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How does performance task assessment work in my classroom?

So I have been asked many times: how do you work the performance task assessment in you senior classes? Well I try to explain it here.

But first we need to know that I base my classes on project- based or place based learning. No, we are not just doing projects that I assign. My students pick the research they wish to do in context with the unit topic. It needs to be relevant to them and locally important. I have had students create solar powered greenhouses, radiation affects on ASA, alternative energy source run golf carts and high altitude ballooning to name a few. But these were big projects and took time to develop my student base that was ready to venture into something so big.

So where do we start.

So for my science classes, each unit is started by giving students a performance task due for the end of the unit. For example we have the crystal presentation for the solubility unit in chemistry.

So right away my students are front loaded with the terminology we will be seeing and investigating this unit.

Solute, Soluble, Mixture, Unsaturated, Solvent, Insoluble, Heterogeneous, Saturated, Solution, Homogeneous, Precipitate, Supersaturated Concentrated, Dilute, Aqueous, Crystal

They are also given an activity or project to create something and record the process along the way. We will be doing investigations, experiments and learning about solutions along the unit. All of this information will be applied to their project.

Now they can use anything they wish after researching crystal making and doing some labs in class. Usually about a week into the unit, I will ask students to chat with me about their ideas for crystal making. I am looking for my students to articulates a method personalized to their home environment to successfully grow a crystal that requires no revisions. In otherwords;

  1. They will explain how and where they will grow the crystal

  2. How they will show the progression of its growth.

  3. They will have a plan for getting the chemicals needed

  4. They will have a reasonning of why they are using these chemicals and how they will create a crystal from this.

So now that I have heard the student plans, I can try to implement their topic areas into our lessons and labs more. I may even use chemicals in labs that my students plan to use. We will do experiments on saturation point, precipitating, crystallization and so forth. This is when you can hear students actually get the ahha moment. Now they will talk together, look on the internet, ask siblings or even parents. Researching and checking if the project is working or if they need to rethink and possibly redo the crystal. You can see and hear the learning everyday. (yes I record this as formative chats along the way).

So I usually end a unit with a performance task checking for example the may do a dilution, or create a supersaturated solution and show me the calculations. But really I am looking to see what their final crystal project will be. We have created the rubric together as a class and I, the student and a peer will assess based on that. Last years criteria was having photos of growth, explanation of crystal growth, process and areas of improvement and the cool display.

You see with this performance task, my students needed to know how to make a solution, how to supersaturate it, how to create a seed for the crystal, how to maintain the crystal and display it as it could be used in society.

So my students are able to show:

  • they can process & analyze the data and information needed to create the crystal

  • they can evaluate the work

  • they are able to apply and innovate where you could use the crystal (hypothetically)

  • They communicate their process and learning

Performance tasks in a unit help to meet the core & curricular competencies all in one while maintaining the high level of learning and student interest. It has in many instances lead to students going even deeper into the content area.

After a couple units like this it is easier to let students pick a topic relevant to the unit of study. We can let them go on their own and still have the conference to learn the plan, how it fits the unit, the overall goal and set the criteria for the rubric. During the unit I tend to have peer assessment happening. The peers ask the right questions to figure out what the student is trying to show and if it is meeting the criteria or if a path change is needed.

Now take a moment and look at a unit and see if you can create a unit performance task that students can do. Start small and lead the way a bit and work up to giving total freedom to the class. You will be amazed by the learning and the energy it produces in your class.

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