So first of all I want to say that this project has been going extremely well so far. We're in week 5 at this point and there are a couple indicators of high quality student engagement and progress. The first is that our class structure has very quickly gotten to the point where I am not directly instructing students very often. 90% of our time in class consists of students being in the shop and working on their projects. They're back there soldering and cutting wire and drawing plans and collaborating which leaves me free to do my check-ins and walk around giving advice and typing students up about cool things they made.
The other indicator is that I hear students critiquing each other unprompted. A couple times a day I will hear kids ask each other for feedback and they'll tell each other what they would do or what changes could be made to improve their projects, and that only seems to happen when both students feel like they have something to say. They don't give good feedback if they don't have good grounding in what the other person has made so when I see them leave each other feedback that indicates to me that they both feel as if they have enough experience to give advice to each other.
Something that has been really helpful this semester is that I reduced the total number of assignments as much as I could. I can fit the entire semester's worth of assignments on a single four point list. My impression is that this provides a lot of clarity for the students and they can see how we're progressing. Having it written out so clearly as well I hope we'll make it apparent to them the purpose of each assignment. I have told many students 2 remake entire parts of their project or make second drafts of their assignments; I tell them that they will learn a lot by doing this and it will only serve to make their final project even better. The response to this has been positive.
It's also been helpful having so many models. In the past I've had everyone make the same model as a first assignment but this semester I let them choose the model they wanted to make. I find that they are more enthusiastic about the initial assignment when they have a little bit of choice. It seems obvious in hindsight but I'm glad to have discovered this.
What challenges have there been? I almost want to say that the workload is a little light but I don't actually see that as a problem. Last semester my goal was to get students excited about learning again in response to how difficult their distance learning experiences had been. That same spirit has carried over to this semester. I know that because I'm requiring less of the students as far as total assignments. I think this benefits me because when there are fewer assignments I can be more critical and have higher expectations for each assignment. I have become more comfortable having students redo things and make large changes when their assignments are not correct.
Another challenge has been my decision to grade them based on check-ins versus individual assignments again it's not really that much of a problem. Each week I meet individually with every student and I give them a task list for what needs to be done by the next check-in. Then when we meet the following week I give them a point if they completed everything or I don't give them a point if they didn't complete everything. It takes a lot of time on my part to sit with every student. actually it took a lot of time in the beginning because I had to get to know each of them, but now that we're in a flow each check-in only takes 2 to 4 minutes. With a total of 18 weeks and thus 18 points they'll get for weekly check-ins, each one feels important but not critical. I think this helps the stress level in the class and also makes me feel comfortable holding kids accountable. I could see myself being lenient if the individual check-ins were more weighty because I wouldn’t want them to fall behind. As it is, I think they are working pretty well.