Give Creativity a Chance

Earlier this year, two of my classes made videos teaching about different threats to the environment and how we as humans can reduce those threats. This was the first time that I, or any of my students had made academically based videos. Needless to say this was a busy, stressful and bumpy ride.

Mainly due to dealing with technology issues both with the hardware videos were made with, but also using software to edit the video for the first time, and helping to facilitate creativity and progress. One group even used VHS, not easy to digitally edit with the technology we had at hand, but it did bring me back to my childhood.

Even with the struggles and obstacles we had to overcome together some great videos were produced. You can check out these videos here: Conservation Videos.

Though the three weeks it took were a blur and not the easiest, the outcome was worth it. Students have been able to recall information from the videos in class, even months after we concluded the project. Given the success and the learning that was achieved through the videos 3 weeks ago I decided to undertake our second video project.

“Why do I look different than you?” A simple question that gets at the heart of our genetics unit. Students were charged with creating a video that answered this question. Making connections to the information we have discussed thus far in our genetics unit regarding DNA, our genetics code, and protein synthesis.

I felt like I was taking the risk to attempt a second work intensive and time consuming project so close to the end of the year. As any teacher can tell you, productivity steadily decreases as you approach June. I was happily surprised at the excitement and eagerness students showed as they jumped at the opportunity to create another video.

The second time around saw many less hurdles; though the were there. All students used digital video recording equipment, and having used our video editing program previously they were able to jump right in a pick up where they left off with it. As with the first set of videos there was a spectrum of quality regarding the final product and depth of content; however, I can say all students were much more engaged in the project and willing to go out on a limb to create a better video than the first round.

This year I have worked a lot with project based learning, designing an implementing projects throughout our course of study that promote students taking an active role in their own learning and how they will be assessed on that learning, beyond just a test. Of all my trials as I have made this journey I can say for sure: The things that are worth doing in education are not easy.

Take a risk. Go beyond the text book and test. Give your students the chance to be creative,  and then, give them more chances. Creativity like everything else must be nurtured. If you provide your students with opportunities to surprise you, they will.


Assessment Overload: How to explode a teenage brain.

Assessment, this isn’t a new topic for me. I believe strongly in using assessment tools to judge student learning and adjust instruction, the basis of formative assessment. However, just how much can you, or should you, use a heavy duty standardized assessment to judge student learning? At what point do students get burnt out and the assessment tools just being “gotten over with” versus actually measuring student ability.

Over the past month and into the next few weeks students of various grades will be taking MAP testing in English, MAP testing in Math (two tests to judge student progress and can be compared year to year), SATs, NECAP Tests, AP tests,  on top of any quizzes, tests and other forms of assessment in their regular classes. ABSURD!

How can we expected students to be assessed accurately when they have to take 2, 3 even 4 standardized tests all with varying levels of actual importance to their lives. I know if I had NECAP tests, AP tests and SATs within a 3 week period the two tests that would further my college career and life in general would surely get more of my brain power than a test aiming to gauge student learning as a tool to assess the school as a whole, and has no bearing on me the individual student. Such is life as a human, we prioritize based on level of relative importance based on our own needs and goals.

All of these tests also take time, class time. To me there is a point at which the class time lost for all of these assessments inhibits the main goal, instruction and student learning, and the benefits of the assessment no longer out weigh the loses.

All I have to say is I’m glad I’m not a high school today dealing with all of these standardized tests, on top of school work, on top of being a teenager… a feat in itself.

If we want to truly measure student learning with accuracy something has got to give. If we continue to bombard students with test after test I’m afraid the despair I hear in their voices as they walk through the halls to “more testing” is going to translate in less effort on assessments because A) they have nothing left to give at test time or B) they are sick of spewing their brains out every couple of weeks onto another test.

Also, how good are these assessments anyways? From my training and experience as a teacher I have learned, read, and heard over and over standardized tests are not the best assessment tool. So, why are we using so many? Does a shotgun of standardized tests equal one actual good assessment? I doubt it, but that’s an issue all to itself.

Maybe a student brain explosion caused by assessment overload would lead to much needed changes, but I wouldn’t want it to be any of my students…