Afterwards, I asked all three classes to answer an anonymous survey on the experience. Now I just have to analyze the results.
This was the survey: (The numbers in parentheses are the number of students who selected each answer. When a student circled more than one choice, I counted the less flattering answer.)
1. Rate how well your group worked together:1 Awful (0)
2 Poor (3)
3 OK (5)
4 Good (19)
5 Excellent (22)
2. Rate how focused your group was on the assignment:1 Very Focused (10)
2 Focused (24)
3 Partly Focused (8)
4 Scattered (6)
5 Very Scattered (1)
3. Rate how prepared your group was for the assignment:1 Totally Unprepared (1)
2 Somewhat Unprepared (2)
3 Somewhat Prepared (11)
4 Well Prepared (34)
5 Over Prepared (1)
4. Rate how interesting you found the assignment:1 Fascinating (0)
2 Interesting (11)
3 OK (35)
4 Boring (2)
5 Deadly Dull (2)
5. Rate how difficult you found the assignment:1 Incomprehensible (1)
2 Difficult (11)
3 Manageable Challenge (24)
4 Straight Forward (11)
5 Trivial (2)
I think I can conclude that the students wouldn't object to similar projects, but I knew that already. I think they were pleased with themselves. I'm not convinced by the number of students who claimed to have been "well-prepared," given that they did not work independently, frequently asking other groups and me for help.
I think I could probably improve the "interesting" numbers by offering students a choice of problems, but that requires making up more than the four in the source material, and these problems aren't particularly easy to write.
I think I could probably improve the "challenge" numbers by doing more of these problems, starting earlier in the year. I'm not sure if the two students who selected 'trivial' were serious, nor which of the four problems they were working on. (One of the four, the stranded astronaut, is simpler than the other three, since it's one-dimensional.)
Next time, perhaps I'll ask them to write in which problem they worked on, in lieu of their names. That might help me judge the problems individually and explain the outlying data in the "interesting" and "challenge" numbers.