Rookie mistakes

I sat down to grade my students' chemical reaction primer artifacts this weekend. It didn't take me long to realize that as a class we weren't done with these projects yet. Clearly I hadn't built in the necessary support for the project's format. I seemed to do pretty well supporting the information (as described previously), but I made a few fatal errors:

  1. These freshmen have next to no experience citing sources. I required in-text citations and a bibliography. We went over this on day 1, but not too much more than simple reminders since then. Many students did either a bibliography or did in-text citations, but not both.
  2. Many students gave Google, Yahoo, or URLs as their sources for information or images. Again, we went over this on day 1, but with little prior knowledge of citing internet sources it's an easy mistake to make.
  3. I emphasized strongly that their artifacts should include lots of images related to chemical reactions. I didn't make it clear enough that those pictures needed to match up with the content being described. I can't tell you how many times I had pictures of chemical reactions with no explanation of what reaction it was or why it belonged in that spot.
  4. I didn't include a review and rewrite of their projects on the schedule. Especially the first time around, they really needed it.

Rookie mistakes, all of them. All easy enough to anticipate. Heck, I've even included reviews and rewrites in similar projects I've done. What was I thinking? Today, I created time for a review and rewrite. I graded the hell out of their artifacts knowing that I would give them time to fix them up.

I was pretty worried about class today. I was handing back rubrics with some very low grades on a project that was worth as much as a full-on test. I was very careful in how I opened the discussion on doing rewrites so as not to cause frustration, despair, or anxiety over the grades on the rubrics I was passing back. Here's what I did:

  • Created a positive (perhaps inspirational?) environment. I've been sharing short (~1 minute-ish) and fun videos with my classes all year. I usually don't start class with them, but I wanted to set a positive tone right up front. What better way than with 40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes?
  • Explained myself honestly. Because this was the first time they've done anything like this, their perception of what their finished artifact should look like is different than my perception- and that's okay. I told them it's my fault that I didn't do a better job explaining my high, even ridonculous expectations (went back to an old slide to illustrate), and that I should've scheduled a review and rewrite from the very start.
  • Ensured them the grade on the rubric wasn't binding. Once I decided to allow students to revise their artifacts, I toyed with the idea of not going through their artifacts and just explain to the class as a whole the issues I was seeing. I avoided another rookie mistake by diligently going through each student's artifact and grading it like I would if the grade would really count. I wanted each of them to see what specific things were lacking and needed to be fixed. It took 10 hours of grading this weekend. Morally, it was the right decision.
  • Maintained a totally positive outlook on their artifacts. I didn't want students to get the idea that I was disappointed or frustrated with their work and was simply having pity on them by giving them a do-over. I want them to know that revisions are a natural and necessary part of the work flow.

Dan Meyer noted that as your teaching expertise grows the technical challenges (i.e. designing and implementing projects, among other things) disappear and the real challenge becomes moral (will you put in the effort to ensure all are successful?). My technical challenges have decreased dramatically since year one. However, I'm not confident there will ever be a time when I don't mess up the technical stuff. What differentiates my mistakes in year seven from mistakes in year one is that now I can fix the mistakes.


Even though I messed up, it's amazing to me that some students still hit it out of the park. Here are two artifacts that needed little fixing:

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: