Spring Is In The Air – The Sweet Smell of Testing….

Don’t you just love spring? The flowers blooming, trees bursting with new leaves, bees buzzing around, IMG_2650and the weather turning warmer.  Walking around town this morning looking at all the beautiful trees and flowers certainly reminded me how much I love the spring.  Then, as I walked past the local high school, I was reminded of what spring means to most students, (students who were probably staring out at the beautiful weather right that moment.).  Testing.  Spring doesn’t smell so sweet to them, I imagine.

I remember when I was teaching back in Virginia, where we test-prep-posterhad the Standards of Learning End-of-Course tests every April/May (the S.O.L.’s….appropriate acronym!)  (They still have these of course).  What I remember is how the whole month of April leading up to the tests was focused on test prep — review, review, practice test, practice test, pep rally to pump kids up, more review, etc.  By the time the actual tests rolled around, students were so tired of “practicing” that they probably didn’t even care about the tests. Then, those that had to take the AP tests as well still had those to look forward to.  As a teacher, I HATED this time of the year as much as the kids because it felt like learning was forced to stop so kids could “get ready for the test’.  I would much rather have kept on with teaching new and exciting things – applying the math by making bridges out of toothpicks or tetrahedron kites, using technology, etc.  I knew my students were ready because they’d been learning and applying all along – they didn’t need all this down-time for test prep. But ‘preparing for the test’ was a district/school/department mandate. I had no choice. The computer labs were taken over for testing, so no more Sketchpad. The days on the calendar had required test prep mandates and there were weekly department meetings to look at the practice test data and pick the review  materials for continued preparation.  The whole school was focused on getting kids excited about taking a test.  Students hated it.  Teachers hated it.  And we all forgot that it was spring. We were all too stressed about passing the test so that the school met AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress from No Child Left Behind) and we stressed about getting at least 70% of our students to pass the test and students to get at least 70% ON the tests, so we would get good evaluations (teachers) or graduate (students).  Spring was a time of anxiety, not beauty.

Hopefully, if not this year, by next year, all this will change. With the passage of the Every Student imagesSucceeds Act (ESSA) there may be a spring again. Yes, there will still be testing.  Assessment is important obviously, to determine where changes need to be made in instruction, to ensure students are learning and meeting standards, to ensure that teachers and schools are educating students.  But testing is going to change and it won’t be this punitive system (I hope) that NCLB created.  And hopefully, it won’t be a constant thing where months of a school year are taken up with test prep and test taking. That’s a good thing. School should be about learning, not just testing, which is what it often feels like, especially this time of year.

ESSA obviously is new and it will take time for changes to be implemented.  Though even as early as this year, there are states who have changed their testing or eliminated testing this year.  The ESSA (from 5 ways ESSA Impacts Standardized Testing, by Anne O’Brien):

  • Allows districts to use a locally determined, nationally recognized test like the ACT or SAT instead of the state test in high schools, which could have huge implications for classroom practice
  • Allows states to institute a cap limiting the amount of time that students spend taking tests, which could reduce that time (and the time educators spend administering them)
  • Funds states in auditing and streamlining assessment systems, eliminating unnecessary and duplicative assessments
  • Establishes a pilot program in up to seven states (or consortia of states) that allows for the complete revamping of their assessment system, meaning that it’s possible that summative state tests as we know them will be eliminated, replaced by competency-based assessments, performance-based assessments, interim assessments, or something else entirely
  • Allows for the use of computer-adaptive testing in state and local assessments (NCLB did not), a process that could allow for much more accurate data on student performance

IMG_2649I think one of my most favorite things about ESSA is that it requires states to use more than academic factors (i.e. standardized test scores) as indicators of accountability and school/student success. A test score is no longer the be-all and end-all, allowing education to focus on learning, not test prep and testing.

Maybe now both teachers and students can start enjoying spring again.

Casio vs. TI – Calculator Face-Off NCTM and Beyond!

CIMG3849Here at Casio we have had enough.  Enough excuses. Enough misinformation. Enough hearing “we use TI calculators in our school” or “I don’t know how to use a Casio calculator” or “my students are coming to class with Casio calculators and I don’t know how to help them”.  So, this year at NCTM in San Francisco, we decided to challenge TI calculator users to a face-off with Casio in order to show, face-to-face, head-on, that Casio calculators are MORE intuitive, easier-to-use, more efficient and beautiful, and let’s face it – MORE AFFORDABLE!  And if the crowds at the booth weren’t evidence enough of the fun everyone was having, and if the gasps from the audience (filled largely with TI-calculator users and some TI-exhibitors too) didn’t make it clear that Casio has a superior calculator, then perhaps some pictures and videos are needed!

