This past week my teaching partner, Chris Fox , and I rolled out the final comparative assignmentÂ for our Grade 8 History Research Project, which also serves as our culminating project for the COETAIL course. And it’s so far, so good! If success can be measured at this point by the fact that we haven’t had to attempt a complete re-design and that our original goals remain the same, thenÂ all is, indeed, well.
Since its inception, we have been able to run with the same overarching “content goals,” namely that student will:
- …Explore a history passion
- …Compare two (or more) of the six ancient civilizations studied in Grade 8 History
- …Compose an insightful thesis statement including comparative statement and analysis (Answer Qs: Why? So what?)
- …Prepare a presentation to communicate what has been learned and engage the audience
Through collaboration with our middle school librarian and middle school technology coordinator, we added to these content goals the following specific information literacy (IL) and research goals, as well as IT/CT (info technology / computational thinking) goals
IL (Research) Goals:
- …Effective use of NoodleTools:
- **NoodleTools Notecards for note-taking
- **NoodleBib for Works Cited submission
- …Effective use of a variety of MS Library Databases (minimum of 4 substantial sources)
- …Effective use of Creative Commons for identifying appropriate and engaging images, and citing of images
IT/CT (Info Technology / Computational Thinking*) Goals:
- …Problem Decomposition (breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable parts): In planning the research and presentation of this comparative report, identify:
- **roles, responsibilities,
- **resources needed to complete the project, and
- **appropriate technology to communicate with and engage the audience.
- …Data Collection and Analysis (making sense of data, finding patterns, and drawing conclusions): Gather appropriate information about the different civilizations/chosen topic; identify similarities and differences; analyze similarities and differences.
- …Abstraction (reducing complexity to define main idea): After studying the topic/ancient civilizations, identify key comparative elements, and compose an appropriate comparative thesis statement.
- …Parallelization (organize resources to simultaneously carry out tasks to reach a common goal): Student teams plan production of the final project presentation, including script, props, and roles of each individual in producing the presentation. Identify tasks that will be carried out simultaneously, and milestones where the pairs check in, and plan, and put things together.
- …Computational Thinking Dispositions: Ability to handle ambiguity and complexity; ability to communicate and work with others to achieve a common goal or solution.
*Computational Thinking goals drawn from CT Teacher Resources by CSTA and ISTE: Click here to download.
It feels good to have the blessing of our middle school librarian and technology coordinator who both believe that the open-ended nature of the project is an appropriate culmination of the skills acquired through Grade 8 History this year, as well as across the students’ three years of purposeful research and technology skill-building across middle school. The scaffolding is finally coming down, and although we will be supporting students through this process on an individual basis with a running GoogleDoc of check-ins, it really is time to see how the students navigate through their options to determine the best match of resources and technologies to their purposes – on their own. Another source of my satisfaction regarding this approach is that we know the next research project the students will face – next year in Grade 9 – will be even more open-ended in terms of content, but at the same time more restricted in terms of final product, as the students will have to produce a traditional research paper. This grade 8 end-of-year project is an appropriate send-off for the students to position them for success in their next endeavor, while still providing room for individual creativity and collaborative learning.
We built a GoogleSite to hold all the pieces together – the goals of the project; the steps to complete the assignment; explicit teaching of skills such as revising and narrowing down essential questions and composing the thesis statement answer; links to our MS Library database and other research help; links to a plethora of technology tools to enhance the final presentation; a timeline of check-ins and due dates; and assessment information.
So, now our front-loading teacher-prep part of the project is pretty much done, and we can look forward to the grand finale – a final week of presentations showcasing the creative, original, and engaging final products – which will be the true measure of the success of our work in history this year. It also serve s as an appropriate metaphor for the way our integration of technology in the classroom has evolved since the early days of the 1-to-1 laptop program at our school, from a tool-driven, teacher-driven, minutely-managed approach to one in which the teachers now truly turn it over to the student experts. And genuinely feel comfortable with that!