In the pre-COVID era, I observed that my students varied in terms of their range of ability. During COVID this has been observed seemingly multiple fold as there were many students with huge gaps in their science knowledge and lab skills – please see Part 1 of this series of articles, The Trials and Tribulations of a Teacher During COVID Times! So how was I to prevent overloading my students who needed time to both catch-up and, simultaneously not “bore” my other students who were a little quicker to learn the chemistry content?
“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” John Wooden.
I added in a wholly student-driven component to my course called, “Above and Beyond.” Each unit (I have four per course) had an “Above and Beyond” Component. “Above and Beyond” became something the students did that was not necessarily needed to pass the chemistry course but instead could afford students extra time to pursue an area of interest or to practise a skill as they saw fit. This was something the student did to help them actualize their potential in the chemistry classroom.
Most students were unsure what to do at first so I offered many suggestions to break the ice. A question/answer article on a crystallographer from one of our local universities was one such example. I furnished the students with supplies to make Bath Bombs as an “Above and Beyond” lab activity. Students made videos of Ivory soap in a microwave, thereby helping them understand Charles’ Law. Students created videos of different polyatomics at home (i.e. showing baking soda with the IUPAC name of sodium hydrogen carbonate). I really enjoyed that some students were able to show a different (and often hidden) side of themselves, perhaps a creative side of themselves that is normally not observed obviously in a chemistry course. Some ideas were a bit more traditional: for example, some of my students went “Above and Beyond” doing every single one of the homework questions. Such worked particularly well with students who, because of COVID protocols, were required to isolate at home. The range of ideas and options grew as the semester continued.
As the semester progressed I did very little to supply ideas for their “Above and Beyond” grade as the students came up with their own ideas. For reasons of safety though, every lab or video demo had to be passed through me first before being permitted to do so. Most of my students’ lab and demonstration ideas were done at school to avoid any safety issues. I enjoyed the excitement of students bringing new ideas, thereby enabling them to pursue concepts of genuine interest to them!
The following were the logistics of the “Above and Beyond.” Each unit of four had a 3% assigned “Above and Beyond” mark comprising 12% of their overall grade. Most senior students feel pressure to obtain high marks to be able to enter their chosen post-secondary program. I therefore had no difficulty using my professional judgement in assigning a small portion of their grade to the “Above and Beyond” component. If students chose not to take up the offer of “Above and Beyond” then their other evaluations became worth slightly more; if students chose to do an “Above and Beyond” component it was entered as 3% (per unit) -- this created a small boost to their overall mark, and really did help my students seize the initiative for their own learning.
“Above and Beyond” is a very subjective mark, to be sure. If, for instance, a struggling student was able to complete their homework or worked hard to come in for extra help I considered such to qualify as “Above and Beyond.” I recognize the reality that some of my students struggle to merely keep their heads above water and, therefore, piling on another lab or assignment was not necessarily going to help them in becoming their “best”.
Overall, the “Above and Beyond” component of the course was a huge success. Students were able to push themselves to become the “best” that they were capable of becoming. An added bonus--when a parent or an administrator enquired whether a given student was reaching his/her true academic potential, I could respond meaningfully with yet one more tool in my differentiated assessment toolbox for such is a reliable bell-weather to indicate a student’s progress.
Stay Tuned for Part 3: How Evaluation Changed and Evolved in COVID times!
- My editor in chief – the in-house expert of the English language – Matthew Clifford (my husband)
- My dear friend Lannette who named my idea--“Above and Beyond!”