Projects change face of finals

If your students weren’t cramming for exams this week, that’s likely because they started work on their finals weeks ago.

For example, students taking a dual-credit history course at Whiteland Community High School had six weeks to create a project focusing on the Civil War and Reconstruction. Students were free to select the type of project they created — some wrote journals for people who were alive at the time, others created video games or board games based on the area.

Teacher Chris Wood’s requirement was that anything the students created needed to be based on material they studied throughout the semester.

At Franklin Community High School, teacher Kevin Hankins required his beginning and advanced broadcast students to shoot and edit video assignments over two weeks. Students in the introductory classes needed to show Hankins that they knew how to set up shots and use a computer to edit content. Advanced students needed to demonstrate they could use effects such as green screens.

“I feel that there’s so

many skills that we’ve gone over in the higher levels, because we’re kind of diving into the actual meat of doing things, that the best way to see if they’ve actually grasped the concept and learned anything is having to actually do it,” Hankins said.

Neither teacher is completely doing away with traditional

final exams — at least not in

all of their classes. But in the past several years, local high schools have tried to find ways for students to demonstrate that they’ve learned something beyond having them memorize and restate facts for a test.

That can include making end-of-semester projects a part of students’ final grades, Wood and Hankins said.

“I would argue the more creative you are, the more you understand the content,” Wood said.

“We want (students) to be able to develop a final product that

represents contextually all of that content, versus filling in a bubble.”

Wood’s traditional U.S. history class — which juniors have to take and pass in order to graduate — includes an end-of-semester multiple-choice exam on the lessons and concepts they’ve been studying since August. He will use students’ performance on those exams to modify next semester’s lessons.

“We analyze that info to hopefully make them stronger students as a whole,” Wood said.

Hankins also tests his first-level broadcast students on basics

such as vocabulary, media law

and standards, such as the number of frames a camera captures per second.

But Hankins and Wood also

want to ensure their students

know how to use and apply what they’ve learned.

That’s why, along with the test, Wood’s history students create time capsules based on the eras they’ve studied, with flags,

pictures and other items. The capsules, which won’t be buried, ensure students understand what was significant about the times they studied, Wood said.

As students take more advanced courses, the projects can get more complex, sometimes taking the place of a test.

Hankins’ advanced broadcast students have been studying broadcasting for three years, and there’s no point in giving them a paper test on the basics on the subject.

Instead, the final project includes creating a 60-second film that includes green screen and other special effects. Students can take all of the individual concepts and lessons they’ve learned and practice them simultaneously, which is exactly what they’ll have to do if they find jobs shooting and editing video, he said.

“If they just memorize (facts), then they aren’t actually learning the skills that you’re trying to teach them,” Hankins said.