Finals and Semester in Review

It is the last week of Fall semester and that can mean only one thing–tests–lots and lots of tests.

The first normally scheduled final will be given tomorrow, but already many students in my state have taken the End of Course Test (EOCT) in math today. At the end of this week, educators, students, and parents alike will get a quantifiable number that is meant to divulge the the extent of a student’s learning in a course over the last four and half months. Sarcastic tone aside, these tests are important, and as often as I have been one to complain about the over testing of our youth, I want to clarify that well developed, comprehensive tests have a very important place in tracking student improvement. Essentially, if a student has learned more during the course of a semester in a class then logically they should score higher on a post test than they did on a pre-test. Still, putting even that thought aside the use of post exams helps me to evaluate what I might have taught well, taught poorly, or discover questions that simply aren’t worthy to be on the test. This is an essential process to the growth of any teacher, student, classroom, or program. At the end of this week, I’ll have my first glimpse at numbers in my PBL classroom in conjunction with our many students who are in regular classrooms for the second year. I’m not usually a geek about numbers, but I’m interested to see what correlations or outliers can be found.

The county has recently revamped its interim and post testing in language arts, but as the current tests are only trial runs, I don’t plan on using any of the outcomes as reliable data. (Too many variables!) However, this year’s exams in both PBL classrooms will be aligned with the same tests all 9th and 10th graders are taking in the school for language arts. This is an important note as last year only the EOCT for 9th language arts was common for all students in the school. It is a vital check point for midway through the school year.

Alright, enough about testing…

This semester has been a whirlwind as they all can be, but once again my PBL students continue to amaze me with their level of work. The 9th grade group is far ahead of where their counterparts were last year. They are developing deeper content, stronger quality designs, and demonstrating stronger knowledge retention earlier in the year. Students have developed interactive storybooks using MS PowerPoint that allow a reader to seamlessly adventure through the book while being able to put a cursor over a word to see its definition or to have a part of the story read to the reader; the project is reminiscent of a low-tech version of what National Geographic now does with its Ipad magazines. Others took classic fairy tales and retold them for a new generation facing very different moral issues. These parodies blew me away in presentation and in writing development. The 10th grade group is starting to emerge from what seemed like a semester long slumber. Radio shows, television programs, original sodas, and even a Disneyland ride were all being developed in the latest round of projects. Although a slower start, the 10th grade group is starting to come along strong in their development.

Finally, we just had our 2nd annual exposition of both the 9th and 10th grade groups work on a special night where parents, friends, and the community can come see and hear the work of a long semester. It was by many accounts a great success. The students appeared to have a great time, and they certainly wowed everyone with their presentation skills, attention to detail, and ability to speak candidly about their newly acquired knowledge in language arts and social studies.

Despite the common ups and downs of a semester it has been a fantastic year so far of challenges, breakthroughs, and invention. I look forward to what 2012 will hold for both myself and my students.

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