The Intertidal Life UbD Unit I created was designed to be used at a third grade level. I am not currently teaching, so I planned on using my own two children and three of their friends as my students. Schedules and weather proved to be too much to overcome,
and my class size was reduced to two. Student 1 (C) is a third grader and student 2 (F) is a kindergartner.
Formative Assessment Analysis to Guide Unit
Before the official start of my unit, I gave my students a pretest to determine their levels of prior knowledge. The pretest, which is also the posttest, consisted of four open-ended questions because I wanted to try to eliminate as many lucky guesses as possible. I used this opportunity to work with the students individually on the talk to text apps on their tablets, which I was hoping they would choose to use during the unit.
As I documented in my Week 11 blog post and on Twitter that week, I encountered some unexpected results on the pretest that would require modifications to the unit.
“Pretest: My remaining students are in kindergarten and 3rd grade. I had them both take the pretest so I could determine their current levels of understanding and change up a few things in my unit if I needed to. I expected very limited understanding from the kindergartner, but both gave solid definitions for habitat and both gave excellent examples of animals that could live together and animals that could not with reasons why. Both answered that animals need food and shelter to survive, but they were a little shaky on more items. The 3rd grader knew exactly what the intertidal zone was, and the kindergarten student had no idea. This led me to rethink the items I wanted to stress and what I would need to do to support the younger student in his acquisition of intertidal knowledge.” – Week 11, Implementing the Unit
After this experience, I really gained an appreciation for the information I was able to gather from the pretest, and the way it helped me use my unit in a way that was most beneficial to my students. We didn’t need to waste time going over information they already understood, and instead could investigate the content at a deeper level. This seemed to be a miniature version of curriculum compacting, one of the methods of differentiation that I am learning about in the gifted and talented education classes I am taking.
Contributing to Individual Paths of Learning
An example of evidence collected where I contributed to the individual path for learning happened in the first day of my unit. Both of my students had taken the pretest, and the younger student had failed to even provide a guess as to the meaning of the word intertidal. While I had planned on introducing this vocabulary through a series of activities, including a video and a book, a fortuitous change in our schedule of events sent us to the beach on the first day of our learning adventure. In my journal reflection from that first day, I documented how this student was able to gain an understanding of the vocabulary in a very authentic setting.
Journal Entry Day 1:
The unit is off and running. I gave the pretest to my students yesterday and today we went to the beach for our first field trip. I know this is not what was planned for Day 1, but we ran into a few obstacles which made going to the Science Center impossible. Rather than forego the entire day of learning, I decided to rearrange the schedule a bit. I hope this doesn’t create any additional challenges down the road.
Our time at the beach was typical for Southeast Alaska. It was a bit wet, but the tides were great for observations and nothing got ruined, which was actually a bit of a concern with bringing technology to the water. The students raced around looking for organisms to photograph, not necessarily out of excitement, but rather because I told them that if they documented a certain number along with a description, we could go home and have ice cream. There was a quick conversion from the paper and pencil recording of observations to the talk to text app on the tablets because it really helped expedite the process of documentation. I’m not sure the photography is the best they could have managed under less rushed circumstances, but the organisms they wanted to highlight are in the pictures…win!
On the pretest, the younger student did not know the meaning of the word intertidal. Because we were at the beach and the tide was low, I felt that the opportunity to actually show him the meaning of the word was perfect. We walked from the high tide line down to the water’s edge. I told him we were walking in the area between where the high tide is highest and the low tide is lowest, where sometimes it is covered with water and sometimes it is not, and this was the intertidal zone. His eyes lit up, and he said, “I guess inter means between, right?” Concept connection made!
I created a journal (UbDorgtemp) for students to use at the beach when they were recording their observations. There was a space for a drawing of the organism and room to write a description of the organism. Because one of the students is in kindergarten and is still learning the finer points of writing, I encouraged him to use the talk to text app to record his observations and the camera on his tablet to take pictures of the organism. My second student also saw the value in this (speed) and used her tablet in the same manner. This allowed both students to capture their thoughts and the images they wanted without the frustrations of asking someone how to spell something (although talk to text did make some interesting substitutions) or erasing a drawing that isn’t quite right.
Because all the information was electronic, the students helped transfer their photos and text to a new word document rather than printing, cutting, and gluing the information into the journals I had printed. Examples of their work are below.
