IB MYP and Math Tests – Students rise to the challenge

I have a renewed respect for math tests.  For the last few years, I have not given a test at the end of every unit.  It is more like at the end of alternate units.  Other units might conclude with a modelling assignment, or have a big investigative task and conclude with a less significant quiz.  Before you read on, please understand that I do not believe that testing is the best or only way to assess a student’s learning.

The MYP requires me to award a level of achievement for a student’s test.  The level is  based on their ability to correctly answer basic, more complex and then challenging and even unfamiliar problems; their ability to apply their skills to various situations; and the level of consistency with which they are correct.

Earlier in the year, my grade 10 students questioned the fairness of having to be confident with “challenging and unfamiliar” problems in a test.  Would they need to go to Juku (intensive math tutoring school) in order to be successful with these problems, I was asked.

Let me just diverge quickly to explain what an “unfamiliar” problem might be.  The test question will not be anything they need to figure out how to solve on the spot.  It is a situation where they need to use the skills and knowledge being tested, but in a way they might not have seen before.  An example from the most recent test, which was for non-right angled triangle trigonometry, would be: What is the area of a regular octagon whose sides are 49 mm long?  Such questions may be accompanied with a diagram.

As a teacher, this is an appealing aspect to a test, as it moves away from that “recipe book” mathematics idea that many kids have: “Teach me how to solve any type of problem, and I will be able to regurgitate that technique.”  Students do not say “You did not teach us any of those?” when they see an unusual test question.  They know that it is mandatory for me to include such questions.

What I am finding, is that kids are pushing themselves to new levels:  they want to get those “challenging and unfamiliar” problems.  They are accepting the “challenge”.  They are no longer frightened by unusual questions.  They know to expect them, and many kids are actually looking forward to them!

The results in the most recent test were very pleasing.  I do have to take into account that the topic suited many students well: they prefer the geometry and trigonometry to heavy-duty algebra.  I feel encouraged, nevertheless.

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About eadurkin

Originally a HS Mathematics teacher from New Zealand, currently working as Associate Principal in the Secondary School at Canadian Academy, an international school in Kobe, Japan. Married with two children.
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