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’:


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


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.


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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Math Fun in San Antonio – NCTM 2017 Annual

Next week is the NCTM Annual Math Conference in San Antonio, TX.  It’s a great time to go to Texas, as the weather hasn’t gotten too hot. I remember the last time NCTM was in San Antonio, when I was still teaching high school, and met up with all my teacher friends. We had such a great time, not only going to different workshops at the conference, but exploring the area (a trip to the Alamo was a must) and eating and shopping along the River Walk. I am going this year as part of the education team for Casio, where there will be a lot of fun to be had at our exhibit booth and sponsored events.  I have been going to NCTM Annuals for over 23 years (what?????), and as usual, I am looking forward to reconnecting with math educators and friends from all over the country, many of whom I only get to see this one time a year. So, it’s more than just a place to learn new ideas and collaborate with like-minded educators, it’s a time to renew friendships and share memories. I certainly am hoping to catch up with as many folks as I can, even if just to share a cup of coffee or a hug as we pass in the conference hall.

Naturally, the goal of attending a conference is to learn new things to bring back to your classroom or to the educators you work with. It’s one of the aspects of these conferences I love the most – the ‘renewed’ energy and excitement that occurs when you see a strategy that you want to take back to your class or you learn a new approach to a familiar concept that you know will resonate with your students, or you find that perfect resource for an upcoming unit. I always consider these conferences as a way to reaffirm why we teach math – seeing what others are doing, sharing stories and ideas, and leaving with at least one or two ideas that are going to spark your students creativity and understanding. For me personally, I always had a key focus (say Algebra, or Geometry or technology or manipulatives) to narrow down the workshops I went to, with the goal to find a few new resources, ideas and strategies to incorporate into my teaching over the summer so that next years classes would be even better. This type of focus helped to make ‘teaching’  a new adventure every year, even if I was teaching the same subjects, and it also made sure that as a teacher, I was always challenging myself to be better and find relevant strategies and multiple ways to help my students learn.

One aspect that I always look for is technology applications and resources. I am a firm believer in the idea that technology, whether it be a calculator, a tablet, a computer, a video, can be a valuable resource to help students both learn and develop mathematical understanding, but more importantly to visualize abstract concepts and explore ‘what if’s’.  I am sure there are many of you out there as well looking for some technology workshops as you attend NCTM this year, so I wanted to share some workshops from some of the amazing teachers that work with Casio, as these are always such great hands-on experiences.


  • Thursday, April 6 – 9:30 – 10:30, Room 213AB Conv Center: Exhibitor’s Workshop What’s New At Casio: Viewing Mathematics through a New Prizm (or Two) 
  • Thursday, April 6, 3:15 – 4:30, Room 217C Conv. Center: Polar, Parametric, Rectangular Graphs – Really See the Connections! with DeeDee Henderson
  • Friday, April 7, 11 – 12:00, Room Presido ABC (Grand Hyatt): Conceptualizing Polynomials with Jennifer N. Morris
  • Friday, April 7, 1:30 – 2:45, Room 224 Conv. Center: Conics – The Ugly Duckling of Algebra 2 with Denise Young & Tracey Zak Johnson.
  • Friday, April 7, 2:o0 – 3:00, Room 008AB Conv. Center: The Probabilities and Mathematics of “Wheel of Fortune” with Mike Reiners
  • Saturday, April 8, 8:00 – 9:15, Room 006D Conv. Center: Hands-on Activities + Technology = Mathematical Understanding through Authentic Modeling with Tom Beatini

We will also be having a fun time at the booth, Thursday – Saturday, playing games, having give-aways, talking and doing mathematics with our hand-held technology, so be sure to stop by and say hi (Booth #631) and come play with math. I will be there most of the time and hope to meet some new math educators and give a hug to old friends!!

The Power of the fx-991EX – It’s Not JUST Solar

I read the Casio Twitter feed and FB feed every day, just to answer questions and see what followers might be saying. Recently there have been some kudos shared about the fx-991EX solar powered scientific calculator that got me curious. In particular. that the fx-991EX does engineering problems so well and they would be lost without it (someone said he uses it in all his higher-ed courses). This was intriguing to me since I assumed engineers, with their complex calculations, would more likely use graphing calculators like the Prizm or ClassPad or even engineering software.  Naturally, I set out to explore some of the ‘engineering’ capabilities of the fx-991EX, since I hadn’t really spent too much time with this aspect of the calculator.

