Building Rigor

I missed two days of school last week. One day gone is enough added work on it’s own, two is nearly unthinkable. I wanted to make sure my students did something meaningful – as always – but without the need for a substitute to try and manage device access, etc.

I think one of my favorite definitions of “rigor” has to do with the cognitive task and level achieved by students as they work on a task. It isn’t related to the “difficulty” – perceived or inherent – as each student can jump to higher orders of thinking at various points in any given task, thus achieving rigorous thought patters. I’ve spent a good amount of time this year reaching for that goal in all lessons with some success and some failure.

I designed a task in which students spiraled up through an idea by first approaching the knowledge I needed them to have through applying skills developed as part of the knowledge-acquisition phase. We’re about half way through a unit on motion, so a lot of what they worked on included some prior exposure.

Part 1 – Introduction

This portion’s role was to help solidify and formalize information. Definitions of terms and basic application questions were geared to help frame the rest of the activity. This page was meant to be a warm-up; something to help get the juices flowing. The questions here were recall or lookup only.

Part 2 – Skill Acquisition

A major part of the motion unit is knowing when something has changed its position. This is a deceptively simple statement. We’re so used to movement in our lives that we lack the vocabulary to explain what motion really is without practice. (If you want to see this in action, ask students how they know when there has been movement. You’ll get some interesting responses.) Part 1 gives them the vocabulary necessary. Now it’s time to start developing skills.

Maps are essential in describing movement every day. We Google addresses all the time to get from place to place. Part 2 asked my students to interpret a map of our city with five locations laid out. Before even layering motion into the task, they needed to identify the locations and measure distance and displacement of each one. We spiraled back to ideas in Part 1 to formalize the context. The point of this section was to marry the information with the skills necessary to complete the task.

Part 3 – Getting Around

Now that students had a vocabulary and a skillset to get around town, they had to tackle one final task. I provided a hypothetical schedule of events they had to get to throughout the day. They made up a driving schedule based on that information and then linked it to the distance and driving time using local speed limits. Finally, they took all of that and turned it into a position/time graph, which they’ve been reading for weeks now.

The entire point of the task was to help them see the application of small ideas in every day life. Every time we make plans, we go through this process – when do I need to arrive? How long will it take to get there? Which route should I go? Familiarity with the fringe of content is both an entry and a barrier: we can use it to break the idea open though context or we can struggle with helping students see the underlying ideas.

Feel free to take a look at the Google Doc with each component in order.

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