What Does a Task Engineered for Engagement Look Life?

surprised multiethnic schoolchildren watching laptop on urban bench

About three weeks ago I published two blogs—the first to give you a better understanding of why engaging learning and assessment content is important and the second to demonstrate how to engineer engaging learning and assessment content.  In this blog, I’m going to illustrate engineering student engagement by manipulating features of assessment tasks. I present two versions of the same NGSS-aligned, phenomenon-driven science task. Neither version is intended to be a perfect assessment task but I hope the contrast drives home the differences between engineering tasks for engagement and the routine way we write tasks.

  • Both versions draw their content from the article Bill Providing Millions in Relief to Republican River, Rio Grande Basins at the website Republican River Basin | Coyote Gulch.
  • Both are aligned to grade range 6 to 8 for the Disciplinary Core Idea ESS2.C The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes, the Science and Engineering Practice of Developing and Using Models, and the Crosscutting Concept of Scale, Proportion, and Quantity.
  • Both are at a seventh grade reading level.

Version 1

The first version lacks the features of assessment tasks that inspire engagement. Sadly, most assessments tasks are written this way. I wrote this task to resemble a typical NGSS assessment task like the task Where Did the Water Go? Task length is 68 words (without questions).

The Republican River is an important watershed in its local environment, providing water supplies to neighboring communities and states.  For several years, communities in states downstream, which are dependent on this watershed for water, have been carefully monitoring water flow in the Republican River. 

Selected response item: How does water get into the Republican River? Check all the ways water gets into the Republican River:

__Raining/precipitation

__Aquifer

__Creeks and other rivers

__Ocean

__Evaporation.

Research scientists have found the irrigation of land in Colorado and Nebraska is depleting water flow in the Republican River.

Constructed response item: Draw a picture and use arrows to show the ways water enters and leaves the Republican River watershed and where water goes when it is in the watershed. Label your diagram to show what state (e.g., liquid) the water is in as the water enters and leaves the Republican River watershed and what is driving and influencing the movement of water (e.g., gravity).

Technology enhanced item: Here is a multimedia picture created by Greta using Visio to show how and why buying and retiring farm wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican River watershed in Colorado would change the amount of water in the Republican River. Drag and place an “X” over any part of the picture not important in explaining how and why irrigating land in Colorado changes the amount of water in the Republican River.

Version 2

The second version I call “Engineered for Engagement!” is packed with just those features I discussed in How Do We Engineer Engaging Learning and Assessment Tasks. Click on the links to find out what features have been manipulated to motivate student engagement. Task length is 294 words (without questions). BTW, I took about two hours to write the second task, without the artwork, using the suite of PhenomeNation tools. 

The day is sunny near the Milford Dam and Isabella is loading and unloading kayaks at a landing on the Republican River. Isabella’s family has a kayak rental business, Konza Kayaks, in St. George, Kansas, where Isabella works after finishing seventh-grade classes for the day.

Ava, another seventh-grader in school, stops at the landing. “Your kayak rental business is going to be ruined because the Republican is drying up!” says Ava. “Groundwater use in Colorado is depleting the water flow in the Republican River.”

I don’t believe it,” says Isabella. “I’m going to ask Mr. Simpson in science class tomorrow.”

Selected response item: How does water get into the Republican River? Check all the ways water gets into the Republican River:

__Raining/precipitation

__Aquifer

__Creeks and other rivers

__Ocean

__Evaporation.

The next day in science class, Isabella asks Mr. Simpson.

“I know Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska have an agreement to reduce irrigated land and stop depleting water flow in the Republican River,” says Mr. Simpson.

“See, I told you there was nothing to worry about,” says Isabella to Ava.

“But Colorado has no money to retire irrigated land,” says Mr. Simpson. “I don’t know how Colorado can meet the agreement.”

Isabella has a vision of the family kayak rental business closing for good. Isabella is quiet on the bus ride home, thinking about how to convince government leaders to fund retirement of irrigated land.

Constructed response item: How does irrigating land in Colorado change the amount of water in the Republican River? Draw a picture showing how irrigating land in Colorado changes the amount of water in the Republican River. The picture should explain not just what happens during irrigation but how and why it happens. Include any sentences or words that can help explain this process

When Isabella walks through the front door, Isabella’s mother says, “Why the sad face?”

“The kayak rental business is going to be ruined because the Republican River is drying up!”

“That won’t happen now,” says Isabella’s mother. “The Colorado State Senate just approved creating a fund to buy and retire farm wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican River watershed in Colorado.”

“The Republican River is saved! The kayak rental business is saved!” exclaims Isabella. “I would never have believed what happens in Colorado can change our river in Kansas.”

Technology enhanced item: Here is a multimedia picture created by Greta using Visio to show how and why buying and retiring farm wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican River watershed in Colorado would change the amount of water in the Republican River. Drag and place an “X” over any part of the picture not important in explaining how and why irrigating land in Colorado changes the amount of water in the Republican River.

Features

Miracle dramatic situation–Hollywood script writers have discovered almost all books and movies use one of about 15 standardized dramatic situations to generate situational interest. I used the Miracle dramatic situation to structure the story in this task. The apparently unexplainable (from the main character’s perspective) Miracle is the surprising escape from the Republican River drying up by the appearance of a fund to buy and retire farm wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican River watershed in Colorado. Back to the task.

Familiar places and local problems—As sociocultural theory tells us, the use of places familiar to students and problems local to them inspires interest because these “real world” places and problems have instrumental value. This task is a bespoke assessment created at the request of a Kansas school district. I used places in Kansas (i.e., the Milford Dam, the Republican River, the town of St. George) and local problems (i.e., waterflow in the Republican River) to generate feelings of instrumental value in these Kansas students. Back to the task.

Character names—Researchers have demonstrated that the use of classmates’ names generates situational interest. I chose names for the main and supporting characters in this task, Isabella and Ava, from the top five names for Kansas babies born in 2010, the birthyear for most current seventh grade students. Seventh grade students taking the task in Kansas are likely to know at least one Isabella and Ava. I also placed these characters in the seventh grade to further inspire situational interest. Back to the task.

Big ideas—Involving students in big ideas like stopping pollution, protecting wildlife, and saving rivers inspires interest because these important tasks have attainment value for them.  Accomplishing these valuable tasks is associated with their identify and ideals. Back to the task.

Triumph and reversal–In the traditional plotline, tension and situational interest is created when the main character temporarily thinks they have achieved their goal. But the problem is not overcome or avoided. We and the main character wonder if they will ever succeed. Back to the task.

Scientists and activists—Under the Next Generation Science Standards, working on questions and using practices like scientists and activists creates student interest by generating feelings of instrumental value. Back to the task.

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