CIMG3902We had 10 Face-Off challenges throughout the entire NCTM conference – with an average of about 3 games per challenge, so that’s about 30 games where Casio Prizm faced-off against the TI-84+ CE. And – Casio won EVERY SINGLE TIME – hands down, no contest.  There were 12 activities to choose from, and the TI-volunteer contestant was allowed to spin and choose the activity for each game (and some of them got creative, let me tell you!) You naysayers reading this might claim the games were rigged – that we picked activities where TI had no chance.  However – we picked 12 common mathematical activities that most high-school algebra/algebra II students would be expected to do with any calculator:

  1. Find the intersection (s) of two graphed functions (a linear & quadratic)
  2. Find the root (s) of a graphed quadratic function (on the graph)
  3. Find the min/max of a given function (on the graph)FullSizeRender
  4. Graph y= and r= functions ON THE SAME GRAPH
  5. Graph a vertical line (not draw – GRAPH so we can find coordinate points)
  6. Find the area of intersection between two graphed functions (show on graph)
  7. Find the intersection (s) of two graph functions (cubic and trigonometric)
  8. Find the root (s) of a cubic on the graph of the function
  9. Make a Box Plot and Find the 1-variable statistics from a given set of data
  10. Graph two inequalities and show their intersection on the graph
  11. Given a function (quadratic), find x-value for a given y-value, and find y-value for a given x-value
  12. Graph a Piece-wise function (give 3 constraints)
  13. Here’s a link to all 12 activities – both Casio & TI keystrokes provided!!

Casio just does these better – faster, more efficient and you don’t have to hunt around for which menu to use or ask, “do I use the “test” or the “math” button to go to the next step?”, and you don’t waste time tracing and guessing.  A more efficient, faster processing calculator does not mean the contest is rigged – it just means the calculator is better.  It’s the calculator – not the problems!

Yes, yes – you TI users out there, there are probably mathematical calculations that a TI might be able to do quicker or the same as a Casio. But, what was very apparent, in every single challenge with every single TI-contestant (s) (many times they had to work with a partner), was that even experienced users of the TI IMG_4146cannot always remember what buttons to push, where the menus/operations are that they need, what the steps are, what to turn on or off.  It was a process….sometimes a long process….and it was obvious, even with half the people in the audience helping, that using a TI graphing calculator is confusing, with a lot of steps that are often hidden.  As everyone could see (and as our Casio teacher contestants, Jennifer N. Morris, Tom Beatini, and Mike Reiners, explained while we waited for the TI folks to finish), the Casio graphing calculators have the menus/tests/processes you need right on the screen, easily accessible, making getting to the next step more efficient, intuitive, and not a mystery or scavenger hunt. And – the graphs on the Casio display faster and the points/intersection or calculations you need stay on the screen – you don’t have to redo anything or write it down before moving on to the next.

The point of the game was obviously to show the Casio/TI difference. Our bigger goal was to open the minds of TI-CIMG3918users, who often use a TI because “it’s what our school/district buys” or “it’s all I know”. I think we succeeded in our goal – we had many converts to Casio during our NCTM Face-off Challenge – hard not to be a TI-to-Casio convert when the difference is right there in front of you.  In fact, two of our TI-contestants took off their TI t-shirts and replaced them with Casio Prizm t-shirts during the game (we only caught the second on film unfortunately) to show their new-found appreciation for the Casio.  They “saw the light through Prizm” as the shirt says.  For those of you that weren’t there, all we ask is that you stop settling for the status-quo and what you’ve always done and make a change.

Take me – in my 25 years of teaching, I used a TI for 20 of those years. I would never go back to a TI now that I have used a Casio calculator.  Even after 20 years teaching with a TI, I still can’t remember where to find things – and what steps to follow.  When I tried to learn the TI-Navigator – I was so frustrated and irritated that I stopped trying and just used the 84-face plate. With Casio – it took just a short time to get use to the interface, as it is different from TI – but after that initial familiarization with the menu and buttons,  I don’t forget how to do anything because it’s all there in front of me, on the screen, no matter which menu I am in. Truth be told, all our Casio teacher-trainers are former TI users – and none of them would go back. CIMG3915Casio is just that much better.

