Saturday, February 14, 2015

Is this The Mother of All Formative Assessments or What?

The day started as a usual Physix day full of anticipation for what young brain may teach me today. A favorite Clickerism of mine was the prelude to a session whereby I would verify the extent to which my students understood the just completed Uniformly Accelerated Particle Model (UAPM). This Clickerism (shown below) is one of Eric Mazur's ConcepTests and I have used it since I purchased his book way back.
Courtesy of Eric Mazur

The response system gave a sobering initial distribution. So, I let the Peer Instruction process take its course and the correct choice emerged triumphantly. But, as if struck by a lightning of dissatisfaction mixed with a stroke of pure educational hunch, I turned to a group of students while pointing to the smartboard. I tasked this first group with inventing their own graph that would only satisfy option one amongst the multiple choice questions (refer to figure below.)

Group 1 Task

Then I turned to another group of students and another until I got four groups in total whose tasks are shown in succession below.

Group 2 Task

Group 3 Task
Group 4 Task
The students jumped on the tasks with much appreciated interest and curiosity. Once all groups were done, I summoned the first group's representative to the smartboard to draw their group's invention. During that time I asked the rest of the class to draw the velocity vs. time graph that corresponds to the original graph to keep them active and engaged in the learning process. But, as soon as the students completed the group's invention, another stroke of inspiration hit and I thought why not make a Clickerism out of this situation and create more chances for students' give-and-take. So, I asked the class to clap for the representative and got the clicker system ready for a Valid or Not Valid (T or F) that the whole class has to vote on. All agreed except for one student who dissented and I asked who it was and what was the dissent for? The student replied that the units were not correct and since the favorite color of this student is white I wrote their suggested amendments in white.

Note: It is a tradition of mine to honor the student who proposes amendments, suggestions, or answers by using their favorite color for such updates on the smartboard.

First Group's Invention is shown in Blue while the Proposed Classmate's Enhancements are shown in White. 
Had it not for the new fortunate twist to this old Clickerism of mine I would not have caught the representative's confusion of unit and variable representing respective physical quantities.

Representative after representative went to the smartboard to share their group's inventions. During the smartborad work the students are given other tasks to keep them productively busy thinking about the original given graph of the Clickerism. And after each invention another round of validity assertion is conducted with the response system. Every ensuing discussion was better, deeper, and richer than its predecessor! The whole class was so animated that later that day some of my colleagues were wondering what was going on in the classroom. Below are the inventions of the other groups and some additional ones involving the same formative assessment idea but from other sections I teach.
Second Group's Invention is shown in White while the Proposed Classmate's Enhancements are shown in Light Blue.

Third Group's Invention is shown.

Fourth Group's Invention is shown.
First Group Invention of Another Section is shown. 
Second Group Invention of Another Section is shown. 
Third Group Invention of Another Section is shown. 
Fourth Group Invention of Another Section is shown. Note: This group requested to have three graphs instead of just one. Just as class was being dismissed students were still standing by the smartboard talking about these graphs. One student then offered the purple statements and I wrote them in his favorite color to honor his non-Physics thought out of the box.

I wish there was a way to convey the amount of thoughtful energy that was present during these impromptu sessions of creativity, multiple assessments, and sheer fun that the students were having.

Many an educator would rush to loath multiple choice questions for various good reasons but a twist such as the one presented here rendered such a question a treasure trove of informative assessments! Is this the Mother of All Formative Assessments? It certainly is not but it surely felt as such for my students and me at the conclusion of each class period.

Lessons Learned:

1) In education, planning is definitely good, but being flexible enough to consider off the cuff ideas is equally, if not more valuable.

2) Multiple choice questions can still lead to good education if used effectively such as was related in this post.

3) Peer Instruction is definitely a powerful educational tool and the use of technology renders it more efficacious.

4) Letting the reigns of thought turns students into better inventive young Physicists.

5) As educators, we must always challenge our selves to consider new approaches and twists, especially with methods we tend to employ routinely.

Now your turn!

Please, use the comments area to enrich this post with your own ideas, takes, and reactions. Thank you

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