How Performance-Based Assessments Designed by Student Interns Promote Interest-Based Skill Development
At Del Lago Academy, we believe that learning is not bound by the walls of our school. Rich and transformative learning experiences happen at home, in the community, and at places of work. Our internship program allows scholars to leave campus and build relationships with mentors that help shape their identity and learn about the work that happens in our region. For 6 weeks each spring, scholars spend 2 days a week building skills and knowledge in places of work, such as laboratories, catering businesses, hospitals, and departments within our city government. A recent goal with this work has been to promote deeper internship experiences with more intentional skill development.
As part of the Competency X project, we wondered if we could leverage our approach with ePortfolios and Digital Badges to promote skill development that was more relevant to both the scholar and their work context. We knew that some of our internships were job shadow experiences with menial tasks. Our idea was that we could have a mentor and scholar co-create a performance-based assessment to capture the skill development that was most important in that place of work. The hope was that this assessment would shift the goal setting a scholar does with their mentor. The goals would be designed around novel competencies that are needed in specific work context. Scholars would capture authentic evidence and mentor validations in a portfolio and recognize this evidence with a co-created digital badge. The digital badge would be open and accessible for others to earn and can help inform future applicants about the context specific work in an internship.
We piloted this approach in 2017 and launched a second iteration this year that resulted in more authentic, open-ended, and process-oriented assessments and evidence of learning than we captured in the past. The process of co-creating a performance-based assessment began with identifying an area of growth in their internship industry and work towards innovating a solution for that area. To help them identify this growth area, we used a model of reflection, evaluation, and innovation called Roses, Buds, and Thorns, illustrated in the figure below.
Model of Reflection, Evaluation, and Innovation: Roses, Buds, and Thorns:
We asked scholars in their industry performance assessment to collect evidence and reflections on a Rose, a task that needed to be fostered, a Bud that needed only some minor adjustments, and a Thorn that needed to be rearranged or eliminated. Scholars collected learning evidence in a portfolio and used this to help identify their own Roses, Buds, and Thorns for skills they needed for success. Scholars then designed an assessment to capture and inform their own growth and recognize it with a digital badge.
Aisha Wallace-Palomares interned at Zero Waste San Diego, an organization dedicated to developing zero-waste initiatives. Aisha, a young woman fully dedicated to social and environmental justice, recognized their dedication to their mission and capitalized on their commitment by developing a proposal of her own:
As an intern I created a proposal to create a “Sustainability Innovation Center” at the Central Library. This would ensure the ability for people across all socioeconomic levels to access resources and information relating to sustainability and environment. There would be a rooftop garden, a composting area, window farming, rain harvesting, and a demonstration area.
Aisha recognized that the commitment and resources of Zero Waste San Diego was already there, as was the commitment of the Central Library to evolve into a true champion for their community. Her proposal combined the resources and commitment of both of these organizations to redesign existing space and bring a new resource to the community. Her reflections post-internship demonstrated the development of interest-based skills that really could not be taught from a podium or measured through a traditional assessment. Her proposal demonstrated strong written and spoken communication skills, collaboration and creativity, professionalism, and advocacy.
Next, we gave Aisha and other scholars the opportunity to find their own Roses, Buds, and Thorns with skills they needed for this level of success in their internship. Scholars collected evidence of their learning, and then reflected on the extent to which they mastered skills that they identified as Roses, Buds, and Thorns. The evidence was captured in a portfolio and recognized by a digital badge. Below are some examples of these digital badge based performance assessments.
We learned a tremendous amount from the badges scholars created with their mentors. These badges will soon be open on our digital badge platform and serve as a recruiting tool for future internship applicants. Teachers, administrators, mentors and internship program organizers will be able to view scholar badge profiles to discover scholars who have the skills and interests that fit the requirements of a particular job/internship role or mentorship program. The scholar co-created badges can currently be found in portfolio entries, such as the ones below:
This work by scholars indicates the power that comes from youth participating in the performance assessment design process. Our learning with this work will be continually shared at Competency X. We are continually inspired by the Assessment for Learning movement that aims to help us all broaden the definition of success and create more equitable opportunities for learners to advance with goals they set for college, career, and life.
OER Resources for Co-Created Badges
Digital badges fill in gaps for how we describe what scholars know and can do in the real world. Traditionally, most scholars only have a transcript of coursework to represent what they can do. Digital badges unbundle the competencies within both courses and workforce experiences to help fill in the gaps of larger credentials (e.g., degrees and certifications). This allows them to be more precise about what a learning is capable of accomplishing.
