Come for the math, stay for the slingshots!
Green Mountain 7th graders and HS physics students apply math and science to a real-world problem: hitting targets. They collaborate in multi-age teams to design and build projectile launchers. Then they calculate trajectories and calibrate their creations before taking aim.
Each spring the students take over the Green Mountain Union High School cafeteria to stage an epic competition: Battle Physics. The tournament is a test of their skills: designing, building, computing, and calibrating. The winning team will have to do all of these things well to hit the most targets.
Parenting students in a world without grades
Proficiency reporting is a set of legal requirements that all Vermont high schools must meet before 2020. In essence, we’ll report only on what a student knows and can DO, with no ultimate judgement about how well they can do it. A? B-? C+? Out the window.
Here’s a primer on four of the biggest concepts around proficiency.
Looking at tech tools for formative assessment
In a proficiency-based learning environment, frequent, flexible, and transparent assessments become cornerstones of the practice. The importance of formative assessment can’t be understated, and these tech tools make it so much easier.
Making sure Proficiency work includes all students
Recently, I was in a middle school team meeting walking folks through some proficiencyb-based learning scenarios and one teacher said “I have a student who is performing at a 4th grade level, what do I do?”
What proficiency-based learning looks like
Winooski Middle and High School, in bustling Winooski, VT, has been quietly making the journey to proficiency-based learning and proficiency-based graduation requirements for the past six years.
And the resources they’ve constructed along the way — to support students, teachers and families — celebrate cultural and ethnic diversity and challenge inequity. They provide clear and solid guidelines around proficiencies.
Personalized, proficiency-based PBL or bust
During a faculty meeting in late December of 2016, educators and staff talked about the need to provide personalized learning options for students at their small, rural Vermont school. They wanted do so in a way that honored the students’ need for passion-based, independent projects, as well as the desire of the faculty and staff to provide structured supports.
But what could that look like in action?
Every May for the past 10 years, Lamoille Union Middle School’s Team Extreme launches an integrated unit. This year found them shifting and building upon past successes to include the goal of giving students access to their growth and skills progression in a brand new way.
Choose Your Own Adventure
In Sam Nelson’s classroom, students choose what they learn, and how. Through the use of learning scales and targets, Nelson sets guidelines for students to demonstrate proficiencies in whatever they choose to study. Between the two systems — flexible pathways and proficiency-based learning — students negotiate a curriculum that keeps them engaged and satisfies their curiosity about the world around them.
How does it all work? Let’s take a look.
Wondering how to blend project-based learning with STEAM?
Yes, STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Earlier this year we profiled The Cabot School’s amazing public exhibition of sound sculptures highlighting water conservation. They were a big hit with the Cabot community, the students who made them and, it turns out, a fair number of you guys, too: our readers.
In this episode of The 21st Century Classroom, we talk with Cabot School educator Michael Hendrix. We hear about what it takes to pull off STEAM-powered PBL and why Hendrix feels you can’t ever really teach science without art.
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Practice makes proficient
What’s special about a proficiency-based environment? Practice, that’s what.
I know, it sounded weird to me too. As a former math teacher, I thought of practice as the mind-numbing repetitive stuff that students had to do in order to attain fluency. Practice was for straightforward procedural skills.
But Sam Nelson, a social studies teacher at Shelburne Community School, has broadened my perspective on practice to encompass all formative assessment, including complex skills and concepts.