Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Exam Day: Demonstrating Understanding through Collaboration and Connection

By Shelly Blake-Plock

It's final exam day, so I thought I'd give you a peak into what things looked like in our paperless classroom: we've got kids collaborating, kids making stuff, kids doing tough academic work tied to the real-time web, kids in history class demonstrating the ability to read, write, think, share, and work like a real historian.

Here's a copy of the exam. Enjoy.

Honors Western Civilization
Final Exam
June 8, 2011
Exam Length: 2 hours and 15 minutes / 30 minute extension available

In the following exam, you are going to be asked to do the work of a historian. Please read the questions carefully as many of them have multiple parts. If you have any difficulty understand concepts or terms, look them up. In real life, historians have the power of the Internet at their fingertips; so too do you on this exam. Further, there will be sections of this exam that assess your ability to collaborate in real-time over the web. This is an essential part of the real work of the 21st century historian and it is something in which you are going to demonstrate fluency.

Lastly, remember that history is as personal as it is public. Think hard about these questions before answering. Don’t just Google yourself into a panic. Use the resources of the Internet History Sourcebook, the BBC History site, National Geographic, the Met Museum, Nova, PBS, Infotrac, Grolier,, the Internet Archive, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and all of the resources we have used in class. Also remember to refer back to the Twitter lists we put together during review; they are full of good sources -- but beware the occasional not-so-good source: When using a source, ask yourself, “Would Your Teacher Use This Source?”

If you use a source, cite it by in-text citation and noting the source after your response with an APA citation in a mini-bibliography (even of there is only one source) -- this includes pics, maps, etc. Check here to review APA format:

Please post all of your answers onto your blog. For Google Maps, please embed them so that I can actually go into your map rather than just look at a screenshot. If you have any computer problems, let me know immediately and get on one of the Macs. Also, it is important to me that I see the breadth of your understanding as well as the depth of specific knowledge, so I will be keeping you to the timed format. I will offer up to a half-hour after the official exam time for anyone who wants to go back and edit or complete any sections from the exam to do so.

I trust you will all do your very best work and I looking forward to seeing the results.

1. What is History? Get together in groups of five. You will be having a five minute discussion on which way to understand history is best: Linear, Cyclic, Hegelian (thesis + antithesis = synthesis), or Vortex (history goes back and forth through high points and low points). Please create a public TodaysMeet room of your own for you discussion (you will need to come up with a name for your room). Please sign into the chat with your real name; I will be giving you credit based on: your contribution to the chat, the quality of sources you bring into the chat, the quality of your interaction asking and answering questions and dialogue within the chat, the historical and logical accuracy of your chatting, and the quality of your argument and evidence. When complete, post the link to the room on each of your blogs.

2. Agricultural Revolution. (appx 15 minutes) This is a three part question: 1) In a one paragraph brief constructed response, explain why the Agricultural Revolution was so important to the development of cities. 2) Create a Google Map showing where the Agricultural Revolution took place and tag the map with a label that explains why the geography of this place was so conducive to the production of stable agriculture. 3) Write a short (two to three paragraph) newspaper article describing a future where the agricultural system has collapsed; think about all of the things in society that would break down.

3. Egypt and Greece. (appx 10 minutes) In two or three paragraphs, compare and contrast the Egyptian and Greek views of the Afterlife. For Egypt, here is a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead: and here is an excellent article on Greece that I expect you to cite:

4. Herodotus vs. Thucydides. (appx 10 minutes) Please look through the following archive of articles about 9/11: and find one article that seems to approach the topic in the style of Herodotus and one article that approaches the topic in the style of Thucydides. In a two paragraph response, explain specifically why you chose the articles you did and be specific in explaining where you see the style of Herodotus or Thucydides in them. You may discuss via chat with classmates; but no two responses should be the same. I will be coming around during this section to answer questions and help out.

5. Rome. (appx 40 minutes) Please write a five paragraph academic essay on the following: “Is it fair to say the United States is the modern day equivalent of the Roman Empire?” Here’s the catch: You must look through and find three stories happening today in the world to back up your argument. Things to think about: Republic vs. Empire, the Bad Emperors and the Good Emperors (if you use these, be VERY specific and cite specific events from the lives of the emperors as accounted in Suetonius [see:]), the “Decline and Fall” of the Roman Empire, etc. In your essay, be sure to mention at least three specific examples from Ancient Rome and three specific examples from the newspapers. Cite properly.

6. The Third Crusade. (appx 20 minutes) This is a two part question. 1) Work with a partner to create a wiki (make a public wiki at promoting Richard’s Crusade. The wiki should have the feel of a political campaign, so you should come up with slogans based on historical writings from Third Crusade and you should include visual material such as historically accurate flags, images, etc. Make sure the wiki is public and then put a link to it on your blog. 2) Then each of you will individually write a two-paragraph op-ed ( from the point-of-view of the Saladin about why the Crusades are unjustified and your vision of how the Jerusalem problem should be handled.

