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.

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.

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.



Takeaways from the smartest kids in the world

I recently finished reading Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. Takeaways:

0. Finland, Poland, and Korea don’t believe in flooding schools with funds as a way to improve them. Nor do they believe that lowering class sizes or increasing teacher salaries are solutions. These are all essentially stated facts in U.S. schools as a means to improve student performance.

1. We think we have high stakes testing. Oh, please. In Korea a student’s future is entirely dependent upon their performance on one exam that they take once. They are practically guaranteed a high paying career and a superb education if they perform well on it. And if they don’t? Well, their future isn’t that bright. That’s high-stakes.

2. How surreal Korea’s hagwons are. The ministry of education completes sweeps to remove students that are being taught beyond 10pm. Korea cannot seem to keep their students from wanting to learn. I had to reread that chapter. Not surprising, as this is a direct consequence of (1).

3. How lackadaisical is teacher preparation in the U.S.? Almost anyone can become a teacher – with comparatively little effort. Countries like Finland select the top 5% of high schoolers to enroll in teacher education programs and their programs are tough. This inherently maintains a culture of high expectations for their students. If the U.S. had a similar system when I graduated high school, I’m not sure I would have been able to become a teacher.

4. Extracurricular activities are almost shunned upon in the highest achieving countries. Academics are absolute priority. I think about how many of my students would be lost without the varsity basketball team. Does this go back to the educational norms that have been established since grade school?

5. Instead of attending PTA meetings, organizing bake sales, or dropping everything to attend parent-teacher night, parents should put more effort into spending high-quality time with their children. Ask about their school day and what they learned. Discuss social issues and current events. Read to them when they’re young and encourage them to think. Studies show that these things have lasting impacts on our kids and how much success achieve.

6. This book is an absolute must-read for any teacher.


My feeble attempt at SBG

This past week I attempted my first unit using standards based grading.

Letting SBG be the driving force of my class was one of my new year’s resolutions. I got much of my inspiration from Frank Noschese, Jonathon Claydon, Jason Buell, Shawn CornallyMichael Ziloto and many other teachers I have met in person and virtually met online.

My motto the first time around was to keep it simple. So I did. Here’s my approach.

Before I thought about SBG, I always broke down my units into distinct concepts using standards. So nothing new here. Next, to help simplify things, I decided to give two smaller exams covering 3-4 concepts instead of one larger exam that would have covered 7 concepts.

For each exam question, I went with a four point scale. Each question is assigned a value between 1-4:

4 = mastery
3 = proficient
2 = developing
1 = needs improvement

For free response questions, this is pretty straight forward. For multiple choice questions, I decided to go with 1 for an incorrect response and 3 for a correct response. There will be at least two questions for each concept and I will average the scores earned. This will provide a final measure that determines their level of understanding for each concept.

My biggest issue was deciding how in the world I was going to keep track of all this. Whatever method I finally land on must be sustainable and practical. Well here’s my system as of now. As I grade the exams, I enter each student’s score for each question into a spreadsheet. (We luckily have a scanner that does this for multiple choice questions.) There’s only 3-4 free response questions, so its not terrible. I have the spreadsheet compute the averages and spit out a final score for every student on each concept. The spreadsheet will serve as my tracking system for each student towards mastery of all the concepts we learn.

Their cumulative score for the entire term will be given by:

Now for student ownership of their knowledge. When I hand an exam back, I’ve always provided each one of my students with an individualized report that summarizes their performance. Before, the report contained their overall score, the class average score, etc.

Now the focus is on what they actually understand (or don’t understand). For SBG I use a simple mail merge to print out a report for each student stating which concept(s) they achieved proficiency/mastery on and which one(s) they need to reassess on.

My next step, which will be a doozy, will be to decide how to maintain and organize my reassessment system. I know I will assign Friday as the one day that will serve as a “Retake Day.” This will be the only day where students are permitted to retake the concepts they need. This will help me stay sane and keep organized. Also, I need to get in the habit of creating retake material for each concept.

Of course this is a work in progress. I’m just glad one of my resolutions is coming to fruition.


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