Today is EXAM DAY. My students had an External Brain exam this morning and will take their written and practical exams this afternoon. Their 20 question External Brain exam emphasized case-study like applications of the content, and students were allowed to use their self-created External Brain resource on this exam. Inspired by Murray Jensen’s September 25th HAPS blog post on cooperative quizzes, I decided to add a cooperative component to today’s External Brain exam. So my students first took the 20 question exam individually, and turned in their results. Then I placed them in randomly selected groups of 3 and let them re-take the exam with this group.
When I proposed this idea to my students last week, there was a little bit of eye rolling…they are used to me trying new things on them. I assured them that my end goal was to improve their understanding (and even threw in the added bonus that they would identify any big misconceptions BEFORE taking their written and practical exams later in the day). They agreed to be my guinea pigs…again.
I have yet to grade the External Brain exams to see how they did. However, there were several parts of the experience, just from my initial observations, that I felt were really successful. First, I loved the discussion that happened surrounding each question. As I continue the quest to make active learning happen during my classes, I’ve become addicted to the eruptive sounds of students discussing content. I know I have asked a good question when they are vigorously debating the answer. I love that they become so animated and energetic. This definitely happened during the group portion of the exam. Second, I loved the instantaneous feedback students got on their understanding. There was one question I asked about sarcomeres and from the conversation afterwards, it was very clear that they really didn’t understand how the sarcomere changes during muscle contraction. I know that if I had just done a traditional written exam, I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to tease out the misconception that resulted in the errors. Finally, I loved that the exam became about LEARNING…because I do think they at least had the opportunity to learn something from the experience.
For once, I’m actually excited to grade their External Brain exams and compare their group work to their individual work. I am a little disappointed that I forgot to ask them a survey question at the end of the group exam, because I am very curious about how THEY perceive the experience. First thing Wednesday morning, though, I will be probing their little guinea pig brains…