This is Part 3 of a three-part series. Part One is here; Part Two here.
Student feedback after all was done: they thought the reading part was helpful, but the math part was awful. Let’s go back to the scene.
Most of the students were there for the reading. They had already passed the Algebra 1 requirement. A few students wanted to stay anyway. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) told them they could stay but only after they went and let their classroom teachers, who were expecting them to show up, that they would be in the prep session.
Because there were only eight students left in the room, GOT allowed them to mute their computer screens, take off the earbuds, and listen to the audio from one computer. As a plus, it also allowed him to attend to the presentation.
Frankly, the Zoomer (the man presenting from afar) didn’t have a clue about math. But that was not the point. He was not on screen to explain how to solve math problems; he was there to explain how students could suss out the right answer when they did not know what to do.
The students were frustrated by this until GOT explained it: today, it’s not about knowing what to do or how to solve a problem. It’s about how to mark a right answer when you don’t know what to do.
The entire morning was devoted to nailing the test. Even so, there were problems. The Zoomer spent ten minutes fumbling through a problem involving similar triangles. Even GOT with his math certification couldn’t understand him. Finally, as the students were expressing their discomfort, he said, “What he’s saying is that 26 is about 24 times 2, so if you multiply 5 by 2, you get 10, and that’s your best guess.”
The students said, “Why didn’t he say so in the first place?”
The actual problem involved two distinct steps, one that involved the Pythagorean Theorem. The Zoomer tried to acknowledge such by asking the students what they used to find the area of a triangle. It’s a theorem that begins with P.
Oops! The Pythagorean theorem has nothing to do with area. It invokes the relationship among the sides of a right triangle if one builds squares along them. Of course, in these Common Core days or the many aliases Common Core now uses to disguise itself in prevailing state standards, no one bothers with actual deep understanding. A squared plus B squared equals C squared is good enough if only the questions are answered correctly.
There was the PEMDAS, but somebody put PREMDAS in the chat. That confused the students and, frankly, GOT didn’t get the R. But he knew that PEMDAS is now presented as BEMDAS because math uses many types of brackets, not just parentheses.
GOT understood the purpose of the day so he didn’t explain how unnecessary PEMDAS is when students know numbers, arithmetic, and properties for what they are. (For those interested, there are really only two operations: multiplication and arithmetic. If you understand mathematical notation, you don’t need Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. Multiply before you add, but if you want to add first, use parentheses.)
12:30 approached and the Zoomer made sure to wrap it up. Was it because he knew four hours was more than enough or was it because he was only paid to do four hours and he wasn’t going to give a minute more?
Before you condemn GOT, reflect on how edutech breaks into the piggybank and how committed it is to actual student achievement.
Sayonara. GOT plans many posts about testing in schools. Look for the posts about infrastructure trials and WIDA, the test for measuring how well ELL students are progressing in learning academic English.