Quick Key

To help me collect data, I’ve been using a tool for the last couple of months. It’s called Quick Key and it’s used to quickly and easily collect responses from multiple choice questions.

For a long, long time, my school utilized the Apperson Datalink scanner to aid in scoring multiple choice portions of exams. It not only scores exams quickly and efficiently, but its accompanying software provides insightful data analysis that I use to modify my teaching. On the downside, these machines are pricey (almost $1000) and require you to purchase their unique scanning sheets that work only with their machine. Each department in my school had a machine.

Because of my push towards standards-based grading, I find myself giving smaller, bite-size assessments that target fewer concepts. Consequently, I am assessing more frequently and I need the scanning machine at least once a week. The machine was constantly changing hands and I was always running around the building trying to track it down.

I decided that I didn’t want to be a slave to the scanner – and its arbitrary sheets. It’s not sustainable. Especially when we have mobile technology that can perform the same task and provide similar results.

Enter Quick Key.

Quick Key has allowed me to score MC items and analyze my students’ responses in a much more convenient and cost-effective way. Like, free. Hello. You simply set up your classes, print out sheets, and start scanning with your mobile device. (You don’t even need to have wifi or cellular data when scanning.) The interface is pretty clean and easy to use. Plus, it was created and designed by a teacher. Props there too.

Data is synced between my phone and the web, which allows me to download CSV files to use with my standards-based grading spreadsheets.

SBG screenshot

My SBG tracking spreadsheet

That is the big Quick Key buy-in for me: exporting data for use with SBG. As I have mentioned before, SBG has completely changed my teaching and my approach to student learning. At some point, I hope to write in-depth about the specifics of this process and the structure I use.

Though the Quick Key data analysis isn’t as rigorous as what I would get from Datalink, it suffices for my purposes. I sort of wish Quick Key would improve the analysis they provide, but for now, if I need more detailed analytics, its usually requires a simple formula that I can quickly insert.

Data from QK

Sample data analysis from Quick Key

Data from Datalink

Sample data analysis from Datalink

Through all this, I don’t overlook the obvious: MC questions provide minimal insight into what students actually know, especially in math. That being said, my students’ graduation exams still require them to answer a relatively large number of MC items. For that reason alone I feel somewhat obligated to use MC questions on unit exams. Also, when assessing student knowledge via MC questions, I do my best to design them as hinge questions. TMC14 (specifically Nik Doran) formally introduced me to the idea of a hinge question, which are MC questions that are consciously engineered to categorize and target student misconceptions based on their answer. In this way, students responses to MC questions, though less powerful than short response questions, can provide me an intuitive understanding of student abilities.

Quick Key recently introduced a Pro plan ($30/year) that now places limitations on those that sign up for free accounts. Their free plan still offers plenty for the average teacher.

Either way, Quick Key still beats a $1000 scanner + cost of sheets.

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Art & Desmos

Desmos Screenshot cat

Recently I had my precalculus students complete an art project using Desmos. We were finishing up our unit on conic sections. I paired them up and gave them two class days and the weekend to conjure something good. They didn’t disappoint. Props to Bob Loch who helped provide the structure.

Desmos In Class 1Desmos In Class 2Desmos In Class 3

The guidelines were pretty simple:

  • Include at least one of each conic section in your art work
  • Place restrictions on the domain and/or range of at least two of your graphs
  • Solve a system of equations resulting from your graph

The grade was based on the above criteria and how complex their artwork was. I loved this activity because it was so open ended. I usually don’t do a great job allowing my kids to showcase their creative side during class activities. I was impressed with some of the art they managed to create.

Desmos Screenshot Tux Desmos Screenshot mushroom Desmos Screenshot bullseye

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my increased usage of Desmos this school year. It’s an excellent tool. I literally can’t imagine teaching without it.

 

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Shipwrecked on a deserted island

ship wreck

I spent four days this week on a deserted island with my precalculus students.

It all started when I read this post by Sue Vahattum. If you’re looking for a good exponential modeling activity, I’d check it out. She explains it pretty well on her blog, so I’ll just recap my experiences this past week.

The basic premise is that you present your students with a scenario where the entire class has been shipwrecked on a deserted island. Suddenly there is a murder and one member of the class is the culprit. The class will need to use body temperature and logarithmic equations to determine the time of death and, eventually, the murderer. Here’s the handout I gave my students that frames it all. Of course, you would customize the names to the students in your class.

UPDATE 1/9/17: Improved handouts and storyline are here.

This is the second time I’ve done this activity, and both times it’s been a total hit with the kids. It’s pretty engaging, out of the ordinary, and totally applicable to the curriculum. To get into the spirit of the activity, I come in wearing sandals, shorts and sunglasses during first couple of days and they enjoy that. Besides, we are on a tropical island. They work in groups and I use this whole thing as a culminating activity to my exponential/logarithmic functions unit. The modeling goes beyond just a simple regression, of which a data table can be put into their graphing calculator. What is great here is that the modeling contains a vertical shift in the function, so they have to do the modeling by hand. To tie into their unit assessment, I also will include a problem on their exam relating body temperature and time of death.

