Thursday, November 5, 2009

Now something for Sherman Dorn ...

Time to post something amusing about educational outcomes and testing.

The british are complaining that math exams are getting easier while a separate article looked at how science exams were being dumbed down. The latter is particularly interesting because they slipped some 50 year old questions in among contemporary ones on a chemistry exam. This classic bit of exam norming was a real wakeup call.

But the best part?

Both articles contain links to old exam questions!

One of the conclusions in the article was not too surprising to me. "Experts who have been looking at the results concluded that students today are required to do fewer complex calculations." Less critical thinking has been the norm, but I think that statement is true even for my exams today compared to some I still have from the past. I am more likely to ask easily graded pieces of a problem rather than a complex problem where a class of 50 students might come up with 35 different answers resulting from 20 different mistakes. However, my exams today are getting harder as I find ways to challenge them while still being able to grade the problems in a reasonable time.

6 comments:

Dan said...

I would certainly hope today's students are asked to do fewer "complex calculations." Cheap computing and calculating is ubiquitous. How many kids don't have a calculator built into their mobile? I would hope concepts and problem solving haven't been diluted though.

Sherman Dorn said...

Dan, I've heard both sides of this argument (that good questions are conceptual, and that allowing calculators means that you can use real-world examples rather than ones designed for ease of calculation). I think Dr. Pion was talking more about the level of difficulty gauged against the practical issues involved in grading.

Doctor Pion said...

They cannot do a complicated calculation even with a calculator, because the difficulty is not in the computational part of the calculation.

If anything, you should expect those old exams to seem easy to today's student, because the numerical part had to be simple enough to do on a slide rule or by hand within the time limits of the exam.

Doctor Pion said...

I was thinking about the chemistry exam (or physics) or I would have pointed the first commenter back to the maths exam. No calculator or other tool available to school children will prove those two triangles are similar, and that is a complex proof compared to the geometry problems from later exams.

Further, I don't think any HS in this state teaches the sort of geometry class I had, which dealt with that sort of proof.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this last comment. The "geometry" class that is being taught now is very different from what I had in high school 25+ years ago. We had affordable calculators back then but focussed on the construction of proofs. Now the high school geometry class is more about trig and graphing fucntions. Many of my students in pre-engineering physics claim to have never heard os SAS or ASA theorems. There is a big loss in being able to logically work your way through many classic geometry proofs.

May said...

Same here.

After 10 hours work today and an even worse schedule tomorrow, all I wish for is that teaching had never been invented.