Math Test Prep – It’s That Time of Year Where We Bore Our Students Into Failure

I know when I was teaching in the k-12 classroom, this time of year was always so frustrating as a teacher and even more frustrating and anxiety-ridden for my students. This is the time of year when standardized testing is occurring or about to occur, in the majority of states. This can mean state-tests or national tests such as the AP exams, SAT and ACT. For me, the biggest ‘anxiety inducer’ was the mandatory End-of-Course tests that all my math students were required to take and pass with a 70% or better in order to earn the credits needed to graduate. No pressure there…..

Things have changed a bit as we move into the new era of ESSA, with many states changing the standardized testing requirements, but there is definitely a lot of pressure on students to perform, and on teachers to get their students to achieve at specific levels. This impacts teacher evaluations, school evaluations, etc. I’ve always hated that these ‘one-point-in-time’ tests have such dire impacts on teachers and schools, considering they do not reflect student growth over time or other impacting factors such as absenteeism.

But – regardless, tests are out there, happening now, and causing teachers and students undo stress. I know, for me, part of the frustration was the inordinate amount of time we were ‘required’ to prep students for the test. This included days specifically set aside to practice for the tests instead of teaching, and a ridiculous number of ‘practice tests’ and test taking prep.  Boring, stress-inducing, and really kind of pointless in my opinion. I felt we spent entirely too much time preparing for tests instead of actually teaching our content and letting students continue to learn. It was as if ‘learning’ stopped and the whole school went into ‘test-prep’ mode, and we forgot what school should be about – engaging students in learning and understanding, not preparing them to take a standardized test. My thoughts were these prep times only increased students anxiety about the tests and often, the long, drawn-out, constant test prep led to student burn-out, apathy, and failure. For many students, they got so tired and bored of ‘practicing’ that when the real test(s) came along, they made beautiful designs on their bubble sheets instead of actually focusing on answering the questions. (Yep – that really happens).

What are my suggestions? Keep teaching. And not teaching to the test or for the test, but teaching. Teach new things. Teach applications of things that might be on the test but  NOT through standardized-test questions, but with real questions, real problems, and real applications of the things students should know for the test. Worksheets with multiple choice answers are NOT teaching, or learning, or engaging. Technology with “practice” problems and right/wrong answers is NOT teaching or learning. Do something with the knowledge students should be able to use and do on these tests. Create interesting learning experiences, where students have to problem-solve and apply the knowledge and talk to each other. Example: instead of 20 solve these ‘systems of equations’ problems on a worksheet, provide real-world problems where a systems of equations is needed to find the solution. Where students have to work together to create the equations and come up with the solutions. Where they get to decide the most appropriate method to solve the system. Way more interesting and much more insightful into what students know and can do.

It’s not that you shouldn’t prepare students for tests. It’s that you should do it in a way where students are applying their knowledge and engaged in applications of that knowledge. It’s not about worksheets and test-taking strategies. It’s about understanding and applying the concepts. Tests suck. Don’t feed the anxiety and the boredom and the apathy towards tests by creating rote, mundane, drill-and-kill test prep. Make it about engaging students in applying their knowledge in interesting, relevant ways. There are many resources out there that can provide excellent ‘test prep’ ideas and problems in a much more exciting way than a worksheet with 40 multiple choice problems. (Bleh).

Some fun #math sites with challenging application problems to use for ‘test-prep’:

 

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3D Graphing on the Casio CG-50 Prizm

Casio just unveiled our two new graphing calculators, the CG-50 Prizm and the CG-500 Prizm CAS. Both of these can do amazing things, and both are approved by College Board for use on the SAT, Pre-SAT and AP exams. in particular, These are so new that we are still working on the tutorials and guides (coming soon), and the emulator software is still in Beta, but  also coming soon.

3D graphing is a component of both calculators and emulator software. I plan to do several more posts demonstrating new features and the amazing possibilities, particularly with the CAS CG-500, but today, I wanted to wow you with some simple 3D 3D graphing capabilities. As a geometry teacher, having the ability to show some 3D shapes and their equations as well as cross sections makes me pretty excited.

I am using the Beta version of our software for the CG-50 and just learning this new functionality myself, so bear with me!  But – it’s hard not to see how cool and exciting this 3D functionality is, and on a graphing calculator, which is still the most commonly used hand-held technology device by math students (because of its accessibility and affordability and the inequity in schools technology resources/internet/mobile devices).

Enjoy and stay tuned for more of these in future posts.

Annual ASSM, NCSM, and NCTM – A Week of Math Ed Leadership & Collaboration

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Just returning from a week of fun in San Antonio where the annual math leadership and teacher conferences were held. Casio was a proud sponsor of a few events and at NCTM we had such a blast showing off our new graphing calculators (both approved by College Board for use on the PSAT, SAT, & AP exams), the CG-50 Prizm and the CG-500 Prizm CAS (3D graphing anyone?!) Not to mention the added bonus of blowing TI out of the water! (Side note: I will be doing specific posts for each of these in the next couple of weeks showing off some of the new and exciting features).

Thought it would be fun to highlight some of the moments we had sharing math education and technology with the dedicated math leaders and teachers we met throughout the week.

ASSM & NCSM


For the second year, we were honored to sponsor the opening session of ASSM (Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics). Mike Reiners, one of our amazing math teacher leaders and Casio user from Minnesota, provided some technology talking points after the main speaker and then everyone enjoyed some good food and conversation.

DSCF3005At NCSM (National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics) we were able to connect with many math leaders at our exhibit booth. We had a great time sharing our new calculators at our Showcase workshop and everyone walked away with a brand new CG-50 prizm to explore

 

Benjamin Banneker Association Reception at NCTM

It was a privilege to sponsor the BBA Reception at NCTM for the 2nd year in a row. What a great group of math educators who work so hard to ensure equity for all students. We were excited to continue our scholarship for a deserving student to support their future education endeavors.

NCTM & The Calculator Face-Off Challenge

NCTM was a big endeavor, with game-show stage and podiums, screens, lights, calculator displays. Thanks to the amazing team of Chris and Lionel from Events Special Effects and our own Casio Exhibit gurus John and Jason, the vision was made into a reality and it was a pretty beautiful booth if I do say so myself. Kudos to the team – it’s hard work designing, building and creating everything, but they did an amazing job. Some behind-the-scenes photos:

We had some crazy fun at the booth with hourly game-shows, and T-shirt spotter program where we gave away Kindle-Fire to those spotted in our t-shirts. We had G-shock watch giveaways, calculator prizes for our volunteer contestants and a magician, Mark Paskell, doing some magical give-aways and tricks. (My mind is still blown away by the reproducing bunnies….) 

We loved all the connections and interactions we had with math teachers, showing offthe amazing capabilities of all our calculators, but definitely our newest CG-50 and CG-500 graphing calculators. The look on our game-show participants faces when our CG-50 just blew the TI competitor out of the water was priceless. I know I am excited by the number of converts!

Here is a slide show highlighting some great moments from the games, demonstrations, sharing and talking with math educators, winners of our T-shirt spotter program, and some magic as well. Thanks to all the great math educators who came by and participated! Big shout out to our Casio teacher contestants, Jennifer North Morris, Tom Beatini and Mike Reiners.

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