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Innovative approaches to learning would seem to conflict with a rigid statewide assessment exam. But that's not what a group of 6th graders in Illinois discovered.
Why is an article about a state's standardized testing program in a theme issue about authentic student performance? Why have students coauthored this article? The answers to both questions stem from problem-based learning.
When Virginia Lake School in Palatine, Illinois, decided to improve scores on the Illinois Goal Assessment Program (IGAP), Paula Bullis's 6th grade class seized the opportunity. Some Illinois students, upon hearing someone say "IGAPs," think "Oh, no, a test!" But the students'in Paula's class faced the exam without fear because they had been using problem-based learning for about two months prior to the exam.
Before Paula's class focused on the IGAPs, they worked out a simple learning problem with the assistance of Emily Alford, an educational consultant. The 6th graders had to find a way to keep a hamburger warm for a certain period of time. In preparation, they formulated a problem statement, generated ideas, listed facts they knew and questions they had, and made an action plan. In 45 minutes they were able to generate several solutions.
After the class successfully completed their first problem, Emily, Paula, and I showed the students a newspaper article about test scores and discussed the school's accreditation. We also showed them some of the school's past IGAP scores, which were less than impressive. The class then chose to use problem-based learning to improve their own IGAP scores and preserve their school's accreditation in a way that would (1) keep scores improving each year, (2) set a good example for their school, and (3) make preparing for the IGAP more fun.
Now I'll let the students in Paula Bullis's class share their …