Monday, April 30, 2012

Session: Globalization of Assessment

On Wednesday, May 2nd, I am speaking, in Spruce Grove Alberta, on the needed change of assessment, below is the title and some information.

Globalization of Assessment

The economy has drastically changed and now the education system needs to change how it is preparing students for the world outside the walls of the classroom. Traditional assessment and instructional techniques are preparing students for the traditional world not the current one. Education cannot keep doing what it has always been doing and expect a different outcome.
Presented by David Martin

Dave has been teaching High School Mathematics for 5 years. He is currently teaching Calculus, but has taught both Junior High and High School Math. Recently, Dave was nominated for Alberta Teacher of Excellence in the field of technology innovation. At one point in time, Dave used worksheets, tests and homework to motivate students to learn math, however, currently he has outlawed all three in his classroom.

Dave is currently teaching at Notre Dame High School in Red Deer, Alberta. Dave graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a degree in both Mathematics and Education, and is currently taking his Masters of Mathematics Education through the University of Waterloo. He has spoken at events throughout Alberta, sharing his message of how he is moving away from traditional assessments and towards an approach where he instructs through his assessments and how learning is always the focus.

At the Horizon Stage in Spruce Grove

Wednesday May 2, 2012 7-8:15pm
Doors open at 6:45
No ticket required

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Math and Super Mario Brothers

Usually I would hand out a worksheet on calculating when a function is closest to a point and have students complete 10-12 questions.  This year, I took the a different approach by bringing Super Mario Brothers in my class.

Using this picture,
I informed my class about Mario Brothers; when you jump, with Yoshi, you can jump again.  I then posed the question, "When would be the best time to jump off Yoshi if you want to get to the top level?"

Using Calculus, and geogebra you can calculate the path of Yoshi and the co-ordinate of the top level to get:

From here we calculated the equation of the parabola, and a distance function based on any point (x, f(x)) on the function.  Ultimately, we calculated the closest distance Yoshi comes to the point, and when to double jump to get the coin.
Students enjoyed this more than completing the 10 questions on the worksheet.  Feel free to use and fix as you see fit.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why do teachers bargain?

Teachers are not fighting for higher pay, we are fighting for creating the conditions for best professional practice. These include:
  • Class size and composition
  • Hours of instruction and other assigned duties
  • Inclusion requirements
  • Pay
  • Benefits
  • Leaves
  • Professional Development
  • Hiring and Tenure
Our fighting is not about working less but instead we are asking for more control around our hours of work.  When teachers come to the table asking for anything, we are simply asking for the best conditions that will ensure the best quality of practice, that will ultimately allow for teachers to use their skills to the best of their ability to the children in the seats in front of them. 

The simple truth is the working conditions of the teachers is the exact same as the learning conditions of the students.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

7 Reasons why not to use Grades in School

1) Truly extinguishes intrinsic motivation.

2) Actually diminishes performance.

3) Crushes creativity

4) Overcrowds good behaviour

5) Encourages cheating and other unethical behaviour

6) Will cause addictive behaviour

7) Fosters short term thinking.

Enough said.

Friday, April 20, 2012

10 Reasons why not to Vote for Wild Rose

In Red Deer, I have heard multiple speeches from the Wild Rose and I have now compiled my TOP 10 WHY NOT TO VOTE FOR Wild Rose.
1)      Using “Danny Dollars”, they will drive the economy of Alberta back in time instead of forwards.

2)      The leader, Danielle Smith, has very little elected political experience, aside from being on the Calgary school Board in her 20s, before all of its members were fired by the education minister.

3)      In Education, they have the mentallity that to prepare students for the tests of life, they should write many many tests in schools.  This will take time away from real learning.

4)      One candidate, Ron Leech, believes, due to being Caucasian, can be speak to all of the community.

5)      In their platform, Wild Rose has a “wait time guarantee”, but this potentially will just open the door to more private health care, which the leader supports greatly,

6)       The leader, Danielle Smith, cancels interviews and is becoming increasingly inaccessible to media.

7)       Wild Rose wants K-12 standardized testing, that will ultimately put real deep learning on the list in schools.

