Tag Archives: AuthenticApplications

Week9 Reflection: Authentic Applications

While reading about Authentic Applications, a reflective assessment strategy, I was reminded of a science fair in which I participated as a grade school student.  The topic of my report was Solar Eclipses, and the event made such an impact on me at the time that I can remember clearly many minute details around the science fair and other exhibits that were there besides my own.  My own exhibit was comprised of a bright light, a globe, and a small foam ball mounted on a bent coat hanger.  I can remember the written report which I had made as well detailing all the notable total eclipses prior to that date.  In particular,  the 1974 total eclipse for Madagascar stands out in my mind (see table below).


Thus, I believe I am proof that this assessment strategy, in my case a science fair, caused serious learnings and impressions that lasted far beyond the event.

Now to bring this assessment strategy forward and apply it to some of our readings this week, I can’t imagine a more powerful way to teach landmark Supreme Court cases then to re-enact them, in public, in a moot court style.  Students could be selected to portray the sides of the case as well as the justices.  They could be asked to review oral arguments for the case and to present or read them (in an interpretive/dramatic fashion if appropriate).

For instance, this week we were asked to read a couple of historic Supreme Court decisions:

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

One could imagine that a systematic analysis of the Decision and Dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) would be catalyst to a whole host of interesting conversations.  Not the least of which would be germane to current understanding of race relations in this country.  In choosing which parts of the decision to read or set forward in a public portrayal of the trial, a discussion of the merits of the argument would naturally come forth, and a lesson on how to read/write legal decisions would be in order.  This would have immense educational value.  Consider this from Justice Harlan in Dissent (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896)

The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a State to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.

What student would not find their hearts stirred upon reading this document, if not to read it publicly and with a fuller understanding and emotion?

Now consider Brown v. Board (1954), reading the court’s opinion written by Chief Justice Warren, where he comments on the extension of Plessy v. Ferguson which involved railroad conveyance to Brown v. Board which handled education thus:

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

Suddenly I could imagine the students in a classroom would realize that their very education is a right and a duty upon which the whole of free society rests.  Equality in that venture is of utmost importance.


Plessy v. Ferguson.  163 U.S. 537. (1896).  CornellLaw

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.  347 U.S. 483 (1954). CornellLaw

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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