Right on Track? or On the Right Track?

January 21, 2018

Sarah Leiker, New Tech Network Coach

My sister is now two weeks into her college internship for her major in Landscape Architecture. Knowing this is a new adventure for her…one that she was (naturally) apprehensive about, I decided to get her out this weekend and see how things were going. Her first reflections were “It’s alright. I’m doing small things/tasks that they give me until I get adjusted to the office.” (Also note that they told her it’s been 4-5 years since they’ve worked with an intern so they’re reacquainting themselves with that world too.)  Then I asked her, “What are you hoping to get out of this experience and did you tell them what that was?” She knew that the one thing she hadn’t experienced yet in her college coursework was seeing a project through from beginning to end… for example, when the Architecture firm got the bid all the way through raking the last piece of mulch (or whatever the last piece would be) when finishing up on a site.

We spent a chunk of time talking about the work she was tasked with completing when she arrives at the office Monday morning, which happens to be the start of a project that she was hoping to experience! Here’s a snippet of the conversation that has stuck with me:

My sis: “We know we have a circular playground to design and they want it to be jungle themed. My boss asked me to make a call to a playground equipment company on Monday to get costs, sizes of equipment, and things like that. But this is the first project I’m doing for a business and what I wanted to get out of the internship, so I don’t want to screw it up!”

Me: (smiling to myself because this is exactly the type of feeling we put our students at the beginning of a PBL/PrBL unit…you know…because we’re on a mission to bring AUTHENTIC experiences into our classrooms. Also knowing we bring that healthy level of stress to students knowing we’ll be there to support them through the process) “Since they haven’t had an intern in awhile and I’m sure you’ve proven yourself capable up to this point, it’s possible they’ve forgotten that they need to support you in this project adventure too.  I also know you well enough to know that if your boss says 2 days later, “Gosh, I wish we would’ve asked them about _____” that you’ll take it personally as if you didn’t do your job well, even though you did and he just happened to have an afterthought.”

My sis: “Very true, but I know he’s busy and don’t want to make him sit by me while I have this call. I know I want to write down things to ask before I call them anyway, maybe I’ll have him look those questions over before I call.”

Me: “Good idea…maybe you ask him to give you feedback on those questions and/or sit by you during this call, in case there’s something else he knows you might need information on later. Best case scenario, he’ll do both. Worst case, you’ll at least have feedback as support to reassure yourself going into that call.”

And now I’m here, sharing this with you because it has so many implications and connections to our work that we design for students every day! This is the connection I’m going to land on making this week….. the need for assessments embedded in a project, which are supported by giving our students immediate feedback on their performance to create revision and/or reassurance that they are on the right track for project completion.  At New Tech Network, we call these “performance assessments” (I know…. really creative, huh?) 😉

In the project my sister will be working on tomorrow, you can already see it unfolding in this way:

  • Project Launch – The scenario she’s working in: circular playground, jungle themed, $x budget presented
  • Benchmark 1: Comparison of products from various playground equipment companies
    • Performance Assessment at this phase/benchmark of the project (i.e. a thing her boss might assess to see if her performance is on track towards completing the final product in this project)– a written statement of which company she proposes they go with for purchasing the equipment and why she’s opting for company “x” over all of the others. (a li’l compare and contrast, if you will)
    • Scaffolding to support the research/learning necessary for achieving/completing this benchmark:
      • (to support Oral Communication) Student generated script to use when calling each company
      • (to support Agency) A graphic organizer to accompany the script (perhaps a table of some kind) for students document and organize their findings
      • (to support Knowledge & Thinking/ Content)
        • A small group conversation about equipment might fit the theme and the space provided (talking about area, perhaps)
        • A guided practice session for calculating possible costs, dimensions of equipment that would fit within budget and the given area
      • (to support Written Communication) An exploration of other comparisons from companies on previous projects, so students would not just be given “writing expectations” but would experience/see/visualize an industry standard. They could then do a deconstruction, perhaps of what they’ve seen in the companies previous projects before writing their comparison statement (i.e. the performance assessment)
  • Benchmark 2: Selection of equipment by company “x”
    • Performance Assessment – no idea what my sister’s company will ask her to submit to show she’s “on the right track”, but I could see how a visual sketch, a mock up of some kind, or a written statement would be useful as a way for them to ensure she’s taken into account the size of the playground, the theme desired, and the given budget. (you know…all the things presented in the entry document because that’s what performance assessments are…they’re just opportunities for checking in on how you’re meeting the goal of the project)!  Maybe, this could be a chance for students to individually submit a written assessmentpiece to demonstrate what they know and think about the layout of the playground…. an IAKT…an individual assessment of knowledge and thinking!!! Which means the IAKT was introduced a LONG time ago through the project launch, but students are individually submitting their written sense-making now, after all of this support, research, reflection, and revision! 
    • Scaffolding – certainly, in order to meet this benchmark and complete the performance assessment there should be support such as: interacting with the client for additional input their needs/hopes, support for accuracy of calculations (both financial and area), creating graphic representations of area, etc.
  • Benchmark 3: Pitch to the client of designs and cost (because it’s important this happens before construction takes place)
    • Performance Assessments & Scaffolding would exist, but sake of this now turning into a Project planning form, I’ll spare you thoughts here…
  • Culminating Event & Presentation: The Creation of the playground
    • Of course there would be scaffolding here also to support the time between “pitch” and “creation”, but again…I’m going to spare you another 10min of reading. You’re welcome.
  • End of Project Reflection: (since students have been reflecting through the project as they revise and refine their work at each benchmark as a result of their performance assessment), this would be a great time to think about “how did I become a better learner/ performer/ collaborator/ advocate for myself throughout this project?” and establish a plan for how they know they need to “show up” in the next project to help them navigate the project flow from benchmark-to-benchmark.
I suppose I just get this sense from teachers at times that either “students just do whatever they want in PBL units ” or “There’s too many things happening in a project that are disconnected” and it shouldn’t be. It should be seamless. Students shouldn’t be able to progress unless they’re learning ON BEHALF OF THE PROJECT GOAL, and they should be receiving regular support along the way towards benchmarks/check-in points to reassure them that they aren’t going to be left floundering until the final presentation/culminating event happens.
My challenge for you this week is to look at your upcoming project designs and ask yourself, “How is it all woven together?” and “What am I intentionally designing along the way to make sure my interns students aren’t left wondering if they’re on the right path towards project completion?”
This blog originally appeared on Leik’It or Not.

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