My grade 10 applied class this year has some students with some serious gaps in their math abilities/knowledge. We had our first test last week (which is late – about 5 weeks in – too many interruptions to class so far; assemblies, etc). For the first time I tried Howie Hua’s strategy with my class:

I asked my Tweeps if they do VRG for this or let students choose. Almost everyone said they let students choose. I may try VRG next time as there were a couple of students who didn’t get up to talk to anyone. I’ll be asking them for feedback today about how they thought that helped them (or whether or not it did).

Unfortunately on test day due to an assembly running long that morning, they took 10 minutes away from my period. A number of students had trouble finishing. I struggle with that b/c I think many of them want more time, but simply spend the time staring at the page, not being productive in solving. This class is mostly ELLs thought (more than usual) and in the past when that’s been the case & I have slower test takers I have made shorter more frequent tests.

So normally I test ever 2 to 3 weeks once we’ve done activities & practice that cover 4 or 5 of the 9 overall expectations for the course. Then the test is 2 pages double sided, each side of a page is 1 overall expectation (usually one or two problem solving tasks). In the past I’ve changed that to testing every 1 to 1.5 weeks on 2 of the 9 expectations instead. I think that’s what I’ll need to do here so that if a student needs more time they can have it within that class period.

I haven’t yet returned their marked tests (I put feedback only on the test & they receive their grade separately a day later on their evidence record via email; research shows that mark + feedback results in students caring only about the mark, not the feedback). Yesterday I sketched on the board the same triangle based prism they’d had in a Toblerone bar question on the test but with different dimensions. I asked them to find surface area & volume (dimensions were such that they needed to use Pythagorean Theorem to find the height of the triangular base). Most groups took almost the entire period to solve this!!! One group never got beyond the Pythagorean Theorem part. I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to facilitate, correct misconceptions, etc.

As an aside: A colleague came by to watch (said he’s been meaning to for a while now) and I had to ask him not to write on the students’ boards or tell them how to do the next step. Reminded me how hard it is to teach other teachers the skill of not telling students the answers always, but asking questions that help them figure it out for themselves. He said “but they’re nodding so they understand what I’m showing them”. I explained I want them doing the math, not him. I asked him to talk with them but don’t do the math for them.

I also got a short video of the groups getting started on the problem if you’re interested:

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)