Why not paper certificates?
Initially, we imagined paper certificates that would map out learning progressions and be used to earn internships. The problem with these certificates is that they are not easily linked to the evidence a student curates to earn them. Linking evidence with a digital badge is useful in several important ways. First, it allows prospective employers to assess the credibility of the micro-credential. With a click on a badge, the evidence can be viewed that shows how the learner earned the badge. Our industry partners loved the idea of being able to watch a quick video that shows the learner demonstrating a concrete skill. Second, it allows learners to reflect on what led to success with current and past practices. If a learner wants to re-learn a particular skill set, all they have to do is click on their badge to view the tips and strategies that helped them previously reach success. Last, it creates opportunities for learners to be engaged in a larger community of practice. Mentors can provide feedback on formative artifacts that will become evidence used to earn a badge. Also, this allows artifacts of skills, knowledge, and dispositions to be used across multiple digital badges. This helps illuminate the interconnections between digital badges and prevent the compartmentalization of skills and knowledge.
Where did the badge graphics come from?
We wanted our digital badge graphics to represent the community we serve. This is why we recruited scholars from our Principles of Design 3 course to build our badge graphics. Each of these scholars took Principles of Design 1 and 2, which meant that they demonstrated competency with the necessary design and technology skill sets to produce the badge graphics. Teacher Aled Anaya supported scholars with using digital tools to create the digital badge graphics. They took the description of the badge expectations and evidence to ideate graphic designs. We love what they came up with! These graphics serve as the icon for the digital badges and are given out as physical stickers when scholars earn a badge.
The best part of my job is listening. I love listening to the thoughts of our scholars when we try new things in the classroom. As we embarked on the Competency X journey to improve science and engineering practices for our scholars, we started hearing lots of questions.
These questions caused our science team to tap the brakes and look back at the descriptions of artifacts of learning we wanted from scholars to earn digital badges. Given the large industry based design team for the badges, we weren’t surprised by the inconsistency in what we wanted from scholars. Some badges asked for two products and one reflection. Others wrapped the reflection into the products we wanted to see from scholars.
The problem with this diversity of artifacts in our system is that kids are constantly guessing what is expected of them from badge to badge. This is also an equity concern because we need to provide scaffolds so that all scholars can independently access these industry desired badges. This requires us to build sufficient supports (e.g., visual cues in the classroom and sentence stems) for diverse learners to achieve success.
To provide some consistency in what we expect as evidence, we took a look at all the artifacts across the badges and inductively coded them for what we wanted scholars to show.
We saw some artifacts that were work samples or performances like the following:
Others were manuals and how to’s:
Some were reflections on the nature of how the scholar acted as a scientist:
The codes that began to emerge from these artifacts included manuals, work samples, tutorials, metacognitive reflections, art, troubleshooting documents, and live performances. We looked for what was common across these codes and grouped them into 3 categories. Click on each of the following to view:
Each badge now has only 3 artifacts, one from each of these categories. This allows scholars grow as curators of learning because we have consistent expectations for evidence from badge to badge in our system. We can also provide scaffolds to scholars that require modifications to assessments, such as the following for a Metacognitive Reflection:
The system is growing and improving as we monitor how it functions in the classroom. Instructional rounds are helping us identify practices that support scholars with curating artifacts. Release time for teachers is helping us share stories and insights like the big “ah ha” described in this post. The most important monitoring function we do is listen to our scholars. We run focus groups and survey them on what they feel is working and could be improved in Competency X.
All our teachers at Del Lago Academy introduced Competency X to the school this past week. It is a blast to see scholars hard at work curating artifacts of learning that demonstrate competency in an area highlight by a digital badge. We got to this point by introducing Competency X through a clip from the movie Up. In this clip, we see Russel trying to earn his Assisting the Elderly badge to become a Wilderness Explorer.
Scholars were asked to ponder Russell's motivations for earning the badge and why they mattered so much to him. From a discussion on these points, scholars were asked to act out skits with props that map out future outcomes for Russell if he did not earn the badge. This helped us address several key questions for scholars:
This was followed by a short testimonial video produced by DLA TV that shared the experiences of scholars that helped create the badges and how they work.
We then used the Nerdy Delight badge as a practice badge to teach the workflow and let scholars experience success on Day 1. Nerdy delight is that feeling you get when you accomplish something you did not think was previously possible. We asked scholars to pick a "thing" where they experienced nerdy delight in the past and curate the following two artifacts:
This practice opportunity with earning a badge has certainly helped my scholars better understand how to approach curating artifacts for badges, such as Error Analyst. Following our launch, I had scholars collecting videos like the one below to best represent skills, such as explaining how experimental errors affect the validity of a conclusion for an experiment.
