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Creative Student Projects Synthesize Learning

Students groan when the bell rings and it's time for lunch.

As a matter of fact, almost no one moves and rushes to the door in a mad dash to get wherever they're going next.

"Can we stay up for lunch?"


Because they don't want to stop working on their projects (and it's not because it's due soon... it's because they're having fun).

When we provide students with valuable learning experiences, they don't want them to end.

For the past two weeks in class, students have been working on satire movies that they made from scratch taking elements of different texts we've studied this year to bring an issue of interest to light.

Aside from getting a sneak preview of students' hard work, we're all eagerly awaiting the opportunity to screen the movies in class. It has become a tradition each year. It's the perfect way to celebrate student learning and have a good time.

We set the room up to look like a movie theater. The wall is lined with white paper and the tables lined up in rows, all faced forward. Opportunities to enjoy the movies and then review them to provide feedback makes the experience fun and educational; there is no passive learning in this space.

As the lights dim and the student learning presents itself in movie wonder, here is what the class saw:

Associated elements with these movies are the script: GreatExpectationsScript.pdf and reflections from each member of the groups.

Students express evidence of their learning through their reflections based on standards. Here are some examples:

The AP class isn't the only one that has been engaged in synthesis learning in the holiday season. The 9th grade ICT journalism class worked on creating journalism ethics skits that focused on the various elements of the Journalist's Code of Ethics.

Each group wrote a script and performed it in class. At the conclusion of their performances, students in each group led a discussion about the specific ethical challenges addressed in their skit and how high school journalists must deal with them.

We've had rich discussions on seeking truth and minimizing harm. Here are some of the skits that the 9th graders wrote:

We will end the assignment once the skits are completed and then they wrote the reflections in class, so I could walk them through the process in order to scaffold expectations and appropriately differentiate.

Regardless of their level, every child deserves the opportunity to learn in alternative ways. Too often, we issue tests like they are the only way to assess student learning which is definitely not the case. Synthesis assignments require students to not only exhibit what they have learned in the content but also demonstrate improving skills. They are far more challenging to cheat on as well since they can't be cut and pasted.

How do you engage students while offering them opportunities to show what they know in different ways? Please share your project ideas.

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in December 2014.

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