As I refreshed my memory of the menu and capabilities of the fx-991Ex, it kind of boggled my mind how
much this solar-powered scientific calculator can do, and with it’s QR code capabilities, it can even show graphs and printable spreadsheets and tables. (See my previous posts about Graphing & QR code capabilities). After looking a little more closely at all the menu icons and what each does, I understood why this one calculator would in fact be sufficient for engineers, or really anyone. I spent some time playing around with different features that I had not previously explored, and have shared a couple of my explorations in the video below.

For those of you who have not experienced or explored this powerful little calculator, I suggest you do. If you are at NCTM San Antonio this April, stop by the booth and get some hands-on experience, or just explore some of the videos, or download the free 90-day emulator trial and give it a go.  You can access our Quick-Start Guide to get you on your way.

A Pi by Any Other Name – Pi Day 2017

It’s that time of year again where math teachers and students get a little pi crazy on March 14 and celebrate that magical number, pi. It’s a fun day to spend focusing on circles and spheres and helping students discover pi or use pi or just eat pie!  Hopefully, of course, as math teachers, we are always trying to focus on the mathematics of pi…not just eating pies or circle-related food, though that certainly does add to the fun of the day.

Rather than reinvent the wheel (nice circle reference), I am resurrecting links from last year’s Pi-Day post to places with some fun ideas and added in a few new ones:

  1. Pi Day This site lists a million digits of Pi, and then, if you click on the links to the right, you can search the digits of Pi (for special sequences, like your birthdate), Pi puzzle (New York Times), or Einstein Rap.  There are lots of other links, so explore away.
  2. NCTM’s Illuminations:
  3. Exploratorium has a whole list of lessons/activities that explore Pi in many ways. One is the search digits one as well. Another one I think sounds very interesting is the Tossing Pi (scroll down the list to find this) – calculating Pi tossing toothpicks. Kids would love that!
  4. Project Mathematics This has videos you can choose about the history of Pi, uses of Pi, people explaining what they think Pi is.  Might be good to warm up your class with.
  5. Joy of Pi –  This page has lot of links to interesting articles about Pi, history, etc.  Lots of resources.
  6. Live Science – Has a video and other resources.
  7. Edutopia –  Lessons and activities for elementary students.
  8. Education World –  Lessons and activities around Pi – multi-grade level.
  9. Teachπ.org –  Lots of everything about Pi – books, activities, history, etc.
  10. NEA Resources for Pi Day:
  11. Geometry Gems
  12. Kathi Mitchell’s Fun With Pi Day:
  13. UTEP Pi Day
  14. SimplyCircle

Have fun and be well-rounded tomorrow!


STEM In Action – Science Fair Amazement

I had the honor of being a judge for the Bucks County Science Research Competition (i.e. Science Fair) at Delaware Valley University yesterday. This is a competition for students in grades 6-12 who submit research projects in STEM related fields such as math, physics, engineering, chemistry…just to name a few. This was my first time volunteering as a judge, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I found reinforced my belief that students can do amazing things if given the chance.

There were hundreds of displays, where students laid out details of their research projects on 3-paneled poster boards, including images, their research paper, their hypothesis, pictures, graphs, data and some even including the devices they created or used. I was assigned to the Engineering judging team, so my focus was the 22 Engineering projects, which we spent 3 hours reading/reviewing, and then 2 hours interviewing the students themselves. Let me tell you – if these 22 students are examples of future engineers, the world is in good hands! It was very hard to ‘judge’ and the ultimate goal as a judge was to get the students to talk about what they did and why, and provide them with suggestions and questions that make them want to continue their research and explorations. I would say the most impressive part of the day was the interview time we had with each of the students, where they gave us their ‘elevator’ talk about the why, the what and the how of their research. These students were articulate, passionate, and most impressively, able to explain the math, the science, the technology, and the engineering behind their creations and findings.

There were too many impressive projects to be able to list them all, but I will describe a few standouts.

  • One sixth grade girl created a robotic hand that she programmed as well as a ‘human-like’ hand out of gel and straws/string (that she notched joints in so she could move the fingers) and compared the force of the finger compression.
  • A seventh grade girl compared the prepackaged program of a drone to her own programming of a drone to show her commands were more efficient and smooth.
  • An eighth grade boy developed a laser beam cane for the blind to help them ‘hear’ objects in their path.
  • An eighth grade girl, trying to solve the fresh water problem in 3rd-world countries, tested 3 natural  ways to filter water to help provide an affordable way for these countries to use their own resources to filter the water.
  • A junior in high school is in the middle of a 3-year project to design a 1-rotating platform 3D printer that he hopes will be a more efficient 3D printer than those currently out there. And he printed the parts of his new printer from the 3D printer he already made a couple years ago…..(of course?!)
  • A senior girl was using 3D printing to develop prosthetic for lower legs and ankles.
  • Another senior girl created her own biodegradable implants for meniscus tears that she believes would be stronger and more durable than current implants.
  • There was a senior boy who was building a water desalinization machine that uses de-ionization to get the salt out of the water and would be, if he is successful, a cheaper alternative for 3rd-world countries than current machinery
  • Then there was the seventh grade girl, spurred on by her parents and siblings diabetes, who built an artificial pancreas.
  • And finally, the middle school boy who tried to show that ground solar panels were more efficient than roof solar panels, and if nothing else, proved to his parents that their decision to invest in solar panels was a good one.