As you can see in this video, this scholar's lab partner captured footage that shows how not all the mass of the soil was added in to the calorimeter. They later used this clip to explain the error and how it affects the claim they made about what soil type is best for protection in an extreme heat event, like the Dinopocalypse.
While we love to focus on the badges, it's the curated reflections of learning experiences that we are beginning to treasure most. Now that we've launched Competency X, expect this blog to be a regular place to check out our learning with this project. Our full badge progression map will soon be shared with the outside world. We're waiting on the badge graphics to be completed by scholars before we fully share the new industry co-created badges.
Our Comeptency X Summer Workshop was designed to create digital badges based on what industry and college professionals think it takes to be successful in the science based workforce. We are excited to be filling in the gaps for what gets assessed in schools. Many of the badges are for undervalued skills, knowledge, and dispositions that our industry partners said were critical for success in the workforce. Also, our students were there with us as co-creators in this system. Many of the biggest ideas came from wonderings by our students. Below is a link to a digital story on how we completed this work:
Competency X Summer Workshop Story (produced using Sway)
Here are some brief highlights of our most significant "ah ha's" and wonderings from the workshop (For more details, check out the Sway story above):
Highlight #1: Performance Based Dispositions in the Biotechnology Industry
Prior to their attendance at the workshop, we asked our industry and college partners to describe performance tasks that they required interns and new hires to complete. It was from these stories of performance tasks that we backwards designed the learning progressions that describe how our students science and engineering practices develop and become more complex over time. The stories of performance tasks were rooted in concrete procedural tasks, such as solution preparation or sterile techniques in the laboratory. The fascinating thing was that this didn't show up when we prompted them with what we call nerdy delight (see the Sway to understand this construct). Instead of procedural skills, we got some context specific dispostions as the most important compoment for industry success. This led to some interesting badges that are filling in the gaps for what gets assessed in science education (e.g., The Receptive Listening Badge, The Elevator Pitch Badge, The Gig Badge). See the attached image to as a summary of what our industry partners wanted the most from their new interns and employees.
Highlight #2: Badges as a means for earning internships
Our industry partners thought it would be great to use digital badges as the reason why a scholar wants to get an internship. An industry participant thought it would be fantastic if a scholar came to him asking to do an internship to earn a particular badge. It would help him identify what type of project or set of tasks the scholar could work on throughout their internship. All of our partners thought it would make their mentorship easier if our scholars were wanting specific experience to earn badges as opposed to already having earned the badges as part of a digital portfolio based resume.
Highlight #3: Digital Portfolio Blog Roll and Tagging
Following the work with students, our team of teachers uncovered the idea of using a blog roll as a digital portfolio. Scholars would continuously curate artifacts as blog posts and uses tags as the badges they think are relevant. The tags become the bodies of evidence for earning a badge. This would allow us to have scholars continuously curating artifacts that can be used for multiple badges. Also, it allows a learner to reflect on the interconnection between badges and think about tasks that stretch across multiple domains of science and engineering practices. This will hopefully help us towards our goal of making sure learning is not being compartmentalized by the badges.
How might a student show that they can form a hypothesis that leads to new questions and additional scientific inquiry? We tackled this question through the through the use of iPads and asking our students to investigate the question: Which metal would be the best for re-building the Statue of Liberty? They were provided a number of different metals and a simple method to test their reactivity. The following video clip demonstrates the artifact that one group collected from this learning experience:
Youtube - Calcium in water student hypothesis formation
As can be seen in the clip, the students are thinking out loud and wondering based on their observations of the chemical reaction. It is this informal wondering that was formalized through a reflection in their digital portfolio. They used this artifact as part of a body of evidence to show their progression in using questions and hypotheses to inform future scientific investigations. It eventually led to what we are calling, the hypothesis badge. With these badges, our students are better equipped to earn internships that are offered during their Junior and Senior year.
At Del Lago Academy, we are working to developing protocols that support students through this learning process. We are also in the process of developing a technology platform that makes this workflow more seamless for both students and their teacher. We look forward to hearing similar stories and ideas about how to formalize informal learning experiences like the one captured in this video.
Our work on developing learning progressions for Competency X began with adapting a definition from National Research Council's Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-9:
Learning progressions in science are testable hypotheses about how students’ understand of, and ability to use, core scientific concepts and explains and related scientific practices grow and become more sophisticated over time, with appropriate instruction.
