You know what I want to do today?
I want to design a course that has an open-internet final exam. You know, like an open-book exam or an open-notes exam. Preferably a course that’s traditionally heavy on memorization and/or procedures. Mathematics, chemistry, or history. I want to not only suspect that my students might be sneaking notes into their math exam, but openly encourage them to open up Wolfram Alpha in the middle of it.
And I don’t want to do this in college. I want to do it at the high school level. (Well, that’s not true. I totally do want to do it in college too, but it’s more audacious and thus more worthwhile at the high school level.) I want to usurp knowledge transmission in the classroom and throw a bloody coup with creation, evaluation, and analysis on the winning side. We’ll throw memorization into the basement in a cage and just use it, when we want, how we want. I want to take courses that are normally all about “how do I do trig” and “let’s memorize the unit circle” (and believe me, I love the unit circle) and turn them into “what can I do with this trig thing?”
I think that also having an oral component to the exam would be invaluable. You know, having some part that the students can’t bullshit. Either you know the math or you don’t; it’s fairly clear when someone’s trying to pretend that they know what the quadratic formula is good for and they really don’t. Authentic assessment at its best.
Naturally, the whole course would need to be redesigned from the ground up, starting all the way down at the objectives. The real challenge is not merely creating such a course, it’s having it prepare students for the traditional next course. I mean, doing a “Problems and Applications in Mathematics” course for students who’ve already taken Precalc and/or Calc would be great, but doing this as your Algebra II course, now that is some straight-up awesome. It would probably take restructuring the whole department to get it to really work right, but if you could just get it to work once, at a critical stage, you could get it to work for the whole sequence and crack an entire department open.
It’s days like these when I miss being a private school teacher, because I could actually have tried this. Right now all I can do is dream about it. It’s these sorts of things that really got my blood pumping as a teacher.