kitchen table math, the sequel: update update update

Friday, October 28, 2011

update update update

Quick note: C., who has left his calculus course for statistics (thank you all for the advice), just told us the calculus teacher is giving his students an essay test. Just to review: this is a calculus class populated by kids who learned next to no precalculus last year. They're in calculus, they don't know any precalculus, and...they're taking an essay test.

Ed said, "You should have stayed in the class. You could have raised your grade."

That was a joke. We both know it's not true. If C. had stayed in the class, he would have done worse on the essay test than he did on the math test, I'll wager.

Must get Allison's Comment about charismatic teachers pulled up front.

C. loves statistics. Loves! First math class he's ever felt that way about.


Catherine Johnson said...

very, very, very glad not to be dealing with IT.

Catherine Johnson said...

a phenomenon I've teachers in high schools where all the kids are headed to college and grades "count"

way too much power

the parents are cringing before them

SteveH said...

My son just had a group test (4 per group) in English. The weight of the test was 1.75. This was a test and not a project, and the teacher selected the groups at the time of the test. The guidance department exhorts the students to work hard because their GPAs matter.

Has anyone else seen group tests? I'm wondering whether it's an issue to pursue.

"the parents are cringing before them"

I don't cringe. I get angry and then calculate whether anything I can do will help or hurt. Group tests are wrong, but fighting it may make things worse if they don't have an official policy against it.

GoogleMaster said...

Group test? As in an exam, the work for which is likely done by one person in the group, but the grade for which is given to all in the group?

That's awful!

GoogleMaster said...

As an aside, "collaboration" is a big deal in the tech industry right now. Translates into "let's throw all of the (mostly introverted) programmers into a big room together and watch how much more productive they are!"

I've noticed that there are a huge number of programmers who ought to be able to investigate problems (debug, read code, RTFM, whatever) for themselves, but prefer to ask someone else for the answer because it's faster.

I've taken to answering things like "what did the stack trace show you?" and "what did you find on the wiki?" and "what did you find when you googled the error message?" instead of giving them the fish.

Glen said...

My niece was complaining a couple of years ago about group projects and group tests in high school. She was a straight-A student, and the school policy was to organize the groups on the basis of "diversity." Group grades combined with diverse groups were--I believe--a strategy for closing the achievement gap.

As a practical matter, the kid in each group who was most desperate to maintain her GPA for upcoming college admissions would be coerced into doing all the work for the rest, thereby raising their GPAs, too, making her own GPA less far ahead. Not doing the work would have lowered her own GPA, also making her less far ahead. Either way, another victory for achievement-gap-based education.

I don't know how the group test logistics worked, though. I think it was simply that she answered the questions and her group mates copied them, which was meant to be a learning experience for all of them.

Catherine Johnson said...

My son just had a group test (4 per group) in English.

That is appalling!


High schools get away with murder. I've come to think high schools are the worst of the lot.

ChrisA said...

I wish I was surprised by an essay test in calculus.

Bonnie said...

My son has started to get in-class group assignments in science. I told him that back in my day, when faced with those, we would simply divide up the questions, and each person would do one part. He went back and suggested that to his group, and said it worked well. As a strategy, though, it only works if you have no slackers in your group.

I give a big group project assignment in my software engineering course. We pretty much have to, because working on a project team is the point of the course. This is what companies want. We just met with our industry advisory board last week, and they told us over and over that what they wanted was more group work, and more emphasis on communication. When I go to the CS education conferences, we hear the same thing from industry people there - more group work, please. So like it or not, we need to do it.

Bonnie said...

On the essay test in calculus - my son who is in 6th grade has gotten the infamous "feelings" assignment in his math class. I was warned about it so I wasn't surprised. He has to picture himself working on math problems and write a paragraph describing his feelings. We had a good laugh over it. He says he wants to write that his feelings are "why don't we have to do this same assignment in gym class?". That may be too snarky for the teacher, though.

Michael Weiss said...

Before critiquing the essay test in calculus, it might be useful to see what the questions were. I have seen, for example, questions with the following format:

"The graph below shows a bicyclist's position as a function of time over a 1 hour period. [graph inserted here] Write a description, in complete sentences, of what the bicyclist is doing."

Questions like this can be extremely useful for identfying students who may know how to (for example) calculate a derivative but don't understand what that information means. Interpreting a mathematical model is an essential mathematical skill, and dismissing questions like this as "essay questions" and therefore irrelevant reveals (in my opinion) shallow thinking about what mathematical reasoning is.

On the other hand, an essay question like "How do you feel about calculus?" is just silly.

So as always, the devil is in the details. What was the essay prompt, and what criteria were used to score responses?

Catherine Johnson said...

I wish I was surprised by an essay test in calculus.

I'm laughing!

After all this time, I was actually surprised. Did I ever tell you guys my line: I'm amazed at my capacity to still be amazed. That pretty much sums up my life. I'm constantly amazed to discover that people are doing the knuckleheaded stuff THEY ALWAYS DO.

Now I'm trying to think whether I'm amazed when I do the knuckleheaded stuff I always do...

Catherine Johnson said...

He has to picture himself working on math problems and write a paragraph describing his feelings.

