There are always buzz words in education. There seems to be words that become popular in educational circles and if you use them at the right time and in the right company, others will think you know what you are doing. I find that it is easy to use the buzz words, but much harder to implement and use them. Several buzz words have been running through my mind recently, such as formative assessment, summative assessment, essential questions, and number sense.
Assessment has become the new testing word in recent years. We shouldn’t give tests or quizzes anymore, but assessments. Is there really a difference and if so what is the difference? I started giving assessments three years ago thanks to Dan Meyer and his blog on How Math Must Assess. I have tweaked his system over the years to fit my style, but it hasn’t been until this year that I feel that I have successfully implemented the formative and summative pieces of assessment.
I give my students small assessments once or twice a week that measure learning on two to three standards. If seventy percent of the class doesn’t show mastery, I back up and reteach. If seventy percent do show proficiency, I continue the lessons, but provide remediation to those needing it and retesting opportunities. If assessment, test, or quiz results do not affect your teaching and planning, they are not formative assessments. If you test kids and move on regardless of the results so you can cover the material, you are not utilizing formative assessments. I know this because until this year, that’s what I did. I had too many standards and not enough time. Instead of using assessment to inform and direct my instruction, I was using it to check off a list.
I give several summative assessments throughout the semester that model Tennessee’s End of Course test. Although these do direct my instruction, they are accumulative so I view them as summative. I guess the true summative assessment is the state test at the end of the course. The more I study forms of assessment and alternative assessments, the more intrigued I become. I want to constantly assess my students and use that information to guide their learning. I think there are several ways to do this and I’m always looking for the most efficient and effective ways.
Essential questions and number sense are teacher buzz words that will have to wait until another day, but until then, I promise not to overuse them in educational circles. At least not without researching them and putting them into practice.
I found another great use for notecards this week. (Yes, I know, I could keep a notecard company in business.) I was teaching my Algebra 2 class how to find a polynomial given the zeros. I included the idea of conjugates and imaginary numbers. The week before we had worked on finding the zeros given the polynomial by using synthetic division and our graphing calculators. I have always known that we teach so many processes in Algebra 2 and then turn around and teach it backwards, but wasn’t always sure on how to communicate this to students. I would work the problems on the board side by side backwards and forwards, but I was doing all the work, so the lightbulb never went on for my students.
So, about 10 minutes before class started the idea hit me, write the problems on notecards. Put the zeros on one card and the polynomial on the other card creating instant pairs. I created enough cards for every student in the class. When the students arrived I started the class by handing out the notecards randomly. I told them that some of them had zeros and their job was to write a polynomial and other students had a polynomial and their job was to find the zeros. I gave them 5 minutes to work their problem and then told them to find their partner. One of the girls was shouted, “So this is like a game with math!” Yes, fun in math, who would have thought? After the students were in pairs, we proceeded to another activity.
On my high from Algebra 2, I tried it the next morning in my Algebra 1 class. I handed out notecards with trinomials that needed to be factored and notecards with binomials that needed to be multiplied. I know there are a ton of worksheets with matching games like this, but I have always disliked that students don’t have to actually work the problems. I think this fixes that issue. I see this pair up activity as limitless. I plan on giving some students graphs and asking them to write an equation and other students equations and asking them to create graphs. I also plan on saving these notecards and when I need students in pairs or groups randomly pulling out old notecards we have done before and having them find a partner this way. This should incorporate review into the classroom. Please feel free to share your ideas for pair up games in the comment section below.