Monthly Archives: September 2012

Cover Sheets on Tests

When students take tests or quizzes, I sometimes create more than one kind of test (form A and form B) to discourage students from cheating.  Sometimes I put “form A” and “form B” at the top even though they’re the same quiz, and other times I’ve been too busy that week to even think about creating a second test, so it’s just one quiz.  Whatever I do, I always require students to use cover-sheets (or cover-items–I’ll let them use their notebooks or textbooks as long as they don’t open them), and this is the talk I give them at the beginning of the year explaining why they should use cover-sheets:

“So why should we use cover-sheets?  Well, we all can accidentally glance around while taking a test or quiz–it takes a lot of concentration to look at just your sheet, so if I see that you are glancing around accidentally, and your neighbor has their cover-sheet covering their answers, then ‘no harm, no foul’ I say.  However, if you are glancing around accidentally and your neighbor doesn’t have their answers covered, then I am forced to assume the worst.  So for your neighbor’s sake, please use a cover sheet!!”

This gives students reason to prevent one another from not cheating while not making them look/feel stingy or overly protective of their work.  It makes protecting your work almost altruistic!  It also fosters the kind of cooperative thinking and feeling that I want them to have when we’re doing group work, for example.

It also allows me to have discussions with students when I see them looking around: “You know, even though I know you weren’t cheating and weren’t trying to cheat, it looks awfully suspicious when your eyes are staring at your neighbor’s sheet, so please try to keep your eyes on your own paper so I’m not forced to assume the worst.”  This puts the students on my side, while letting them know that I can see when they are in the act of (possibly) cheating.

Just some thoughts that might help other teachers!


Filed under Teaching


So I found this blog post concerning a post-assessment-review idea and I was pretty excited about it.  After I did it with Chemistry and Precalculus, however, I was even more excited, because the students were totally engaged.  Here’s the general idea for anyone who didn’t click the link:

Basically, after any assessment (quiz or test), I break the assessment into sections based on content, and choose the 4 or 5 students who did the best on each section.  These students become “session leaders” and show their fellow students, in groups of 5 students or smaller (depending on the class size), how to do the problems.  After 10 or 15 minutes, the students switch and can choose a new session, based on how well they did and what areas they need help with on the test or quiz.

The first time I did this, I made a few mistakes and have since refined the process.  Here’s a list of things I changed:

  1. Maxing out 10-15 minutes per session.  This way students are on topic the entire class period, instead of drawing on the whiteboards when their session leader is done.
  2. This first time, however, I also gave the session leaders practice problems to do after they went over the problems on the test or quiz, so it did take a little longer, but it was also more work for me.  Now I’m just having students go over problems, but may be in the future I can have the session leaders make up their own problems!
  3. The first time I just assigned students to specific groups.  However, most of my classes are pretty good about not being too “clickish” and some students just do better with certain other students, so I now let them choose, but tell them to do it based on their assessment and the area they are weakest.
  4. Going along with 3, I made “maximum group sizes” so the session leaders don’t feel intimidated by teaching too many at once.

Each session leader gets a whiteboard and their own test.  For quizzes, students care about learning it because they can do quiz retakes.  For tests, students can do test corrections, which I allow them to work on in the sessions, so they’re focused both ways.

The first time I did this, I got really positive feedback–not a single student complained about it and everyone was participating and engaged in each of their sessions!  I even had students asking if we could do this before tests!  Of course, I replied that I wouldn’t know who to make session leaders until after an assessment, but it is a good idea if I could figure out that and some of the details.  I don’t want to over-kill on the sessions otherwise students might start to get bored of them.

Lastly, I give 50 participation points to the session leaders, so even the shy students really want to do it.  I try to choose students who did well on a specific topic, but who also did well overall.  The reason for the “overall” is because these are the students who least need to attend other sessions, which is important.  If it is close, I also go for the student who is less likely to get the chance to lead sessions, hence why I had two students who were session leaders last time who are actually doing really poorly overall in class, but happened to do decently well on a test.  I am hoping it will motivate them to study harder in the future and to see themselves as having the ability to do well in Chemistry.


