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Brief Word—May 16, 2024


One of the hallmarks of the Seven Hills Method is the use of “authentic assessments” that require application of what students have learned to a new situation. According to educational researcher Grant Wiggins, an assignment is “authentic” if it:

  • asks the student to “do” the subject,
  • assesses the student’s ability to use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task,
  • simulates the contexts in which adults are “tested” in the workplace or in civic life,
  • allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products,
  • requires judgment and innovation.

Here are a few recent examples:

Learning by Teaching (Doherty Science)
After learning about pollinators and the flowers that attract them, second graders built models of flowers and pollinators to show the mechanisms of pollen transfer (e.g. a long, thin beak for a hummingbird and a tube-like flower). After exploring different eras that engendered the formation of the Grand Canyon, fourth graders wrote and filmed skits, acting as “time-traveling tour guides” to guide viewers through the geological ages. After studying desalination — and the feasibility of using that process at scale to meet future water needs — fifth graders set up jars to desalinate salt water and complete a reflection to calculate the energy required to evaporate large quantities of seawater. 

Cincinnati Living History Museum (Lotspeich Third Grade)
Each student chooses a topic related to Cincinnati history, writes a one-to-two page report about their topic, and creates a display board from their research. At the Living History Museum, they present and share their research with their peers, parents, teachers, and students from other grades. In addition to learning amazing details about all things Cincinnati, the project promotes student exploration, investigation, and inquiry, as well as creativity and communication skills.

Wind Turbine Challenge (Eighth Grade Science)
As a part of their unit on energy transformations, eighth graders design and build wind turbines to try to maximize their efficiency. Using KidWind Turbine kits, each group experiments with various permutations of blade design (length, shape, number, angle), gear ratio, and generator type. Students learn how to measure the voltage and current produced by their designs to calculate the energy produced over time (power). They use their results to establish the optimal design for the turbine. 

Hall of Evolution (Honors Biology)
Honors biology students work in project teams to mount an exhibit of “phylogenetic trees” that represent original hypotheses about the evolutionary relationships between groups of species (living and extinct). Based on analysis of the fossil record and DNA, each “tree” tells a story about events that unfolded over the course of thousands, millions, or even billions of years! Each group selects one group of fungi, plants, or animals (living and/or extinct). To tell their evolutionary story, using at least five sources, they construct a phylogenetic tree, answering the following questions:  Who were the players/species? What made them unique? What environment did they live in? Can you hypothesize a speciation story? Are there any trends throughout the lineage? Do the changes appear to relate to environmental change? Or coevolution with other species? Each group compiles the research onto a tri-fold poster and presents and defends their findings at the Seven Hills Hall of Evolution.

Tournament of Greatness (World History)
Ninth grade history classes hold an annual tournament to determine who was the most impactful leader of all time. Each student researches a different historical figure to construct a case that that leader was the greatest in ancient/medieval or modern history. After completing their research, they write a talk, assuming the persona of the leader they have chosen. In a March Madness-style tournament, they face off in a series of debates in their history classes. Each class section ends up with a champion, and then the class champions take part in semifinals and finals during class meetings, debating in front of the entire freshman class. The project emphasizes both research skills (students have to investigate not only the leader they have chosen, but each of the leaders they face in the tournament) and argumentation (they must craft a definition of great leadership that is persuasive and fits with their character). 

The more I spend time in our classrooms, the more I realize that what truly distinguishes learning here is not what students learn (as impressive as that is), but how they learn. Congratulations to our faculty in all four divisions for devising these engaging, authentic projects and for helping to help our students develop these invaluable future-focused skills.

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