Meeting Standards Through Alternative
Think back to when you were in school. What are the classroom activities
that you remember well? When I take this journey into the past,
I remember events like a field trip to the California tide pools
where I was fascinated by the varied and strange invertebrates that
filled the rocky crevices. I remember a paper that I wrote on the
Greek dramatists – a paper that consumed me as I compared
various dramas and their authors. I remember being editor of our
school’s literary magazine. And I remember a biology project
where we had to collect examples of organisms from several different
phyla and orders – a project that had me out scouting the
hills and environs of my town. I remember making class presentations,
the feeling of acute nervousness at the beginning and the wonderful
sense of accomplishment at the end. I DON’T remember the tests
and worksheets. They have thankfully faded from my memory. Of course
as a teacher, I know that I need to use occasional worksheets and
tests. These are valid as learning devices and as assessments. But
I also want to give my students the opportunity to become excited
about their own learning and to store some memorable experiences
from their time in my classroom.
Our state (North Carolina) is close to approving senior projects
as a graduation requirement. In spite the concern of many teachers
that this will increase our workload, I am very in favor of the
change. Let me explain why. For years, I have done an “Exhibition
Project” with my seniors in their Honors Human Biology class.
This has been an incredibly meaningful project for my students.
It is often the activity that they cite on a course evaluation as
the one that produced the most learning for them. Second semester
seniors will NOT study for tests! So giving them a final exam is
an exercise in futility. The Exhibition Project is an attempt to
engage them in a last meaningful experience in high school. Every
year, they go beyond my expectations. Our community is full of professionals
– particularly in the sciences. During the exhibition’s
evening event, the parents and community members continually praise
my students for the quality of their research and the depth of their
This project is a culmination of a year of studying the biochemistry,
anatomy, physiology, ecology, genetics, and evolution of human beings.
When I introduce the project, I stress that they can choose any
human disorder that fascinates them. I suggest that it might be
something that appears in their family or in friends; it might be
something they have just always wanted to learn more about; or it
might be something that they find during a browse through books
or the internet. The main point is that they experience some passion
for the topic! This is asking a lot of second semester high school
The requirements for the project are:
- Research, research, research
- An interview with someone who has the disorder, a person who
knows someone who has the disorder, or a person in the medical
field who knows something about the disorder
- A paper (5-10 pages) written around a thesis that is developed
after extensive research.
- A brochure that is publication-ready
- A presentation of their exhibitions to their classes
- A presentation of their exhibitions during an evening event
for families and community members.
The exhibition can be a tradition poster presentation, a PowerPoint
presentation, the development of a webpage, a piece of art (sculpture,
painting, music), poetry, a children’s book, etc. Students
are limited only by their imaginations. The idea of the exhibition
is that they can show what they have learned or experienced by researching
their particular disorder.
Over the years, I have had some amazing exhibitions. One memorable
year, a pair of girls decided to research manic depression (bi-polar
disorder). One of their family members suffered from this disorder.
The girls did their traditional research, wrote an excellent paper,
and prepared a very knowledgeable PowerPoint presentation. Included
at the end of the PowerPoint presentation was a series of beautiful
pieces of artwork done by famous artists who were thought to have
battled manic depression. They also collected poetry, music, and
novels from similar artists and writers. For the evening exhibition,
these young women took over a large room. They set up a projection
device and had their PowerPoint continuously running (alternating
between clinical information and the beautiful artwork). The walls
of the room were decorated with the poetry. The music was playing
the background and there was a table covered with the novels. The
thesis that these students used in their paper centered on the dilemma
of medication for manic depression and the incredible creativity
that comes from the mania. Walking into that room was a powerful
experience. Parents and community members were touched and awed
by the experience that these students had created.
Do these types of assessments actually address standards? This
particular assignment addresses many standards that are part of
the human biology curriculum. Some of the standards are content
standards and others involve learning processes. One of my personal
goals in this class is to prepare my students for the college experience.
All of them will be attending some type of four-year college. This
assignment helps them practice researching, analyzing, and presenting
meaningful original work.
I encourage you to consider projects such as these. They are incredibly
memorable to the students and will give you enormous pleasure to
assess. I never get bored grading these projects because each one
of them is so unique and personal to the student who creates it.
I have provided the original assignment
sheet, the assessment sheet
(rubric), and the program
from one of the exhibitions (PDF file). Please
let me know your ideas and experiences with similar projects.