Alright – I’m listening.  I am hearing some negativity.

I hear some of you saying that calculators are going away, and we will all be using web products and apps. And – while schools are slowly becoming more 1:1 and mobile apps and web-based calculators might be showing up more in classrooms, the fact is that 67% of students DO NOT have regular access to mobile technology on a regular basis.  But calculators are in the hands of 83% of today’s students.  With funding in education continually diminishing, and access and equity to technology a major issue, for the foreseeable future, calculators are an inexpensive way to get technology into the hands of ALL students. Students are buying calculators, and more and more are buying Casio’s because they are more affordable (you can get a Casio graphing calculator for about half the cost of a TI-graphing calculator), and easier for them to learn. Calculators are here for a long while still, so let’s get some hand-held technology into the hands of students now so they can explore mathematics instead of waiting for the one day a week, or month, they might get to use that lap-top/tablet cart or go to the computer lab.

Check out some of our videos showing the Casio vs. TI difference. There will be more to come. Explore some of our free online resources that will support you and your students learning of the Casio calculators, especially those of you who have so many students bringing in their Casio’s to class. Why not take a free, self-paced online Prizm course and get a free Casio Prizm Emulator to use in your classroom? Casio is definitely the more affordable way to go with better functionality.  Be a convert!

Proud to be a Sponsor – ASSM, NCSM, BBA

CIMG3737I and the Casio Education team just got back from San Francisco where we were part of the Association of State Supervisors of Math (ASSM), National Council of Supervisors of Math (NCSM) and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conferences. Each conference and experience was different, and gave us a broad perspective on what is happening in math education around the country and the hard work education leaders and teachers are doing to support the teaching and learning of mathematics. I am going to do a IMG_2635NCTM specific post later this week, and would like to devote this post to the three events where Casio had the privilege to support ASSM, NCSM and the Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA). Each event/sponsorship provided a unique opportunity to learn about the mathematics community and all these educators do to ensure students are getting a quality mathematics education.

CIMG3731We started our time in San Francisco hosting the opening reception for ASSM. After the Keynote speaker, Gail Burrill, I was honored to be able to say a few words regarding the state of technology in mathematics classrooms. This was my first time meeting and getting to know some of the current and former state supervisors of mathematics from all over the United States. It was clear, from their great questions during the Keynote and engaging conversation and sharing of information at the reception, that they are focused on ensuring their schools districts, educational leaders and teachers are getting the support they need. One thing I learned was how incredibly busy these ASSM members are, and, in fact, many of these were retired supervisors still working with their states and teachers – now that’s dedication! While I am still finding out more about ASSM, I know that they are a CIMG3743group of math leaders dedicated to ensuring that mathematics education is getting needed funding, math teachers are getting the support and training, and schools are getting a clear understanding of both state and federal expectations for students to learn math effectively.  It’s a big job, a very political job, but clearly a very dedicated and focused group of educators willing to do the job.

IMG_2633Our next adventure was in Oakland, CA for the NCSM conference. I have to say it was pretty cool walking around and seeing all the volunteers wearing Casio t-shirts and everyone carrying a Casio bag, both part of Casio’s sponsorship.  (If you were there and got a bag, don’t you just love the water bottle holder!!!??!) This was the first year NCSM was not in the same location as NCTM (which was across the bay in San Francisco), which was a little concerning, knowing there might be fewer attendees as a IMG_1987result. However, there quite a few participants at the conference, and I know as I popped into several sessions, the rooms were full with math educators ready to learn. As part of our sponsorship, we hosted a Sponsorship Showcase the first morning, presented by one of our fabulous mathematics teachers, Mike Reiners. It was a fascinating workshop, based on the game show, Wheel of Fortune, which Mike was an actual contestant on. It was fascinating to learn and calculate the probabilities of landing on certain values and the probability of things like losing your turn or hitting the million dollar wedge. I, like many others in the room, thought that the probabilities remained constant, since each spin of the wheel is independent from the others, but apparently, not the case!  It was also great to actual see real video footage of Mike’s actual appearance on IMG_1989the show and make predictions about what he (and the other contestants) should have done, and then see the real results.  It was also hilarious to see the teachers in our workshop trying to guess the word/phrase themselves – there were some pretty quick responses! Mike used both the fx-991 Scientific Calculator, with it’s natural display and spreadsheet capabilities as well as the Prizm graphing calculator, to show the statistics and probabilities. All the participants had hands-on with the calculators as well, so they could do some of the calculations themselves. That’s always fun to see everyone’s reaction to these calculators and how excited they get about their functionality (yes – we are math teachers!). All the attendees walked away with a free Prizm, which was exciting….some new Casio users!!