Filed under Teaching


So my school received a bunch of money and had to get rid of it by a certain time, otherwise it would have all disappeared (we all know that kind of money…) so they decided to purchase about 130 iPads for the high school.  Well, there are about 170 or so students in the high school, but that’s an issue for another day.  Today I want to examine how I’m going to use it and hope to hear feedback from people who have tried this, or people who have used other apps, so let me know!

  1. Doceri — this seems to be the all-in-one whiteboard app, especially for a teacher who would like to walk around while writing on the projector at the front of the room.  One of my questions with this:  I have a smartboard, so should I use the native Doceri writing platform, or should I use the smartboard notebook interface?  I’ll have to try both out.
  2. “Scan” for QR Codes  — These, if we get several iPads per classroom, could do all kinds of different things.  From checking out of class, to submitting daily HW (here’s my demo implementation of this), to putting specific KA lessons on my version of theLow Tech Khan Academy“, to sending students to my website to ID what HW they missed if they were absent.  Oh, and enough students have phones with scanning capability, that they can use this even before we get iPads…
  3. Socrative — This is would require that every students have some sort of device, so I guess it’s technically not iPad only, but it replaces the CPS “clickers” that… oh wait, we don’t have those 🙂

So far these are far and away the best uses I’ve found for iPads, whether I have just a teacher one (in the case of 1) or if there’s a classroom set (2 and 3).  Some things I want done which I haven’t found apps for yet are as follows:

  1. PhET — this is an incredible resource for my Physics class, and I’ve yet to find an iPad substitute for it.  I can’t just use the website because it requires java… *shakes fist at Apple*
  2. Avogadro — there are some okay free modeling molecules applications, but none as extensive as this program.
  3. Geogebra — yes, I know they’re working on an iPad version, so there’s probably nothing out there like this yet, but I can still hope.  And Desmos is not a bad ‘substitute’ for the time being.

Any other programs you can think of for Precalculus, Chemistry, or Physics (perhaps a good accelerometer?) would be spiffy, if you happen to know and/or use them.  Free is better, but if you can vouch for a paid app, I think our school can help me get them.

Lastly, I checked out TeacherKit, but I’d like to use it like I use my clipboard: I mark students who are absent/tardy (which you can do), and I can quickly check HW and mark if they have that or not (which I can’t do), and I can look back over the week and quickly see if they turned in their HW or not (also can’t seem to do quite as quickly as pen & paper).  So holler if you know a good alternative!


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LaTeX Made Easier

So I’ve yet to use LaTeX in my website, but I did have to write a thesis back in math grad school, and of course everyone used LaTeX for everything, not just the math equations.  We were all so proud of our work because LaTeX just made the words look good.  Of course, we also knew the trick of never writing a thesis in LaTeX from scratch because then you’d have to figure out what the 20 header lines meant–it was much easier to ask your fellow grad student for their thesis template and use that.  Of course, they got their thesis template from another grad student and so on, so it makes you wonder “who wrote the first thesis template that every math grad student in America is probably using??”

Anyway, I found this cool Google Chrome app called “Daum Equation Editor” to help people who don’t want to get their hands dirty with the LaTeX code yet want to write pretty equations in their blog.  Don’t forget to put “$latex” before what you want to change to latex and “$” at the end of the statement.  Here are some examples where I just copied what I created in the app:

f(x)=\frac { 3+2x }{ 5 }

\log _{ 2 }{ 8 } =3

2{ H }_{ 2 }+{ O }_{ 2 }\longrightarrow 2{ H }_{ 2 }O

Note: Some of the above took more than one attempt to get WordPress to show the correct formula rather than just text.  Just copying it again solved the problem.


