Saturday, May 9, 2015

When showing your work means stepping out of your shoes

In the next few days, J will be taking AP exams in BC Calculus and Computer Science. He earned a 4 on last year’s AB Calc exam, and whether he earns 5s, in general, depends on how well he slogs through the verbiage on the open-ended problems, and whether he shows sufficient work on them.

I used to think that the challenge, for J, was exclusively a verbal one. For understanding what to do with verbose problems, it certainly is. But showing your work is different. As far as the AP is concerned (at least for now), showing your work means what it did a generation ago: showing the key mathematical steps that lead to your solution. This requirement isn’t problematic for language-impaired kids in the way that the Reform Math and CCSS-inspired “explain your answer” is.

But for certain ASD kids like J--kids who do math in their heads and have difficulty taking other people’s perspectives--this requirement, I’m realizing, is problematic nonetheless. A neurotypical kid who can do a multi-step problem in their head has some sense of what steps she should write out for others—in particular, for whoever is evaluating her. But this kind of perspective taking (stepping out of the shoes of someone who has just solved the problem and into the shoes of someone who is evaluating your answer) does not come naturally to people with autism.

The open-ended problems on the BC Calc exam can often be broken down into dozens of steps; you’re not expected to write them all down (and doing so takes time). The trick is to figure out which combination of steps to spell out in order to satisfy a particular problem’s requirements, and this is where even the most autism-friendly math programs can shortchange those on the spectrum.

No comments: