I think it’s safe to call my new school a high-stress academic environment. Students want to do well, parents push their kids to do well, and faculty/administration have high expectations. That’s not to say I didn’t have any of these factors at my last schools, just that they weren’t as pervasive. So…as I came into this exam season, I knew I needed to step up my exam prep game. To that end I set three goals for myself:
- Teach the students to manage their stress well.
- Prepare the students for a comprehensive exam.
- Use my office hours and after hours time efficiently with the students.
This is always a weak spot of mine. I get into office hours and am constantly distracted by everyone asking me questions from all directions. I knew I needed to be smart about the exam prep window. My mantra: “answer every question once, even if multiple students ask the same question multiple times.”
I took three steps to be efficient and enact my mantra:
- Embedded help in the Moodle study guide. Wrong answers that match an anticipated algorithm (such as not converting units properly) gives targeted advice (“it looks like you didn’t do unit conversions to base units”).
- A Google Doc shared with the class where students can ask/answer questions.
- A YouTube playlist of hint videos.
Embedded help in Moodle: here’s one example that helps lead students to the solution.
The Google Doc:
Every question on the study guide earns a section in the Google Doc. Students ask questions and I answer them or give hints. This is one of the meatier exchanges between students and me. I like that I only have to answer the question once because everyone can read the “thread”.
I’ve been working on getting the kids to help each other through the Google Doc (all semester, actually) but they’re much better at in-person help than online.
The YouTube playlist (also linked from the Google Doc) has been fun to create. See below for a video.
A semester-long comprehensive exam is always a stressful event. Kids have forgotten important chunks of what they learned back in September. It was interesting to watch them work the study guide and remember stuff. Yesterday I heard kid 1 say to kid 2, “I love Snell’s Law!” Awww, that will long be a top 10 memory of mine.
I believe a good study guide is a key component to helping younger students prepare for a comprehensive exam. The study guide should be pretty similar to the exam so kids don’t feel surprised. The mix of problems should reflect what was most important to the semester. (Am I talking obvious stuff here? Never can be sure…) I explicitly told my students, “if it isn’t on the study guide, you can be sure it isn’t on the exam.”
I do study guides and tests in Moodle, so I get several metrics about my students’ study habits to help me offer individual advice to kids. For example, one young woman was working her study guide with little advance thought, so was having to retry questions 5 or more times. I conferenced with her that she doesn’t know the material if it takes her 5 tries to get a correct answer. Another student, a young man was very concerned that he was rushing things because he finished the study guide very quickly. My question, “Do you make careless mistakes?” led to a great discussion about ways to be sure you’re getting work right.
My friend John Burk (@occam98) helped me out here with a year-old blog entry, “The no-stress exam package“. The fact I stressed most with the kids was to plan their exam studies several weeks in advance. We’ve spent a lot of time talking this semester already about the value of sleep.
One addition of my own was the exam bonus: if you earn 80% or better on the study guide, you’ll earn +5 on the exam; get 90% or better on the study guide to earn +10 on the exam.
What do you do to be your best and have your students do their best at exam time?
Use case: kid encounters a tough question on Moodle homework. I want to give them some help but only if they need it.
Catalogued here for my future reference.
Oh, you actually want to know more about these pictures? Pictured is a homework/quiz/test question from Moodle, an open source course management system. Specifically, it’s a Calculated Question, meaning all the numbers in the problem could be regenerated for each kid or each attempt. If you look at the fourth gallery photo, you’ll see what it takes to write solutions in this system.
Wasn’t really the reason for these posts, but you may also find it interesting that these Calculated Questions allow partial credit answers. I write formulae to common mistakes and choose the portion of credit I want awarded. On this problem, for instance, the kids might forget to calculate speed of sound at the given temperature and might instead use the speed of sound at room temperature.
The whole Moodle system is pretty amazing, actually. Many thanks to my new colleague Meghan Bjork for introducing me to it.
So, we held our little costume contest. There were 31 entries(!) and all 2012 participants are pictured below. Based on discussion at the #globalmath costume party, I learned we’ve been doing this since 2009. History: 2011, 2010, 2009
Julie receives a hanging organizer from the Container Store. These babies were all the rage at Twitter Math Camp this summer. I love mine because I hang it near the door and fill it with handouts. “Did I miss anything?” is a question I refuse to answer. I just point at the organizer.
Justin and Timon will have to fight it out over graph paper composition books and Command Strip adhesive poster strips.
Several math teachers swear by the graph paper comp books for their Interactive Notebooks, saying it helps kids organize their problem solving (not to mention, it provides a handy Cartesian plane all the time).
The poster hangers are about the only method I know to hang posters in a room with cinderblock construction. Colleagues of mine swear by the glue gun but regret it in May when taking things down. These suckers work.
|@k8nowak as @mr_stadel|
|@marybourassa as @approx_normal|
|@dandersod as @Mythagon|
|@algebrainiac1 as @wahedahbug|
|@absvalteaching as @approx_normal|
|@mr_stadel as @mr_vaudrey|
|@maxmathforum as @MrHonner|
|@calcdave as @bowmanimal|
|@cheesemonkeysf as @mpershan|
|@mgolding as @mrpicc112|
|@druinok as @samjshah|
|@jacehan as @park_star|
|@hfxmark as @ddmeyer|
|@fourkatie as @cheesemonkeysf|
|@samjshah as @druinok|
|@fouss as @druinok|
|@lmhenry9 as @mathbratt|
|@rdkpickle as @j_lanier|
|@pamjwilson as @mgolding|
|@mathbratt as @mathtastrophe|
|@chris_harrow as @roughlynormal|
|@btwnthenumbers as @woutgeo|
|@park_star as @crstn85|
|@zidaya as @MrHonner|
You need to start making hexaflexagons. These:
Vi’s video not helpful enough? I learned to make simple hexaflexagons here. Maybe you can, too.
Voting runs 8am to midnight today. Visit the GDoc with all #globalmath #twittereen contestants listed. Please vote only one time.
Next Tuesday (Oct 30) at the #globalmath meeting we will be celebrating #twittereen. This tradition goes way back to 2011 when a bunch of us dropped our regular Twitter avatars in favor of “dressing up” as a Twitter friend/celebrity/enemy. Check out Lisa’s summary of 2011 hijinks.
How do we want to run the #globalmath meeting on Oct 23? Leave your ideas in the comments. When we have consensus (or when Thursday at 11pm hits), this post will be updated to reflect our final plans. That gives you the weekend to come up with a great costume. I just wonder if I can get my sista to dress as my twin:
- Dress up as your favorite Twitter avatar and take a picture.
- Set it as YOUR avatar on Oct 30 just before #globalmath.
- Join us on BigMarker for the Costume Contest!
- Continue with open-ended discussion, meme sharing, and general laughs.
- Leave your avatar up for Halloween, reap the laughs as people make connections all day long.
Make us guess who you are dressed as. We heap praise on you for amazing creativity. We vote on the best costume. #globalmath attendees can win fame! fortune! and prizes! Only the last one is actually true.