Reading 120+ sets of research notes gives you loads of insight about what students learned, where they had problems and where they excelled. It's first-class feedback for me, as the teacher and designer, about this unit.
Evaluating what they learned
I can see where students maxed out their searching, writing and learning so they could answer their Focus Question. Here's where most of the 120 kids excelled...probably because they were answering questions that interested them.
You can see how this student is working at comparing the difference between the kinds of tusks mastodons, mammoths and moeritheriums had....that's what piqued his group's interest. One of the research notes that made me chuckle aloud was mammoths don't have cracked teeth while mastodon teeth have cracks....why? because mammoths mostly ate grass while mastodons ate tree branches. Who knew? All my 6th graders now understand that the fact and I hope it wins them a $1,000,000 on Jeporady sometime.
Reading this also reminded me how out of touch I am about what interests middle school kids. Most of their Team Focus questions, I would have never picked or thought about. Yet here all these amazing questions and I can see how hard they worked to find out the answers to their questions.
They helped me define three by which I would judge their notes: comprehensiveness, how well what they collected helped the team answer their question, and originality of their research (ie they didn't copy their notes from someone else). I just made up a checklist where I could evaluate these three things and then jot a small note.
Things I need to improve on next time
- Create a checkpoint earlier in the project where I look over these notes as a prequisite to moving onto the product phase. I could tell some of my students didn't do their part because their notes were too sparse and incomplete. If I had caught this earlier, I could have required them to continue reading and researching.
- Improve my mini-lessons on notetaking. I should take more time to define what I think the notes should look like when they're finished and get that firmly in my mind and design the lessons that will help students get there. Sometimes they clearly ran out material or just stopped looking....and restated what they had already written down again and again and again.
Next week we'll do a reflection where they have to use these notes to actually write an answer to their Team Focus question in class and they'll rate their experience with teamwork, creativity and time management. So these three measures...the research notes & reflection, their product presentation and the unit test will be my comprehensive measure of how well this unit succeeded.