My students are really new to the rigor of having to thoroughly explain their understanding and I wanted them to be prepared to do it well.
I had them refer back to their original mind map from earlier in the unit. I asked them to take time to add to that mind map all of the things they had learned about how fossils form and how the rock layers tell us what period of time these plants or animals existed. A perfect type of exam that addresses the level of rigor that NGSS is about, needs to include choices of drawings and sketches that relate to their study as well a place to communicate this knowledge. I thought it was wise early in this unit to start them on a road of preparation for their final exam that I knew would be rigorous for them.
Students took about 15 minutes to refer back to their notebook, their museum experience and photos. I let them look at their past work and compile anything else in their mind map that would lead them to conclude how a fossil formed.
After I roved the class and could get a clear idea that most were ready to start their assessment, I told them that they needed to read over their mind map once more. The Simple Mind app on the iPad is so great because they can enlarge or focus in on one area for reference.
I passed out Fossil Assessment Page 1 and Page 2 that was copied back to back, telling them that they could choose from three different fossils I had put out on the back counter to photograph. I allowed each table group to go photograph the fossil of their choice and then they were welcome to begin their test. I also told them that they could start on either page. I assured them again it was alright to use their mind maps on their iPads.
As I roved the classroom, students were very engaged. Some chose the ferns fossil while others used the fish. They were excited about taking this exam and the choice of fossils made it even more engaging. They didn't balk at writing and I could see the words flowing easily on their papers. Even my below grade level achieving students were writing easily!
Before they could turn in their exam, they were to read it aloud with whispers or through one of my little pipe phones. This little PVC "phone" tool really helps students hear themselves and helps them catch their mistakes. After they edited their work, they were able to turn in the exam.