Thursday, December 13, 2012

Moodle Testing

I feel like I am killing it this year in the classroom and I am relatively stress-free so I've had time to screw around with some of my pie-in-the-sky ideas.  At the top of the list is moodle testing.  I know online testing isn't a new idea and it's actually a pretty boring idea.  Been done a million times.  But it's new to me and moodle is pretty handy since it inputs all of our students' information.  So I'm trying to make use of it.

Our first learning target of the trimester is 'solving quadratic equations by factoring.'  I wish I could have you try it but guests cannot use it.  Best I can do is a screen shot:

Here's how a kid might find herself taking the online quiz:
  1. Fail the first test.
  2. Successfully complete the retake ticket.
  3. Obtain online testing form from me.
  4. Take the online test on their schedule at their leisure.
In #3 I referenced an "online testing form".   This is the form that will accompany the online test:

Students will need to show their work on this form.  After completing the test, students will be automatically instructed to turn it in if they pass or see me for help if they fail.  That way I can do a once-over on their work but no hardcore correcting for all retakes.

As for the non-passers - ok the failures, I'm sick of dressing that up - I can set a delay for retaking a test.  When they fail, the test gives them instructions to see me for help.  My hope is that they follow the instructions.  They'll need to eventually to get another testing form anyway, so there's no getting around it.

I've created the test to have random questions every time, so no two tests will look the same.

For now I am only offering this at the "basic" level 2, C-level tests.  (Click here for more info on what that means.)  I hope to offer more in the future if this works.

The report is cool too.  I asked fellow math teachers to test it and find bugs.  So they weren't really trying to get perfects or anything like that.  Here's an email I sent with the report:

Unfortunately one of my colleagues didn't get the joke.  She emailed me crying.  I had to assure her that none of us really think she doesn't know how to factor.

Oh, the life of a smart-ass math teacher.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Homework is a Tool (Use it for Good, not Evil)

I got into it pretty hardcore on Twitter a few days ago with John Spencer.  Smart dude and certainly a much more accomplished blogger than I.  But 140 characters was just not enough to express fully my counterpoint to his post, Ten Reasons to Get Rid of Homework (and Five Alternatives).

It started with this: 


First of all, most of my argument revolves around a very simple idea.  Homework is a tool.  Used well, it's a tool that can be effective.  It seems to be simplistic and irresponsible to arbitrarily throw a tool out.

But there are other parts of his argument that I strongly disagree with or am flat-out offended by.  Foremost #3:
3. Inequitable Situation: I have some students who go home to parents that can provide additional support. I have others who go home and babysit younger siblings while their single parent works a second shift. I have some who don’t have adequate lighting, who constantly move and who lose electricity on a regular basis. Call those excuses if you want. I’ll call it systemic injustice instead.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but we as teachers should be trying to maximize learning for every student.  To that end, we should exploit every advantage and learning opportunity we can find.  Sure it sucks that some of our students have better parents than others.  It sucks that some do not have support at home.  It sucks it sucks it sucks.  Royally pisses me off, actually.

But the way to remedy this isn't by neutralizing the advantages some have.  It's by working hard to compensate for the privations of those lacking.  Provide extra support for students and families.  That's the way to maximize learning for all.

Now John would suggest that there are better ways: optional homework for parents that request it; voluntary project-based homework; optional extensions; provide workshops to parents who'd like to engage their children at home.  Well I'm sorry these are great ideas but if you are eliminating homework in the name of equity, these undercut that argument.

I will thoroughly agree with John that homework is often poorly articulated and poorly targeted, and this can lead to a demotivating situation that erodes a natural desire to learn.  But this is completely fixable through careful thought by practitioners.  Fix it, don't throw it out.

Finally, John asserts that kids are busy and they need to play.  True story.  But kid or adult, we need to manage our time and priorities appropriately.  Those students who prioritize poorly should be provided with support. 

That's not to say kids should have mass quantities of homework every night.  Play is important and valuable.  All I'm saying is that the blanket elimination of homework is a simplistic solution to a complex problem.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Checklists

Last time out, I alluded to a "Learning Target Checklist".  I thought I better explain further.  Here are two checklists from our current learning targets in Algebra II:

These are mandatory.  They must complete this prior to taking the test.  If they do not I will make them.  If they do not I will not allow them to test.

Homework completion scores are out of style.  But what we are calling "opportunity costs" are wayyyy in.  It's a very different way of thinking about things but I'm pretty excited and hopeful.

Admittedly, I got the checklist idea from Kay Burke, one of the supposed gurus at an assessment summit I went to in Atlanta last year.  She was one of the worst of the bunch and I still got a great idea out of it.  If you are considering standards based grading I can't say enough great things about Solution Tree's assessment summits.  Highly recommended.