Monday, April 18, 2016

This is a test

How do we know our water wheel works?  Test it.
I've been thinking a lot about testing.  The standardized test controversy is a big thing in the news so I have been thinking about the tests that come in life and what form they take.

For standard-type tests, there are the drivers license test and the SAT's when we are in high school, and depending on the profession people go into, there could be licensing tests, like medical or architects' boards.  Most of life's tests are not the fill-in-the-bubble kind though.  As an adult, the tests most of us encounter are way different.

There is the test when your 2-year-old is melting down in the supermarket, or your 15-year-old is sneaking beers in the basement with friends. There is the one when you are giving a party and you need to figure out how to feed 20 people and make sure they have fun, and it's raining and the grill just ran out of gas.  There is the test at work, when your team needs to give a presentation to persuade the client that your company will do the best job.  Or your company isn't doing as well as the competition, and you need to analyze why...that's a pretty big test.  Your lab is trying to figure out a cure for Parkinson's...Or it's April 12 and your taxes are due...or you want to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about the presidential race.

Educators (and regular people) can pretty much agree that there are certain things we want our kids to know cold: multiplication facts, when to use apostrophes, when to say "him and me" or "he and I" (tricky, right?) (and I'm kidding, because there is actually no consensus about these things).  But, it is probably good to test some things in some way, because sometimes studying for a test can actually be helpful in learning.

For the cooperative, judgement-based, creative-solution kind of problems, are standard-type tests the best way to measure achievement?  Is the time taken for standard-type tests worth it?  What are the learners (the kids) getting out of it?

So, these are the things I've been thinking about.  Here are some of the type of "tests" that seem useful to me and once kids take them, they actually have learned from them - they have learned some of the things that will help them when they encounter those other type of tests that I wrote about in the third paragraph.  Remember those?  I hope so, because there will be a test!
This team of 4-5's used the size of blades for the variable in their wind turbine tests, and analyzed the results.  They needed to understand good testing procedure, cooperate on every aspect, analyze results, and demonstrate their findings through a clear poster and an oral presentation.
Middle school kids are building a prototype boat and need to see if it will float with a bunch of pennies in it.  When they get a design that works, they will scale it and try it on the pond.

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