Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How I assessed on trig identities this year...successes and lessons learned.

This has turned into a much longer post than I had planned...I always remind myself that I blog for myself and to reflect on my practice, and if others want to read, then good for them :)  I have also come to realize how wonderful having blogging as an outlet is.  I am not blessed, as many are, to have a collaborative partner or a like-minded colleague in person and thus my online community has become that PLC and sounding board that every teacher needs...Thanks for being a part!


I've never really been that happy with how I've assessed my students on trig identities.  The last three years I've just resorted to a take home test where students had a lot of time as well as all their resources.  And, even though I've gone over what is allowed (basically everything on our class website) and not allowed (google and friends), I have come to realize, unfortunately, that expectations of integrity and character just cannot be followed by most teenagers these days.  (That's probably another blog post series in itself, but not something I really want to write about because it frustrates me so).  It's also really hard to grade trig identities.  I recorded my time last year and I spent about 15 hours grading 100 students' exams simply because every problem is complex and there isn't always one right answer.

So, this year I decided to have the test be in class only.  There were several reasons for this - I wanted to give my students a break over their spring break was a big reason.  I also wanted it to be a partner test so they could collaborate and communicate about the material, which I thought would help their understanding.  (Perk of partner test = my grading cut in half!).  Partner tests could only really be done in class.  I also wanted to monitor their completion of it a little better and hopefully limit the amount of cheating that went on.

The test is over, it's spring break, and the test is graded.  Students are in the process of giving me feedback on the process and I am reflecting on the whole thing... Here are my thoughts:

General setup:
  • Students had to pick a partner that was +/- 5% of their current grade.  With a few exceptions, this happened.  That helped with matching students up not with their friends necessarily, but with students who had a similar level of understanding.  Students had the opportunity to pick their partners for about 2 days (with my approval), and then I started to match up the remaining ones based on their current grades.
  • Students could only work on the test when both partners were present.  If they planned to meet at 7:10 but one partner didn't show up until 7:30, the one who arrived on time would just have to sit there and wait.  It was frustrating for them (and me watching them sit there), but it made the partner test more fair so one person wasn't pulling the whole load.
  • Being the week before spring break, I had about 15 of my 105 students not there Thursday and Friday (the two days set aside for in class testing) due to school field trips who wanted to leave earlier than the 9 days already given for break.  (That's also a whole blog series which I don't want to write).  So, they had to finish before they left.  I also had probably 30-40 students gone on Friday, which was a shortened day but still 40 minutes of work time.  Those students also had to finish before they left. (Over half of those gone weren't even told by their club/sport advisor until the day before that they wouldn't be in class).  The plan was that students would be given 2 class days, and then they could come in before school, lunch, and after school for Tuesday-Friday. My room was packed and crazy every day, but students were focused and working.  Students who were missing class just had to make accommodations.  Thankfully, most of them were able to partner with other students who were missing class.
  • The test had some choice in it.  There were 30 questions, but the students only had to do 22 of them.  Most of them were in sets, like "here are 3 problems, pick 2" or "here are 2 problems, pick 1".  This allowed them to still be successful even if there were a couple of "stumpers" out there.
  • So, would I do it this way in the future?  I think so, with a few tweaks.  I would still partner up students in the same way and make partners both be there if they wanted to work on it. I would set aside 3 class days to work on it though, and not have it be the 2 days before spring break (although that is when this unit always falls, so I'm not sure what I would do.  Waiting for them to take it the 3 days right back from break would make them want to study and stuff over break instead of taking a break.  But, maybe that would be a good thing!)
Thoughts about the test
  • The results were decent for what is probably the hardest test of the year.  They aren't as great as I would have hoped, especially considering it was fully open note, partner, etc.  I made 50% the cutoff, meaning if a student scored below a 50%, the grade in the gradebook wouldn't be lower than a 50%.
  • It is interesting to see the gap between passing and failing.  There is between a 5.5-11% jump between the C's and D's.  Meaning, it wasn't like students scored at all percentages.  They either passed it pretty well, or failed it.
  • Here are the results from my 3 classes:
    • CLASS 1:
      • 15 at 68.5 or below (9 of those at 50% cutoff)
      • 17 at 73 or above with 4 A's
      • 70.7% avg
    • CLASS 2:
      • 13 at 66 or below (2 of those at 50% cutoff)
      • 24 at 77 or above with 9 A's
      • 77.9% avg
    • CLASS 3:
      • 10 at 62 or below (6 of those at 50% cutoff)
      • 26 at 71.5 or above with 10 A's
      • 78.4% avg
  • As trigonometry has been getting tougher (i.e. beyond simple SOH-CAH-TOA), I seem to be losing some students.  It is now not in the world of "these are the steps you take every time" to solve the problem.  It requires critical thinking and deep processing.  Unfortunately, some of my students see that and just decide to quit.  It's sad and I can't quite figure out how to reach them.  None of my 50% cutoff student groups asked any questions for the 2+ weeks we were working on this unit or the week they could work on the test.  There were a lot of practice days built in where they didn't have a new video to watch and we just practiced and worked on problems in class, trying to expose them to as many different types of problems and situations as possible.  However, as the saying goes, you can lead the horse to water but you can't make him drink.  33% of the test was straight from their PQ problems or ones we did as a class on the board at the beginning of the period.  Many students, even those who passed the test, did not get those correct.  It's disheartening to me.
  • I really think some of this is due to the students not really taking their WSQs or practice work seriously.  This seems to happen at this point in the year every year (at least it has the last several years since I rearranged the pacing to put trig closer to the end of the year).  I know it's spring fever, getting closer to AP testing, etc, but I'm not sure what the solution is...I just spent the whole afternoon today putting together my trig graph Desmos exploration activity and Big Question discussion prompts/templates for next week and no matter how excited I am, if students aren't willing to put in the time and effort to listen, ask questions, and think... it's just not going to be successful.  Student motivation is key.  It's tough because not only am I not spoonfeeding the content to them, it's content they must think critically about and really try to make connections in their brain.  Those two things come with automatic shutoff triggers for some of my students and I'm not sure how to undo that.
  • Students were able to use the iPods during the test to access the course website only.  They were given strict instructions that they were not allowed to use Google or any site besides what was linked on our course website.  There were things searched on Google (specific problems typed into the search history) on three iPods.  I put a lot of trust in them and am basically relying on their conscience and their character to hold them accountable because there is no way I can monitor it fully myself.  They couldn't use their cell phones, to help them avoid taking pictures and texting each other.  They had to leave all their work in class each day, although they could go home and practice/study some more.  They were instructed they could only talk with their partner about the test even though it spanned multiple days.  Despite these expectations, which my students assured me were fair and reasonable and should be easy to follow, I know I had students who cheated.  And since I can't "catch" them, I can only hope it will catch up to them one of these days.  It is so frustrating for me, since character and integrity are things I emphasize and try to instill in my students from day 1.

