Tests can be the worst part of school. They can also be what students remember forever.

Tests can be the worst part of school. They can also be what students remember forever.

My entire approach to assessments changed when I read an article by a forward-thinking and idealistic astronomy professor published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, Anthony Crider wondered what would happen if we completely rethought final exams:

"Instead of a final exam, end the semester with one last, memorable learning experience: an epic finale.

“Final” implies the end (or death) of something; “finale” suggests the end of an artistic performance, such as the ultimate episode of a television season or series. Where a “final” implies that one is done discussing something, a “finale” is something that inspires speculative discussion beforehand and reflection afterward. What happened to the Soprano family? Will Ross and Rachel get married? Is the Island really just purgatory? Who shot J.R.?"

Beyond memorization: when numbers make sense

Beyond memorization: when numbers make sense

What does it mean to know mathematics?”

This question, posed by former National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) President Cathy Seeley,is really what we’re asking when we discuss the best way to make sure kids are proficiently numerate by graduation.

Seller’s answer is that to know mathematics is, ultimately, to be capable of working out the relationships between numbers in your head. She explains:

There’s an amazing story behind everything, and great teachers know how to bring it to life

There’s an amazing story behind everything, and great teachers know how to bring it to life

A good teacher is by nature a good storyteller. Short, resonant anecdotes bring abstract concepts to life; stories humanize teachers and capture kids’ imaginations. These are the things our students will remember long after the lesson is over.

My colleague Kevin Oliveau is a master storyteller.

Being in Dr. Oliveau’s World War I class is like reliving the plot of your favorite movie with someone who knows it inside-out: the history of its production, the science behind the special effects, the psychology of the characters, the philosophical implications of the unfolding events. These battles fought on distant shores a century ago are transformed into something like an epic film: vivid, engrossing, urgently relevant.

Four ways teachers can help students connect abstract ideas to the real world

Four ways teachers can help students connect abstract ideas to the real world

Students want to know that what they’re learning is relevant. As this Edutopia article points out:

"Relevant, meaningful activities that both engage students emotionally and connect with what they already know are what help build neural connections and long-term memory storage (not to mention compelling classrooms)."

But before kids can appreciate why a given skill or content area matters in the world, they first need to see what it looks and feels like in the world. They need to see the abstract take concrete shape.

Our students are participating. But do our classroom conversations matter?

Our students are participating. But do our classroom conversations matter?

On any topic, in any language, whether we understand what’s being said or not, we know a great conversation when we see one.

People make eye contact. They lean in. Their faces are expressive. Their hands and their pacing convey some urgency: they want to be understood and to understand. There are visible indications that they are trying out new ideas: silent pauses, scrunched up brows, tilted heads. There is nodding to indicate common ground, and there are upturned palms and pointed fingers to mark disagreements. There’s almost always laughter.

Here is what happens when students teach and teachers learn

Here is what happens when students teach and teachers learn

This year, one of our high school seniors is teaching a computer science course, and our most senior faculty member is taking two high school STEM classes alongside his students.

Tanner (12th) created his year-long game design course after teaching himself AP Computer Science A last year. He worked closely with faculty mentors to develop a syllabus, select appropriate texts, and design assessments. His class of five students, grades 6-10, meets three times per week to learn basic programming skills in order to create a polished game, a non-digital prototype, and a short commercial for a broad audience.