Creativity is one of the 4C’s and a necessary skill for our 21st century learners. Using creativity tools that leverage your STEM projects is key to incorporating the skill rather than having to teach it separately.
Infographics are a nice twist for students as they are high-interest, teach the importance of summarizing and synthesizing data and stretch students’ creativity skills. On the surface, infographics just looks like a whole lot of fun. Looking deeper shows the time and effort that goes into producing a product like this both with it’s visual allure and the information that it shares.
easel.ly is an easy to use, free, online infographics platform. Creating a free account allows the user:
- access to a decent number of ready-made templates
- the ability to start from scratch if you can’t find something you like
- a really nice selection of built-in graphics
- a mechanism to upload your own graphics
- shapes, backgrounds and fonts for make your infographic unique
- to save their progress/product as a jpg, png, pdf, or svg
By stretching their creativity skills, students can begin to perform at the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy by designing and constructing infographics.
In recapping this series on Strengthening Rigor in STEM, we’ve talked about how to define rigor in the classroom. We’ve discussed that rigor is not making the work harder or assigning more problems.
We’ve also outlined the basics on tools such as the Rigor/Relevance Framework that we can use to guide our planning and instruction to establish and maintain rigor in the classroom.
This list generated by this series is by no means exhaustive, but is a tangible list of strategies you can use to begin to building rigor into your classroom:
- Interactive Notebooks
- The Art of Questioning
- Student Portfolios
- PBL Elements
- Student Choice Menus
By using or reintroducing these strategies into your classroom, students can begin to stretch their thinking and begin to perform in ways that will help them to grow them academically as well as help them achieve mastery and beyond.
Using rubrics is an excellent way to establish rigor and hold students to high standards in the classroom.
Using rubrics to maintain rigor can be used in two ways:
- Students- to demonstrate the expectations and levels of mastery for the lesson/project
- Teachers- to assist in planning rigorous lessons for students
Providing rubrics for younger students and/or developing rubrics with older students is a clear-cut way to define expectations and establish rigor in the classroom. By providing a set of “guidelines” for student achievement, rubrics help students to understand the expectations. A thorough rubric also helps students progress from understanding the basic components to thinking deeply and not only demonstrating mastery, but applied skills like problem solving.
When constructing a rubric for students, be mindful of the categories chosen and the levels of mastery within each one. As you write each mastery level, take special care to choose your words carefully, making sure that each level is one step above the prior. Rubrics should not be too cumbersome, but should be tightly written to ensure high standards and work towards applied knowledge.
As teachers, we can benefit from rubrics as well. Many rubrics have been developed to help teachers establish rigor when planning lessons, projects, or units. By keeping a rigor rubric handy, we can keep rigor at the forefront of our planning and thus construct better and more rigorous lessons for students.
In the Rigor/Relevance Framework, we learned that in order to establish and maintain rigor in the classroom, students need to be performing in Quadrant D. In other words, students need to think in complex ways and apply their knowledge and skills to find solutions to problems.
One way to keep students performing at these higher levels of thinking is for students to keep an interactive notebook. May teachers already do this, but just DOING it is not enough. To establish and maintain rigor, we need to be sure that we are asking the right questions and developing higher-thinking skills through the notebook process.
First, though, before we focus on content, it’s important to discuss the organization of the notebook. Every Interactive Notebook should have the following components to help students get and stay organized:
- Table of Contents (either teacher-created or student-created)
- Numbered Pages
- Dated Pages
- Page Dividers for Different Sections (I personally like the self-adhesive kind)
You can adapt these sections to reflect different age groups or different subject focus, but starting students off by modeling the way that an interactive notebooks works is a good skill for students to learn and helps them to better understand the process.
Once students are organized, they can begin to use their notebooks to grow their thinking skills by putting elements in their notebooks such as:
- Drawings/ Diagrams
- Graphic Organizers
- “Notes” to Solve Problems
- Investigations/ Labs
Depending on age group, the teacher may be responsible for deciding which elements are most appropriate for the skill that we are looking to develop. Older students may be responsible for their own content, but either way, choosing meaningful elements for the notebook are essential. To help us to make these meaningful choices, the teacher or student can ask themselves key questions:
- What skill(s) do I hope to develop through this lesson?
- What element will best exhibit/develop/sharpen this skill?
- How will using a ______ (graphic organizer, etc.) help to further this skill?
- How can students leverage this ______ (graphic organizer, etc.) to take their learning further?
By selecting meaningful elements, we can help students start to think deeper, faster. By asking key questions sooner and providing a notebook element as a scaffold, we help the student to spend more time thinking critically.
Now that we’ve discussed what rigor looks like in the classroom, we need to introduce the Rigor/Relevance Framework. The Rigor/Relevance Framework is a graphical representation of Bloom’s Taxonomy meets the Daggett Application Model. It is a great visual for how and why we need to establish and strengthen rigor in STEM.
Each quadrant below shows where students are performing during a particular lesson or project. Quadrant A represents basic understanding and recall. Quadrant C represents more sophisticated comprehension, but still is demonstrating knowledge in one discipline. Quadrant B represents students showing knowledge and applying it and Quadrant D (where we want students to be) represents students solving problems and using their knowledge to create unique solutions.
As teachers plan lessons and create/research engagements for students, consideration should be given to where students would fall on this Framework. In order to establish and strengthen rigor, students need to be performing in Quadrant D, which allows students to think in complex ways and use strategies for solving problems creatively.
In this series, we’ll examine different strategies for how to get (and keep) students performing consistently at a high level.