I was blown away by the creativity, the interest, the dedication, and the knowledge these students demonstrated both in their displays, but more importantly in the communicating of their ideas and hopes for future research. A big part of the science fairs is to encourage these students to keep exploring, to keep asking questions, and to continue to pursue these STEM related interests into the future, and hopefully into future STEM-related careers. It was so encouraging to see the number of girls at this event as well.  I left the day inspired and hopeful about the future – these students are already thinking and exploring ways they can improve it and if their projects were any indication, they are well on their way to doing so.

Math and Science Discover the Unseen Planets of Trappist-1 – Now That’s Cool!

I am sure by now you have heard about NASA’s discovery of 7 – earth-like planets orbiting the star called Trappist-1 by using the Spitzer Space Telescope. And, apparently 3 of them could possibly be habitable for life. All of this is amazing in itself, but, what is even more amazing is they discovered these planets without really even seeing them.

What?!  How is this possible? How do they know then that there are even planets if they can’t see them? It all comes down to some amazing technology, some data collection, a lot of math, science and analysis. If you are looking for ways to get your students excited about math and science and real-world applications to answer questions, you need look no further.

While listening to a story on NPR, as usual, an astronomer came on to discuss how these planets were in fact discovered. In his discussion, I was just floored by all the applications of geometry and statistics used in this discovery. When he said they couldn’t actually ‘see’ any of the planets, but instead, used the dimming light of the star, Trappist-1, that these planets orbit around as an indication that there were in facts objects/planets orbiting about the star. So – basically,  looking at the stars brightness from the Earth, the amount of starlight that is blocked as each planet passes across the view of the star was used to calculate the size of each planet.  Based on the amount of dimming, they were able to determine the size of the planets, relative to Earth, with the dips in the stars light indicating how fast the individual planets were orbitting the star. This video below explains the process really well:

The star, Trappist-1, is what they call an ultra-cool dwarf star, which is about the size of Jupiter and significantly cooler than our own sun, and is only 39 light years away from us.  That seems far to me, but apparently in ‘space units’ that’s really close! (Here’s a great problem for students – how many miles would 39 light years represent?) Each planets mass was determined by the amount of tug of each planet on the other. Then, using the size and mass calculations, they estimated each planets density, which then allowed them to extrapolate that six of the planets are probably rocky. Another really interesting thing about all the planets is they appear to be tidally locked, which means the same side of the planet always faces its sun, so one half of the planet is always dark, the other always light. This is based on the length of each planets day, or its spin on its axis (determined by watching the planets for a period of days and seeing how often they crossed the star). The shortest day (compared to an earth day) is 1.5 days, the longest is about 20 days (they still have to collect more data for this last one). I found this great chart on the NASA Jet Propulsion site that compares each of the seven planets (with an artist’s rendering of what they might look like…remember, no one can actually ‘see’ these planets yet)

This infographic displays some artist's illustrations of how the seven planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 might appear — including the possible presence of water oceans — alongside some images of the rocky planets in our Solar System. Information about the size and orbital periods of all the planets is also provided for comparison; the TRAPPIST-1 planets are all approximately Earth-sized.

This infographic displays some artist’s illustrations of how the seven planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 might appear — including the possible presence of water oceans — alongside some images of the rocky planets in our Solar System. Information about the size and orbital periods of all the planets is also provided for comparison; the TRAPPIST-1 planets are all approximately Earth-sized.

I find the whole process exciting, interesting, and fascinating. I think students would too and there is so much application of mathematics and science going on here. And, as a certified sci-fi geek, just thinking of the possibilities of other life on those ‘M’ class planets (shout out to my fellow Star Trek groupies) is sparking my imagination. Right now, we don’t have the technology to see these seven planets, but who knows? Maybe a student who explores the math and science behind these now might create that next telescope that lets us see the planets, or the space ship that allows us to travel there? Fun to imagine, and fun for students to explore these ‘brave new worlds where no man has gone before….”.

If you are interested in finding out more about this Trappist-1 discovery, here are some more links: