quick review of precalculus over the first two weeks of school. While all the material we're covering is familiar, we're covering it differently. There is a greater emphasis on multiple representations of functions (symbolic, graphical, numeric and verbal) and the use of technology (graphing calculators) to analyze and manipulate functions.

THE ASSIGNMENT
Thursday's class was a review of exponential functions. I handed out a "Lab" that invited students to find similarities and differences between linear and exponential functions and to identify key features of the exponential function. They worked in groups of four to answer six questions. There are 16 students in the class so there were four groups. They started with 15 minutes left in class; not enough time to complete the assignment. This was their homework assignment:

  • » Either face-to-face, on the telephone or online complete the six questions in your group.
  • » One member of the group will publish your solutions on the blog.
  • » When the other three groups have posted their solutions each student must leave one comment on each of the other group's published work. Your comment must say either that you agree with their solutions or not. If not, you must include what you think the correct answer is and why. This means that each published solution set will have a total of twelve comments.

ASSESSMENT
In class on Friday I asked them to tell me, as a class, what they believed the correct answers were. I told them this little story I had read from A School Yard Blog a while back (it's worth reading the entire post called Ted ... really, follow that link):

There is a story of the new recruit at an engineering company, fresh out of college, who was given a circuit to analyze on his first day on the job. He worked on it for most of the day and then brought his solution to the manager who had assigned the task that morning. The recruit placed his solution on the desk and waited eagerly for a response. The manager looked at the paper and then filed it. The recruit lingered for awhile and then said, “Well was I right?”

The manager was shocked. He asked, “Why would I pay you to find answers that I already know?”

I did not offer an opinion about what was or was not correct. I also asked them to tell me how they knew if they were right or wrong. They had to decide if they were right or wrong and figure out how to tell the difference. I gave them a mark for each correct published solution. I also looked at each student's comment. As long as it either indicated agreement with the published work or disagreement with justification, they got a mark for each comment. So the entire assignment was out of 9 marks. Although they got more marks for the work done as a group, the real work began when they published their work and analyzed the work of their classmates in the comments. (Assessment As Learning.) I have never felt grading an assignment to be so irrelevent and the learning done to be so significant. How do you attach a numeric grade to this? I must, so I did.

One of the posts was published very late (the time stamp is 9:34, the time they started typing) so I gave them until midnight Friday to get their comments in.

Like I do for their wiki assignments, I grade their work using irows. In Firefox I have one tab open to the blog where I grade their posts. I am automatically emailed as comments come in. I keep one tab open to my email and another to the irows spreadsheet where I enter their grades on the fly.

THE RESULTS
Of the four groups, one did not publish anything and one student made no comments at all. As for the rest, judge for yourself. And if you're so disposed, let them know what you thought. ;-)

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