Planning and Customization:
Flexibility really is a key ingredient in the recipe of successful teaching. In my Week 11 Reflection blog post, I wrote, “This week was the first week of implementing my unit. Nothing went as planned, but everything went well. It is strange to write that sentence, but it is the truth. Working around weather, cancelled plans, and tired kids, plenty of learning still happened and lots of great connections were made.” From changing the order in which we implemented the days of the lessons to changing the way we recorded the data, this unit was all about customization based on the needs of not only the students, but the environment.
Inquiry comes naturally to children. Occasionally it can get them into a sticky situation, but usually it leaves them with some answers and even more questions to investigate. Providing them with the opportunities to use this natural inquiry is important, whether it is in the classroom setting or out in the real world. A large portion of my unit took place in the inquiry-rich environments of the beach and the Science Center. Seeing organisms in their natural environment (while not always possible) is an excellent way for kids to make connections to previous knowledge and to also make inferences about the organisms they were observing.
When I was developing the unit, I knew that I wanted to provide a choice of performance tasks for the students. In my Week 12 – Collecting Evidence blog post, I wrote, “The performance task will be used as evidence to show levels of concept mastery. Each student has a choice of task, so the materials may or may not be comparable to each other, but I find that to be perfectly acceptable because even if they were the same types of tasks, I would want to use my rubric to score them. Due to after-school time constraints, my students will be finishing these for me this weekend!”
On Twitter, I wrote:
Student 1 chose to write a poem for her performance task. She used ten organisms she had observed at the beach and Science Center, and then wrote about how they interacted with their habitat and with each other. She shows a clear understanding of the relationship between certain habitats and the organisms which occupy them. There is evidence of good observations, including the length of particular organisms and what types of attachments they use. She chose to write it out on paper, put her couplets in order after they were all written, then typed it in Word.
Student 2 wanted to make a song about the organisms he observed. We worked together to choose a song to modify (The Ants Go Marching – one of his current favorites), then he dictated the words while I typed them in. I just recently did a multiple intelligences assessment with him and discovered that he scored the highest in the musical category. If I had asked him to sit and write a paper, he would have rebelled, but he was overjoyed at the idea of making his own song about the beach. He shows evidence of learning in the organisms he chose to be included in the song, the way he describes their interactions with the environment, and his inclusion of personal experiences (the barnacles scraping his skin). Both performance tasks are below.
Finally, both student took the assessment (posted below) which had been given as the pretest. Having a classroom of two has its advantages, one of them being that I gave the test to the students orally and typed in the answers they gave me. I included the answers from the pretest in parenthesis for comparison purposes. In my Week 12 – Collecting Evidence blog post, I stated, “My last piece of evidence will be the post-test. I will use the same test that I gave as a pretest, and compare student understanding through time. I like to use the same assessments for pre and post-testing so that I have a clean comparison. I will ask all of the questions again, even though the students showed understanding of the concepts of a few of them on the pretest. I want to see if this knowledge is genuine, or if it was a “good guess” in the moment.”
Student 1 improved her test scores, listing all three things an animal needs to survive where she had only listed two previously. She also gave a more complete definition of intertidal, receive all points possible on the assessment.
Student 2 showed improvement in numerous areas. He was able to name three things an animal needs to survive instead of two which he had named on pretest. He provided an example of a habitat (although not for intertidal organisms). Where he had given and answer of, “I don’t know,” on the pretest, he was able to say that intertidal means between the high and low tides. He also received all points possible on the assessment, but showed greater gains overall (strictly speaking based purely on this assessment data).
I have been reading Rick Wormeli’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, and I feel that he offers several strategies that would made this unit more successful, particularly in terms of determining the amount for growth Student 1. Because this student scored so high on the pretest, the posttest isn’t necessarily a valid indication of what she learned. I like the idea of tiered assessments and what they can bring to a classroom with a wide range of learners. Both students could have taken the middle level assessment, and then, if needed, Student 1 could have followed up with the more advanced questions. This would have helped me direct my teaching even more and given a better idea of her growth over time. If student 2 hadn’t scored as well as he did not the pretest, he could have taken the lower level assessment, which would have given me more direction on where to start my instruction with him. Even my classroom of two surprised me in many ways, from the knowledge that my kindergartner already possessed to the ability of the students to use new technology to make their work easier. And these are my own children.