So what does “demonstrates understanding” look like?

Over the course of the last few years in learning about the philosophy of curriculum development known as Understanding by Design and about assessment in CSP, I have come to realize the value of and importance of teaching toward a student’s true UNDERSTANDING rather than rote completion of tasks.   We want students to be able to demonstrate understanding.  So what does that look like in an actual classroom?  How does one teach and assess toward understanding as opposed to checking boxes?

These are not easy to answer but I’m chasing that rabbit every year and in looking at my students’ work this week it seemed like we might be getting there.   First, I will say that communicating true understanding requires more than objective (aka easy to score) assessments.   For now and based on the through-course assessments for CSP, I find written communication of thoughtful analysis and reflection to be the mode most useful most of the time.  Video summaries, podcasts, and oral presentations also can be used effectively but often are better executed using a script.   Get students writing early and often — but in purposeful ways that lead to the through-course assessments.

My students have their abstractionJournals in action and completed Unit 1 vocabulary this week at home.  I planned to give a vocabulary quiz (open journal) on Wednesday in class.   On Wednesday I felt it was silly to give up 30 minutes of classtime for an open journal quiz on vocabulary so the in-class quiz became a take-home quiz.   The quiz was 10 prompts written from the Unit 1 terms (if you have my teaching resources there are unit vocabulary discussion prompts in folder 0.Vocabulary_APCSP).   Students were to select 5 from the 10 prompts for their responses.    When I received their work back on Thursday, I was impressed and pleased.   Understanding of vocabulary from the EKs and LOs of the course was demonstrated by every single student.

Here is what “demonstrating understanding” can look like in AP®CSP.  The student’s journal vocabulary is on bottom and his take-home quiz responses are on top.   He wrote thoughtful responses so as to demonstrate he knows specific ways he understands.  I’m proud of him!  This is a way to scaffold toward understanding and success.   [NOTE:   Students are instructed that vocabulary is to be “defined” or explained for homework by students using the CED, Webopedia, the CS Illuminated text glossary, or any Internet sources of choice, but the CED is our first reference source as it is the course guide.]  We will continue in a similar way but mixing up the assessment options as we progress through all 300+ words for the course — remember, every LO and EK concept might appear on the AP® exam.   Be ready!

Similarly but in small steps toward being ready in CS-A, students are demonstrating understanding on free response quizzes for topics we are covering:  data types, basic syntax and operations.   Soon CS-A will be full on buckle your seat belts deeper concepts but for now it we are still moving deliberately slowly so as to get everyone on the same page.   I do not have a pathway of feeder courses for CS-A so my class is about two-thirds with prior STEM/coding and one-third with almost nothing.   They are all willing to work hard and are motivated to learn Java and be best prepared for the AP exam and college.  We are going to crawl then walk then run.

Today students had this free response to demonstrate understanding of how to accomplish code toward a given post condition.  Post condition was new to the students today in terms of the wording and set up of the prompt and time was limited.   Ready, set, write Java!  Here is what “demonstrating understanding” can look like in CS-A:

We still have work to do.   The entire class isn’t there yet but writing code on paper is challenging and often frustrating.  Most of us can code digitally better than paper/pencil.

Later in the year in CS-A “demonstrating understanding” will be to create UML diagrams and explain the project interaction of the classes, objects and methods.  Small steps will get us there and as with CSP the methods and ways to demonstrate understanding will vary while the goal remains to communicate what one knows at a deep enough level to explain to another.

Get to know your students, consider your teaching style and think about ways to have student demonstrate understanding trying to mix it up in between easy, complex, daily activities and assessments.   I’m still brainstorming toward a menu list of options to help us keep things fresh and interesting throughout the year.   It’s in the hopper of my ponderings so hopefully more to come in the weeks and months ahead.

Have a great weekend and happy TGIF — Wednesday and Thursday passed by so fast that I almost missed them!   Our first football game kicks off tonight so it is on with the boys of fall.   My goodness!  Where did the summer go?   Don’t blink, it will be Thanksgiving before we know it!

Keep smiling and be blessed, Jill

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