Unlike traditional educational projects, maker projects can be difficult to assess."Being a teacher, you're constantly faced with having to assess student learning," said Simon Mangiaracina, a sixth-grade STEM teacher at the Ann Richards School in Austin, Texas. "We're so used to grading work and giving a written assessment or a test. When you're involved in maker education it should be more dynamic than that."
Part of the difficulty is that, in evaluating a maker project, teachers don't want to undo all of the thinking that went into it. For instance, one of the most important lessons maker education can teach is not to fear failure and to take mistakes and let them inform an iterative design process — a research-informed variation of "guess and check" where students learn a process through a loop of feedback and evaluation. However, in classrooms with limited time, that often means that students wind up with projects that don't work as intended — and that's okay! The goal of an iterative design process is to learn from mistakes.
So what does a dynamic evaluation system look like for maker projects? You'll be grading student work that supports the final project and/or grading their soft skills rather than the project itself.
Here are a few forms of qualitative and quantitative assessments to consider when grading maker projects.
Presenting work is an essential part of maker education. When students present they must explain the thought process they went through in order to get to the final result. They'll communicate their passions as they go, while also communicating essential knowledge to their peers. In getting to see each other's projects, your students will inspire each other creatively, making your maker education adventures a self-feeding cycle. And in terms of grading, you'll find it easier to attach a grade to this aspect of making than to the project itself.
If a big part of the value of maker education is in learning not to fear failure and instead to emphasize an iterative design process , it's important that students be able to evaluate themselves. No, not by giving themselves a letter grade, but by reflecting on what they've done, how well it did or didn't work, and positing new theories on what they could do better next time. For that, maintaining journals, whether written or done as video diaries or podcasts, is key. Evaluate students based on how self-reflective and honest they're being with themselves.
Oftentimes with maker work, it's most helpful to see the work as it comes together as a form of formative assessment. For this, portfolios are helpful, and they give you a deeper sense of the work that went into the larger project. Traditional hard copy portfolios can be effective, as can digital portfolios, which compile both digital work like coding and photos and videos of projects into one spot. The Seesaw App is one good tool for creating digital portfolios.
Rewarding the "hows" of what went into thinking out the project is far more important than rewarding the failure or success of the actual project itself.
Consider the following questions when grading:
This one can be a little bit more difficult to evaluate in cases where projects go smoothly, but if you've given your students a particularly difficult project, giving a grade for resiliency might be helpful. This will help reward students for taking risks rather than playing it safe — a key part of becoming a successful maker.
If your maker projects require collaboration, then giving a grade for doing well with group work is key. Groups that wind up with a great project but fought each other every step of the way shouldn't be rewarded — just imagine what they could have made had they been on the same team. Emphasize the importance of peaceful collaboration.
Sometimes, your maker projects are just meant to be for fun. Other times, you have specific curricular goals you're trying to meet, and clear specifications for projects, whether they're as broad as, "must include a wheel" or as specific as "must deliver ice without crushing it." In this case, it's important that the projects actually meet the specifications, even if it's done in the most creative of ways. You can also consider making requirements such as "degree of creativity," which will reward the breadth of thinking more than the actual usefulness of the design.
For more assessment resources, check out this comprehensive listing of project-based learning assessment resources from Edutopia.