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My husband and I met again with our architect yesterday.  After weeks of back and forth on a design for an addition, we realized we wanted, no needed, a few upgrades.  Not just a deck off the back of the house, but a ten foot wide deck so we could easily sit down at our table instead of climbing over the arm of the chair and shimmying down like we do now to avoid falling over the edge of our patio.  Not just an island where friends and family could congregate before a meal, but an island wide enough to allow for both food preparation and a family of five to eat dinner on the run.  These upgrades are strategic replacements to make our lives easier, to make our home run more smoothly.

But upgrades are not reserved for construction.  In Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ recent talk at TEDxNYED , she outlines the areas in education ripe with opportunity for updates: content, skills, and assessment.  She posits if students understand that social production democratizes learning, social networks enrich understanding, media unleashes forms of expression, and that learning itself is not always linear, we need new kinds of teaching and learning.

But, Jacobs is not asking teachers to shred their lesson plans and start from scratch. One upgrade in one unit as a strategic replacement has power on its own.  She believes our assessments in particular look quite similar to the assessments of decades ago and she’s suggesting upgrades.

Teachers at KHS are no strangers to upgrades.  Consider Amy Leatherberry’s upgrade for the research paper.  Students in Amy’s class now write an interactive research paper, learning where it is appropriate to link to more in-depth source material, to highlight key ideas with images or video, to synthesize numerous resources in an engaging way that is easily accessed by a larger audience and that mimics much of the research we do today: online, multimedia, and divergent.  In Reza Behnam’s blog, he calls this Periphery Reading Research, or PR2, where his students, armed with their iPads, drift into research that interests them as they hop (with intent) from one link to the next.
Mandy Melton asks her students to learn a concept (like Exocytosis) through the creation of RSAs.  For this project, students  learn Exocytosis well enough to teach it through metaphor and images as well as a thoroughly researched script.  Jenny Willenborg asks students to use systems thinking as they ponder the ethics of human research in a Socratic Discussion over HeLa cells, the Tuskegee Syphillis Study, the South African Military Aversion Project, and Johnson’s Stuttering Study.

Upgrades don’t always have to be monumental shifts.  They are strategic replacements to increase engagement, authenticity, and understanding.

How have you upgraded your assessments?