8)      Wild Rose is supporter of Merit Pay in education, and here is the problem with that.

9)       Wild Rose wants to advance private-property rights, which is a hallmark of the Fraser institute thinking.  This would allow Smith to freeze private land for public purposes.

10)    Still not convinced; just wait a day and you will have another reason based on a blog or a comment from one of the Wild Rose Canidates.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Problems with Traditional Exams

Below is a critique of traditional exams written by Ray (@rayboudreau) a current Grade 12 student.  He offers insight on exams and diplomas from the view point of the largest stakeholders of all, the persons writing them.

Exams are “said” to represent one’s knowledge of course material, this statement is both true and false.

Exams do test what we know but misses the main idea of why the answer is so. In most of today’s classes a student can pay attention in class, do their homework and study hard and they should obtain a decent mark but does this mark really display what they know? Exams force us students to memorize what material will be on that exam and to ignore the concepts that won’t be on it. Throughout my schooling there have been countless times when I have asked a teacher “Do we need to know this for the exam? “And they have replied with “No” so my fellow classmates and I don’t worry about it.

 I have noticed that the kids who take interest in the subject want to know WHY and it’s these students that seem to obtain the most success and useful knowledge from that class.  Most courses you can memorize all the material and know what it is but not understand why it is so and how you can use it in your life. Exams limit one’s potential and quite frankly not to many students like them.

For example the dreaded diploma examinations that are worth 50% of our mark. We put in many hours into each subject in school over 6 hours a week and then 50% of our mark is based on a 3 hour exam? This time limit puts even more stress and pressure on us students, then we are told to manage our time for this exam we have never seen and aren’t sure what to expect. Personally when going in to write my math 30 diploma I was told I’d have lots of time so I took my time on each question. The pressure got to me, as I would second guess myself on each question. Before I knew it I was way behind, panicking as I knew I was in trouble.  I ended up having to guess on 7 questions as I had run out of time, me a kid who is quite familiar with managing time.

What I’m getting at is that the exam couldn’t accurately represent my knowledge as it had a set of rules with it and could only cover so many concepts.  I was successful all year understanding each concept feeling confident with my learning then ONE exam dictates half of my mark. It dropped my mark a sizable amount and I felt ripped off. This exam did not represent my knowledge but more so the mark I got after some unfortunate questions that got the best of me.

 Exams limit our potential. In the real world we will have access to technology, others input and potentially more time which can help us great amounts. We will have real life situations where the “why” will be more important because the “how” can easily and quickly be taught to us due to the fact we understand the concepts present.

Value of feedback assessments?

Contrary to exam focused classes, assessments provide us with the “why”, “how” and even gives us experience and ways to use it in our life. To create our own examples we need to know why something occurs and then how this works or occurs. When we go out and create our projects we make our own examples that relate to us and stuff we are interested in which is another aspect missed by exam focused courses.  The importance of feedback in school to me seems quite important and valuable. 

We learn from our mistakes and that’s the honest truth. We shouldn’t be punished for mistakes rather taught and encouraged how to not make them again. In exam situations we sometimes get to go over the questions and see how to do it correctly, with the diplomas and final exams no such luxury is granted. You do what you can and you get a mark, no feedback or an idea of what questions and concepts you struggled with, no learning!

“If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” -Ignacio Estrada

Thursday, April 5, 2012

100% Not always what we want

Just recently I gave a formal exam to one of my classes, and some students scored 100%.  Normally, I would not critique this mark, but what I heard from my students caused me to reflect. 

At the start of one of my classes some students were discussing their marks and I overheard one student, who achieved a 100% on the exam, say “I can’t believe I got a 100%, I had to guess on some answers. Lucky me!”

Is this the reaction we want from our students after an exam, regardless of the mark they receive? 

I believe it is more important we know WHY a student feels as they were successful or failed then the actual mark they received on an assessment.  This particular student believes it was luck that actually caused his achievement to increase not talent, ability or knowledge. 

