Our Middle School Division Head has been encouraging us to rethink our assessments to ensure that they reflect our classroom activities and that they provide students different ways to illustrate their growth and understanding. Since I have been incorporating more MakerSpace projects into my curriculum (and have seen my students rise to the occasion with the writing assignments), I decided to take the plunge and rethink my semester exam. At Oakridge, our middle school begins with grade 5, so my students took semester exams for the first time this year. Each exam is 90 minutes long. I decided to use a shortened version of last year’s exam for the first 45ish minutes and then give students a MakerSpace project and writing assignment to tackle during the second half. To prepare my students for this experience, we tackled a “practice” assignment that mirrored parts of the semester exam assignment. I have included both assignments below.
The Practice Assignment (completed in class the week before exams)
Part 1: Use the Wikki Stix* to create one of the following items:
- A holiday decoration
- A piece of jewelry
- A new type of insect
- A new baby toy
*If you’ve never heard of Wikki Stix, here is a link to what I purchased on Amazon.
Part 2: Integrate at least three of the four new supplies into your original design in a meaningful way.
Supplies: a button, a lid, a paper clip, and a wooden shape
Write about your experience:
- What were the original ideas you brainstormed?
- What did you decide to make and why?
- How did you experiment with the wiki sticks to make this item?
- What changes did you make along the way during part one?
- How did the characteristics of the wiki sticks both help and hinder your plans and your building?
- How did the new items in part two change your thinking?
- How did you integrate them into your design?
- Which items were the easiest and hardest to integrate?
- How did you react initially to having new items to integrate?
- Would you have rather known about the additional items from the very beginning? Why or why not?
The Fall Semester Exam Assignment
Part 1: Use the 20 pipe cleaners provided to create one of the following items:
- A new piece of playground equipment
- A new amusement park ride
- A new interactive exhibit at a science museum
- A new float for a holiday parade
Type a paragraph describing your creative process. Include the following information:
- What different ideas you brainstormed and how and why you chose the idea you used
- How you experimented with the pipe cleaners
- How the qualities of the pipe cleaners both helped and hindered your efforts
- What changes you made to your design
- What inspired your design
- End by describing your finished product
Now, ask Mrs. Reddig for part 2 of the MakerSpace Writing Challenge.
Part 2: Your first visitor*
Your new visitor has been sent to test out your design. He/she must interact in a meaningful way with your design. Make the necessary changes to your original design to accommodate your visitor’s size and interests.
*The visitors were bendable holiday figures I bought off Oriental Trading. They are seasonal, so they don’t have them for sale right now, but here are similar bendy people!
Type another paragraph (in the same Google doc) describing how the addition of your visitor changed your initial creation. Include the following information:
- What was your first reaction to meeting your visitor?
- What changes did you make to your original design to accommodate your visitor? Why did you make these changes?
- Did the changes improve your design overall? Why or why not?
- Would you have gone a completely new direction originally if you had known about the visitor from the very beginning? Why or why not?
- How did you react to the challenge to fit your visitor into your design? Were you frustrated and stressed or excited and interested? Explain your reaction.
When the items were first starting to be listed, I thought about doing a holiday light. But when I heard the insect option, I decided to do that because I could be very creative with it, and I thought it would be fun to make an insect. I twisted wiki sticks together then made one twist into a circle for the body, and rolled the other into a ball for the head. I cut two sticks into thirds for legs and a tiny twist was for the tail. Two ends of wiki sticks that stuck out of the head were used for antennae. On both the head and the body, I went back and added a stick to the twist. It was very helpful that the wiki sticks were in most places, but in the legs, the fact that the sticks were bendy made them a bit unstable. The new items were a little challenging to use, but I decided not to change the design, and instead think creatively to integrate the things into the current design. I used the bottle cap to make the body 3D, the button with four holes to give the bug a four eyed appearance, and the paperclip for a new tail, using the old tail to lengthen the antennae. The bottle cap and the paper clip were the easiest to use, but the button was harder. I initially wondered how I was going to use the items and what three I would use, but when I thought a bit, I figured it out. I’m glad I didn’t know about the items in advance. It was a fun surprise.
Part 1: Have you ever used pipe cleaners? Well I did, I used them on my exam. I brainstormed ideas like a trampoline but I decided on a little swing that has four teams green, black, purple, and yellow. I experimented by bending the pipe cleaners until I got it the desired shape. The pipe cleaners were helpful because they can bend any way I needed them to go, they didn’t hinder me at all. In the end I changed the base so it would be more sturdy. My design was inspired by the playgrounds in photos and I combined multiple parts of equipment to get the cylinder cyclone. The cylinder cyclone has a white swing, a blue base, and four teams green, black, purple, and yellow. Let’s make my creation come true.
Part 2: My initial reaction was like oh no but then I made it work. Everything worked out for me because I didn’t have to make any changes to my creation. If I knew about the visitor before hand I would have made the swing a little bit bigger so he would fit a little better. When I had to incorporate him into my creation I was not worried at all. I knew exactly what to do. Now that my creation has come true let’s try to make yours!
I’m really glad I decided to make time for the practice assignment the week before exams because it calmed some of my anxious students and it gave everyone a chance to get used to handling the “twist.” My students also loved the novelty of using the Wikki Stix. I was able to provide feedback about the writing section and emphasize the need to include all of the required information. This feedback clarified my expectations and served as the “review” for this part of the exam.
As expected, my students finished the traditional part of my exam at different times, so I enlisted the help of our MakerSpace teacher so that students could work on the second part in her space without distracting the other students. When they arrived to the MakerSpace, they received the instruction sheet and 20 pipe cleaners. They really liked the choices, and bendy holiday visitors were a hit. I decided that I would give each student a variety of pipe cleaner colors and that they could not exchange them for other colors. I also decided ahead of time that I would not rush the creative process and if some students didn’t get to the writing portion of the assignment, I would not take points off. My emphasis on MakerSpace projects has shifted my perspective on grading, but that is a separate blog post! Essentially, the MakerSpace part of the exam was very loosely graded and I only took off points if a student finished one of the writing sections and did not include all of the required information. My Division Head stopped by at the end of the exam to see their creations and one student told him this was the most fun she had ever had during an exam! I had paper lunch bags for my students to take their creations (and holiday visitors) home in and I encouraged my students to share their work with their parents.
I’ll definitely include a MakerSpace section on future exams. I don’t think my 5th graders would have benefitted from a longer traditional exam and the MakerSpace project was a great use of our “extra” time. It also supported my desire to push my students to be creative and to reflect on their work in writing.