Wednesday, January 20, 2010

AP Government CBL - Student Presentations

This is the 3rd post in a series on my Challenge Base Learning project with AP American Government. Their challenge: "Develop an authentic medium for improving our democracy."

As I expressed in my last post, as we grew closer to the project due date I became less and less assured about the progress the five cbl groups had made toward their solutions. Consequently, their presentations were wonderful revelations.

Two features of the presentations were remarkable. First, literally all members participated. There was 100% attendance by presenters and for each group members made informed, intelligent contributions. But the most exciting feature involved the unplanned portions of the presentations. Each group was given a full class period and time was allowed for Q & A. This turned out to be the best segment of the presentations. The depth of the students' understanding was revealed here and the process by which the students' arrived at their solutions came through answers to their classmates good questions. What's more, group members were candid about mistakes and adjustments they had made en route to their solutions. This only solidified my impression that they had truly engaged in their material.

Ironically, the visual presentations themselves by these 12th grade students were inferior to my tenth graders' "modified challenge" presentations. I attribute this to the fact that I spend a half a class period with the tenth graders illustrating how to avoid "death by PowerPoint." The younger students did not fill slides with bullet points, nor did they read from their slides (how refreshing). In fact, some of them have referenced my presentation after seeing teacher or student presentations in other classes ("Mr. Baker you would have hated the presentation we just saw in . . . .).

While the seniors did not read to us, many of their slides were busy with text. Their graphics were far less likely to be interesting. Certainly, I would be inclined to give some presentation tips to my seniors the next time around. As I've mentioned in this space before, they are exposed to some horrible modeling.

Besides giving students a bit of coaching for their slide presentations, I would make one other adjustment. In order to encourage peers to be attentive to (or not duck out of) their classmates' presentations, I told them that they would be quizzed on highlights after all five groups had presented. The quiz itself was a good idea, but I found myself mildly distracted by the task of creating a quiz when the groups were presenting. I assigned this task to myself because I find that student generated questions have a tendency to be far too difficult or easy. I will attempt something like this next time, but surely welcome suggestions from readers!

Other than the adjustments above, I would change nothing about the presentation formats. They were a highlight of 2009.

My next post starts the really good stuff-- The groups' solutions to their challenge.

Screen capture is taken from a web page of group #4.

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