We believe that mastery of core ideas in science disciplines is by itself not useful enough for learners. We want our scholars to achieve mastery of the process of scientific inquiry. Well-designed learning progressions provide a map that our learners can use to reach this destination (NRC Science Framework). Competency guides will serve as the map with articulated learning goals derived from NGSS and ACT Science Standards. The destination will be a digital badge validated by our industry and post-secondary partners. Using a digital portfolio, our scholars will curate evidence and reflect on how it represents their personalized path through the competency guide towards earning a badge. Badges themselves will also map out a progression for our learners across all four grade levels about how to become a competent scientific investigator. This learning progression, with badges as mile markers, will increase in sophistication and depth across the grade levels.
The science and engineering practices that make up the processes of scientific inquiry are grouped by our team into 3 categories: a) experiments, b) analysis, and c) communication. Below are description of what practices fall into these categories:
Experimenting: Planning, conducing, and evaluation experiments.
Analyzing: Analyzing data, claims, theories, and models produced by scientists.
Communication: Presenting arguments in writing or oral presentations based on evidence collected from experimental or text based research.
These categories allow us to differentiate badges and allow for personalization by the learner. Some badges will be required and others will allow a scholar to select a specific badge to represent their practices in a particular category. Some badges will be co-created by the learner and be sponsored by a scientist that will validate the evidence that they selected to represent specific practices.
For the required badges, we will create clear learning progressions and identify the performance tasks that will be used by learners to curate evidence of their competency. Learning progressions will be articulated in 2 ways in our system. Each is illustrated in the figure below.
As seen in the figure, the badges across all four grade levels will describe the progression of skills and knowledge to reach mastery within a particular category of science and engineering practices (e.g., experiments, analysis, and communication). These badges will be the working hypothesis by our team (i.e., teachers and industry partners) about how learners will grow with their science and engineering practices to become a competent scientist. Also, there will be learning progressions within each badge that will be delivered through competency guides. Each competency guide describes what a learner should be able to do as a scientist to earn a particular badge.
The most profound shift we hope to see is within our learners. We hope these progressions will empower them to personalize how they represent and use their practices as a laboratory scientist. Also, we hope to develop a better understanding of how progressions with practices interact with content.
As an example of what this looks like for our Spectrophotometry badge, visit the following digital portfolio of one of our 10th grade scholars:
At the top, you’ll see our hypothesis of our learning progression for this practice of spectrophotometry. Below, you’ll see her reflection and selected artifacts that represent her understanding. In all of this work, she is going back to the learning progression, which we call the “competency guide.” She curated these artifacts from her work in the classroom and wrote up her reflections to help inform her future use of this practice in future work in science.
Learning progressions will be the foundation that is used to build digital badges for our scholars. We are even more excited about the potential for scholars to build their own badges that are linked to this progression and get sponsored by industry and postsecondary scientists. We can't wait to see this thing up and running next school year.
We are honored to announce that we received a grant from the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) to support our implementation of Competency X. The grant from ALP is led by the Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at the University of Kentucky in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) at EDUCAUSE. We were one of only 12 projects that received grant awards out of the 148 proposals. These grants are generously supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The design of Competency X evolved from a concern by our science teachers about how we are supporting scholars with transferring skills and knowledge to the laboratory setting so they can answer real questions with laboratory and text based research. Science is not just a body of knowledge about physical and biological phenomena, but is a process for humans to answer questions through scientific inquiry. Scientists conduct this inquiry using a toolbox of skills and knowledge that has been articulated by the Next Generations Science Standards (NGSS) as “science and engineering practices.” The problem Competency X addresses is how to develop these practices with formative assessments so that our scholars can track their own progress with them throughout the school year and beyond.
Competency X formative assessments will focus on three key science performance tasks described in Table 1: a) experiments, b) writing, and c) analysis. Formative assessment practices and instruction will be developed that result in our scholars performing tasks (e.g., running an experiment or answering questions on a quiz) which results in evidence of their knowledge and skills on science and engineering practices. The digital portfolio will be where scholars curate and reflect on the evidence they have collected and it will allow them to track their development with these practices. The digital portfolio will be linked to specific digital badges that are validated by science based industry internships and our partner local colleges. Badges will act as feedback, rather than a reward, to the scholar, colleges, and industry partners. This will also be the beginning of the talent pipeline we hope to create for our local biotechnology industry.