Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Student Ingenuity and Project Based Learning

Every once in a while, a student will do something that makes you shake your head while at the same time remind you about why things must change in classrooms. Recently one our our teachers sent an e-mail to the rest of our social studies department. It read:

Just a heads up some one named bigchuck_427 created a quizlet with our answers on our study guides. Another student name (name deleted) used it as well.

This e-mail was instructive to me for many reasons. First, like most study guides, if you fill it out correctly, it comprises the actual test. Second, the student mentioned in the e-mail, though it is not what we may want from our kids from an honesty perspective, displayed ingenuity by using technology to allow others to access the completed study guide. Third, the traditional assessment model lends itself to this cat-and-mouse game that prizes information over problem-solving and creativity.

Since assessments are information-based, then there is a "body" of information that is regarded as important. It is this valued information that kids must write on a test in order to be judged proficient. Of course, when so much value is placed on a body of information, then some students will do whatever it takes to make sure they have the right information, even filling out a study guide and making it available on an app that all of the kids can access.

In our PBL classrooms, our assessments look different. They are not paper/pencil affairs that value certain information. These assessments, if done correctly, demand that the kids use the information that they have learned to solve a problem, take a stand, or make a judgment. The kids have a great deal of latitude in the project assessment because they create it in order to satisfy the learning goals. For example, our assessment for the Greek section of our social studies class was comprised of one question: We have looked at many aspects of Classical Greece: art/architecture, government, warfare, philosophy, and culture. Your charge is to decide which of these things was the most important one that we have taken from Greece and incorporated into our own American society. You must analyze what you have learned, research more information about your chosen topic, and create a presentation (paper, video, slideshow, etc) that demonstrates that your decision is the correct one.

For a project like this, there is no study guide. Each project will be different. Each child will have a different judgment and will have to build a case in order to back up their judgment. A project like this incorporates research, analyzing information and building a creative way to communicate the ideas. It is a qualitatively higher-level assessment that includes various secondary skills that a paper-pencil, information-based assessment does not. Let's face it, kids are going to have careers that are based on problem-solving. The more problem-solving experience and training we can give them, the better we prepare them for the future.

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