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Provoking Questions

So I teach at a Christian School and our principal asked us to make our classes “Thoroughly Christian” as our school motto/slogan describes.  I would argue that this is easier for the Social Studies and English departments than the Science, and especially the Math department.  Avoiding the silly math word problems (Question: So if the animals went on the Ark in pairs, and there were 176 species on the Ark, then how many animals did Moses save?  Answer: None.  Moses didn’t build the ark…) how can I make my math class more “Christian”?  One way, which I believe would be good even for the public schools whose teachers cannot mention “Jesus” without worrying about a lawsuit (actually, I did mentioned Jesus and even explained my faith to my students when I taught in public schools, but I did it towards the end of the year when I knew I wasn’t coming back to teach the following year.  I know, I know, you can share your faith as long as it is in an unbiased, and accepting way.  Anyway, I’m off topic just like I get in my classes…).

I ask that students write essays (10+ sentences) on specific “Provoking Questions”.  Sometimes these questions relate to their faith, sometimes they relate to society, and other times they relate to their personal lives.  Sometimes the questions are silly, while other times the questions are serious and maybe even personal.  They e-mail me their responses, and I post their responses on my website, both in Precalculus and in Chemistry.  In order to respect the privacy of students’ answers, I take their names away from their responses and post them anonymously.  Students may then comment on each other’s PQ’s (they leave their names here, so I can see and give them credit).  I offer Participation Points for both the PQ’s and the PQ Responses (many more are given for the PQ’s because I encourage students to complete those).

Some examples of questions include:

  • How do functions help us understand the attributes of God?
  • How could society misuse functions and mathematical models on both personal and societal levels?
  • Respond, Refute, Agree, Discuss, etc. the following statement: Jesus came to Earth to be an inverse. (Take this one seriously, it’s not meant to be silly.)

My hope for this assignment is that students examine their life and apply what they know about math to their lives.  If this assignment makes students think outside of the box even a little, this it is well worth the effort.  Parallel to this, my math classes therefore need to be teaching students a broad understanding of the math, and not just “how do I solve this kind of problem”.  I believe that the former type of teaching/learning contributes to a student’s ability to problem-solve and prepares them for the job market, while the latter prepares them for an end-of-grade test (sometimes).

Oh, and I have to mention that all of my math PQ’s are stolen from the previous Precalculus teacher, who also happens to be the current principal!  Let me know if you do something similar to this in your class, and how you get students to “think outside the box” and apply math class to their lives.


Filed under Teaching

Tiered Assessments Take Over

So I’ve been using the tiered assessments more and more these days, and I am really, really liking it.  Perhaps it’s just a taste of what SBG would be if I were to actually try it, but this has been a great “first step”.  In fact, I’m using it so much, that just the other day in Physics, when I gave them a “normal” quiz, I actually felt guilty that I hadn’t properly assessed the students and allowed them to show me what they know!  I felt so guilty that I gave them another quiz, this time based on the tiered assessment idea, and allowed it to replace their first quiz grade!!  Oh, and they all bombed the 1st quiz and aced the 2nd quiz.  Well, they did significantly better, but I’ll bet a large part of that is because I reviewed with the mistakes game on whiteboards, which worked out really well (I gave each group a different question from the first quiz).

Oh, and here are some tiered assessment quizzes for you to peruse and critique!




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A Way to Use Geogebra

So I just assumed everyone knew this, but just in case, this is a nifty way for students to quickly send you what they’ve done on any program such as Geogebra or Desmos: just use the “Print Screen Button”!  It actually works really well–it copies something onto the invisible computer clipboard and if you open a Word document and “Paste”, the entire screen will show up there!  Here are some examples of my students sending me things they were actually excited (and proud) to do.  I just assumed that my students could “see” reflections, even across the y=x axis.  Not true!!  So yeah, they pasted 4 or 5 of these in a Word document and e-mailed it to me (most students could do this at school during lunch or their break–I try to be sensitive toward those students without internet/computers at home).  And yes, I gave them a handful of Participation Points to sweeten the deal.


Filed under Teaching