Monday, May 29, 2017

A Final Exam?

One of the charged topics within my school and within broader education is the final exam. Its proponents usually make two main arguments as to why exams are a good thing. The first argument is that a final exam forces students to look back, relearn and consolidate knowledge from the course. The second, at least at the secondary level, is that it prepares kids for the exams they will have in college. If my department chair was writing this post, this is what he would say.

I'm not a fan of finals; but I'm not terribly opposed to them either within the current paradigm. I do think there are better summative assessments and I also believe a well-crafted final that emphasizes themes, ideas, and big-picture thinking isn't the worst thing in the world. Yet, I am giving a final project, not a final exam for my course.

My problem, as I said, really isn't with the exam. It is the paradigm it is embedded within. It is the teacher-centered, content coverage model that bothers me. Little agency lies with the student and ultimately very little of the knowledge the student is responsible for "sticks" anyway. It gets into short-term memory and is forgotten within weeks.

Good PBL assignments and assessments are "stickier" because they put the learner in control. The best "final" at my school is a project for the traditional and very demanding science course. But to my mind, the final is brilliant. It is a project, not an exam. Students are tasked with finding connections to themes discussed in this integrated science course in pieces of art and famous pictures. It challenges kids to go deeper and there is no silly "guess what's in my head" that too many teachers play with the final exam.

What should good finals look like? In my International Relations class, I gave students a choice of options- choice is always important- and while most students are going to do a more traditional, though tech-based assignment (they will use Adobe Spark Page to embed video, text and visuals) a couple of students are doing more open-ended projects. One student is reviving Amnesty International at my school and serving as the leader of the club as a final project. You know what? This student may not be forced to remember some of the concepts she learned this year, but she will be applying those concepts as she writes letters next year.

Finally, a plea: As you give your finals, please don't try to trick kids. Too many teachers think they are being clever when they try to fool their students. That's educational malpractice. Make it about thinking and not memorization, except when absolutely necessary. And yes, I do think there are some things that a student just has to memorize- such as irregular verbs in Spanish.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rules of Great Teaching

Again I have come across Sylvia Duckworth's rules of teaching. I like all of them. My five favorites are rules 2, 5, 7, 9 and 13. Both pedagogy and content knowledge are important. I'd add a couple more to her list.
16.  Collect feedback constantly. A good teacher should constantly be gauging both formally and informally how it is going in the class.  
17. Let students play expert. The most authentic tasks asks students to be expert and share that expertise. 

What are your favorites on her list and what would you add to the list? 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Kids Are Alright

I'm trying to get a student-led tech team up and running at my school. Though inspired by the students at Burlington High School and the amazing work done by their teachers, unlike the students at Burlington where the Genius Bar is actually a class for credit, my goal is to eventually make my group a club.
We met last week for a couple of days- more explanation below- and I gave them quite an ambitious list of tasks:

  • Paint a Green Screen- check.
  • Build an awesometable -check
  • Make video for teachers of tech tip kids wish their teachers knew-check.
  • build a survey for the student body. check
  • Create a how to video for DoInk Green Screen. Check
  • Test run Time-Line tool maker. check
  • Test run a word press blog vs. a blogger blog to help me, the tech integration specialist decide the blogging platform for next year. Check. Here is the wordpress blog they made for themselves and that we hope to share with the student community. Embedded within the Blog is a terrific awesometbable. 
These tasks among several others took most of the day last Thursday and Friday at my school. At the school I teach at, students spend a week a year of giving service. Almost every student goes off campus to help at places such as food pantries, nursing homes, schools, parks and the like. I kept 13 kids back on campus with me as a tech intern service group.

These 13 boys (sigh, I couldn't get a few girls) worked diligently for the two days and they got quite a bit accomplished.

It is amazing how much work motivated students accomplish. Thanks to Naim, Devin, Jerry, Wexler, Kai, Sylvan, Timin, Josh, Teo, Ian, Hugh, Pierce and Jack. You got a lot done.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Power and Privilege

I'm a mid-career teacher and truth be told, at 26 years in the field, I'm closer to being finished than I am to my start. At the start of my career, I planned to teach for a few years and then pursue a law degree. I wasn't gung-ho on being a lawyer, but I figured that's what I was supposed to do with the degree from the college I went to.