Artifacts #2- Chemical reaction primer

Part 2 of the Chemical Reaction Artifact series. Part 1 describes what an artifact of learning is and why I use them.

I'm not someone who really enjoys being the center of attention. I don't enjoy talking for longer than 5-10 minutes a time during class and yet I found myself being the center of attention talking much more than I would've liked during my classes. I had had enough. The dissonance between how I operate best and how I was actually operating led to the following project.

The idea

Students go through the unit on chemical reactions creating a different artifact for each of the three sections in the unit. The artifact must clearly communicate their understanding of the required content. They were free to choose whichever format they felt most comfortable using- most students gravitated towards a wiki-page, PowerPoint presentations, or some form of a newspaper/textbook document.

Documents given to students on day 1 of the project:


I decided early in the planning phases that I would avoid the perhaps more typical model of teaching the material traditionally (notes, lecture, review, etc.) up front, then having students work on a project as the assessment. I wanted the learning process to be wrapped up in the process of creation. However, I needed to support the students' learning. I couldn't just give them the rubric and tell them to get busy- they needed (and desired) some support. I decided to implement two support structures in order to help students while still keeping much of the onus of content learning on them.

Quick & Dirty Overviews. I did a brief (10 minutes max.) explanation of the required content broken down into three sections based upon how I broke down the content in the rubric. In addition to this, on the wiki-page for the project, I embedded an old presentation that I had used several years ago as notes for this section. I explicitly told students that these overviews covered only the bare-bones basics. It was their job to flesh these ideas out, provide examples, images, diagrams, and really show that they've mastered these ideas. These overviews served as a safety blanket for many students. The artifact was big and scary, and the overviews were just a touch of that style of teaching they'd grown used to over their schooling career.

Collaborative Groups. I placed students randomly into groups of three. At the conclusion of each day they worked on their artifacts, they met in their collaborative groups. Their requirements in the groups were to: (1) show each other what they have done of their artifacts so far, (2) help each other find resources for information/images/video, (3) check that everyone is citing their sources appropriately, (4) check that each others' information is correct.

Students were somewhat resistant to meeting in their collaborative groups. They wanted to keep working on their own artifacts, not waste time seeing what other people are doing. Students didn't do a great job of sharing useful links with each other and the thought of (in the future) getting students to use common tags in delicious or diigo crossed my mind. However, I'm unsure whether the time required to get students up to speed on social bookmarking would be worth the possible benefits. What was a major success was simply getting students to see what each other are doing. Getting to see how other people used images, organized their information, cited their sources, and so on seemed to be very helpful to many students.


It'd just be wrong to not have a couple labs when learning about chemical reactions. This section included two labs.

Exothermic and Endothermic Reactions. Students create two chemical reactions; one exothermic (adding yeast to hydrogen peroxide) and one endothermic (dissolving ammonium nitrate into water- it's not really a chemical reaction but it does get very cold).

Types of Chemical Reactions. Five reactions that demonstrate the five basic types of chemical reactions. Clicking the following links takes to you photos taken of the reactions as students performed them:

In the end

Students will upload their completed artifacts to the class wiki for all to see. At the time of this writing, students have completed their artifacts, but the upload process will happen this Monday (12/8). When they're all up I'll be sure to share.

My goal is to begin using the class wiki somewhat like a portfolio for student work. Each student will have a page on which they post their artifacts and other assignments completed throughout the year. I'm starting a little late on this for the current semester, but I hope to improve the practice in the future.



Part of the Chemical Reaction Artifact series of posts:


Image Sources:

Artifacts of learning

Part 1 of the Chemical Reaction Artifact series of posts.

I'm teaching at a new school this year. I've been unhappy with how little I've been able to integrate projects that involve students creating an "artifact of their learning." I've been doing too much sage-on-the-staging, which I greatly dislike for a great many reasons.

I'm teaching a freshman level class (Integrated Science) that by some coincidence happens to be very similar to some classes I taught a couple years ago at my previous school. This is a happy coincidence because I already have quite a few resources put together for a good chunk of the material. It's not so happy because much of the material I have made up is a few years old and doesn't reflect the best that I can do.

What is an artifact?

Essentially, it's something the student creates in which they demonstrate their understanding of the required content. Most often I give students some choice in the format they use for their artifact. Example formats students often choose are a textbook, magazine, comic book, video, newspaper, PowerPoint presentation, poem/rap/song, etc.  The artifacts can vary in scope from covering a specific topic and take only a day or two to create to being a final exam and requiring a week or more to put together.


The last two years I began implementing projects in which students create artifacts to display and assess their level of understanding of the content. I began having students create artifacts hesitantly. I was worried they might be fun but not be great as an assessment of student knowledge.  I quickly lost those worries when the student work came pouring in.

Why I love this

Student Choice. Students can choose the format of their artifact. Students who are excellent artists can throw together some amazing comic books. Those who are good with computers could create a webpage. I strongly encourage students to play to their strengths when introducing new artifacts.

Depth of Understanding. This is great for students who usually whip through typical assignments and then sit around waiting for others to finish. Since there's always more information, images, examples, videos, and so forth that could be added to improve their artifact, it gives them a chance to make artifacts that just blow me out of the water. Students who struggle with the content just need to make sure they cover the required material. As an added bonus, I usually have more time to work with students who are struggling since those whiz kid students don't need my help very often.

Synthesis. I can't emphasize enough how heavily I emphasize that artifacts must be totally written in students' own words, that they explain images and diagrams, and that they don't ever put any information into their artifacts that they couldn't explain to their grandmother. If they want to put it into their artifact but don't understand it, they'd better look up information on it, ask for help, and know what they're talking about before adding it.

Ownership. Artifacts require students to own the information. Students put a lot of time and effort into making them and I've found 95% of the students are proud of what they've made. It's theirs. It's different from everyone else's.


Part of the Chemical Reaction Artifact series of posts:


Final Exam Projects- Day 2

I've made the switch. This year I've been using a cumulative project in lieu of a traditional written test, and at this point I believe that the projects are a better indicator of student knowledge than the old examinations.

Students have just started working on their final projects for the 3rd Trimester. So far, I'm impressed. Day 1 is usually always a bit of a waste. Students aren't sure what they want to do or how to start so they end up doing lots of email checking, Google Image labeling, Impossible Quiz taking, and other things that are probably violating their AUP's. Day 2 is when the action happens (for most). They figure out what format they're going to use for their exam, and start to frame how they're going to include the required information into that format. About 25% of the projects I've seen from students so far look like they're going to be great. I don't mean simply deserving of an "A." I mean they look like they'll be shiny monuments to mountains of knowledge!

A couple things I've learned to do as I've done more of these cumulative projects:

  • Push for more than just bulleted points of information. It's dull to read, it's dull to write, it's just dull.
  • Demand diagrams, graphs, graphic organizers, and media-rich projects. These are more interesting than text, and they generally demonstrate a student's understanding of a topic more clearly.
  • Require projects to show the student's understanding of how the material covered in the class is interconnected. We covered volcanoes & plate tectonics this trimester. I want them to show me how they relate.

If you'd like to see the project description and rubric for the 3rd Trimester final exam, visit my school homepage. There are links to the rubric and a brief explanation of what is expected. Let me know what you think. What would you add? How might it be structured differently?