Month: July 2013

STEM Essentials- Creating Rubrics

When developing a STEM unit, it’s important to put a lot of time into the planning of the unit so that students will have the structure (although sometimes it is unseen) to be successful and so that you can spend your time working with students and facilitating student progress.

Now that you have a plan and have thought about the different kinds of assessments that will take place throughout the unit, it is time to consider how you will evaluate the product that students will produce (keeping in mind that your product could take the form of a presentation, portfolio, an actual product, etc.).  The rubric will help you, as the teacher, identify what skills, knowledge and outcome you are looking for and will also outline for students how to be successful.

There are many different ways to write a rubric.  The best is to establish a list of target statements that address key facets of the product and relevant curriculum standards.  This rubric can also include criteria like teamwork and performance (aka time on task).

Next, determine your scale. For younger students, sometimes the scale is in words rather than numbers.  For example: Superior, Accomplished Capable, Developing.  For older students, a scale of 1-4 or 1-5 is generally used with the highest number representing the most accomplished.

(If you would like your rubric to be more specific, select your criteria and write descriptors for each one. Descriptors should each be one “step” apart and should represent gradations of quality for each criteria.  Be thoughtful when writing your rubric to make sure that it represents a successful project and reflects your selected standards.)

Once you have created your rubric, you will want to present it to your students after you introduce the challenge.  If possible, show both good and bad examples to model for students how to assess these examples using the rubric.  This will teach students how to use a rubric and also how to self-assess their projects in different stages.

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STEM Essentials- The Assessments

After you have thought about your STEM unit and have developed a plan that contains your idea, related curriculum standards, challenge, and end product, it’s time to figure out how to assess successful completion of the challenge/project.

Although we haven’t touched on “guts” of the project yet, it’s important to know where you want to end up before you fill in the blanks.  This backward mapping will help to ensure that all of the pieces tie together cleanly at the end and remains focused and organized.  Enter: The Assessments.

On a daily basis, you will want to use different types of formative assessments.  Formative Assessments are designed to give the teacher a qualitative (rather than quantitative) measure of student understanding. Using these strategies daily will give you a good read on student understanding and help you to plan upcoming lessons accordingly.  Most formative assessment strategies are no prep (Thumbs Up/Down) or low-prep (Exit Tickets) which makes them easy to gather useful data.

At the end of the project, you will want to conduct a Summative Assessment that shows what students have learned throughout the duration of the project.  This will most likely take the form of assessing the completion of student products through the use of a rubric.  Teachers can also add a more traditional test for the unit, but STEM units are generally use a rubric so that students may be assessed on a number of different elements.  As you develop this rubric, you will want to choose carefully what criteria to assess.  No matter what kind of summative assessment you choose to implement, students should be made aware of how they will be assessed at the beginning of the project.  When using a rubric, be sure to review the criteria and scale with students focusing on what students should be doing to be successful.

Aside from your daily informal formative assessments and your end-of-unit summative assessments, I also like to set up checkpoints at certain key places in the unit.  This may be as easy as the teacher reviewing the progress of the team and signing off on their progress or it might look as formal a quiz.  Choose the most appropriate method for your students that ensures forward progress.

Now that you have learned about the different types of assessments that take place throughout a typical STEM unit, you can begin to put these in place for your specific unit. Stay tuned for next week’s post on creating rubrics.

Get the STEM Essentials Bundle Pack including STEM “Talk Moves” and Formative/Summative Assessment Strategies!

Not sure about purchasing the entire bundle yet?  Give the STEM “Talk Moves” and Formative/Summative Assessment Strategies a try!


Infographics: A 21st Century Tool for STEM

I have to admit, I’ve been rather intrigued by infographics lately.  They are so sleek and shiny and share pertinent data and statistics in an aesthetic fashion.  Not to mention, they seem to be everywhere.  They seem so simple, but try putting one together.  They are complex little animals that force you to think about your audience, your relevant information… and your communication skills.  As a result, they are the perfect tool for use in a STEM education classroom.

By requiring students to create an infographic, students are required to use those higher level thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Students must consider which data to use and summarize it in a succinct way that will communicate effectively (Evaluation).  They must plan and organize the content (Synthesis) and prioritize and categorize it, allowing the user to make visual connections to the content (Analysis).

Infographics are a creative way to teach 21st century skills through STEM education by seamlessly integrating them into your curriculum.  There are many infographics creators to pick from, but my favorite right now is Picktochart.  It’s easy to use, allows for student creativity, provides a decent selection of themes, images and icons and best of all it’s free.  Students can also export their infographics to a standard format (PNG or JPG) for use in another program or medium. And, for creative minds or first timers, there are video tutorials that walk through the entire process as well as a comprehensive resource section.


STEM Essentials- The Plan

So what is the first thing that you need to know to plan a STEM lesson or unit?  There are so many elements that will need to be incorporated, but where to start? The answer is not as clear cut as one might think because there are a couple of things that happen in tandem, so the first essential is: The Plan

STEM units are student-centered and teacher facilitated.  As a result,  they need to be meticulously planned.  The vast majority of planning for a STEM unit takes place prior to the unit even beginning.  So, all the pieces need to be in place so that students will have all of the tools and resources they need in order to be successful.

The Plan involves selecting a unit or group of curriculum strands that you already teach to use as a basis for your STEM unit.  You might select a core unit for your grade level, a group of standards that your students have difficulty with, or even a group of standards that you students find just dead boring.  However you decide, you’ll want to make sure that you can make a connection from these standards to a real life issue or problem.

Once you have turned these ideas around in your head, it’s time to think of what exactly the challenge will be.  The challenge is a one-sentence (usually) statement that defines the problem for students:

Design, construct and test a laser tag game prototype system that uses a
system of mirrors and lenses to direct light through a simple maze to strike targets.

Now that you have laid the the basic plan by  selecting your topic and curriculum,  you can continue to flesh out the standards you will use and work to specify your challenge statement so that it is clear for students.

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STEM Essentials Series

When beginning to implement STEM projects in your classroom, it can be very overwhelming.  Where do I start?  What do I need?  What am I missing?

STEM projects generally take a good deal of planning on the teacher’s part and are generally complex by nature.  There are many components that need to be developed and in place prior to students’ starting their inquiry.

Whether you have found a great resource from a reputable organization or are creating the materials yourself from scratch, there are some STEM Essentials that you will need in order to plan, execute and assess an effective STEM project.   This series will focus on those STEM essentials that will help make your project organized, engaging and successful!

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