When students inform me that they have “studied hard” for an exam, my first question is why?  I, always, try to see any action from the student’s point of view and then determine whether or not real learning is occurring and will it keep occurring.  If a student is studying hard because he/she is completely lost in the course, he/she is most likely cramming and no real learning is occurring.

I now ask, why do students spend countless hours cramming information, which is usually not into their long term memory, into their mind?

Years ago, I blamed myself for these actions.  I promoted this mind-set in my class by constantly using the words, “Performance, Results, Achievement, Failure, and Success!”  In my class I was more concerned about the answers to my problems than in the procedure to solve the problems. 

Students were leaving my class happy they got an A, while I wanted them to be excited they now understood how to think critically in a mathematical world.  The irony of it all was when my final results of my courses came in.  Paradoxically, I was ending up with results which were lower than my colleagues.  This priority of achieving high results, ultimately was my demise in both achievement and, more importantly, learning. 

Lastly, we need to be aware of the plethora of research around achievement and grades which is showing that if we put a large emphasis on these it will

1) Undermine the idea of true intrinsic motivation in the material we are teaching.

2) Causes some students to feel as success is an idea which is unachievable.

3) Will force students to “take the easy route” instead of working on a more challenging problem.

4) Reduces the quality of learning.

5) Creates an environment where students will create a self-image of themselves based on how smart they are, instead on how hard they are trying.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Supporting the new ideas of the Math Curriculum

Anna Stokke, basically ripped apart the new ideology behind the math curriculum in Alberta, and across the Country, in this article

The new math curriculum believes, among many things, that:

·         Students learn by attaching meaning to what they do, and they need to construct their own meaning of mathematics.

·         Students need to explore problem-solving situations in order to develop personal strategies and become mathematically literate. They must realize that it is acceptable to solve problems in a variety of ways and that a variety of solutions may be acceptable.

·         Curiosity about mathematics is fostered when children are engaged in, and talking about, such activities as comparing quantities, searching for patterns, sorting objects, ordering objects,  creating designs and building with blocks

Before I critique Anna’s arguments, we must realize that when someone talks about “meeting” or “raising standards”, they are usually referring to applying conventional, or traditional, instructional techniques in the classroom.  Usually this really means, “Everything we are doing is OK, we just need to be harder on students”. 

Anna Stokke, will have us believe that we have lowered standards in our math classes and we need to raise the standards back up.  Her first argument about the new math curriculum is

“… practise and memorization of number facts are no longer a priority in our schools. Children are instructed to use overly complicated "horizontal" methods to work out simple arithmetic problems. Now, simply knowing how to produce an answer to a basic multiplication question, no matter how long it takes, is considered to be a sufficient indicator of fluency.”

The reality is that being told number facts, and forced to regurgitate these facts, will not create an environment which is conducive to deeper learning.  The best way a student can understand, not just recite, mathematics is through discovering the facts on their own.  For some, this discovery process can take seconds, while for others it may take an entire class.  The role the teacher plays in this is by acting as a tour guide.  By keeping the students on the “path” towards the discovery, it will ensure that all students create their own individual, and innovative, techniques in learning mathematics.

Next, she says that 

“Kids are set up for failure if they are not required to memorize basic number facts. Without the memorized facts, they will become hung up on these simple numbers when they are trying to solve more difficult problems.”

I often ask myself, which skills do I want for my own children?  Do I want them to be taught the skills to memorize, and ultimately be able to complete algorithmic tasks, or the ability to create and design which will lead them down a road towards a career with heuristic tasks? 

The reality is that the age old saying that “Practice makes perfect”, does not apply to deep learning in mathematics.  Traditionally, students have been given worksheets which have multiplication facts on them and are given a strict time limit to complete these (named Mad Minutes), but in actuality the mark given on these “Mad” sheets really do indicate to anyone as to knowledge of the student writing them. 

The weak students truly suffer the most from this model of proficiency-driven, because they find these tasks dull, repetitive, and entirely unusable in the world outside the walls of the classroom.  I would agree that sometimes, knowing facts as the days of the week are important, but these facts should be a by-product of use and application not out of necessity. 

