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The Project that Worked...And Didn't

I love space. I love to learn about space and to teach about space. And kids love space. When I taught earth science I spent waaaay longer than I needed to on the space unit.  Our current seventh grade curriculum doesn't include space.  So, I found a way to include it.

In the spring I teach the physics unit. This includes magnets, electricity, sound and electromagnetic energy. On it's own, without a "hook", this can be fun unit. It's very hands on. But I wanted to kick it up a notch and I am always looking for ways to integrate space science into the curriculum. This seemed like the perfect unit for space integration. Thus, my NASA unit was born. For the past 2 years I have taught this unit through the lens of space exploration - specifically the Journey to Mars.

I begin the unit with the history of space exploration and the introduction of the unit project. By the end of the unit, students will design a ship that gets astronauts safely to Mars and they will integrate the content of the unit. I also send the completed projects to NASA education.

As we move through the content, we always bring it back to space exploration and how NASA and the world's space agencies use (and in some cases protect against) magnets, electricity, sound and electromagnetic energy in space exploration. About halfway through the unit I gave the students Idea Sheets so they could jot down ideas for their ships as they went.

All through the unit students were excited to share their ideas. May of them did additional research at home and were eager to share what they had learned with the class. I was so excited that it was working so well! The kids were engaged and excited to be coming to class. They enjoyed learning the content and couldn't wait to design the ships.

For the final project the ship design was accompanied by a written portion. Students had to explain how the content was integrated into the ship. The designs were coming out fantastic and students were able to defend their designs...or so I thought. When they handed in the final project, i was jazzed to read them but soon got kind of bummed. The designs were great but the written portion was missing the mark. Students had articulately explained their designs when asked but very few were able to get their ideas on paper.

So, what happened? Here are my thoughts:
(1) Students got so into drawing the design they left little time for the written explanations.
(2) Perhaps I was not clear enough about my expectations (even though it was on the task sheet and the rubric).
(3) There should have been more feedback and opportunities for revision during the planning process.
(4) The students are so used to having a million supports for everything that when you take some of the supports away, they don't know what to do.

And I am totally open to ideas. If you read this and think, I know what you can do!, please feel free to comment on the post.  One of the great things about teaching is that every year is a do over. From last year to this one I changed several aspects of the project. Next year, I will try this again and. with some tweaks, will hopefully end up with projects that truly showcase what the students know and can do.


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