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Furthermore, being the rule-makers let students behave in a way that makes us a quintessentially unique species.
In the end, the students achieved their goal: They earned an excellent grade.
I also achieved my goal: I got them to spend a week thinking like behavioral ecologists.
Tests are really just measures of how the Education Game is proceeding. It transformed a class where many did not even speak to each other into a coherent whole focused on a single task—beating their crazy professor’s nefarious scheme. Weak ones were rejected, promising ones were developed. A schedule was established for writing the consensus answers.
Professors test to measure their success at teaching, and students take tests in order to get a good grade. What if I let the students write their own rules for the test-taking game? On the day of the hour-long test they faced a single question: “If evolution through natural selection is a game, what are the players, teams, rules, objectives, and outcomes? (I remained in the room, hoping someone would ask me for my answers, because I had several enigmatic clues to divulge. ) As the test progressed, the majority (whom I shall call the “Mob”) decided to share one set of answers.
Option B: I would—sight unseen—shred the entire test.
Poof, the grade would disappear as if it had never happened. It was soon apparent that everyone had felt good about the process and their overall answers. Once again, the unity that arose through a diversity of opinion was right.
Who isn’t amazed and entertained by videos of crafty animals, like Betty the tool-making crow, bending wires into hooks to retrieve baskets containing delicious mealworms?
(And then hiding her rewards from a lummox of a mate who never works, but is all too good at purloining the hard-won rewards of others? Almost none of my students will go on to be “me”—a university professor who makes a living observing animals.
What I did was “flip the test.” Students were given all the intellectual tools beforehand and then, for an hour, they had to use them to generate well-reasoned answers to difficult questions.
The best tests will not only find out what students know but also stimulate thinking in novel ways.