This is the fourteenth part of my Reflection Series for 2017 – a self-reflection of my teaching this year.
What is something you did this year that went better than you thought it would?
As part of the initial stages of the year 8 science curriculum overhaul, I decided to re-design an assessment piece for 2017. We teach a biology unit that focuses on the biological hierarchy from individual cells to entire organisms. Previously we had assessed this unit in an exam, but I wanted to do something different.
I decided to make a two-part assessment piece. The first part was an individual research booklet, where students had to use books and the internet to research information. They were required to choose an organ system, then within that an individual organ, and within that a specialised cell. I gave them free choice over what organ system to investigate (they were provided with a detailed list to get them started), and was pleasantly surprised at the variety (not as many chose the reproductive system as you might think).
The students were required to research and draw annotated diagrams of each part they had chosen, then answer some questions. The questions related to how each section functions, how they all link together in the hierarchy, then moved on to a disease or illness that could affect the whole organ system and what it’s impact is.
I set it up so that the students weren’t given the information in class about any particular organ system – the idea was that they would teach themselves about the organ system, organ, specialised cell, and disease/illness through their research. As such, the questions were worded very explicitly and scaffolded enough to guide them appropriately.
Once they had completed this research, they formed into small groups and were tasked with creating a board game or card game that future students could use to learn about their chosen organ system. I gave them free choice of who was in their group, as long as everyone had researched the same organ system. Students were marked individually for the research, and individually for the game based on my observations of their interactions during the design process. They weren’t graded on who had the best ideas etc, but on their effort and input working with the group as a whole, as well as the overall design and educational impact of the game.
The only requirements of the game were that they were actually playable, and that they were educational. I really emphasised the need for future students to be able to learn about the organ system from the game. Apart from that, I gave them more free reign to be as creative and innovative as they wanted to be. I also gave them about 3 weeks of in-class time designated exclusively to this process so that they had the best opportunity I could give them to make it work. Group projects are difficult at the best of times, and I didn’t want any student disadvantaged because their group couldn’t organise meet-ups.
What a variety we had! Some were absolutely brilliant, some were quite basic, but every game was great! I loved watching their design process, and the unique ideas that developed. I tried to stay out of it as much as possible, and encouraged the students to solve their own problems as they came about. I wanted them to learn to work in a group as much as I wanted them to complete the assignment.
Here are some of the game designs we ended up with:
- A battleship game where you had to answer a question correctly to be able to fire a shot
- A couple were like snakes and ladders, answering questions correctly to be able to move up a ladder (or ‘good cell’) or avoid falling down a snake (or ‘bad cell’ like a virus)
- Different versions of Memory – some even had 3 cards you had to match up (name, diagram, and description of various parts of the organ system) to be able to keep them, rather than the traditional two-of-the-same-picture
- A Monopoly-style game, collecting skeleton parts instead of properties
- A large variety of standard board game where you roll a die, move around the board, answer questions etc
The students had a lot of fun playing the games at the end of the assessment period. They were not allowed to play their own game, and were not allowed to explain their game to those who were playing it. Their game should have had clear instructions to go along with it (a few lacked these sadly) so that anyone could pick it up and play.
While they were playing, I went around to assess each game and asked the players what they thought of the educational impact. Unfortunately we ran out of time, so I didn’t get to play any myself – maybe next time I’ll work it so that I can!
Overall the whole process worked really well, much better than I expected for an assessment type I’d never tried before (I have done lots of research assignments, but not the game design). Some of the other teachers sought me out to say how much they liked it too – quite a few weeks of students teaching themselves and working through the assessment, instead of being ‘taught’ by the teacher. Conveniently, I’d lined it up with a time of year where the senior subjects were very assessment and marking heavy, so it also gave those teachers a bit of respite from planning lessons for their year 8s.
I even asked the students what they thought of the assessment piece overall. They all said they really enjoyed teaching themselves about the organ systems, and loved making and playing the games. They just wished there were less questions to answer in the research part (to be expected). I took their comments on board and made some changes for the 2018 version, so hopefully they enjoy it even more.
I’m looking forward to hearing about how it goes this year!