Another fact is, by spending time forcing these facts to be memorized is truly interfering with a child’s innovative and creative ability.  Most of these worksheets require low level thinking and usually can lock the thought process of a student into understanding simple algorithms.  Eleanor Duckworth summed it up the best,

“Knowing the right answer requires no decisions, carries no risk, and makes no demands.  It is automatic.  It is thoughtless.” 

Is this the environment in which math students should be learning?

Last she makes the statement,

“…children need to practise arithmetic skills, without calculators, do an adequate amount of pencil-and-paper math, and memorize times tables in order to become proficient in math.  Children need to be given time to do a reasonable amount of math daily at school and this needs to be a priority.”

This closely sounds like a case for homework at younger levels and there is not one shred of evidence that supports the idea of homework in elementary grades.  Assuming this is not her argument, I will critique her argument for repetitive daily work in school. 

When we teach math as “routine skills” students may get the correct answer, at an efficient rate, but they will most likely be clueless about the significance of their of their answer.  The National Research Council calls it “Mindless mimicry mathematics” and can no longer be the norm in our classrooms.  Another math educator, William Brownell, over 70 years ago explained “one needs a fund of meanings, not a myriad of ‘automatic responses..’ Drill does not develop meanings.  Repetition does not lead to understanding. 

There are many studies that support this view of thinking.  If we look at an environment where students are not learning effectively, it is usually due to an overwhelming desire to maintain traditional beliefs and practices.  Once again classrooms need to be aware that

It is important to realize that it is acceptable to solve problems in different ways and that solutions may vary depending upon how the problem is understood.

Monday, April 2, 2012

An example of corruption around test scores

Some say corruption does not exist around test scores, below is an example from that clearly shows it does.

Teachers are bribing pupils with pizza nights and fiddling test results to help their schools secure exam success, a survey has found.

Almost 40 per cent admitted the ‘overwhelming pressure’ to ensure that pupils achieve good grades ‘could compromise their professionalism’.

The poll, by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, reveals the lengths that schools are prepared to go to in order to climb league tables.

A quarter of respondents said they gave pupils ‘rewards and incentives’ to work harder. One teacher cited organising ‘pizza nights’.

In addition, 28 per cent said they felt obliged to attend controversial exam board seminars.

The admission follows an undercover newspaper investigation that found some teachers paid up to £230 a day to attend seminars with chief examiners, during which they were advised on exam questions and even the wording pupils should use to get higher marks.

One state secondary school teacher told ATL: ‘I know of an exam meeting where it was strongly hinted which topics would come up in the exam. I was glad my school was there but I felt sorry for those that were not.’

Another said: ‘We don’t go to many exam seminars because we can’t afford it. We probably lose out to those who can.’

The union surveyed 512 teachers, lecturers and headteachers working in state-funded and independent primary and secondary schools, academies and colleges in England ahead of its annual conference, which begins in Manchester today.

Some admitted fiddling exam scores. A primary school teacher said: ‘I have been forced to manipulate results so that levels of progress stay up.’

A secondary school teacher added: ‘The school I work at definitely pushes the boundaries of exam integrity. Maintaining their “gold-plated” status takes precedence over developing the abilities of the pupils.

‘Controlled assessments and aspects of coursework are problem areas for cheating, with senior leadership driving the agenda.’

A grammar school teacher said: ‘In some cases I end up virtually re-writing my students’ homework to match the marking criteria, rather than teach them my subject, French. I do this because there is simply not time to do both.’

Eighty-eight per cent of those polled said the pressure to get pupils through exams prevented the teaching of a broad and balanced curriculum, while 73 per cent claimed it had a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching. Seventy-one per cent said it affected the standard of learning.

In addition, one teacher warned that pupils are ‘close to breakdown’ with the demands being put on them during out-of-school hours and the Easter holidays.

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL’s general secretary, said: ‘With the Government’s persistent focus on tests, exam results and league tables, many teachers and lecturers also feel under enormous pressure – often to the detriment of high-quality teaching, learning and development of pupils.

‘School league tables, school banding and Ofsted inspections undermine the curriculum and do nothing to support pupils and their hard-working teachers, lecturers and leaders.’