Ignore The Test

It's not "OK" for us to simply abstain from teaching kids to think simply based on the fact that we have to administer a test at the end of the year that's expected to assess something as nebulous as learning.


How about a profound statement? Even if the tests went away tomorrow, very little would change in a lot of classrooms around the country, and teaching kids how to think would still take a back seat to teaching kids what to think. Call me cynical, but I don't see a lot of teachers releasing their herculean grip from subject content in the name of teaching "21st century skills." Why? Our education system has never been about innovation and adaptation; it's been about perpetuation.

How do we reconcile standards and data-driven accountability with the "21st century skills" movement? The first step we need to take is forgetting about the test and teach kids to be curious while asking really, really good questions. I'll never say that the tests are a positive, but I also won't allow for them to be the scapegoat for why kids walk out of school without an ability to ask great questions of the world around them. Evidence? Multiple-choice tests existed in almost every classroom prior to the standardized testing movement, and they will exist long into the future regardless of what metric we use to assess student learning.

We also need to practice some serious introspection and ask ourselves what "21st century skills" are. I hear a lot of people boil "21st century skills" down to simply using technology. That's a pretty myopic and cynical way of looking at the future of human progress. The truth is that "21st century skills" do have to do with adapting to new technologies effectively, but it has much, much more to do with being able to think deeply about topics, solve complex problems, and being capable of synthesizing information to form new solutions. If kids go through school unable to practice these skills, then everything else is for naught.

We kill curiosity in kids the same way that Sir Ken Robinson says we kill creativity. We point our fingers at standardized tests and cry out that they prohibit us from teaching the skills kids need, but we're also not willing to accept that many classrooms wouldn't be that different without them.

We, as educators, simply need to give ourselves a reality check on the messages that we send our kids that stunt their curiosity. I can't tell you how many times I hear this comment and want to cringe:

Anything that we ever need to know in this day and age can be found on the Internet via Google or some other search engine.

Is that really the message we want to be sending kids? Do we want them to walk away from our classrooms believing that every, single question ever asked has been investigated by someone else and answered? What are they to do when they have questions that Google can't answer? How, in those classrooms, do we teach kids to ask the really, good questions and solve the really complex problems that they will experience in their future? How is that statement any different from having kids select "A-E" without even getting a chance to contemplate "F" as the correct answer?

Throughout this post, it may seem as though I've ignored the very question that Scott has asked me to answer. Rest assured that's exactly what I've done. The answer to the question is simple: start constructing lessons and classroom instruction around developing curious kids who inquire about the world around them. Ignore the tests. Until we live in a world where classrooms would look entirely different without the tests, we really have nothing to complain about while they're here.

Aaron Eyler is a high school history teacher in central New Jersey. He has an M.A. in Educational Leadership from Rutgers University and is the writer of "Synthesizing Education" and (more recently) "The Democratic Classroom." For his daily musings and rants, please follow him on twitter via @aaron_eyler.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
popular

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less