After a busy few days in Oakland, we ended back in San Francisco, ending our week with the NCTM conference at the San Francisco Conference Center. This wasCIMG3868 so much fun with so many math educators over the course of three days.  In fact, it was such a great time I am going to devote an entire post to just NCTM later this week.  What I would like to focus on from NCTM here is the Benjamin Banneker Reception Casio had the privilege of sponsoring on Thursday evening. It was BBA’s 30th year celebration and we were so excited to be able CIMG3880to be a part of this great group of leaders who dedicate so much time, resources, and support to ensure equitable educational opportunities for African American students. At the reception there were several outstanding local area educators honored for their outstanding efforts on behalf of their students. Hearing their stories, where they work diligently, tirelessly, and at all hours of the day giving of themselves to ensure their students succeed in school and have support was inspirational. There were also three students honored, two of whom relieved a $250 Book Award from BBA to support them as they went on to college, and one student received a $1,000 scholarship from Casio towards their college endeavors. It brought tears to my eyes as I listened to these three students talk about their struggles and perseverance, encouraged to “make a plan and see it through” along with the the support they received from their principal and their parents. To top it off, there was a great musical group that had everyone clapping along. It was a lovely to meet, support and get a sense of the powerful work the BBA is doing to support equitable education opportunities and resources for students. Casio is certainly excited to be a part of their work in the continuing years.CIMG3861

All in all, sponsoring such great organizations is something Casio is excited we have the opportunity to do. ASSM, NCSM, and BBA are dedicated groups of educators who are striving to improve mathematics education and education in general. Being able to meet and support these groups was a rewarding experience in itself and for me personally, inspired me and made me more aware of the hard work these groups of educators are out there doing every day to make a difference in students’ lives. Hopefully this gave you a small glimpse.  Next post I will talk about the fun we had at NCTM – lots of pictures to come!

Benjamin Banneker Association & NCTM

imagesNCTM San Francisco is fast approaching (April 13-16) and among the many things I am looking forward to is the opportunity to connect with the Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA) members at their 30th-year anniversary celebration. Casio is proud to help support this group that does so much work ensuring mathematics education equity and quality for students, in particular African-American students, through their work with leadership and professional development for teachers. For those of you unfamiliar with the BBA, they are a non-profit organization that strives to help provide the highest quality mathematics education so all students develop self-confidence, enthusiasm and perseverance in their own mathematical abilities. They have been supporting math education and teachers for 30 years, which is impressive, and we at Casio are excited to have the opportunity to support their endeavors a little more, as we believe strongly in quality math education and leveling the playing field for all students, something we strive to do by putting affordable technology into the hands of all students.

When I found out that I would get to be a part of the 30th-anniversary P.E.A.R.L. Reception and Celebration (Pursuing Excellence, Advocacy, and Revolutionary Leadership) I wanted to find out a bit more about who Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was and how this person represented what the BBA stood for – advocacy for math education. Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was a free black man, a self-educated mathematician, scientist and astronomer. He was well-known for the almanacs he published between 1792 – 1797, where he posted about medicines and medical treatment, astronomical calculations as well as opinion pieces, literature and tidal information used by fisherman. Here are several links that give more details about Benjamin Banneker and his accomplishments:

  1. http://www.biography.com/people/benjamin-banneker-9198038#synopsis
  2. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/colonial/jb_colonial_banneker_1.html
  3. http://www.black-inventor.com/Benjamin-Banneker.asp

The accomplishments that stood out the most for me were the following:download

  • Banneker invented America’s first clock in the 1752. Wow! The story goes that he borrowed a pocket-watch from an acquaintance, took it apart to study it’s parts and how it worked, put it back together and returned it. Then he built a clock, based on what he had learned from the watch, made completely out of wood. The clock was precise and worked for more than 50 years. And it was made out of wood!
  • He correctly predicted the 1789 solar eclipse, and his correct prediction contradicted those of well-known mathematicians and astronomers.  This from a self-taught man.
  • He wrote to Thomas Jefferson, while Jefferson was Secretary of State, in support of civil rights for African-Americans and to dispel the beliefs about the intelligence of the black man and to push for viewing African-Americans as more than slaves. His letter chided Jefferson and others for thinking slaves and blacks as “less” , and included a copy of his almanac to prove his point. He also called the leaders hypocritical, when they were fighting oppression and enslavement by England when they themselves were enslaving African-Americans.  It was a powerful letter, and one that Jefferson was so moved by, he actually responded and also forwarded Banneker’s almanac to the Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences “because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them.”
  • Banneker was recommended by Jefferson to be part of the surveying team that laid out Washington, D. C., our Nations Capital. (which is depicted in the picture I put at the top of this post).

