Friday, September 5, 2008

Earning high grades in Reform Math, II

I've just received my son's 6th grade homework guidelines, which include the following provisions about a particular homework contingency:

The "I Don't Understand It" Homework (receives full credit)

If you genuinely do not understand all or part of a problem, you must copy it completely, and explain in sentences what steps you took to try to do the problem. Write down the questions that you would ask me if I were with you. It is not enough to say, "I don't understand."

Please have your parent sign your homework. This signature is worth 1/2 pt extra credit!
These guidelines also require children who do understand the problems to explain their answers, and, though they don't say so explicitly, the protocol at our school is to deny full credit to unexplained answers, however correct. 

Thus, the math buff who can't be bothered to explain why 49 * 5 is 245 does worse than the math phobe who can't solve this problem but is happy to write down all his questions about how to do it.

Here's another question he might ask his teacher:  

When selecting a plumber or surgeon, do you pick someone who does the job well but refuses to explain how, or someone who articulately elaborates for you all the ways in which he or she is stumped?


lgm said...

Just to cheer you up, my 8th grader gets 1/3 of the h.w. grade points alloted to neatness, an organized presentation of the solution and boxing in the answer on the h.w.. Looking pretty counts as much as knowing how to solve the problem here!!

Even if ds manages a 100% on the hw., tests/quizzes, he can still get a poor grade for the quarter because 1/3 of the overal grade is composed of subjective & objective behavior points. For ex., show up late to class b/c the prior teacher let you out late and you get a 50% on behavior for the day. Needless to say (but I will anyway) the clocks are not working in most classrooms and the school does not have a bell system. What a farce.

lefty said...

Looking pretty--that's great! In my experience, sloppy handwriting, like unexplained answers, is positively correlated with math ability.

Obi-Wandreas, The Funky Viking said...

The "explain why you don't know" is idiotic, I agree.

The "no full credit without work shown," however, is something I agree with wholeheartedly, and enforce rigorously.

Part of this is because of the regulations on the New York State Math exams. The correct answer is worth only one point. The rest of the points, whether it be a 2 or 3 point problem, come from showing the work.

I need my students to demonstrate that they know what they're doing. If all they do is put down the answer, they could have used their intuition coupled with a solid understanding of math. They could also have either made a lucky guess or simply copied. I tell them that I need to see them justify their thought processes.

Case in point: the practice of using inverse operations to solve single-step algebraic equations. I tell my students that, yes, it is overkill for this particular problem, and that, yes, you can probably tell the answer just by looking at it. I also tell them, however, that they need to get into the habit of doing things step by step because, with the exception of a few very gifted, intuition will not get someone through 3x+4(x-2)+17=83x-12-x.

But, no, I do not grade for neatness or behavior. Those who don't behave end up flunking honestly.

Anonymous said...

Late comment, but the other reason for showing your work is to keep from getting dinged for a careless math error.

Yes, we want our kids to do everything right, but if the kid accidentally transcribes 10921 as 10912 and then proceeds to do everything else correctly, showing he understands the concept he's being tested on, it's good to be able to say "half credit" and call it a day rather than giving a flat zero for that problem, isn't it?

That's showing your work, not that nonsense of making them write paragraphs every time they add two and two.