A district is assessing itself with a massive project for 800 eighth graders. No grades. Just learning and sharing. Despite worries that it wouldn’t work – it has been working for years and is just getting better. Learn about the Global Challenge Project with Mark Wise.
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How to Assess Your District: The Global Challenge Project is an Example
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e223
Date: January 3, 2018
What is the Global Challenge Project?
So Mark tell us, what is the Global Challenge Project?
Mark: The project is a week long experience with eighth graders who try and solve a real world global problem basically in four days, present their solution to an outside group of adults who then judge their performance. The winning teams get to Skype their solutions to real experts in the field the following day.
Vicki: Wow! So you just run this at your school? Or are your students collaborating with students in other schools?
Mark: It’s just within the school, but we have 800 eighth graders across two schools.
Mark: All 800 are taking part in this, during this one week in June that takes place after the math final and before the class trip to Hershey Park.
Vicki: Wow. So this is a full day thing. So it’s sort of cross-curricular?
Mark: This is cross-curricular. It takes place during Team Time. Our middle school, like many other middle schools, have teams made up of Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Math. During that time, students are working on this project.
Vicki: So about how long is that time, at your school?
Mark: Give or take, about four hours a day.
Vicki: Wow! So you literally pretty much have half a day for four days for the students to come up with these challenges and present.
Give us an example of one of the winning projects.
How the “winning” works
Mark: Well, first of all, winning is with a small “w” and what we do is this:
Everyone gets their first choice of what they want to work on. We have lots of different options for kids, depending upon their area of interest or the kind of medium that they want to work in.
You know, we have kids who are really into social media, and they have an opportunity to work with clients to design their website or Twitter campaign or Facebook page or text outreach.
And we have kids that are kind of into the Makerspace movement, and if they want to design a water filtration system for Nepal, or design something to help Syrian refugees in any part of their journey whether they want to make them more comfortable or safer or to better acclimate to new surroundings, they can design something.
Or for those kids that are interested in hunger, or women’s issues, or child nutrition — they really have a myriad of options with which to pursue their own particular passion for helping people.
Once kids select that, we then randomly group the kids into teams of five. The teams are mixed across different teams, so they might be working with kids they’re very familiar with.
Again, we include every single kid, so we have children who are Resource Room kids, and Gifted and Talented kids, and kids who love school, and kids who hate school, and kids who “this is their passion,” and kids who never thought of social studies or any kind of global development as an interest. They’re all working together on a team.
So the adults only see the end product. They have no idea who these kids are, and they’re scoring them on several different rubrics, and ultimately deciding which group project or development plan or website or whatever it may be, that they would want to fund or hire and those teams go forward to actually Skype with the real world experts.
How Has the Project Evolved?
Vicki: So Mark, how long have you been doing this project, and how has it changed over time?
Mark: We’ve been doing it about nine years. It started with a pilot team in each school, and it’s grown to now it’s every team in the eighth grade is doing it. We started with only having one choice, and now we have, you know, eight sort of “big buckets” of choices, and within there, there are thousands of choices that kids can make. So it’s really expanded.
We also started with a few experts that were able to Skype, and now we have close to 250 students Skyping across ten time zones with sixty Skype sessions all in one given day.
Vicki: Wow. It sounds like so much to coordinate, Mark.
Mark: It’s a lot to coordinate. Yep.
But it’s grown over time. You didn’t start at the level you’re at right now.
Mark: That’s correct. It’s grown over time.
How the District Uses This Project to Assess Itself
The other sort of interesting thing about this is that in and of itself, it would be a cool project but what we’re doing is using it really as an assessment of the district, not of the students.
In fact, the students aren’t graded for this. This was a big leap for our teachers. They thought that students wouldn’t be motivated to work if they weren’t being graded, especially the second-to-last week of their eighth grade experience.
So that was a big lift, but we found out that kids will work, and kids will be excited about their learning, especially if they feel that there’s an authentic audience in mind. They’re doing it not only for the judges that come in, but also for the opportunity to Skype and share their research with people in the field.
How Do The Teachers Feel About the Project?
Vicki: Now I’ve seen some schools that have done big projects at the end of the year, and sometimes the teachers say, “You know what? I’m too tired to do such a big project.”
How do your teachers feel about it?
Mark: There are probably folks that feel that way.
