Monday, 17 February 2014

A Steaming Styrofoam Cup of Social Studies

Socials 11 is hard. It is course crammed with material and can at sometimes seem like a labyrinth. Like the famed labyrinth, there is also a minotaur waiting in the tunnel; the minotaur is of course, the government exam.

A coworker gave me an idea quite some time ago to help students study, while at the same time building classroom community and I was excited to try it out. I chose my 1920s/1930s  test, since students have typically found it to be challenging due to the breadth and depth of material contained in the unit.

Students were each given a styrofoam cup. They were told that they could bring the cup into the test as a study aid. They could write whatever they wanted on it and then, during the test, I would give them hot chocolate to put in the cup.

Some students wrote on the outside of the cup in microprint; other cut the cup up and wrote on both sides (a few who did this, also brought their own cup so as not to miss out on the hot chocolate.) Two or three students did not opt to use the cups at all.

Ultimately, the test results were higher than other years and fewer students asked for a re-test. However, anecdotally speaking, it was interesting to see that many students seldom seemed to look at their cups during the test. My ploy had worked - they had worked so hard to condense their material that they had in essence memorized it and the cup was simply there as more of a security blanket.

Interestingly, I found that in the two days prior to the test, students asked a lot more clarification questions because they had been actively reading their notes, chapter questions and reviewing. As a result, they were more knowledgeable and more prepared.

I know some teachers would scoff at the idea of a "Cheat sheet." However, if my philosophy is that I want students to learn the material, know it, synthesize it and retain it, then does it really matter how they come to that?  Would it be better to have them not do the cup, not learn the material and not do well on the test? I can think of one student in particular who hugely benefited from this form of studying and he was delighted to receive his highest mark on a test yet!

Anyhow, a neat new item to add to my repertoire and I will certainly choose to use it again for both its effectiveness and for its novelty.

Below is a video showing student examples of the cup along with a voiceover explaining what is going on.

Post courtesy of Jeff Fitton

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeff, I think this is an excellent example of assessment flexibility. I completely agree with your reasoning and was impressed with your results. It reduces stress and who doesn't love hot chocolate during a unit exam?