The time kids spend on these questions is time they never, ever get back.

Gone forever.

(That's not to say you shouldn't have a laugh about it ---- But after awhile here in our public school I felt as if the school was scooping up heaping armloads of my kid's childhood and throwing it in the trash, which is exactly what they were doing.)

Completely off topic: I've just discovered that, according to traditional grammar, you're not supposed to use the word "which" to refer to an idea or an action.

I reject that rule!

Catherine Johnson said...

What was the essay prompt, and what criteria were used to score responses?

I'll find out what the question is if I can, but I doubt anyone will ever see any of the criteria for grading. Teachers at the school don't have to give reasons for grading the way they grade, same as in our public school district.

Catherine Johnson said...

wait a minute

now I'm wondering whether the grammatical 'rule' I just advocated violating is actually a rule


is "which" a relative pronoun in that sentence?

not sure

Bonnie said...

I agree with what Michael Weiss said in his post above. At times, it is useful to ask students to explain what the math means. On the other hand, the "feelings" essay is ridiculous,as was the assignments my kid got in first grade, where he had to draw a picture each day illustrating the math fact of the day (1 +1 on one day, 1 +2 the next, 1 + 3 the next, and I think you can get the picture). That was very disheartening to my kid, who could multiply at that point.
In middle school, the real time waster is the study hall period each day. It was a waste of time in my day, and it still is a waste of time. When school days are already too short, why waste an entire period like that?

lgm said...

Middle school study hall must be a local variation in scheduling. Here,the only way a m.s. student gets study hall is by declining both band or chorus. The majority of students have to give up the study hall or band/chorus in order to attend core subject remediation. One year, my kid had to take an office runner job as the m.s. team he was on had only 2 students with a free period ...there was no other adult free to supervise. He didn't take chorus and the other kid did wan't band.

I went to a Gr. 1-8, so I didn't experience 'study hall' until high school.

Bonnie said...

In our middle school every kid gets study hall unless they do remediation, in which case they use that period (I think). I am pretty horrified by it. Unlike most people on this board, I am fairly happy with the curriculum in the middle school so far. But I am seriously not happy about the study hall. It is just wasting my kid's time. He never has enough homework to do to fill it (it is in the morning before he gets his assignments), so he brings work from his Saturday Chinese school or reads books from the library.

SteveH said...

The test was supposed to be a take-home, but the teacher decided to change it into a group test during that class. He divided the class into groups of 4 based on descending grades on some assignment. There were 4 parts, one of which was an essay. There was only 30 minutes left in class. My son took the essay because nobody else wanted anything to do with it.

Of course, the test couldn't be done in 30 minutes even without collaboration, so the teacher allowed them to finish the test and turn it in before the end of the day. It didn't seem to matter that our high school has no study halls. It didn't seem to matter that the kids couldn't collaborate anymore.

My son finished his part during his 20 minute advisory and had to run to get it to the teacher between classes. The teacher wanted to know where the rest of the test was. My son asked him how he was supposed to track down the other kids. It was not as if this was a preselected group where they could plan.

When the tests were returned, the teacher seemed to be fascinated by how the results turned out, as if they were a bunch of guinea pigs. He also criticized them for not turning in the test parts together. Instead of getting a 93 on his part of the test, my son got an 86 group grade. This was a top group.

This is a teacher who seems to be proud of the fact that his grading is about 10 points lower than the other teachers. This is a teacher who is on the high school grading committee. However, the official district grading policy specifically talks about how they give time during the day for teachers to collaborate on grades so that this 10-point spread is avoided. The policy does not specifically address group grades, but a grading specialist they brought in last year told them that any sort of group grading is just not fair. One of the goals of grading is to be "Meaningful to all who use them, especially students."

This is a teacher who knows how to play the game. He records all classes and student "interviews". I'm sure he knows exactly what he can get away with. It's common knowledge that this is what he does. Top students are thrilled to somehow manage to bring their grades up to a 90 by the end of the year. The teacher thinks he is doing these honor students a favor by giving them a dose of the real world. In the real world, however, you can quit and find another job.

There seems to be a feeling that high school kids are lazy procrastinators who expect to get A's on everything. While there is some truth to this, there are many kids who bust their asses. It's interesting how this isn't reflected in the grades. It seems that some teachers like to use low grades as motivation, not as a reflection on the quality of work. But if you play the teacher's game, you will be rewarded in the end. A little.

Catherine Johnson said...

This is a teacher who seems to be proud of the fact that his grading is about 10 points lower than the other teachers.

We need precision teaching.


Catherine Johnson said...

btw, speaking of essays in math class, the public high schools around here seem to be keen on the possibility of replacing AP with IB.

IB math requires essays. I talked to a kid who went to Rensselaer (sp?) after taking the IB program in his high school. He hated IB math; he hated writing the math paper (which he called a joke); and he was way behind the other students at Rensselaer when he got there.

Offhand, I don't see any justification for writing a final paper (which is what I think it was) complete with an introduction and a conclusion in math class.

Catherine Johnson said...

Some of the kids in developmental math at my college are writing papers for math class.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've been bugging C. to find out what the calculus essay is on, but no luck so far.