Beyond Standardized Assessments

geography bee

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a trend in elementary schools across the nation.  A growing emphasis has been placed on controversial high-stakes standardized assessments.  Too many, this isn’t really a surprise.  Most, not all, state standardized assessments at the elementary level focus in on the subjects of reading and math.  Don’t get me wrong … both of these subjects are extremely important and school scheduling often revolves around them.  Since I teach mostly math throughout the day I am grateful for the time that is dedicated to the subject. Math and reading can be foundational for other content areas to flourish.

The test taking emphasis with reading and math sometimes crowds out some of the time dedicated to other subject areas.  Some of the subject areas that might be reduced because of that emphasis may include social studies, history, geography, art, science, etc.   If the subject area isn’t part of the standardized assessment schedule it might not get priority instruction time.  This doesn’t happen in all circumstances, but it does happen.

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with talented elementary teachers that have a passion for their social studies and science content areas.  These teachers bring a contagious energy to their subject and make social studies and science a priority in the classroom.  I appreciate these teachers and the effort they put into their craft.  One of the teachers organized our school’s first ever Geography Bee this year.

I was given the opportunity to serve as a cohost for this event.  Being primarily a math teacher, I was looking forward to helping out with our school’s first Geography Bee and thought that many of my math students would be part of the bee.  Many of my students expressed interest in participating.

To start preparing for the event, about 40 students started attending weekly geography study sessions after school or during their recess times.  These sessions occurred approximately one month before the bee was scheduled to start.  Students that were interested started using iPad apps, websites and geography study materials to review locations all over the world.  As the event came closer more practice sessions were attended by the students.  Teachers volunteered to host the practice sessions in their classrooms during this time.

The culmination of all the practice ended when the Geography Bee began yesterday.  Parents of the community were asked to attend and cheer on their child and other contestants.  It was great to see the community support each other and our school.  Approximately 30 students participated in the event that was hosted by eight teacher volunteers.  The preliminary, final and championship round came and went.  Overall, it was a worthwhile experience and I feel like it helped build the community and school partnership.

It was great to see students receive recognition for an accomplishment that wasn’t tied to the staple reading and math curriculum or mandated on a standardized assessment.  Exposing students to a variety of concepts and curriculum opportunities can help students discover their own passions.  I can think of genius hour and the hour of code as two examples that can lend itself for students to start developing interests that may eventually become passions.  Creating a classroom/school environment that fosters an appreciation for learning is important and shouldn’t be lost.

photo credit: ribarnica via photopin cc

Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

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