News

When letter grades won’t work, there’s an app for that

By Trevor Shaw
December 1st, 2014

Educators need a way to track traditionally “hard-to-measure” skills–an app might be the solution

app-assessIn my eighth grade physical computing class, I have a grade problem.

The things that are most important to me–things like creativity, curiosity, persistence, critical thinking–are nearly impossible to quantify.

I’m sure that I could come up with ways to measure these things indirectly and incorporate them into a mathematical formula, but I don’t believe such a formula would be accurate. Many of these skills and traits are neither linear nor hierarchical. For example, many of us are persistent and curious, but not about everything and not all the time. Furthermore, there is substantial research that indicates that the minute we place extrinsic motivators like grades on something like creativity or critical thinking, we end up reducing the thing we are trying to incentivize. Daniel Pink’s TED Talk about motivation is a great illustration of this.

The problem is that in my class, these things aren’t simply nice extras that I use to bump up a kid’s grade when she’s on the bubble at the end of the term. They aren’t window dressing around the “real” content. These skills and habits of mind ARE the real content. These are the traits around which I have designed the entire curriculum. Sure, my students learn about electronics, circuits, and programming, but my goal in designing the course was focused entirely on developing problem solving skills that students could transfer to novel situations that might have nothing to do with electronics.

(Next page: A solution in an app)