The only hiccup this year came on the third day when they couldn’t actually find the murderer! The students overlooked a detail related to the time intervals and we had to conclude on a fourth day. Since I was actually “murdered” on the third day, I couldn’t help them (which was perfect to assess mastery). This actually made it even more dramatic as they had to wait the entire weekend to figure out who the murderer was! Oh, by the way, before the activity I did secretly “choose” a student who could play a good murderer before we started – and he consented to this part in the activity. No one in the class knew who it was beforehand, so when he was revealed at the end he could come up with a little skit as to why he did it. It was a fun touch.

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Simplified Probability Bingo

I teach an Algebra 1 course and the other day we were studying experimental and theoretical probability. I saw a Probability Bingo activity on Dave Ferris’s and Sarah Hagan’s blogs and wanted to try it. The problem was I saw it the day of the lesson and didn’t really have a bunch of prep time. In fact, I had about 15 minutes. (I changed my previous plans at the last moment.)

What do teachers do? We adapt at the last second. Here’s what I did and it took about 10 minutes of prep.

I colored several pieces of paper in different colors.photo 1

I also created 2×2 squares in Word and printed them out on 1/3 sheets of paper. During the lesson, I put all of the colored paper in a small cup. I told the students I was going to pull out two pieces or paper, one at a time. I asked the students to predict what I was going to pull out by filling in their tables by putting two colors in each corner of the table.

Prob Bingo

I proceeded to pull out the pieces of paper from the cup. If the combination they wrote down was pulled from the cup, they crossed it out. The first student to have their  2×2 grid entirely crossed out wins.

We played twice. Afterwards, we discussed the probabilities of choosing each combination of colors. They then dived into some practice problems on probability. It was great because the formal “learning” about probability took place after I had them engaged in the activity and not the other way around.

I found that the students thoroughly enjoyed the activity. It was a simple game and they didn’t even care what they won (which was nothing). They just wanted their colors pulled from the cup. Plus, it was an awesome hook into basic probability….especially since it only took 10 minutes of actual prep time. Next time, I may try and go with full-blown bingo.

 

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Classroom Economy

Dollar Bill

I have been meaning to write about a rewards/management system that I use in my classroom for the last couple of years. It’s math money. I have heard of other teachers that use fictitious money in their classroom, but mine has interesting and meaningful twist: students pay taxes and file tax returns for all the money they earn. I cannot remember who I got the idea from, but I remember it was an elementary or middle school teacher. If I can find who it was, I will post the link.

A few years ago, I had one of my (now) former students create some $1, $5, and $10 math money “bills” that I use for currency. He created it in Photoshop (they’re somewhat elaborate) and gave me the files. The little I actually know about Photoshop allows me to update them from year to year.

The students earn money for lots of things. It’s all about positive reinforcement. I especially prize participating in class and collaboration – and will usually pay students for these things. Attendance, homework, hard work, Student of the Week, exam scores, etc….these are also things that will earn a student some dinero. We also have various paid positions that students must be elected to (attendance taker, runner, etc.), each of which receive a weekly salary.

Students spend their money during auctions every two weeks. I auction off candy, dollar store items, homework passes, positive calls home, among other things. We even have 50/50 raffles every now and then. The possibilities here are endless, plus its where all the fun is! It’s crazy, students love to compete to be the highest bidder and spend their money.

As students earn their money, I keep a simple tally of how much they earn. Other than Student of the Week payments, all income is taxed. Students can choose to withhold income as they earn it – they simply give it back to me (i.e. the government). Each class elects a treasurer that will take my tallies and enter them into our class database (Google spreadsheet), which sums all taxed and untaxed money each student earns. At the end each marking period I take this spreadsheet and mail merge it into individual W-2’s for each student, which I print and give to them.

I have created a tax form that students complete on tax day. We literally spend an entire day doing taxes. They ask questions, get confused, and eventually learn (like most people who do their own taxes). Students itemize their deductions and compute their taxes using our tax rate table. I used to have adjustable tax rates, but it got too complicated. Deductions include high exam scores, donating to a class pencil fund, seeing me for extra help after school, and other “good” deeds. After they submit their income tax forms, the treasurer examines them to ensure there are no discrepancies. Some students will receive a tax refund while most others will owe taxes.

The whole process really does mock the tax-filing process. I like to think that after students take part in this process six times every year, they have a pretty good understanding of how the IRS does its thing. It’s also an effective way to promote positive behavior in my class. Using money in my classroom has afforded me loads of flexibility in terms of classroom management and allowed me to mimic the real world in countless ways. Plus, its just plain fun.

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