Saturday, May 26, 2012

Students' Views on 101qs

I've been very much into 101qs.com and Dan Meyer's work. 101qs is a website where users upload photos and videos and others determine whether or not these items are perplexing. If they ask a question about the photo or video, the perplexity score of the item goes up. These questions are typically asked by math teachers such as myself.

However, math teachers are not the intended audience for these items. Math students are. While 101qs does a very good job of sorting out the good items from the bad, it seemed to me that the scoring system was more indicative of what teachers saw as perplexing - especially if they can immediately see the math behind the problem. Students don't look at problems this way. They seem to take more interest in the problems that they think are "cool".

Before you look at the data, let me explain a couple of things. I used two different presentations on two different days. Each presentation included twenty items from 101qs. I tried to pick things that were either highlighted on Dan's blog or belonged to users who regularly show up in the top 10 acts. I told the students to write either a "yes" or "no" for each item. A "yes" would indicate that they found the problem interesting and would like to solve it. The presentations were shown to thirty upper-level sixth grade students and forty-six lower-level eighth grade students. Because the presentations were shown on two different days, I did not mix the results of the first presentation with the second. This made sense as the students did not appear to be as enthusiastic the second day (not sure why). Finally, I didn't do this in a very scientific way, and there certainly may be flaws with my experiment. For instance, there were a few items where some students loudly showed their appreciation/distaste and I thought this might have skewed the results.

I must insist that this data does not condemn the work on 101qs. It simply adds to the discussion already happening on Dan's website. For me, it has given a little more insight into what might interest my students.

Click this link for the data.

Some things I noticed...

1. Timon's dominoes was still number 1. The kids loved it.


2. Although these do well on 101qs, the kids did not like these problems. I find all of them to be interesting, and I think with the right presentation, they would do well in a classroom. But at first glance, the kids gave the thumbs down.
Too good to be trueThe Ticket Roll
Ball of Mackerel

3. Griffy did much better with my kids (especially the sixth graders) than with 101qs. I bookmarked this video immediately after watching it. I love the concept and I can't wait to use it in the classroom. I was surprised to see the perplexity score so low for this one.


4. Futurama sells. I suspect showing any cartoon that the kids like and has math in it will interest them (no pun intended). This might also have done well because some of the students thought a curse was bleeped out.


5. Upper-level sixth graders were typically much more interested in the problems than lower-level eighth graders. This was to be expected.

Nathan Kraft


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why I hate assigning homework.

Here are a list of reasons why I hate homework:

It wastes class time. Students are not motivated to review homework, especially if it's mindless practice. Most don't pay attention, especially if they didn't actually do it. This time could be spent actually learning something.

I don't have the time to really check it.

While a few actually do it, most either copy from someone else or don't do it at all. Students who copy get a bonus to their grade (for not actually learning anything) and students who don't do it see their grades plummet and ask, "why even bother trying?" I'm also forced to give students disapproving looks when they don't complete it - yech!

I've read that there is very little research to show that homework improves achievement in the middle grades. I can understand this, especially if it is given to students who don't fully understand what it is that they're supposed to be practicing.

What if the student tries, but doesn't really understand what he or she is doing? Isn't that student just practicing something wrong?

I think homework could be useful if there is some intrinsic motivation to get it done. This means that the problems need to be interesting. The only time homework works without intrinsic motivation is when the student understands the concepts well and the parents are diligent about making sure that it gets done. But how many students fit in that category?

Nathan Kraft

Thursday, May 3, 2012

More ways to remember complementary and supplementary

You probably already have 50 ways to remember the difference between complementary and supplementary. Here's one more that I made up and I think it's pretty cool. I recognize that it's very possible (although unlikely) that someone else also make up this trick somewhere in the universe. Let's just hope that I came up with it first.

I always tell my students to take the co in complementary, and simply draw a line on the c so that it becomes 90. Therefore, complementary angles add up to 90 degrees. Supplementary doesn't work as well, but I like it anyway. Take the su, draw a 1 next to the s, put a slash through the s to make it look like an 8, and top off the u to make it look like a zero. Voila! 180

Nathan Kraft