The nice thing about this project is that it’s totally student-run. In fact, there’s no teacher scaffolding whatsoever.
All the work is in the up front. We have a website that has all the tasks, all the rubrics, all the websites, tutorials — all that kind of stuff.
Students are totally self-directed. So once they hit the ground running, let’s say on Monday morning, teachers are sort of stepping out of the way. All they’re doing, since they’re not grading, is looking at how well the students are collaborating. Each year we get data on that.
The Data That is Collected And How It Is Used By the District
We also collect data on their problem-solving skills, their research skills, their communication skills — things that we’re interested in as a district to see how we’re doing and how we’re improving or not improving over time.
Then we use that data to then inform our other programs and our other types of assessments to see how we can improve those. So this acts almost like a physical for the district, more than anything else.
What Has the District Learned?
Vicki: So Mark, what’s the most shocking thing that you’ve learned through your data collection through this process?
Mark: Wow. Shocking, huh?
Well, I think it’s shocking to me — I was a believer, but I think more to other teachers — how hard kids will work without a grade, and how motivated they’ll be if they feel invested in the learning. That’s one.
Two is that we need to step back and not over-scaffold students. One of the questions you asked in the beginning was “How has this changed over time?” In the beginning, we used to do a pretty heavy lift in terms of mini-lessons and guided instruction to the students of how to do PowerPoints, how to present, all these little things in terms of how to make their presentation better and more palatable to the judges. And while we got good results, we realized that it was very heavily coached… and we weren’t getting REAL data.
So we stripped it back completely to the point now, where there’s almost no teacher involvement whatsoever unless there’s some kind of interpersonal flare-up. But other than that, the kids are totally on their own. The students really appreciate having the project and the content and the final product be 100% produced by them and within their locus of control.
How Can a School or District Take and Adapt This Project?
Vicki: So Mark, what is a way that a school could get started quickly, implementing their own Global Challenge Project?
Mark: Well… that’s a fair question. The one thing is that we could provide the website for folks because one of the nice things about the website is that all of the materials are here.
You know, part of it is that in creating this, and so many options, and the rubrics — it was somewhat of a heavy lift. But after nine years, I feel like it’s in a pretty good shape. Teachers or administrators could grab this on their own and start to “just add water.” You know, use it as they see fit.
The larger step is to get it to be something more than just a cool project — in that, is it something that the school or the district is interested in doing to get the results and to look critically at how they’re teaching and how they’re assessing to really make some changes district-wide.
If not, it’s a cool project, and it’s easily adoptable and adaptable.
But to me the real power is looking at the results to then drive some other changes in the district.
So for example, in the grade below we used to do a traditional research paper, and now we realized that to sort of help prepare them for this kind of project, we switched over to kids creating documentaries and making presentations about their documentaries.
That’s been a lot more powerful for students, and it’s also helped prepare them for this kind of performance assessment. Those kinds of things have been happening across the board, both below eighth grade and above eighth grade because they see what eighth graders are capable of, left to their own devices. They also see where the holes are, in terms of what our kids are capable of, or are able to perform. We want to make some changes so that they’re better.
So it’s really been more of a stake in the ground for the kind of assessment that we want to see, that has then had the ripple effect of impacting other assessments and teaching and learning K-12.
Vicki: This is a remarkable project, a great topic for Wonderful Classroom Wednesday, this Global Challenge Project. You’ll definitely want to check the Shownotes for this.
Let me just challenge you, “How are you assessing your district? How are you assessing your school?”
Take a look at this, the website, and discuss this fantastic case study for all of to discuss in staff meetings to determine how we are truly assessing our school. It’s not just about the test.
So, remarkable educators, I think we have a great project for us to think about.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Mark Wise serves as the K-12 Supervisor for Curriculum and Instruction for West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey. Previously, he taught high school history and government in New Jersey as well as in Washington D.C. Mark did his undergraduate work at UMASS Amherst in political science/history and received his Master's in Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Mark’s work led to his being recognized as the 2010 Visionary Supervisor/Director of the Year for New Jersey along with receiving CTAUN’s Best Practices Award in 2007 and 2010. Mark is committed to prepare students for success in the 21st century by designing and implementing curriculum that forges interdisciplinary connections, embeds global competencies, and requires students to utilize technology in a meaningful way in order to solve real-world problems and address authentic audiences.
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