“Won’t Grading be Boring?”

When I was first musing about becoming an educator, people would often ask me “Won’t it be boring grading the same thing over and over?”

I didn’t have a good answer. But now I do.
“Sure, if you’re uncreative enough to design boring assignments – then it will be boring to grade.”

I really prefer creating assignments that allow students to create something of their own. It’s very boring to read my own ideas, just in someone else’s words. I’d rather to read students own ideas and their own interests.

On the most recent Biology 1108 lab exam I gave, I created a take home portion that asked students to research an organism that we studied in lab, and find a case within the past five years where the organism of choice was  used to advance medicine, technology, or another field that they were interested in. Because the students eventually design their own experiment, I had the students give background on the organism, summarize the methods and results from the paper, and explain the importance of the paper in relation to their interests and the particular field. I give a similar test question in the Entomology for Teachers class too.

Here are just a few of the fun topics I’ve gotten:
Ants to Discover Earthquakes
Maggots to Treat Wounds
Invasive Plants Change Soil Chemistry to Benefit Them
XBox Kinect to Control Cockroaches
Fungus to Treat Depression
Medicinal Plant May Block Attachment of HIV Virus Particles to Target Cells
Algae as Biofuel
Studying Axolotls (a salamander) for Stem Cell Research
*While I do require the students to use scientific articles, I’m linking the more “reader friendly” and not locked behind paywall sources here.

Do People Like It?
I think so. I’ve had a lot of informal positive feedback.
On one of the optional field trips we had  for my “Ento for Teachers” class, students had an impromptu coversation about the cool things they found in their researched for their topic. Also, in that class, I  had two college professors who took the course. They told me that they thought the assignment would be easy, and were surprised how long it took them. One of them even asked if they could use the assignment in their classroom!

As for “official” written commentary, I just received this from one of my current students.

Please see the take home test that is attached! This was a really interesting assignment and I am really glad we did this! Nature is crazy. Thanks & hope you had a great weekend!

While these kinds of things tend to be harder to grade, I think the assignment is more fulfilling for me as the instructor and for the students. Plus, it builds up my arsenal of “Cool Facts” to use in later classes.

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