After school today, I was telling a former student of mine about a final project I'm putting together for my geometry class. Another teacher and I are creating a project where the students will be broken into 'companies' where they each take a job. Together they must work together to create the school of the future. They will need to create an architectural drawing of the building and the surrounding area, construct an actual scale model of a classroom, calculate the cost of construction, and put together a formal presentation that they will give to school administrators (among other things). Talk about authentic!?!? Anyway, my former student thought this was a great idea and immediately saw the value in it. He actually told me he wished he could've done this when he had me two years prior.
This got me thinking, why don't I give the students what they want? Throughout my educational training and research, I've heard a lot about how students desire to see where their education will pay off. They want to know how their knowledge can be used to benefit their lives. This project we're creating is huge and will take a tremendous amount of work for the students to complete. Its intimidating. However, in the end (or while their working on it) I know my students will see value in it. It takes the big ideas from the course and applies them to a practical, real-life scenario.
Will all of my students become architects? No, of course not. They know that as well as I do. However, this project shows them one way that they can use their geometry knowledge and they'll be able to translate it to other situations. And plus, its something different. They've taken enough meaningless tests; they want to show me they've learned everything through a different medium.
I have a few other units where I have my students do projects instead of taking tests. My goal is to eventually replace all of my exams with projects, but I'll take it one step at a time. If they want it, who am I to deny them?