Student comments
  • I asked my students what they thought about the PARTNER test, the MULTIPLE-DAY test, and then just the UNIT Q CONTENT.  The five questions I asked them were:
    • How was your experience with a PARTNER test?
    • How was your experience with a MULTIPLE DAY test?
    • How was your experience with the UNIT Q MATERIAL? Did you do enough PQs before the test to feel confident?
    • How easy do you feel it was to follow the expectations of integrity Mrs. Kirch set out? (i.e. not using Google, not talking about the test with anyone but your partner, etc). Were they fair expectations, or not things that Mrs. Kirch can expect her students to follow?
    • What changes would you suggest be made if we were to do a PARTNER and/or MULTIPLE DAY test in the future?
  • Overall, the students pretty much all said they had a great experience with a partner test (collaboration, support, helpful, reassuring, etc), a great experience with multiple day test (less stressful, felt more successful), a hard time with the Unit Q material (even doing all the PQs wasn't enough, it was just that tough), and very easy and reasonable to follow the expectations (then who were my iPod cheaters?!?!?).

  • Out of the 53 responses I've received so far, students said they spent between 60 minutes and 530 minutes on the test, with most of them between 174 and 300 minutes.  (60 minutes was my lowest percentage, but my next time up was 95 minutes and they got a 100%)
  • In terms of suggestions for changes, here were some that were made:
    • I would suggest it not to be within the days a lot of peipke arent there. Because then they get the disadvantage of having less time.
    • I would suggest having different versions for different times to limit the possibility of sharing problems with other students.
      Overall, I thought this test was okay except for the time crunch. I liked that we did the test in partners since the test involved a lot more work than usual. The multiple days allowed some more flexibility in schedules if we were busy for certain times/days.
      Give us about a day more to work together.
      I think that the partner and multiple day test is very helpful to many students. The only change that I would suggest is not to make it an open note test, because I think a partner is the best resource that one can use.
      I would allow students to take the test on any day of the week during class without doing the practice quizzes because it is their test grade and by extending the time period of the test to a week, the students can choose to practice to achieve a good grade or preemptively take it and fail. It is up to them if they want to earn the grade they think they deserve for their hard work or laziness.
      Next time, I don't think we should use the iPods because we already had a problem with it on this test. The SSS already helped tremendously.
      I suggest you have a sign up sheet, first come first serve. So it won't be crowded.
      I think it was good but it was annoying how a lot of people would be trying to talk to my partner during the test and ask him questions.
      I would say that there should be some way to ensure equal preparation on both partners. My partner and I were both prepared equally, however I noticed that other groups seemed to be carried by one person. I think it isn't fair that one person is depended on.
      No technology at all
      I would suggest that more time should be given during class because I felt like 2 class periods was not enough and that all the students had to come multiple times outside of class.
      I honestly think that the system is okay as it is. By requiring both partners to be there, you kind of avoid the typical "one person has to carry the other", and technically split the work in half.
      I feel that the way it was done was fine. The way partners are picked is very efficient and it makes sure that both partners contribute to the test.
      Hm. I would personally prefer that these tests be worked with three partners instead of two so you're able to have more brain power knowledge. But realistically, I say that the changes that would be pretty nice to students would be that having some of the practice problems in the test would be very helpful to students in the future.
      While I think it is absolutely fair to partner students that have similar grades in the class, I would recommend that you provide students with the option to take the test by themselves. From my perspective, it felt as though we were obligated to take the unit test with another student. I felt as though the schedule for the multiple day test was generous and fair.
      It would be convenient to have the test scheduled on a regular week because the week of the test consisted of a lot of school events that meant people were in and out all the time, including myself

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