Thursday, August 23, 2012

Teacher Tricks.....

This is a re-post about tricks teachers sometimes use in the classroom. Some are from my teaching career, and one goes back to a teacher I had in high school. I apologize for the re-post, but it's so dang expensive to blog from the Caribbean.

When I was in the traditional classroom, I typically made my own tests as opposed to relying on those published by the textbook companies. I was convinced that some of the questions were deliberately written to confuse or trick students, and I don't think that really measures learning.

I did take measures to prevent cheating, however, such as creating two versions of the same test with the questions in a different order or the answer choices rearranged. But I was up front with the students and let them know in advance that there were two (or more) versions of the test, worksheet, or whatever. I really wasn't out to "catch" anyone. But catch them I did. Every semester without fail, some indignant student would march up to my desk to point out my grading error. "Look," he/she would say, "we have the exact same answers, and you marked mine wrong."

"Look at the questions," I would say. "You have different tests."

Long pause. Embarrassment. "Oh."

Occasionally I did resort to something silly. I gave weekly vocabulary tests, and they were always multiple choice. I used the same set of tests for multiple classes in an effort to save paper, so students had to write their answer choices on their own paper. This time I made "E" the correct answer to every single vocabulary word. I still mixed up the order of the words and made my speech about having different versions of the test, but the answers were all "E". I watched the students squirm uncertainly as they took the test. They were glancing at each other out of the corners of their eyes, wanting to ask each other but afraid to bring down my wrath for talking during a test. I'll never forget one of my favorite students' expression when she turned in her paper.

"I changed a random answer," she said in disgust. "I just knew they couldn't ALL be 'E'."

That's when I realized it was kind of mean to do that. Messing with their little minds. But man, were those tests easy to grade. And with about 120 of them to grade every week, in addition to all the OTHER assignments I had to deal with, it was nice to give myself a break.

I inherited some of this trickery from some of my own high school teachers, including possibly the best chemistry teacher on the face of the planet, then OR now. On one of our tests, we had to convert temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius and vice versa. Except way back then it was Centigrade, not Celsius.

We had to memorize the formulas (yes, I know it is technically "formulae") for converting, and we weren't allowed to use calculators. We didn't even HAVE calculators, not for classroom use. I paid $100 for my first calculator when I started college. I should have just rented one, since my stay in the pre-med program was only slightly longer than my visit to the Honors Program.

On that section of the test, Ma Pace gave us a temperature, and we had to write the equivalent temperature when converted to the other scale. Math was always my strong suit, so I had no trouble with the conversions.

Until I got to -40.

I did the math, performed the calculations, and came up with -40.

That couldn't be right.

I erased my work and started over.

I did the math, performed the calculations, and came up with -40.


I erased my work and started over again.

I did the math, performed the calculations, and came up with -40.

"Screw it," I said, writing -40 beside the hole I had erased in my paper.

Did you know that -40 is the only temperature that is the same on both scales?

Neither did I. But Ma Pace did.

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