kitchen table math, the sequel: here we go again

Thursday, March 29, 2007

here we go again

I have no problem with discussion questions. Our students' projects culminate in a report and presentation, after they have downloaded around 15,000 rows of data, run 26 different analyses (which must be done in a specific order, since some analyses provide the input or variables for other analyses), and decided on recommendations based on those analyses. They must include a section in the report critiquing their analyses and discussing the strengths and weaknesses, which lets us see how well the UNDERSTAND what they are doing and WHY, and not just whether they can do it or not.

But discussion questions come in the whole quality spectrum, and some are just plain idiotic. Consider this one:

In a couple of paragraphs, explain how you would estimate the square root of 170.


The square root of 169 is 13, so the square root of 170 is slightly larger than 13. I guess. A couple of paragraphs? Of what? What is she looking for, and what is the purpose of this question?

This one is a little better, but not much:

The base of a right triangle is 3 meters long, and the height is 4 meters. In a couple of paragraphs, explain how you know the third side is 5 meters long.


At least with this one we know what she's after. But why give them the answer, and why use the classic 3-4-5? If she really wants to know if they understand how to apply the Pythagorean Theorem, why not just give them a triangle problem? What does this tell her about what they know the triangle problem wouldn't?

Is this woman just out of ed school, or what?

10 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

This is head-bangingly bad.

Catherine Johnson said...

a couple of paragraphs

what these questions teach is the art of b*s

C. told me the other day that his math quiz had the question, "What is point symmetry?"

He didn't know, so he wrote, "Point symmetry is the symmetry of points and vertices" (something like that).

He got partial credit.

Catherine Johnson said...

He has a friend who, when he can't finish a math test, writes down random numbers, like 8+5=13.

The kid always gets partial credit.

rightwingprof said...

"He has a friend who, when he can't finish a math test, writes down random numbers, like 8+5=13.

The kid always gets partial credit."

Groan.

SusanS said...

That looks a lot like the state tests in IL. The teacher then spends a week teaching the kids how to write those two paragraphs since just answering with one sentence is not what they're looking for.

They also practice drawing elaborate charts showing how to solve simple problems that they know how to do in their heads already.

That's why the state tests make them nutty. It isn't the few days taking them. It's the preparation that takes a few weeks since they have to make sure that kids doing math can write essays on what they did to solve a problem.

Show your work just ain't what it used to be.

SusanS said...

Yes, if they just repeat back with any old answer they can get more credit than the kid who puts the right answer down with no explanation. (Something my kid does a lot.)

Barry Garelick said...

In Maryland, on one of the tests that had "constructed response" type questions, some problems required "guess and check" as a technique. If a student provided the correct answer, without showing at least 2 other guesses, the student would lose points.

Anonymous said...

Who makes up these tests?

What are their qualifications?

SusanS said...

We've been asking that since we started meeting like this a year or so ago.

I'd love to know. And then I'd love to know what their connections are to the new curriculums that are written specifically for passing their tests.

Catherine Johnson said...

The teacher then spends a week teaching the kids how to write those two paragraphs

it never ends

that was the one problem with C's test prep book; it had huge numbers of "explain how you did it" practice problems

i was pretty sure the state test wasn't going to have lots of those, but i was torn about whether i ought to commit some time to going over the suggested responses just in case

i finally bagged it

i'd like him to get a 4, because it's obvious my school bases decisions & perceptions on these things

but ultimately i don't have time to spend on anything not central to math

we just talked about some ways to b*s the answer -- which he had already figured out for himself

as it turned out, there weren't many such items on the exam

also, our exam says that you can explain "in words, pictures, or numbers" -- something like that

they seem to allow the student just to describe the sequence of what he did to get the answer

"I divided; then I added" -- that seems to be sufficient