The BBA has chosen a person who valued education, so much so that he taught himself much of what he learned and then passed it along to others through his writings and almanacs.  He fought for equality and recognition for the African-American, standing up to powerful leaders like Thomas Jefferson at a time where he could have been at great risk. He helped build our nation – from the first clock to the laying out of our Nations Capital. A powerful leader, always learning, always sharing his knowledge to help others, and always striving to bring equality and recognition to African-Americans. The BBA is celebrating 30-years of continuing Benjamin Banneker’s vision. Congratulations! I know I speak for Casio when I say we are glad we can be a part of this and hope that our continued support will help BBA, and the teachers and students they touch, reach their goals going forward.

Area Between 2 Curves – Casio Prizm vs. TI-84+ CE

1I never taught mathematics beyond Geometry at the high-school level, even though in theory, I am certified to teach all mathematical subjects through Calculus for K-12. I loved teaching middle school concepts and then Algebra and Geometry when I went into the high schools.  What tends to happen, as most teachers can attest, is that the subjects you begin teaching when you first start out tend to be the ones you stick with throughout your career. Especially if you are good at it, which, I believe, I was very good at teaching Algebra and Geometry, especially to struggling math students.  This is because I focused so much on conceptual understanding and hands-on learning, technology integration (Sketchpad & calculators) and diversifying instruction.  Often times, the decision on what subjects you teach is not actually up to the teacher -it is an administrative decision based on number of students, subject needs, and other factors. But – teacher subject assignment becomes ‘tradition’ – in my 15 years in the classroom, which included 4 different school districts, I can honestly say that most teachers (more true in High school) taught the same math subjects year after year.

This consistency in what teachers teach may be good, may be bad, but it is the reality. I can only speak for myself, but I do know as a result of my own personal ‘teacher tracking’, I am less confident in my abilities with higher-level mathematical concepts – i.e. Algebra 2, calculus.  Not because I never learned it, but mostly because I never taught it, and as years go by without interacting with these mathematical concepts, the less you remember and the less you can do.  Math is a language, and if you don’t use it, you lose it. Could I teach it? Sure. But not until I thoroughly reviewed and relearned it all.  All I can say is thank goodness for Khan Academy when my 2daughters were going through Calculus!

One of the things I am doing as part of my work with Casio is learning more about what the calculators can do to support student learning, and as a result, I am relearning some math concepts I had forgotten  and/or not seen in a long time. And when I say long time, I mean not since my college days, so we are talking a good 25+ years ago (yikes!). In prepping for NCSM/NCTM in Oakland and San Francisco in the next couple of weeks, I have learned some cool things that the Casio Prizm can do which are easy for students to do, visually appealing, and dynamic. Something that engages students in complex math quickly and allows them to explore and investigate their conjectures and focus on problem solving, not just calculations. One of these is finding the area between two curves, which, I will admit, I definitely did not remember and still am not sure about, but it is a concept very much explored in calculus. I do remember lots of calculating – by hand – which can become quite cumbersome. While it is important to understand the process and where these calculations come from and why they are necessary, having a visual of what area between curves means, looks like, and being able to show the constraints, etc. provides a powerful tool for helping students grasp and understand all the mathematics going on. With that in mind, I wanted to share how to find the area between two curves using the Casio Prizm (mainly because it looks pretty with color, but you can do this on any of the Casio graphing calculators) and compare it to the same process on the TI-84+ CE, again, because color looks prettier, but you would follow same steps on TI-84+.

(You might ask why I always do a comparison – the reason is TI seems to still be the prevalent calculator in schools, more out of habit and familiarity than anything else.  I like to show – when possible – the difference, because students should be using technology to support their learning and using technology that is going to make that process more efficient and understandable.  We want them to get to the deeper meanings and connections and not get bogged down in trying to remember steps/keystrokes – having used both, I just find Casio more user friendly, not to mention cheaper. If no one knows there are better options, then tradition and familiarity win out even if it’s a disservice).