(Dead) end of course exams

I used to think that end of course exams would be a good thing in Algebra, Geometry, and Biology. Now I see the error of that way of thinking.

Why?

Right now, my state’s science exam takes place after 10th grade.  It covers everything students should have learned since 8th grade.  Many of our state standards are about inquiry, systems, and application.  That leaves me lots of latitude to teach Biology content in 9th grade in an inquiry-based, real-world relevant, project learning style.

Instituting a Biology end of course assessment would make much of that impossible.

Dead End

It would bring much more pressure to teach very specific Biology content to prepare them for the state exam.  It would probably force us to move Biology to strictly a 10th grade class.  It would leave little room for interdisciplinary projects.

It would be a shame.

On motivation

Synthesis is identifying connections between ideas, content, materials, etc.  Synthesis is noticing patterns of similarity among seemingly disparate things. The ability to synthesize can be both a blessing and a curse when one sees connections between many different things that others might not see.

One bit of synergy that has been running through my mind a lot lately is that between Alfie Kohn‘s ideas on motivation (Content, Choice, Collaboration) and those of Dan Pink (Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose). They really do intersect nicely in many ways while complimenting each other.

Now, to add another layer – Sir Ken Robinson on the importance of creativity and finding one’s “Element.” Overlay that with the TED Talk from IDEO CEO Tim Brown about the link between creativity and play.

Students need all of this to come together to maximize their potential. Traditional school models aren’t getting them there. We need to break the mold.

Do you see it?

Do you belive it?

Do you want to make it a reality?

Project Based Learning

This is a short video clip from Edutopia about Project Based Learning

So, the biggest news in the world of my classroom is my move toward project based learning.  I’ve always leaned this way, especially since my first professional development as a “real” teacher came via my school’s involvement with Expeditionary Learning, or EL, as the insiders call it.  EL is a very specific form of project based learning, one that I have strived towards in my 5 years of teaching, with moderate success.  My biggest struggles with EL have always been the challenge of doing it in science and doing it by myself.

My method for solving both problems was to corral the 9th grade English and social studies teachers at my school to create an integrated studies block for 9th graders.  In my mind, this would allow me to focus more on the science, while still allowing students the holistic experience that EL calls for.  Since our small, rural school has only 60-75 9th graders per year, we are able to split them 3 ways into our 3 classes and rotate them among us for the first 3 periods of the day.

Thus far, our success has been hit or miss.  The biggest problem we’ve run into, in my opinion, has been a lack of quality time to plan together and a lack of a strong common focus.

We are now using grant funding and project based learning (PBL) to fix those 2 problems.  The grants are paying us to collaborate.  Although we’ve been doing it volutarily for 3 years, the additional pay helps to keep us a little more accountable to meeting times and commitments.

The switch to PBL has been more of a semantic change than anything.  That being said, I think it has really helped us to hone our focus.  We are now focusing on trying to create integrated projects, rather than integrated units of study that culminate with some sort of project.  I know it sound like the same thing but it is not. We are much more clearly “beginning with the end in mind” now and that is a good thing.