Thursday, April 12, 2012

The 10 Most Creative Final Exams Ever Offered

Ah, finals. A monotonous, stressful rite of passage for high school and college students around the world. Controversies regarding their ultimate efficacy have resulted in schools as notable as Harvard purging final exams from the curriculum altogether. But educators still need a way to ensure the material sinks into their pupils’ brains, and the more innovative ones out there have whipped up some viable alternatives. Many prove far more applicable to the syllabus than a mere test, making it far easier for students to visualize exactly how everything works. Check out some of the following when searching for inspiration about creative ways to wrap everything up without lessons unsticking.

    University of Texas at El Paso’s Robert M. Esch and Mimi Reisel Gladstein published quite an interesting article in the September 1975 issue of College English. They proposed the elimination of the traditional final exam structure in favor of something far more autonomous: letting students organize their own. With the right course, such a plan would allow them to show off exactly what they’ve learned that semester in the manner most befitting their unique learning styles.

    Journalism students at University of Gloucestershire spend their last week of class applying their lessons to real-world problems rather than rehashing them out through essays and exams. Advanced Newsweek challenges them to operate their very own news conglomerate, with online, television, and radio branches — and all the stressors that entails. One can easily see how this final exam alternative benefits soon-to-be graduates in the long run!

    Spanish students under Lebanon Valley College professor Kathleen Tacelosky partnered up with local elementary school kids (some of them around 6 years old) who speak it as a primary language for a unique final exam blending in mutually beneficial service learning. Participants from both linguistic traditions assisted one another in correcting accent and grammar issues in addition to teaching them some brand new vocabulary words. Once the educational experienced wrapped up, the college crowd formally presented a summary of what they learned from the eager youngsters from Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

    Funny enough, a final exam of all things wound up spawning a widely beloved event drawing thousands of participants and even more viewers. Southern Illinois University art and design professor Richard Archer thought he’d challenge his students to prove their mettle in 3D with a practical, but super fun, wrap-up project. The Great Cardboard Boat Regatta asked them to design and race, well, cardboard boats. And ONLY cardboard boats! Entries also had to be large enough to fit human passengers. Archer’s brainchild proved so wildly popular, non-students began trying their hand at his test, and the idea quickly spread to different states.

    In an effort to encourage sustainability in the community without financially overburdening Baltimore’s nonprofits, Johns Hopkins puts its environmental engineering students to work. Climate Showcase requires them to perform free assessments and inspections on these organization’s energy efficiency, and they have to visit two a week before releasing their findings. The charities benefit from the gratis advice — which saves them money in the long run — and the students learn firsthand how their lessons apply to everyday life.

    Immediately, every Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner fan has probably perked up. ACT test developer, writer, and editor Tracy Rae Bowling, back in her teaching days, once headed up a composition class with a robotics theme; specifically, they narrowed in on the resulting existential and ethics issues and the Uncanny Valley phenomenon. When finals time rolled around, she decided to take advantage of their recent foray into analyzing Ridley Scott’s film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s beloved cyberpunk classic; Blade Runner features the Voight-Kampff device to differentiate between flesh-and-blood humans and their robotic Replicant counterparts so sophisticated they could very well be organic. Students were tasked with drawing up their own rubrics meant to help Rick Deckard and the other Blade Runners make the distinction.

    High school science teacher Kristen Mahoney struggled to make her classes realize the real-world implications behind her Environmental Systems course, because they kept questioning the lessons’ relevance. So she gave them a choice between the typical research project and paper and a 26-hour disaster simulation based on Ron Zaraza’s model — and a curious 22 out of 24 sprung for the latter. Participants received no prior instruction or warning about what the event would entail, and they found themselves faced with a chicken pox epidemic they could only quell with the knowledge gleaned in Mahoney’s class. Mission accomplished.

    Science may have denied humanity jetpacks for now, but freshman-level engineering students at University of Maryland are paving the road toward the best invention ever in the annual hovercraft competition. A requirement of the Introduction to Engineering Design course, they must design and construct an unmanned structure within some pretty stringent guidelines. Then compete them in a challenge whose parameters change every year.

    It makes sense that a musical theater class would conclude itself with a slam-bam spectacular, like the showcase presented by University of Rochester’s Kim Kowalke. Students cobbled together their own performance of more recent showtunes and titled it “City of Strangers,” and they invited the public to both showings for free.

    Rather than writing up a final exam essay, enrollees in the Introductory Sports and Recreation Management course at Tiffin University were required to submit questions to a mandatory question and answer session with an industry professional. Miechelle Willis, Ohio State University’s Senior Associate Athletic Director, answered queries regarding day-to-day running of college athletic programs as well as special events.

Contacts and sources:
Tim Handorf


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