Maryland has been ranked number two in the US news and world report state rankings in education. What are the schools in Maryland doing that sets them apart? Perhaps, one thing is the way they assess student learning. Rather than a compartmentalized, test based method, students are asked to do some problem solving. As reportd by Bruce Alberts in his 2002 article on “Appropriate Assessments for Reinvigorating Science Education“, a typical elementary science assessment in Maryland looked something like the following:
Your teacher has received a bouquet of flowers and is having trouble with them. The leaves are drooping, and the flowers look sick. You decide to do an investigation to discover what might be wrong with them.
Students must then perform the following tasks:
- Read two articles about plants and their stem system.
- Write an essay explaining how you would study your teacher’s flower to determine what’s wrong with it.
- Draw an illustration that would help other students understand your investigation.
- With a partner, use a magnifying glass, look at the cut edge of a bottom of a celery stalk (which is used in place of the flower), make a list of things you observe about the stalk, break the stalk, and describe what you see.
- Draw and color a picture of what you think will happen to this celery if it sits in red dye overnight. Explain why you think so.
- On the next day, study the celery that was soaked overnight in the red dye. Write a paragraph to explain how the celery is the same or different from what you predicted yesterday.
- Write an essay explaining why a scientist might want to do more than one investigation when trying to answer a question about science.
- Write a note to your teacher telling what you have learned about flowers and how to take care of them.
I am not sure if this type of assessment is in practice today, but it definitely goes a long way towards the goal of engaging students with project based learning and developing critical thinking skills. Learning more about the work is Maryland is high on my priority list. Maryland’s Next Generation Science Standards