When taking a test grade, we as teachers usually give/assign a traditional paper-pencil test or project. The choice on what type of test grade to take should be dictated based upon the CONTENT students are learning and the DESIRED LEARNING OUTCOME.
Both projects and tests are appropriate in our classrooms, but both are not appropriate for all units or rather all content. Tests are appropriate when we desire for students to demonstrate knowledge of very specific technical information. Projects are appropriate when we desire that students research and immerse themselves in a topic and gain a general and sometimes deeper understanding of that topic. The difference between projects and the typical test is the type or level of knowledge you wish for students to gain and demonstrate. If I want my students to demonstrate a general knowledge and understanding, I may choose a project. If I want my student to demonstrate specific technical knowledge, I choose the traditional testing method.
Lets say that I am teaching about gas laws. If my students do a project about gas laws, then I can assume (if they have done correct and good work) that they have developed a general knowledge of the gas laws and how they work. Notice that I said assume! In projects, students use notes, textbooks, internet resources, and the knowledge of their peers to develop the project. While students do learn through the project process, a project cannot demonstrate definitive personal knowledge in the mind of a high school student (be aware students - especially lower level students will often parrot information back to you in a project - which is ok - just be aware of that). If, however, I give a test on gas laws, I can determine my students ability to remember these laws and apply them in calculations without the aide of notes. I say all this not to present one as better, test or project, but to better explain the LEARNING OUTCOME each method tells us as a teacher. YOU as the expert teaching in YOUR classroom have to choose what LEARNING OUTCOME you desire and then choose the appropriate test format.
Personally, I prefer to use a traditional test with almost every chemistry unit. Projects, when I use them, usually are in addition to a test. Take a look below at some more examples on where projects and tests can be used effectively in the chemistry classroom.
When teaching Periodic Trends, it may be more beneficial for students to complete a project over the trends. Through the project, students will gain an understanding of trends or patterns. I know that in general, my students will not remember five years from now the ionization energy or electron affinity trends, but if five years from now my students remember the idea of trends and patterns on the Periodic Table that allow us to predict properties of elements - then my job as a teacher is done. I am satisfied with this level of knowledge.
When it comes to teaching electron configuration, I use a traditional test. Yes, I am sure I could develop some type of project, but at the end of the day, the learning outcome I desire is simply that my students can write an electron configuration or noble gas configuration for an element on their own without help. A traditional test will tell me if my students have this knowledge. No type of project will help in this endeavor.
Sometimes, both a project and a test are appropriate for a specific unit of content. For example, when teaching about moles, I might assign a mole project that will aid students in researching and developing a better understanding of what a mole is. However, at the end of our mole unit, I will still give a traditional test to ensure my students can complete the appropriate mole calculations. In this scenario, both a project and a test is used for the same unit.
I hope you have found some of this helpful for your classroom! Be sure to check out my future posts - "Tips on Writing Your Own Tests Part I & II" and "Project Tips"!
Happy Teaching :)
-Founder of Chemistry with Confidence