## Trying to find math inside everything else

### Whole Class Test

I teach an SAT Math Prep this year, which has been an interesting challenge. We basically started off with lessons on all the different content in the exam, then had a long section on tactics (which can be framed as test-taking tactics but I noticed are often just tactics for solving problems in general, which was nice). But we reached the end of those, and the (in-school) SAT is a month away. The obvious thing to do is to just keep doing practice exams, but that can get a bit boring, for both me and the students. Plus, the class that meets Tues/Thurs hasn’t had very many graded assessments this marking period, so I needed to give them something.

I had decided that grading them on correctness in a practice SAT is not appropriate. I had told them this before, and they knew their grades on their assignments were more for things like how they applied the tactic we were learning. But last class they walked in and I gave them a Part 3 exam (the non-calculator part) and told them it would be graded – but there would be a plot twist. For right now, just take it individually, except this half of the room should start from the back and go forward. Oh, and you get 5 fewer minutes than normal.

While they were working, I went around on my whiteboards and put up the numbers 1 through 20 well spread out, and an ABCD for 1-15. (I wish I had taken pictures!) This started to get them suspicious. When time was up, I told them my grading scheme: it was out of 5 pts, and they lost a point for every question they got wrong. So if you got 15 right, that’s a 0. But! They had the remaining 20 minutes of class to work together and figure out what the right answers should be. And if anyone got less than 15, the whole class lost a point – forcing them all to work together. (With limits, of course – they won’t be penalized for that kid who went to the bathroom for 15 minutes during this, for example.)

A suggestion I made to them was to go around and make votes for their answer for each question. A clear consensus might mean that that is the right answer. However! Don’t be afraid to put your answer down even if everyone else’s is different. I’ve seen questions where only one person got it right. I told them they need to convince each other of what the right answer is.

Let me tell you, I heard so many great conversations as they and I went around the room. Because it’s the SAT, no one gets them all right, so everyone is being pushed to make a convincing argument that their answer is right. Students who weren’t sure got explanations from others. It was delightful!

About halfway, I noticed a clear consensus for about 15 of the 20 questions, but the middle 5 were really quite split. So I lead the class in sharing out their reasoning for some of those questions – never saying what the right answer was, but again letting them convince each other.

It was a nice collaborative effort – I highly recommend it.

### Whiteboard Desks

After TMC14, I heard a lot of talk about Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (though I didn’t go to that session myself). After reading Alex Overwijk’s post about it, I wanted to use the idea in my classroom, but getting vertical boards up seemed challenging considering how long everything takes in school. The researched showed the horizontal non-permanent surfaces were the second best thing, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went to the hardware store, bought some whiteboard paint, and got to work.

I put the paper down to prevent drips but, of course, dripped anyway.

Overall the desks have been amazing. The students love getting the markers and working with them, especially because they hate committing things to paper when they might be wrong. (Yes, kids do doodle/play tic tac toe/etc on the desks, too, but I think that’s no different that what they’d do on paper.) Another benefit is how easy it is for me to interact with the students when I go around. Instead of having to write something on the student’s paper or notebook, which always felt intrusive, I can jot something quickly down on the table itself, leaving it to the student to work it into their own thinking. It’s worked great for tutoring (so I don’t have to get up and go to the board). The paint might not last as long as it could when the room is used by other classes who don’t know what’s up (our night school in particular, I’d say), but it’ll last the year, at least, and I’m more than happy to repaint them before next year.

The only picture of student work on desks I had that wasn’t blurry as hell. I need to work on my photography.