When SMA science teacher Nancy Johnston approached the end of the 2014 school year, she expected to prepare her 9th grade Conceptual Physics students for the usual 100-question final exam. But then she had an idea.
She realized she had already assessed them to her satisfaction on their content knowledge for the course. So she wondered what would happen if she changed her final exam to something completely different--something that would allow her students to reflect on their experience that year and offer advice to incoming students. And she decided to harness the tools available through the students' iPads to do so.
Thus, the "Final Big Project" (named after Johnston's favorite end-of-the-year film, "Big") was born. Johnston asked students to sign up for topics, then create individual short projects using their choice of digital tools like PowerPoint, Explain Everything or iMovie. Students could also choose instead to create posters if they wished. And Johnston kept them focused on the idea of reflection and advice, rather than "how-to" lessons.
Johnston was thrilled with the results. "I was really surprised how they got into this," Johnston said. "The students did an amazing and interesting job of picking topics that were really relevant to their own stories. This I believe allowed them to create projects that showed a great deal of really thoughtful insight into their topics."
Further, the project offered benefits for Johnston that she had not anticipated. "I learned so much about them as students," she said. "The biggest and most exciting thing to me was getting to hear their 'voices'. Frankly, that doesn’t come out in a Lab Report and a Physics Problem. It was a huge gift to me."
Johnston plans to incorporate this experience into her class next year, both by sharing what her students already created with her new students, and giving her new students an opportunity to reflect like this earlier in the year.
The Final Big Project is an excellent example of thoughtful technology integration. Johnston started by deciding on the learning objectives for the activity, then incorporated technology tools in a meaningful way that both redefined the activity and provided students with individual choice and control over their own creations. As a result, the students had a powerful opportunity to engage in higher-level thinking and digital skills, and Johnston enjoyed an unexpected chance to connect with her students in a new way.
Check out samples of the student projects by Sophie Els and MaryCatherine Morgan below. Way to go, Nancy Johnston!
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This page is dedicated to showcasing the innovative, creative work of teachers at St. Mary's Academy, an all-girls high school in downtown Portland, Oregon.
"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires."