Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 7

Today is our first assessment over new material (the initial skills' assessment was theoretically over knowledge they already had). On assessment days last year when students entered the room they would see something like the following instead of an opener:

My thinking was to have them to begin to focus on the assessment as soon as they walked into class, giving them some scaffolding in terms of what I think they should be thinking about as they prepare. Then once the bell rings and everyone is settled, they begin the assessment (more on the assessment in a minute). The time it takes them to do the assessment, and for us to then go over it on the board, should be roughly equivalent to the time it takes to do a normal opener. This way we still have a "full" day of instruction even on assessment days.

While I like this plan, one thing I discovered last year was that some (many?) students really didn't prepare for the assessments. I've thought of switching to giving a short opener on assessment days, knowing they would do much better on the assessment, but I'm not sure that contributes much to their long-term understanding (and it would also reduce instruction time for the day). So I think I'm going to stick with just giving them the assessment without the opener, but I'm open to hearing your thoughts.

A very brief aside to describe my assessments just to give you an idea. My assessments are an imperfect implementation of standards-based grading. Instead of giving them a test over "chapter 3" or whatever, each assessment is over a specific skill(s). This allows both me and the student to get a better handle on what the student actually knows how to do (not "I got a 73 on Chapter 3"), and what they need more work on. It also keeps the assessments very short (usually only 2 or 3 questions) and very focused, which has the added benefit of making re-assessments take less time. (I've previously written about assessment here and here, so I won't repeat all of that.)

After the students take the assessment, I (or sometimes students) work through the actual problems on the assessment on the smart board, which then gets posted to the class blog (so students have the exact assessment, including worked out solutions, to look back at if they need to review and re-assess). To give you an idea, here's last year's (pdf).

Then we begin today's lesson with a measurement activity that will lead us into dimensional analysis.

Then I get a little more explicit about the vocabulary (rate, unit rate, dimensional analysis), and we do some unit conversions that are hopefully somewhat relevant to the students. The "Vehicle Stopping Distance" at the bottom is a link to a website that talks about average stopping distance to give a little more perspective.

We then do a couple more conversations based on track records at my school, then watch a two-minute video from Discovery Education about dimensional analysis using the cost of gasoline in Australia. I'll then have the students figure out today's cost of gasoline in Australia (in U.S. dollars per gallon). I provide them with links to the current exchange rate and average prices per liter in Australia.

While I anticipate we'll be out of time, I have one more slide where we figure out how much Steven Spielberg made per second he was awake in 2009 that we'll go to if we do have extra time.

Their homework tonight is to check their grade on the assessment on our online portal and, if necessary, make an appointment to come in and re-assess (or get help first, then re-assess) if they did not do well. Tonight is also our Back To School Night, so I'll ask them to remind their parents to come tonight.

Thoughts on today's plan?


  1. I think you're doing the right thing - skip the opener and go straight to the assessment with the goal of still having time for a full day's instruction. I taught in a school district with a total of 144 student contact days, so sacrificing entire days to assessment was not an option. Enough of our year is spent assessing as it is.

    The understanding I look for in dimensional analysis is that students recognize the power of the number one, even if they don't recognize the different ways the number one can be written. I'd start students with something simple, like 1/12, and ask them what the value was. They'll all say "one twelfth," or "one over twelve" or something like that. Then ask, "Does anybody think this is the number one?" They'll say no. Ask, "What could we do to make it one?" They'll suggest adding 11/12, or maybe just changing the numerator to 12. Hopefully at this point they're hooked, and you can come in and add labels - 1 ft/12 in. If it's a really good day, some very clever student will figure that out themselves. Once they see that 1 ft/12 in is one, and that they can write one a lot of ways if they use the labels correctly, then they can go on to dimensional analysis. Their understanding of the process will be so much deeper if they see the multiplicative identity at work, as multiplying by one doesn't change the value of the initial factor. The labels are really doing all the work to maintain equivalence.

    That leads to one caution: your Spielberg problem, because of the sleeping bit, is going to lead some students to include a ratio like 1 day/18 hours, which isn't equivalent to one. So that part of that problem isn't using the multiplicative identity, which is fine so long as students recognize what's really happening.

  2. Raymond - I had 128 days in Algebra last year, and that includes the two final exam days, about 16 shortened days (PLC, state ACT, CSAP, assembly days, etc.). 180 Days, anyone?

    Thanks for the 1/12 idea - that's perfect, that's the kind of thing I'm hoping people will point out as I publicly plan. I'm just not very good sometimes at seeing some pretty short, obvious (to some folks) ways to help students understand concepts.

    Yes, I'm aware of the Spielberg caution - I actually like that part of it, but it is probably too soon for them to take it to that level.