Through the semester, I’ve been thinking and inquiring about racial and financial inequity in public schools, and how connected learning could be a tool to reduce the magnitude of these inequities. While there are many things that can be done politically to change these realities, teachers have to deal with the immediate implications of these inequities on a daily basis. Teachers cannot wait for policy to change to help students who are currently disadvantaged. One way forward will be using low cost resources, especially those online, the reduce the impact of financial and racial inequality within classrooms and between school districts.
Standardized, high stakes tests are another reality that teachers, especially math teachers, must deal with. This semester, I’ve spent some time working with students who are preparing for the Algebra Keystone test. In my mind there isn’t much more antithetical to connected learning than mandated, standardized tests. The tests evaluate students in only one way, a test with multiple choice and open ended answers. Preparation for the test can be tedious at times, since teachers have no control over the test questions content or formatting. As I prepared my lesson, I was struck by how few example problems and materials exist online. In my search, I found the same 50-60 so sample problems, which were provided by the state, reproduced in a number of different places. Through our work with connected learning, I’ve been wondering if one way to better prepare students for this test is to go totally in the opposite direction, and get away from the drilling and repetition. Instead, I want to use some connected learning concepts to help students in their preparation for a common goal.
I have a few ideas on how to make this work. Since there are so few practice problems, and students across Pennsylvania will be working through the same problems over and over again, I thought that students might benefit from hearing a new voice on the same topics. Using the published sample problems from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), I want to created an online resource where students can teach other students how they worked through and solved different problems. Students would be taking on a level of ownership for their preparation for a test, and in turn, help out their peers by providing a valuable and easy to access, networked resource. In addition, students may respond well to hearing a peer, rather than a teacher, explain their thinking and working process. In creating a network for sample problems, it will be possible for other students to share different methods and techniques for solving a similar problem, introducing some variety into the standardized test world.
As I mentioned, I found the Keystone test to have very few sample problems available online. As we’ve gone through the semester, we in ED677 have spent a good deal of time “making” as a method of learning and inquiry. In that vein, I thought that students could create their own test problems, and then share them. One thing I’ve seen as I work towards becoming a math teacher is that for many students, math problems simply exist. They may be based on real world examples, or they may come from a math textbook, but they just exist to be solved. Rather than solving problems, I think it might be valuable for math students to create their own problems. This could provide an opportunity to incorporate interests, both from the math curriculum, as well as from outside the classroom. They would have to consider the best way to categorize and format their question based on existing test questions, and provide multiple choice answers that would represent “common errors”. Both of these steps would require students to investigate the test and consider more thoroughly how such a test is made. I think allowing students to take part in creating a test questions may better prepare them for taking the test. I’d like to provide a forum for students to create and share their own test question.
There is a lack of online resources for students and teachers to use in order to prepare for a test that almost every student in Pennsylvania will take. This represents a great opportunity to create these resources in a way that is valuable for a network of students across the state. My ‘final make’ will be an attempt to build the framework of this student created learning resource.