Observed in the Wild: Creative, Critical Thinking & Formative Assessment

I’m in San Antonio this week for the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) national conference. As part of my time here, I had a chance to visit CAST Tech a public charter STEM-focused school in the city. While the facility was remarkable in it’s design (it had removable walls and windows—like legos, y’all!), what really struck me were two classrooms I walked into. The first room was set up as a science lab, but algebra was the subject being taught. What struck me was on the wall beside the exit of the classroom.

Simple yet wonderful way to formatively assess students’ daily learning all why promoting metacognition!

The concept is so simple, but I know I have certainly never thought of doing it before. As you can see above, the teacher had posted four folders, color coded, and with clear visual and textual explanations of how a student may feel about the work they did that day. As an exit ticket, students could drop the days algebra practice into the folder based on how they felt they performed or understood the concept. 

I was struck immediately by how useful having papers already sorted can be for framing feedback for a student. If a student felt they did not know what was going on, but the work clearly showed they had at least a partial grasp on the concept, then the feedback can help redirect the student’s thinking of his or her own work. The same can be said for the other levels. The folders are also a simple but beautiful way to to promote metacognition among students. Having student self-evaluate daily is powerful. While I have no idea exactly how the teacher uses the folders, I can easily see how with some purposeful conversation, these folders become a powerful reflection and assessment tool for teacher and student alike!

The second classroom touted the presence of both a teacher and local business partners who were helping students learn and use UX (User Experience) methodology—an industry recognized approach to digital design, coding, and psychology. The moment was so exciting to me and my team, we are already brainstorming how we might promote this cross-curricularly and partner with businesses who use UX and have UX departments. At CAST Tech they are integrating the courses of digital design and AP psychology with freshmen.

To give you a taste of what caught our eye, take a look at the instructions from the video board in the classroom below:


Practical and engaging way to promote creativity and critical thinking in almost any classroom.

This protocol, strategy, instructional method—whatever you prefer to call it—was being used while freshmen brainstormed the creation of an app. If you look at the protocol’s instructions, you can easily see the how innovation, creativity, and critical thinking come into play immediately. Really, Crazy 8s could be used in almost any classroom where their is a problem to solve, a concept to be learned/understood, or an idea to generate (sometimes all three of those). What made this stand out even more were the business partners who were in the room with the students. While a teacher was there facilitating, so were at least three local UX experienced employees, asking questions and engaging with the students. 

As a lifetime English teacher, I would absolutely use some of this methodology  during a project-based learning experience or even to have students analyze the conflict and possible outfcomes of a narrative or play. The point here, really, is that we do a better service to our students when we recognize there is a need and space for industry practices in our classrooms. I left inspired to promote to core teachers to get out of their silos and cross-pollinate with other subject areas and businesses.

I suspect you will read more about UX from me in the future. In the meantime, I hope both the wall folder idea and the Crazy 8s protocol might be of use to you in your classroom immediately. Cheers!

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