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Planning a Project

Instructional Strategies

Picking a Project

Criteria for ranking can be objective or subjective. An objective ranking is one where there is a correct answer, such as the order in which the amendments to the United States Constitution were adopted. Subjective rankings are ones where students place items in order based on their analysis or opinion. For example, students rank the constitutional amendments in order of importance to their own life. Objective rankings are most useful in assessing factual understanding. Subjective rankings reveal a student's or team's reasoning and understanding of the problem.

Opinions can be a factor in ordering a list. The Visual Ranking Tool is designed to spark discussion, making it useful in a project that involves controversy, differing viewpoints, or other perspectives. For example, ordering a list of great novelists would involve more discussion than ordering a sequence of events in a novel.

Sorting lists is only part of a good project. The use of the tool can be one of many different kinds of learning activities.

Consider ways to extend the learning community. You can add outside experts, students in other classrooms or schools, parents, and others as team members in your project. Because the tool is Web-based, they can contribute their rankings and join the discussion from anywhere.

Look at how opinions change over time. Consider projects where comparisons with earlier lists can lead to reflection on learning.

Setting Up Teams

  • Group students in teams of two to four. When students share their opinions about an item or convince their teammate to change a ranking, they are engaged in their learning. They are more likely to share opinions in a smaller group.
  • Consider including teams from outside your classroom. You will need to set up a team for each one and let them know their team name and password.
  • Compare teams over time by creating a new team name for each activity. For example, the Red team might have a team name of Red1 for the activity at the beginning of a project and Red2 for the activity at the end. Their password can be the same for each occurrence.
  • If your student teams will have different criteria for sorting the items or will be sorting according to different perspectives, you may want to assign a team ID that would help students identify the different perspectives when they compare their rankings. For example, when a team has the role of Mayor, then name the team Mayor. You may also want to assign a special team ID to any outside guests so that their rankings are easily identifiable. For example, City Planner.

Choosing a Good Prompt

  • A helpful prompt includes the criteria for sorting. For example, "Put this list of inventions in order of their importance to modern life."
  • It can be a good exercise for students to discuss and decide on the criteria for sorting. Brainstorm to get students to think about ways to sort a list, then have them narrow their choices to the criteria most helpful to this project.
  • Word the prompt so that students know they are sorting all of the items and not just "picking the best." Instead of "Who were the greatest presidents?" the prompt might state, "Rank these presidents in terms of their impact on civil rights."
  • It may be valuable to leave out the criteria. If the prompt does not include the criteria for sorting, the ordered lists will vary according to the criteria each team uses. This can create an opportunity to discuss how applying different criteria results in different rankings.

Listing Items

  • Many teachers use a whole-class activity to determine which items to sort. The process of arriving at this list can be a meaningful activity in itself. Through brainstorming and class discussion, students negotiate wording, build understanding, and decide which items are most important to include.
  • Limit the number of items to be sorted to 7-12. With too few items to rank, there may not be much variation between different lists. With too many items, student teams may have difficulty drawing meaningful distinctions.
  • Short names for the items are easier to sort. While you can use up to 83 characters to describe each item, the text boxes will resize to match the length of the longest item.
  • Review the list to make sure that items are not too similar or overlapping (for example, in an activity that asks students to sort favorite pets, avoid including both "dogs" and "collies").
  • Look through your list of items to see if there is any unintentional bias in how they are ordered. The items will be presented to all of the students in the order that you entered them. You may, however, want to offer a first sort of the items that reveals a bias, then ask students to react to that list.
  • The list of items to sort can be edited after the activity begins. If a new item is added or an existing item is changed, ask your students to reevaluate all of the items in the list.

Using the Visual Ranking App

  • The Visual Ranking App can be integrated into projects where research and ideas are gathered outside the classroom. Consider whether the project topic would be enhanced by mobile learning, and whether your students have access to personal mobile devices.
  • Send home a parent letter explaining the project with instructions for downloading the app. You may want to consider offering a parent information night, or create a screencast that explains the features of the app as it relates to your project.
  • When using the Visual Ranking App with students for the first time, set up a practice project. Have students log in from their mobile devices in class, or with their parents at home, and rank and comment on a practice list.
  • When planning your project, visit the mobile learning page for instructional strategies and more information about using the app.
Instructional Strategies