Thursday, January 27, 2005

Anurans Presentations

None of the big shots showed up for my students' presentations on anurans... not even the guy who invited everyone! This was just as well because they were good, but not fabulous. I don't think the kids had enough time. I often cut off projects too soon, I think. I try to set deadlines and enforce them in order to motivate students to keep on task, but sometimes one more period might be all it would take for them to be really polished. Then again, if I'd given them one more period, I suspect most groups would have spent it adding bells & whistles to their PowerPoint presentations, rather than practicing their speaking skills or making sure every member of the group understood the material or proofreading the slides. I've done a number of group presentations like this one, and my questions now are the same as ever:
  • How do I ensure that every member of the group is responsible for understanding the material? With this type of project I don't see an easy way to give kids both group and individual grades, which is one method of holding everyone accountable. I did include "every team member understands the material" as an item in their rubric, but it might have been too little, too late, since they only saw the rubric two days before the presentations.

  • How do I improve their public speaking skills? At this point, most of the kids speak loudly enough and at least attempt to make eye contact. But they come across as wooden and unenthusiastic, and there's a lot of reading directly from the slides. Again, these things were all included in the rubric, but they remained a problem. More rehearsal time might have helped, but as I said, it's hard to ensure that kids are using their time to rehearse rather than fix up their slides when they have to have the computers present in order to practice speaking.

  • What to do about kids who are absent the day of the presentations, and what to tell their group members about how to handle a group member being unexpectedly absent? Sometimes I mark kids down 1/2 grade from their group's grade if they were not there to present. But then what about the kid who legitimately gets really sick? I could put off the presentations, I guess, but we're on a tight schedule and you never know if the kid will be back the next day, either. Also, I think kids need to get used to the idea that "the show must go on."

Several good things came out of this project. They did some critical thinking as far as piecing together a theory is concerned. They attempted (with mixed results) a larger scale experiment design than they ever had before. And we made some headway with accountable talk.

One problem I've always had during presentations is that there is a lot of lag time between groups while the next group finds & opens their slide show - which often involves the projector randomly shutting off, the classroom wireless flickering in and out a couple of times, etc. The other kids don't have much to do, so they start talking and then it takes more time to get them ready to be a good audience, and it's stressful for me to try to help one group get set up with a noisy classroom behind me.

This time around, I solved that problem. It was really an attempt to get them to reflect on their work - their own, and their classmates' - something I've been stressing recently. I gave each team one rubric for each of the 6 teams in the class, including themselves. In between presentations, they had to discuss and grade the presentation they just watched. This kept them busy and focused, involved them in the process of grading, and - unexpectedly - produced some terrific dialogue between students. They used the rubric carefully, justified their grading decisions to each other, came to agreements. I will definitely do this again for future presentations.

I also heard accountable talk during the question-and-answer period that followed each presentation. Some of the kids asked really great questions that required the team presenting to clarify the choices they made about their theory and experiment design. They listened to the answers and asked additional follow-up questions. Often, only one hand would go up at the start of the question-and-answer period, but the first question would generate several more from other students. That was cool and showed that they did care about the topic and are beginning to be metacognitive about good experiment design.

Only 56 days until the Science Expo... and counting.


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