My son is all about purpose. He needs to always know why something is the way it is or why it needs to be done in a specific manner. Why do I have to clean my room? Why is one team better than another? He is very focused on understanding the purpose behind life, or perhaps he’s just trying to irritate me to no end. Regardless, he represents the average teen middle-school student. Purpose is important to our students. They long to understand the relevance and importance of what they are being asked to do in the classroom. As their teacher, it is my duty to make the purpose of each lesson, activity, or objective transparent. I want my boys to know why they need to learn a particular skill or concept. I also want them to understand how it relates to their lives. Knowing the value and purpose of the academic expectations helps makes the learning more engaging for them. The neuroscience of learning tells us that students learn best when they are engaged and see the relevance in what they are learning. Therefore, teaching the purpose of learning with a purpose is purposeful.
To prepare our students for the Energy Unit math exam tomorrow in STEM class, we had the students review the major concepts and skills learned over the last 20 class days. The students were assigned a partner and a specific skill or topic for which they needed to create an interactive game which effectively reviews the concept for its players. They had 40 minutes to create their game. I was careful to explain that to prepare for tomorrow’s math exam, they needed to review the major concepts covered throughout the unit. They understood why they were being asked to review material. Rather than spend the whole period with the class reviewing and reteaching the various math skills the students practiced over the past two months, I wanted to give them individual purpose while also playing to one of the greatest strengths of many middle-school boys, social interaction. They were fired up and excited about the activity. The students got right to work brainstorming ideas and building games. Most students went to their laptops without even thinking about ideas. Once the groups talked and realized that 40 minutes is not enough time to create a working video game, they shut their computers and began using paper and pencil to create simple yet authentic review games. While one group was stuck using their computer to create a video game that only had one level, most every other partnership was able to create hands-on, engaging games that thoroughly reviewed the assigned concept. One group made a game consisting of a modified version of flash cards. So cool. It had players solving math problems using the Order of Operations. Another group created a worksheet that increased in difficulty with successive problems. One group made a fun matching game to review scientific notation. This was a favorite game when the students had the chance to explore each other’s hard work. The students utilized the teamwork skills learned earlier in the year while also reviewing the major concepts that will be covered on tomorrow’s exam. They asked each other questions, challenged their peers, and made effective use of their time. While not every group completed a finished product in the 40 minutes, every group had finished some part of a unique game.
The purpose of this activity was two-fold, to review for tomorrow’s exam and practice teamwork skills. Did it work? Did this activity help the students prepare for tomorrow’s exam effectively? Did the students effectively apply the teamwork skills learned earlier in the year? Did it make a difference? Had we reviewed differently, would the outcome change? Is review necessary? After the last exam that almost every student failed, we felt the need to change the way we approach testing. We didn’t allow students the opportunity to review the concepts last time. The last test was also done online, which most students found difficult to complete. So, we revamped our approach. Will it make a difference? We hope so, but we won’t know until tomorrow. To help us gather even more feedback than just the test results, we are going to have the students complete a quick feedback survey following the test tomorrow. This will hopefully provide us feedback direct from the source, our students. We want to ask them if they felt more or less prepared for the exam due to the review session we had today. We also want to know how the review session could be improved. There are many ways to recover content and skills. Today’s activity was only one way. We’re sure the students have ideas we haven’t even thought of yet. So, borrowing ideas from our students is just another way we can improve our approach to testing and test preparation. Plus, we gain more buy-in from the students when they see that we actually listen to and utilize their advice and suggestions. It’s not us vs. them; it’s us working together towards a common goal.