Schooling Magazine

So, Final Exams, We Meet Again.

By Mrsebiology @mrsebiology
Picture I'm not a fan of final exams.  Every time I hear the words "final exams" my right eyebrow involuntarily raises out of pure snark.  I can't help it.  It did it even now as I was typing the words.
I have given traditional multiple choice final exams for years, but mostly without really stopping to think about the "why" of it all until about two years ago.  I used to give them because that was what had been done to me during my schooling, and that was the school expectation at the end of each semester--stop the learning, review like crazy to put the learning back in their heads (shouldn't it have always been there if it was truly worth learning?) and give a big honkin' multiple choice test that most kids do poorly on so that it must be curved to make the numbers work out nicely.  But I've started pondering the purpose of finals in the last few years and, to be brutally honest, I just don't see the point anymore of throwing gobs of multiple choice questions at students and pretending that it actually assesses what students know, understand, and are able to do just so I can put a heavily-weighted number in my grade book.  Especially when most of the multiple choice questions I have encountered in my subject area assess trivia or mindlessly memorized content instead of what really matters.
But I am still required (for now) to give a multiple choice test during this time of year.  I'm just not going to use it as a measurement of their understanding to be reported in a grade book anywhere.
Here's what I put on my class website for the final exam:
Your first semester final exam will consist of two parts:

1) A traditional multiple choice test to determine if you are at a level 4 on the I can statements.  This will be taken on the day of your final exam.  The purpose of this exam is to see what I can statements you need to fix in part 2 of this final exam.
2) A screencast using Screenr of a ThingLink you make that links to 5 blog posts on your blog.  You will have the entire class periods on Tuesday, 12/18 and Wednesday 12/19 to work on this, as well as whatever time you have left after your multiple choice test exam on your final exam day.  

Below is what the posts and screencast should be about:
Insert the URLs from your blog into your picture using the "Edit" feature in ThingLink.  The URLS should be to these blog posts:
    • A post that best represents what you understand from the Science Inquiry Unit
    • A post that best represents what you understand from the Motion Unit
    • A post that best represents what you understand from the Newton's Laws Unit
    • A post that best represents what you understand from the Energy Unit
    • A post that answers all of the big questions, using examples and evidence to support your claims.

Screencast your ThingLink, telling me what score you should get for each unit (using 0-5) using your posts as evidence to back up your score.  Also, tell me what you think your final score for the class should be (using 0-5) and why, citing evidence from your posts to back up your claim.
(If you want to see all the videos and Voicethreads I made to show them how to use ThingLink and Screenr, you can check out the full final exam page here.)
My goal was for students to actually use the information they were getting from their multiple choice test to improve and fix their knowledge and understanding.  I wrote that test carefully, aligning it directly with what the I can statements looked like when students had mastered them at what I call a level 4 (proficiency).  This means the test was much shorter than in years past because it focused solely on the need to knows--not any random topic that happened to be mentioned in class during the semester.  Also, I labeled each question with that unit and I can statement it assessed, so students could easily pinpoint where the trouble was with their learning.  This, to me anyway, made this test much more useful for students because they could see exactly what it was they needed to fix in their blog posts before finalizing them and slapping the links to them into their Thinglink.  And it's these posts that I care about more than anything, because they will speak volumes about what my students have learned and understand and can connect and apply; or at least speak much louder and clearer than any multiple choice test can.
Were students confused?  You betcha.  They didn't get why I was making them take a multiple choice test that, in their words, "didn't count."  They didn't understand why I wanted them to talk to me about where they thought their learning was in their screencasts.  (I was told this by one student: "What does what I think matter?  You're the teacher.")  They didn't understand why I wanted them to find a photo or picture that represented how their semester went for their Thinglink.
I guess they don't understand yet that I think this time of year is better spent on reflection and demonstration of true learning rather than cramming and bubble-filling and crunching numbers that don't end up being a true representation of what students really understand.  Maybe I haven't done a good enough job of emphasizing the importance of reflection and self-monitoring in learning. 
But I hope that's something they do understand by the end of the year, because I think it's a lesson worth learning--and much more valuable and useful to them after they leave this building than any of the content that I teach. photo credit: Fort Worth Squatch via photopin cc

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