Why I Use Choice Board Projects in Middle School Science

Do you struggle with differentiation in your science classroom? Do you want your students to review concepts while also having fun? Well, I have some great ideas about how you can use choice boards to accomplish all of that!

Most of the time in class, I kind of feel like this...

So, when I get the chance for students to do something fun with little to no prep, I'm all over it! When I first started teaching (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) JK, differentiation wasn't really a huge deal. Well, I learned quickly that ALL students learn differently! I was on the struggle bus for a long time when it came to differentiating activities for my students. 

This is where choice boards come into play. If you're not really sure what choice boards are, they're just that. Students get choices on how they want to showcase their learning. I usually bust these choice boards out the last week of our unit, right before our district assessment. These projects as I call them take about 3-4 days of in-class work, and they are COMPLETELY student-centered!!

What can choice boards look like? I use different types so that students don't get bored of the same old... choose this, this, and this. I have some that work like tic-tac-toe where they choose 3 in a row/column/diagonal to 'win'. This kind really takes thinking on your part because you can't just put any 3 assignment choices in a sequence. You need to be strategic on where you place each assignment. You wouldn't want to put 3 easy tasks in a row or vice versa. This is super easy for differentiation! With my SPED students who need a lot of extra help, I tell them to choose any 3 on the board (they don't need to go in order like the other students). Of course, I tell them privately because you know how nosey other students get, and I just don't want to deal with that (that's a whole blog post in itself).  If you'd like to look at this type of choice board, click on the picture below:

Another type of choice board that I like to use is one that I call a 2-5-8. This is when students are given various tasks worth 2 points, 5 points, and 8 points and they choose any two assignments that add up to 10 points. Of course the 2 point tasks are easy, and they get more difficult (more creating) the higher in points that you go. I try to have at least four tasks for each set of points that students can choose from. For example, students would choose one 2 point assignment & one 8 point assignment, or they can choose two 5 point projects. Again, the differentiation here is super easy. For SPED students, I let them choose what they want to do (even if the point total doesn't add up to 10). At the other end of that spectrum, some of my GT students usually want to complete two 8 point tasks, and I let them do it as long as they feel like they can finish in time.

Let's talk about the 2-5-8 choice board a bit more in detail because TBH these are my favorite! 

Two Point Tasks:
    Since these assignments are only worth 2 points, I make them easy. For the most part, students will get a paper from me, complete it, and they're done. Here is an example of one of the 2 point tasks from my human body systems choice board project:

These task cards are worth 2 points. I copy several sets of the task cards & QR code answers (not enough for each student, but enough that several students per class can use them at the same time). You can either laminate them or put them in sheet protectors and attach with a binder ring for future use. If students choose this task, they get the task cards & answer sheet. Once they're done with the 20 task card questions, they come get the QR code answer sheet & scan each one to make sure their answers are correct. If students have questions, I make sure to help them.

Five Point Tasks:
    These tasks are going to be a bit more difficult and students will need to get a tad creative. For the 5 point tasks, I try to include several ways that students can show what they know. I like to incorporate a couple writing tasks as well as some drawing or a little of both. Personally, I love to write and suck at drawing, so I would've totally chosen the written tasks! Students are the same way, especially middle schoolers, at what they like and don't like. Here is an example of one of the 5 point tasks from my human body systems choice board project:

For the above task, students need to create a billboard for 3 homeostasis functions of the human body. I do let students use a computer for a lot of the tasks if they prefer. When you're creating choice boards for your class, keep in mind that students must choose TWO 5 point tasks if that's what they want to do to get to the required 10 points. So, you'll need to have several 5 point task choices. If you only have two or three tasks, it's not really considered a choice board. 

Eight Point Tasks:
    These tasks are WAY more difficult and in-depth than the other point sections. I expect students to show high quality and creativity! This point section should take up the majority of the students' work time. If they choose an 8 point task & a 2 point task, the 2 point task should take about 1/2 to a full class period to complete. That means the 8 point task should take a couple days. Here is an example of one of the 8 point tasks from my human body systems choice board project:

In general, I like to make the 8 point assignments all about creating and using those higher-level thinking skills. For the above task, students need to create a foldable or staggered book incorporating the following: the structures & functions of all of the human body systems that we cover in class, homeostasis examples, & include a picture of the system.

You might be thinking, 'If a choice board project takes 3-4 days to complete, it must be a lot of prep, right?' Wrong... The hardest part is deciding which tasks you want to include when creating your choice board as well as the points to assign to each one! Yes, there are copies to be made, but it's really no more than an average day. Also, for the 5 & 8 point tasks, I get out 3x5 notecards, plain white printer paper, and lined paper so the students can choose how they want to complete their work. I buy the notecards & lined paper with budget money because they are super cheap (you could also ask students to bring some of that at the beginning of the year if you have a supply list). The printer paper is just copy paper that I 'borrow' from the copy room. If you're laughing like... we don't have a budget or I'm at a low income school, students can always complete a lot of the tasks on the computer & share it with you when they finish. 

Hopefully I have convinced you to try using choice boards in your class and at least given you some ideas of how to go about creating your own! Creating choice boards is kinda my jam, so if you'd like to check out the human body systems choice board, click on the picture below. Let me know in the comments if you've used choice boards or have any questions about using or creating them! I'd love to hear from you!

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