Up until last year Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I had the kids do a model during our cell unit. This involved making a model of a plant or animal cell out of any material the kid desired, doing a presentation, and getting a grade. For most students this was an easy 100 point assignment as they didn't have to memorize anything for a test, and they could display their creativity. We had some fantastic projects over the years and the kids, for the most part, looked forward to it.
However, there were some problems. Storage of the projects was an issue. There just isn't room in my room, or any other room, to store 100-plus projects. Kids who road the bus often had trouble getting projects to school (although I've had some creative kids actually use a tennis ball as the basis of their model and they simply tucked them into their backpacks). Many of my low-income kids used the lack of money as an excuse not to do the project since they couldn't buy supplies. I didn't consider this a valid excuse as I had such a student do his out of things he scrounged out of the wastepaper baskets at school - paper clips, a paper plate, and foil - and it was one of the best projects I ever saw. However, when we noticed that more and more parents were actually doing the projects, and not the kids, we decided we'd had enough.
It's amazing how annoyed parents get when they don't get an A on an assignment they obviously did for their kid. My favorite comment from a kid regarding this was "I told my mom the cell didn't have two nuclei, but she wouldn't listen to me." Mom didn't get an A, obviously.
We have since modified our out-of-class project assignment to an in-class project assignment. This way no one can use the "we don't have money" excuse to avoid it, the parents aren't doing it, and we can get a better idea of what our students actually know regarding cells. We feel that it's just a much better way to assess. We have them put together a four-part booklet on cells which includes a cover page and title, colored and labeled drawings of a plant cell and an animal cell, a vocabulary page which lists the organelles, their definition, their function, and an analogy for each organelle ("A mitochondria is like a power plant"), and then they go through magazines and find pictures of things that represent the organelles (a picture of a fireplace for the mitochondria, for example). We provide the construction paper, the drawing paper, the crayons, the glue, the magazines, the scissors. We also gave them three full class periods to complete their project and turn it in. Those that didn't finish in the three days had the option to finish at home and turn it in the next day.
Out of 110 kids, I had 28 that did not turn in a single thing.
Nothing. At. All.
According to the rubric, if they had turned in a scrap of paper with their name, class period, and date on it, they would have received points.
I didn't even get that from these 28 kids.
This absolutely freaking blows my mind. How in the world can you sit in a class for three solid days and have absolutely nothing, nothing at all, to show for it?
By the time I had finished grading the projects I was incensed. On Monday I printed out a progress report for a typical C student (removing all identifying information of course) and showed the kids the overall grade if this student had earned an 85 on the project. It was a respectable 82%. I then showed the same progress report if the student had turned in nothing and earned a zero. The grade dropped to a 62% which is quite a bit below our passing grade of 70%. They were silent. Some actually seemed surprised that choosing not to do a 100 point project would affect their grade. (What in the hell did they think it would do?) I told them that I could not believe that they sat in that room for three days and managed to do absolutely nothing. I had been in the room, as was Mr. T the student teacher, and witnessed them all working on their projects but obviously 28 of them didn't feel it was worth the effort to turn them in.
I asked them point blank (very quietly which scares the hell out of them because when I'm quiet, I'm usually pretty mad) what in the world they did for three days that they had nothing to show for it. At this point most of the students were staring intently at their desks to avoid eye contact. Only one student in five periods had the guts to raise his hand to answer my question.
"We were probably goofing off and not doing what we were supposed to do," he said.
I gave them until tomorrow to turn in their project for half credit. Grades are due and I'm cutting them off.
As of today, Thursday, not one has managed to turn in their project. If Santa brings these kids anything, let it be a work ethic.
Post script - Mrs. Eagle and I did a brief check of project turn-in percentages when we did the outside "do a model anyway you want" project, and the do it in class project. Despite the 28 that chose not to turn anything in, we have a higher turn in percentage than we did previously. Sad. On some of our other projects, where the kids get choices as some people mentioned, the turn in isn't any better. We do a lot of projects where kids get a chance to present the information in a format of their choice, and most of them chose to do a poster or, at the most, a PowerPoint. Despite giving them the option of doing a video or a website, none of us have ever had a student chose these options. Perhaps if we had video equipment at school (heck, I don't even own my own video camera) and a computer lab they could use on their own time, it might change. Hard to say. Regardless, even when given choices they are choosing not to do the work, perhaps because they know, in the end, it doesn't matter. They'll all get socially promoted anyway.