Wednesday, March 6, 2019

An Experiment: My Student-Paced Unit of Instruction

There's a long [and uninteresting] backstory that ends with I am trying an experiment in my classroom: a student-paced unit of instruction. The goal is to create a cohesive unit for students to experience, incorporating elements of choice, with results at least as good as a traditional unit.

To begin, my teaching partner and I planned the unit. Students will have 14 days of class to complete 3 homework assignments, 3 labs, 4 quizzes, and a test. We used Google Slides to create a Mastery Map that breaks the unit into three topics and provide avenues for students to explore the topics:

We also copied a tracking spreadsheet from Nikki Diehm to help students stay on track and help us know who was working on what when. With drop down menus in each column that represents an assignment, tasks are identified as finished or in progress. Students will begin class by tracking what they will work on and can indicate that they need work checked:

The experiment began in an unusual way because I was absent for two days. Still, my students got right to work, many of them taking a quiz on Day 2. They had two different labs to choose from on this first topic but everyone chose the same one.  Today is Day 5 of the experiment. Here's what's going well and not so well:

The Good

Students are organizing their time in a variety of ways. Some are using a calendar we provided; some are creating color-coded schedules.

Students have formed makeshift groups and are working together through the content. They are on-task for the most part and are having great conversations about chemistry.

Most students have completed one of three topics. When comparing the average score on the topic quiz to last year's average score, they are comparable, so I think my students have mastered this content.

The lab didn't go as planned for some groups, but students appreciated having extra time to re-do parts where they felt that was necessary. 

I have liked being able to spend some one-on-one time with students who need it and have grabbed some impromptu demos to illustrate answers to student questions that might not have surfaced in a whole group setting.


The Room for Improvement

That first lab day - the chaos of everyone figuring it out on their own in their own time - was loud and frenzied.  I had to keep reminding myself that the students would get better at this.

Some students are working very slowly. Many do not appear to be working outside of class. Our spring break is next week and some will need to pick up their pace and make adjustments in order to finish by our unit deadline. 

Parents (and some students) are worried about the outcomes. One parent emailed me some concerns, reminding me how important it is to communicate the plan and goals for this different way of thinking about chemistry class. 

Most students are not asking for help. The first topic was not too difficult so maybe this is why, but I am worried that they believe I don't want to teach, that I'm not available for help. I'm thinking about adding myself as a choice so students know they are not expected to be entirely independent.

Have you tried anything like this in your classroom? If so, please share ideas in the comments of my blog. I'd love to hear about your experiences in order to improve mine.

1 comment:

  1. It takes time for students to take ownership of their learning in a self-paced environment! They definitely go through stages! They catch on and realize that if they are struggle they can take time and master the material instead of just proceeding because most of the class got it!