George Lucas Educational Foundation

School Of The Future

Grades 6-8 | New York City, NY

Keeping It Relevant and "Authentic"

Mistakes become learning opportunities in Ben Mook's seventh grade algebra class. He assesses his students by challenging them to solve real-life problems, emphasizing their thought processes over getting the right answers.
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Keeping It Relevant and "Authentic" (Transcript)

Benjamin Mook: I would prefer you to not take the calculator outta the room, thinking, "I need to use my calculator," and then leave it on the stairs and then I cry, when I'm like, "Where's the calculator?"

Grace Minnell: Ben is my math teacher. He immediately made the impression on me that he was funny and that he was eager to teach kids and that he really liked his job. He wants you to really reach and get better at math.

Benjamin Mook: My name is Benjamin Mook. I'm a math teacher at School of the Future. I teach the seventh and eighth grade math cycle. If you think about to de-- What I'd say is an authentic assessment would be something that a teacher could design to hit the skills and the needs of their population. Some of these things that I'm assessing are not necessarily that kids can get to a right answer, but that kids, once they have that right answer, can understand, "I got to this right answer because I followed steps." I'll just pose questions and try to figure out what common mistakes are. And when I can get a whole mess of like ten or fifteen mistakes, that it doesn't even matter who made them. Like I could have a kid that's an A student that has like an error in logic on how to do a certain type of problem, and then I can use that and pose that as a question to students later. So I'll take a mistake that they'll make and then, one or two days later, I'll throw it back into the class. So what I want you to do is this: based on the information on this sheet-- there you go. One of my more favorite types of assessment is to actually give them incorrect work or incorrect answers and have them break down the error in thought process, of, "How could a student who's not as well educated as you--?" or start out like that. Like, "You would never make this mistake, but somebody did, and how would this mistake happen and how could you, as a classmate or a tutor, remediate this mistake?"

Today they were applying the slope formula to a set of stairs and seeing if they were in compliance with New York City building codes.

Okay, this is the math. This is how the math connects to the real life, and that was my goal.

Grace Minnell: I really like that we get to use our hands in class and that we really get to experience this in a real life situation, and that it's not just, "Here's the formula." It's like, "Here's why the formula works and, you know, here's something to prove it, or here's how you could think about it."

Benjamin Mook: Things that I'm doing now I've designed so that during a class period, the student is working and I am able to walk around and kind of coach them through what they are doing. And so I can look and anticipate the problems they're having, so in the classroom, I'm spending a lot less energy. Like I end the school day now not tired.

Stacy Goldstein: When we talk about authentic assessment, obviously things can only be as authentic within the four walls of a school. So we want the tasks that they do to challenge them to synthesize things and to approach problems in the way that a scientist does or historian does or a reader does or a writer does, and to make those tasks and those challenges as authentic as possible.

Benjamin Mook: And five minutes from now, we get back to each other.

Grace Minnell: I think not only Ben but the rest of the teachers at SOF and at the school, they really do want you to think about it and their main goal is not to get you to the right answer, but to show how you got there, and show that you really put effort into what you were thinking.

Benjamin Mook: The thing that I find most important is that I'm not assessing my kids to be able to give them an A, B, C or D. Like that's not gonna help my kids. I would say that the best use of assessment is to figure out where they're at and how I can get them to where I want them to be.

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This installment of Schools That Work was produced in collaboration with The Digital Learning Group.

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Linda Fielder's picture
Linda Fielder
alternative school math (& science) teacher from Texas

How might authenic assessment work for character education classes? Any student examples are confidential.

Andy S's picture


Two thoughts in response to your question;

1. What do students authentically care about - in terms of that subject? What do you as the teacher authentically care about - in terms of that subject? If you can find overlap, you've got a domain of authentic shared interest (not necessarily shared perspectives!).

A. Now you could figure out how to accurately and informatively assess where the students are at in terms of the ideas, skills, attitudes, information you want them to have by the end of the course.
B. And then you can teach to where they're actually at (probably differentiated, since they'll be at different "places") and move them in the direction of your shared best hopes for them.
C. Along the way you can assess them again and use that to adjust your instruction to more effectively help them reach your shared goals. As Ben says in the video - assessment's best use is to inform instruction.

LearnMeProject's picture

Mistakes and failures should always become learning experiences.

My son auditioned the other day for a competitive music camp. He did not make the cut, was deemed not ready, too young in years and musicality. He was initially devastated, as was Dave, the jolly, big-hearted, hard-ass, bearer-of-bad-news clarinetist. There was nothing I could do but sit quietly, heartbroken and a little angry.

Why did this man do this to my son? Why did I put my son in a position to be rejected? But, wait, isn't failing how we learn to succeed? read more:

Marshall Barnes's picture
Marshall Barnes
Founder, Director of SuperScience for High School Physics

Math is the one subject that could have been fun when I was in school, but wasn't. Some kids fear math, I just slogged through it. The best I did was pre-algebra in 9th grade which I had prepared for by reading my dad's programmed pre-calc book, which I enjoyed. As a result I did really well in pre-algebra and in my first semester of algebra the following year. Then in the second semester, the teacher, who was a stern older man, just started giving us material that I didn't get and did nothing to really explain it. By the time the semester ended the only reason I didn't tell him what he could do with my final exam paper was that I knew I would need that grade to pass the class. I did. Never took math in school again...

David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools

By the way, if you are on the fence about this, it really works. I've been using this kind of authentic experiences in my own math class for about 8 years now (more now than when I first started) and I really find it an effective way to engage kids in learning mathematics.

Ryan Spencer's picture
Ryan Spencer
6th grade math teacher in Anoka, Minnesota.

I loved this video. I have often asked students to explain their mistakes, or identify potential mistakes, but I have never actually given them incorrect examples to deconstruct. I'm excited to try it. I also have never used the actual stairs to teach slope, or rise over run, what a simple but perfect idea.

Paris EDUC642's picture
Paris EDUC642
High School Math teacher

I enjoyed watching the teacher describe what she does to ensure her students are receiving a rigorous and enjoyable lesson. My question is, as part of the process post a notes are used to give feedback to each student, how often does this process take place during a lesson?

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Hi Paris. I think you're probably referring to this video about Sarah Kaufmann's 6th grade humanities class:

Sarah does a fantastic job engaging her students. Unfortunately though, the crew that made that video is no longer available. What we do have though is a blog post by Ben Johnson that takes a deeper look at using post-it notes as a learning tool. You can check it out here:

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