Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Getting Rid of "No Calculator" Questions on Math Assessments

I have typically given assessments with both calculator questions and no-calculator questions.  I've reasoned that students ought to know how to do a few things without the use of a calculator.  (maybe we should say technology now instead of a calculator)  Now I've reevaluated my opinion.  I've changed over to the idea that all my questions on any assessment should be allowing the use of technology.  Why?  That is a question I hope to answer for you. 
1.  Change the question if you think they can solve it with technology too easily.  You will find it probably wasn't a good question in the first place.  I like to change my "too easy with technology" questions to be reversed. Example:  Change....Solve x^2-4x-12=0  to be this...Create a quadratic equation to have solutions of x = 6 and x = -2.

2.  Technology is a great way to reinforce answers.  My tests often have this as the directions.  Solve using algebra, and verify your answer using technology.  Justify your work.  Or even simpler, solve in two ways.
3.  No Calculator questions strip the students of their best and most visual resource:  THE GRAPH. What No Calculator questions do is get students to forget that GRAPHING is a GREAT way to solve almost anything.  Don't we want to encourage graphing?  I don't mean graphing by hand either.  I mean a really fast way to analyze a problem.   Are we discouraging graphing because that is too easy?    When we take that away from students that is a major loss for their problem solving skills.

4.   My assessments are changing.  I no longer have 30 questions on a test.  I given less computational questions and more conceptual questions.  I have fewer questions which will help my students focus in on the difficult ideas.  They often have to show answers in multiple ways.  I'm always asking them to explain WHY did you do something.  The questions are a little more challenging and need to be able to use technology to solve.

5.  Technology is NOT CHEATING!  Solve this problem.  3x + 5 = 23   How about graphing?  We have two lines and they are intersecting.  This is a system.  Maybe y= 3x + 5       and      y = 23.  Then find the intersection point.  Is that cheating?   I think the way to give this question is to ask students to solve this problem by graphing and algebra.

6.  A student without technology is often asked to find an answer a certain way.  It might even have only one way to solve it.  I think this takes the creativity away from a student.  It also causes them to be fearful of not making a mistake because they can't even check it with other methods.
7.  What about the argument that we need to have our students get better at computational math skills?  I AGREE.  However, I don't think that a student with good computational math skills equals a complex math thinker.  

8.  I'm going to give more messy number problems.  Technology allows us to give our students weird numbers.  We should be doing that on most of our questions.  Messy numbers actually will encourage them to understand what is happening.  (By the way, have you ever been asked by a student if the answer was wrong because it had a decimal in it?)

9.  Having students use or not use technology is not going to change their number sense during an assessment.  I think we have to promote number sense in many ways during our classes.  But I don't think we should force them into manual calculation during an assessment.  I also don't think that a bunch of calculations by hand will change their number sense too much.  It will probably just build the hate they already have for math.

How about you?  What do you think about having "no calculator" questions on your assessment?  I'd love to hear from you.