Phase V

ImagineIT Phase 5:

Conferring with Colleagues and Students

When I began formulating my ImagineIT in the summer, I decided to focus on assessment in the fourth unit of the Exploring Computer Science class, the Introduction to Programming Unit, which will start roughly in January after the holiday break.  I have two goals regarding assessment for this unit and for the course as a whole:  first, to create short formative assessments (especially interpreting pseudo-code and/or Scratch code written by other people), and second, to explicitly encourage and assess creativity.  The goal of my ImagineIT project is to make creative thinking an explicit target for students and to use the NEW framework for evaluating creativity (Novel, Effective, Whole). In practice, this means that I will add items from the creativity rubrics to the standard rubrics already in place for evaluating student projects.

A major addition to the project since its initial formulation is a commitment to portfolio assessment. At the end of the Introduction to Programming unit, students will put together a learning portfolio designed to show the growth in their mastery of programming concepts over the course of the unit. Rather than a jumbled assemblage of everything students have done in a unit, a learning portfolio is a set of artifacts from the unit selected by each student with an eye toward telling the story of his or her learning over the course of the unit. An example sequence might be one in which a first artifact shows struggle/very basic level the next shows emerging mastery and the final shows mastery. Each item will be captioned and a claim-data-warrant paragraph will be written to justify the selection of the specific artifact in question. In a final piece of writing, also in the CDW format, each student will synthesize the three artifacts/captions they have just written and they will pull everything together to tell the final story of their learning for the unit. The plan is to do the portfolio activity alongside a faculty member in the English department who will also be trying portfolio assessment — for him for the second time — and to compare and discuss experiences as we go along. So far, I have worked with students on the technical part of creating the portfolio; each student has created a Weebly personal website and each student has practiced creating custom banners, menus, pages, and has practiced embedding content including pictures, slideshows, google documents, and videos.

Colleagues I conferred with in the Math department and English department — including a university level English department colleague of mine from way back — were excited about the learning portfolio aspect of the project. The math colleague pointed out that the idea of a learning portfolio that the student manages his or herself is a very IB-ish concept and that her daughter — only in first grade — needs to bring a portfolio of her best work that she has selected to parent teacher conferences and that it is the student’s responsibility to conduct a review the portfolio with her parents and her teacher at the conference. In first grade!!! Obviously, since the English department colleague has agreed to communicate regularly about his experience with his own efforts at portfolio assessment, he is clearly on board with the portfolio idea, and we are both excited to see what we can learn from one another by how the portfolio concept plays out in these different content areas.

The creativity theme — inspired by the work of the Deep Play group at Michigan State on creativity — and my own interest in making STEM fields more attractive to a broader range of students by stressing creativity and assessing it deliberately — was much more controversial. The student reaction was that assessing creativity was the worst idea they had ever heard because it would be too subjective. How could one dare assess or reward creativity? The reaction of one of the students in particular after I pressed had to do with his concerns that it would not be possible to separate technical skill from creative endeavor. The specific example I discussed both with students and with colleagues was an early activity in the unit in which after they have fooled around and discovered the basics of loops and the movement of sprites, students are given the task of animating the scratch cat to run around a set of bases in the style of a baseball game. This involves understanding how a loop works, how the movement command works, and how rotation around 360 works as the scratch cat must be turned to face the proper direction to properly run the bases. But when this activity was done in a teacher professional development, teacher groups were also challenged to try to be creative in their extensions they made to the scratch cat base-runner and at the end of the activity there was a gallery walk to share what each individual group had done. My group decided to put a baseball hat on the cat’s head, which flew off when he was rounding third; other groups added sound effects — the crack of the bat; others added fireworks or home plate celebratory dances. The concern on the part of the student was that the technical skills of some students were more limited than others so that what might appear to be a lack of creativity might really be lack of technical skills.

Interestingly the teacher from the English department was also worried about creativity, more than the math teacher I talked to, it would appear. The english teacher spoke of how what I was doing, perhaps, should be part of the hidden curriculum and not really talked about or at least called something else on the rubric. One option we discussed was: “Assessing skill application to an idea or strategy of your own…” but the teacher would never actually say he or she was assessing creativity and would not use the word. Possible rubric lines that do talk about creativity might be “Level of creativity duplicates model task, but does not go further”; “Level of creativity extends model task in moderately innovative ways”…etc.

In closing, I am surely going forward with the portfolio assessment and I am not giving up on creativity either, but it is interesting that both the students and a significant number of the teachers worried that creativity might seem (or actually be) too subjective to actually assess in an authentic way. The word itself might be so loaded that many would recommend that it not be said at all! I guess the big question for me going forward at this point is how explicit to be about this particular theme of the course. Do you say ‘creativity’ or call it something else because of the various connotations that come with the term? As of now, I am not sure.