Years ago, when my boys were in little league baseball, someone suggested I become an umpire. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t handle the responsibility. It would have been “fair…uh, foul. Strike… uh, ball. Safe…uh, OUT,” all day long. I don’t want to discourage effort or hurt someone’s feelings. Who am I to judge?
Well, on Thursday, March 24th, I was pleased to serve as a judge at the third annual Canadian Rockies Public Schools Science Fair: 162 students, 104 projects. Supported by Canmore Rotary (cash + volunteers – THANKS!) and a multitude of local donors and volunteers, it was an exemplar of community effort, dedicated teachers and engaged students. A special shout-out to Shari Worobey for taking on this BIG event and marshaling all the forces necessary to pull it off.
The Banff Community High School (BCHS) gym was quiet as Shari began the orientation session for judges. We were given a rubrics sheet to guide us in our evaluation. Without it, and the prep talk, I would have been lost. Two points stood out for me: to look for deeper understanding from the kids by asking questions and to be sure to take time to provide feedback in the space provided on the form. “It’s not over once the students finish their displays. It isn’t about who gets a ribbon. It’s my hope the learning continues,” Sharon told us. I liked being included in that journey.
As I toured my designated displays and talked to the students, it was startlingly obvious who had “just done the assignment” and who had kicked it up a notch. That being said, all the children deserve credit for stepping up. It’s not easy to put oneself in front of judges!
It was also very clear to me that the best rubrics must be balanced: not too prescriptive but still very precise. This assessment stuff is challenging. And I got that it shouldn’t be about the marks and ranking, but about the learning. Teachers present smiled indulgently as I shared my thoughts. They know how difficult it is to achieve the transformation from “old school” report cards to a more formative model of assessment in a world where the public, parents, kids and the Ministry of Education want “standards” to gauge learning. How do we get to that balance? Teachers should – and are – leading the way. Let’s help them on their path.