Defined: “Authentic Applications”, A Reflective Assessment Strategy

Ellis & Denton (2010, p. 47) maintain that “when ideas are not applied they seem to start nowhere and go nowhere.”  This reflective strategy is powerful in its ability to ground the theoretical in the practical, to bring the lofty down to the pedestrian, to get the latex out of the laboratory to where the rubber meets the road.  In the words of the authors

The purpose of the Authentic Applications strategy is to challenge you and your students to become involved in ways that transform the curriculum from one of potential energy to one of applied, functioning energy.  And the key to doing this is to find as many outlets for student work as possible.  (Ellis & Denton, 2010, p. 48)

The procedure is simple, and involves getting student work out into the public square, where it on display for critique, engagement, explanation.  For the mathematics or science curriculum, Ellis & Denton (2010) cite Gainsburg (2006) that modeling or the application of principles to daily problem-solving “was found to be central to and ubiquitous in the engineers’ work, giving rise to some of their greatest intellectual challenges.”  Facilitating the contact between students and real practitioners of the arts that they are learning is key to this strategy.

Outcomes for this strategy are profound throughout the exercise.  Again Ellis & Denton (2010, p. 49)

Knowing that your work will be displayed in some way changes the stage of preparation…. This foreknowledge enables the learner to … focus the work.  The stage in which the event takes place (e.g., science fair, athletic contents, play, concert) offers further opportunity for reflection, judgment, review, and analysis.  And when the performance is over, this final stage represents a time to reflect, to think about meaning, truthfulness, beauty, and effort, and to take the measure of what went right or wrong toward improvement in the future.

Finally this strategy holds much promise for both engaging the student with the content, and engaging the student in the processes that are involved in real world application of that content.


Ellis A.K., & Denton, D.W. (2010) Teaching, learning, and assessment together:  Reflective assessments for middle and high school mathematics and science.  Larchmont, NY:  Eye on Education.  Amazon. Google Books.

Gainsburg, J. (2006). The mathematical modeling of structural engineers.  Mathematical Thinking & Learning. 8(1). 3-36. PDF

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