In the waning moments of my semester, I made the decision to create a "class expert" system to introduce the idea of rational expressions. Designed as an elongated jigsaw, the students were divided into groups and assigned a topic. The connected nature of the ideas made this, in my opinion, the optimal time to attempt this type of framework. The full rationale for the project can be found in the post entitled, "Math Class Experts".
Basically, I can validate my choice on the following factors:
- Student Motivation
- Teacher Curiosity
The unit ended with a short unit exam; I corrected each exam and cross-referenced the percentage grades to see if those who participated in the experiment could transfer deeper learning into an exam situation. I am not claiming that exams are the be-all and end-all of assessment, but only that they are often the reason why teachers don't try different class formats.
I am very certain that spending time becoming an expert on a topic helped students reason on a deeper level. After presentations were complete, I placed a rational equation on the board. The students had never encountered one before. Slowly, members of different groups pieced a solution path together. A member of the addition and subtraction of rational expressions group suggested common denominators; a member of the simplifying group wanted to cancel the denominator. We began to use our skills in new situations. It was a cool feeling to see the class take over, and become empowered by their newfound skills. The students from the class section which did not give a presentation needed much more prodding through the example.
But what about the test scores?
Students from both classes showed no significant deviations from their average performance in similar assessments. On average, students scored 2% lower on this unit test than on previous tests. This figure was identical in both participants and non-participants. Based on the results and circumstances, I concluded the following:
- Unit exams are not always a good representation of deep understanding (duh)
- Test anxiety played a significant role in determining the scores.
In the future, I would do two major things that I did (and could) not do this time around.
- I would dedicate more time to allow students to beta test their presentation
- I would allow students to design their final unit assessment. This could take an interview or oral format
If I were to go from the test alone, this experiment would have to be classified as a failure. As any classroom teacher knows, there are moments of educational excellence that cannot be measured by exams.