You Grotto Go to Hemlock Gorge: Illuminating Standards Video

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You Grotto Go to Hemlock Gorge: Illuminating Standards Video

Format(s): Video

Topic(s): Spark Discussion

Audience: Educators

Assessment can be a pretty scary word to students. But, does it have to be? What would assessments that excite students and truly reveal their understanding look like? At Conservatory Lab Charter School, an Expeditionary Learning school, 6th grade students embarked on a 4-month long expedition in 2012 to understand geological processes by exploring Hemlock Gorge and investigating how it came to be in its present form. The final product of the expedition was a graphic book titled, You Grotto Go to Hemlock Gorge, that turned them into artists and geologists in their effort to graphically illustrate and clearly explain the geological process they investigated at Hemlock Gorge.  

This video examines how student work illuminates—and is illuminated by—the following standard: Massachusetts Science Standard: Earth’s History: Describe and give examples of ways in which the earth’s surface is built up and torn down by natural processes, including deposition of sediments, rock formation, erosion, and weathering.



In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (Expeditionary Learning) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion is true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible.

Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project:

What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination?
How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?
How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them?



Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the student work in Models of Excellence and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and many of those films are presented here.

We invite you to watch these films, and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students. See a suggested protocol for viewing linked below, along with selected videos from the series. (The complete list of videos in the series can be found here.)

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