Developing and assessing exam skills without exam conditions

Thanks to @miss_jayin who helped devise this.

Our school has long desired to free itself of the tyranny of exams and move towards authentic assessment. Given the freedom I had with my class I clearly should have being doing more over these past few years. I plan to take advantage of the impetus and the drastic changes in this uncertain world of COVID-19.

I teach in a British school and so we follow the British curriculum and its proclivity for high stakes standardised examinations. A far cry from Finland’s singular national matriculation examination. I am not entirely anti-exams as seems to be the trend nowadays. Nor do I believe in teaching to the test, save those final few weeks of crunch time. I do believe in regularly immersing the students in exam questions though to build up familiarity with specific idiosyncrasies, presentation and language. I definitely do not do enough project based learning. I probably attempt one or two experimental project activities per class per year. This has lead to many failures, though the few successes do get repeated and I should eventually have a repertoire of one per topic and grade.

When our school underwent lock-down the uncertainty and prioritisation of the exam classes combined with slow and vague communication from the examining bodies left the question of remote assessments hanging. Eventually we attempted to deliver end of year exams online with some measures to simulate an in-class experience, however, the overall consensus is that it was not fit for purpose. Some students had connection issues. Others disliked the digital format and struggled to edit the documents satisfactorily. Some had their answers disappear because a parent reset a router mid-exam in an attempt to reestablish their connection to a work meeting. Others submitted too early so I was required to release it back to them and then set them a separate end time. Then was the very obvious problem of cheating.

So we do not want to repeat that. We could continue to experiment with refining our procedure, or invest in those incredibly controversial remote or algorithmic proctoring platforms that detect keystrokes patterns, mouse movements among a host of other checks. That seems a little overboard for our situation even if the many issues were addressed . Knowledge can be developed and assessed in a myriad of fashions so why continue to deliver a flawed process in unsuitable conditions under overbearing procedures that further stress already emotional and anxious students. This was the time to research, experiment and innovate.

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Subject Clusters Version 1

Subject Clusters – How schools can use schedules and micro-sites to minimise cross links during pandemics Version 1.0

It started as a random tweet to my epidemiologist friend Dr. Gonzales. He encouraged me to fully form this idea of how a school could be structured in the face of the corona virus crisis. I know there are many plans and proposals out there and maybe this will suit one of their contexts.

I finished working on this as soon as I was able to fit my school’s curriculum into the plan. If my school takes it further I will update and improve this write up.

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Subject Cluster – How highschools can navigate forced re-opening

Here is a scheme I have been thinking about if we are required to return to school. 

Subject “Clusters”

Actual numbers will, of course, be different and we may rely on many teachers teaching non-specialist subjects. and limit optional subject.

Assuming 90ish students per year we can split each year into 3-4 groups. And thus the school into 21-28 groups. This will end up with 3-4 “Subject Cluster”

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Stop thinking – A peculiarity of teaching

I teach students between the ages of 16 and 19, specialising on mathematical components of a more generalised course .

I am uncertain as to the location of the inflection point between pushing critical understanding and just mechanically working through procedures to arrive at an answer in learning maths. However, it still continues to surprises me the frequency at which the admirable pride and inquisitiveness of students hinder their mathematical progress simply because they desire to understand why techniques or methods work before they are adequately able to do so. Continue reading

Massive Small Change

Forgive the obvious joke

The Engineers Without Borders UK Professional Network (EWB-UK PN) held their first conference on Saturday 22nd June. And what a conference it was. It was titled “Massive Small Change“, here is the hash tag for the live tweets #massivesmallchange. (Ignore Ianrosmarin’s individualised V3 promotions, it gets good afterwards.) If I had to summarise it I would say it was about non-linear effects of intervention and how with changes of approach we can enact real, self-sustaining progress.

The idea of moving beyond community involvement to community investment remained strong throughout the day. The victim image limits the options we are willing to entertain. Despite perceptions there is a lot of money available in these communities, often tied up in other necessities. If we can provide the opportunity to invest in catalytic improvements, the same revenue stream can be re-fed into other investments and free up ever greater shares of ever growing income.

The talks were brilliant, particularly the ones I attended in the main hall. The topics broad yet on the whole focused, building upon and complementing one another without ever repeating themselves. Continue reading

2013 Sustania 100 – Part 1 Building Sector

This post is intended to be read alongside this publication.

My impressions, thoughts and comments on the innovations in the 2013 Sustania 10o, an “annual guide to 100 innovative solutions from around the world that presents readily available projects, initiatives and technologies at the forefront of sustainable transformation.”

Read their page first then come to me. EDIT: Last year’s winners Azuri presented at the EWB Massive Small Change Conference I already wrote up  my impression on their 2012 winner in the last paragraph of a previous post.

Part 1 Building Sector

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E.F. Schumacher on Natural Capital

To press non-economic values into the framework of the economic calculus, economists use the method of cost/benefit analysis. This is generally though to be an enlightened and progressive development, as it is at least an attempt to take account of benefits which might otherwise be disregarded altogether. In fact, however, it is a procedure by which the higher is reduced to the level of the lower and the priceless is given a price. It can therefore never serve to clarify the situation and lead to an enlightened decision. All it can do is lead to self-deception or the deception of others; for to undertake to measure the immeasurable is absurd and constitutes but an elaborate method of moving from preconceived notions to foregone conclusions…The logical absurdity, however, is not the greatest fault of the undertaking: what is worse, and destructive of civilisation, is the pretence that everything has a price or, in other words, that money is the highest of all values.

– Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered (Page 31), E.F. Schumacher

Devon Double Hexayurt


EDIT: Link to Nick’s Blog

One problem with categorising dates by the weekends i.e  “First weekend in June” is you forget what other events approximate to it, such as a friend’s birthday. So where was I instead of reconnecting with old friends? In a field, in Devon, with a bunch of strangers. I will be vague with names since I cannot recall which individuals requested not to be photographed and uploaded.

Meet Nick. Nick has been living in a field for a few months. He decided he would like to live off-grid in a sustainable fashion and that his housing solution would be a Hexayurt. We were supposed to build it in December with the aid of wind, rain, and limited daylight but that had to be delayed. In the meanwhile Nick lived in a van, and we waited for the sun.
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