7. The Black Death. (appx 10 minutes) Three part question. Major source -- The Decameron: 1) Explain how the Black Death started and what its spread meant for the people of Europe. 2) Imagine you are a Medieval physician. Describe exactly what the Black Death looks like, what it does to a victim, and what techniques you attempt as a physician to either stop it or relieve the sufferer from his or her pain. 3) In a paragraph or two, explain how you think people in contemporary America and people you know would respond if a plague on the scale of the Black Death were to occur.

8. Romanesque vs. Gothic (appx 5 minutes) Collect three images of Romanesque cathedrals and three images of Gothic cathedrals from Wikimedia Commons and, in a paragraph or two, explain how the architecture of each represent the differing theologies of the eras.

9. Renaissance. (appx 10 minutes) Who do you think best represents the ideal of the “Renaissance Man”: Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, or Shakespeare? In a two to three paragraph response, you will need to define what a “Renaissance Man” is and you will need to find at least three works of art or direct quotes from letters, poems, plays, etc. to support your claims.

10. Bringing it all Together (appx 5 minutes) Free response: Do you feel like you learned something this semester?


  1. What a great example of integrating technology seamlessly and in an authentic manner! Congrats!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! I've already shared it with my grade level team as we push each other to be better and better teachers.

    My question:
    How do you effectively give feedback to all these components to all your students? I teach 90+ fifth graders every day and simply grading one project takes a period of at least three days, much less giving feedback that will improve their work.

  3. This is really great. I have shared with my department, and it is already on the agenda to discuss for next year. Can you post something about the results you get, and any pitfalls or concerns? Thanks!

  4. Thank you for sharing your classroom with us year after year. I remember your exam last year, I was hesitant to try it with my 8th graders, but plan on incorporating it, on a smaller scale, as assessment next year!

  5. I love this - thanks for giving me a concrete example of how to make my assessments work (self-evident learning!) in a paperless environment this year. Great stuff here!

  6. Are those times for real? Most of the tasks look to me like a competent job would take 10 to 50 times as long as your estimates.

  7. What a cool exam. I love the whole idea and nature of it. Now have to think how to incorporate some of these ideas of work into math. )

  8. Is this a joke? Unless you have thoroughly covered these resources in class and these were essential questions that framed the course, I am at a loss as to how students are supposed to peruse the Book of the Dead and an article on how the Greeks handled death and write a 2-3 paragraph compare and contrast essay in 10 minutes and another where they are to peruse an archive of articles, read them, decide which ones emulate the styles of two historians and analyze how each article does so in 10 minutes. Have you merged speed reading with speed writing, speed discussing and speed thinking? Could you please clarify the context - were these resources and questions new or not and could you please post examples of exemplary work that was done in 10 minutes? Thanks.

  9. @gas station,

    Yes these are the real times and yes... Timing things out is not my forte. But I help the kids strategize how to work at a good clip throughout the year. And some of these things are obviously out of context for anyone not in the class... For example every one of my students completed question 8 in a few minutes because it was a relatively recent topic we had spent a lot of time on. Whereas question 5 had them sweating despite the fact that we practice strategies for knocking out a good college-style thesis essay in 30 minutes.

    Time is difficult to translate. But, yes I tend -- for better or worse -- to push them to work fast. If I see problems develop, I re-do the times or drop or change a question on the fly. And of course, for any student who wants it, I offer extended time formats. We actually discuss all of this as they are working on the exam. For example, in my Latin exam today the students convinced me very fairly that one of my questions was 'un-doable'; I liked their argument and so I tossed out the question to give them more time to work on a question they were more interested in taking on. I think it is important to be flexible, especially during summative assessments... And yes, I know that seems perhaps counter-intuitive.

  10. @anon

    Of course these questions were based on essential questions from the course... That's sort of the point of asking them on a summative assessment, no?

    In the first example, yes we spent a fair chunk of time talking about the Book of the Dead and papyrus sources; the Article on the Greek afterlife was new to them, but the material was consistent with class discussions. As for the historian comparison, they worked together on that one -- all having previous knowledge of the historians themselves and the stylistic differences between them -- and were able rather quickly to discern which articles fit into which style.

    Again, as I mentioned in the previous comment, time is a relative thing to anyone who hasn't been in the class for the whole semester. But the ongoing discussions we've had throughout are designed to make the kids knowledgable in these areas to the point where they can get a slightly abstruse question and manage it into something workable in short order... In fact, that is sort of a goal of ours.

  11. I certainly don't think this is a joke, but I would love to see some samples of student work from this exam.

  12. What a comprehensive exam that was! Although I am equally curious about the time frames set for each part of the test (and like the previous commenter, I, too, am interested to see samples of student work), I am completely impressed by how technology was utilized here to collaborate and to encourage independent learning among your students.

    I would love to do something similar for my class. It's a great way to show students the vast resources that the internet offers, beyond Google, Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers.


  13. I am a student that is working on my Teaching Certificate and we talk all the time about incorporating technology into the classroom. I have been hesitant to believe that so much of what we do can be done electronically, so it is nice to see how technology is being used in your classroom. Our professors talk about blogging and using twitter with our students, so by seeing your example of going paperless I can see how it might look/work. Now days students are using technology for everything so why not try to incorporate it into the classroom. I think it might help to get them more engaged in the learning! Thanks for sharing this example!

  14. I love it. I want this for my English 11 class. They are in for a seriously cool exam this year.


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