On Mon, Nov 22, 2010 at 12:51 AM, Robert Hansen <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: > In a recent post... > > http://mathforum.org/kb/message.jspa?messageID=7298457&tstart=0 > > Jonathan provides three common myths regarding the multiple choice format used with testing. Actually, two and one half myths, the first myth has an actual mathematical basis but he has exaggerated it into a myth. I'll first list the three myths and my responses and then dive into the real culprit, the nature of the exam questions themselves, not the format of the answers. >
I have no problem with multiple choice testing as a format. However, from my work at McGraw-Hill, I have inherited a bias against "electronic page turners", i.e. using computers merely to perpetuate paper-and-pencil era templates, minus much imaginative / futuristic development. I studied many academic papers reaching the same conclusion: open ended free form activities that nevertheless conformed to strict rules, would lead to exploratory behaviors and help develop skills and talents more likely to remain dormant if electronic page turners were used exclusively.
Given the time frame, Logo and sometimes BASIC were pushed forward as among the open ended activities kids could pursue. Many in fact did get into these activities, spent hours and hours on them. They're adults by today and many will report on their earlier days using these tools. We're in a position to do longitudinal studies of those with early exposure to programming and other forms of electronic endeavor, such as video editing, simulation playing, etc. Some studies are reporting the deleterious effects. Grades may suffer if students get too sucked in to their virtual communities, chat with each other instead of doing their homework.
Korea already has deprogramming camps for students needing to detox from too much time on the Internet. Given all the optical fiber and bandwidth per capita (much higher than in the USA, which ranks low among the G20), these problems are more serious. If you want to see what's down the road for USA students, just look at more advanced countries to see what they've been facing. There's something to be said for learning from others' mistakes. Sometimes it's a strategic advantage to be a late adopter of whatever technologies.
Anyway, back to testing center technologies and what students might face: multiple choice is expected. However, it's also possible to set up interactive puzzles that don't take too much time to solve, if you have done enough homework. You have to move a few objects around on screen, win a quick game. Animation was involved. Biochemistry was a topic. Just hooking up the atoms in the right way, to build the molecule with the given structure, is a pretty typical test challenge. Where do the carbon atoms go? Is that a double bond? "Construct a road system with these segments such that no truck has a grade of over 13%". There are quite a few correct answers, which the computer will score. No "multiple choice" need apply in this case.
I bring up these more open-ended test questions to remind teachers that "teaching to the test" does *not* mean just going through multiple choice possibilities all the time. Games like 'Zoombinis' and "Rocky's Boots" were what we favored in our publishing persona (McGraw-Hill). "Electronic page turners" were by contrast quite unimaginative. You'll get a lot of curricula that are like this: stale, still-born, not ready for prime time. If you're a faculty person empowered to recommend imports, then I suggest you "try before you buy" (which advice applies even if the materials are free, given opportunity costs).
As many of you here know, I recommend math-through- programming, and do not shy away from object oriented, even though some functionalists distrust it (too much hidden state, reliance on side effects). When I give classes in Python, I'll set up little puzzle situations, challenges, but I won't have multiple choice answers. This mirrors real life a lot better and encourages developing stronger math skills, better problem solving.
Simulations of Old Man River City provide a backdrop in some versions. How to build it? Where to put it? Lots of math comes into play, as well as some history, some time line stuff. There's this movie narrated by Bill Cosby we just screened, about stereotypes in the movies. Students see how people are stigmatized for some kinds of math (such as gambling) but not others (such as investing in stocks). Sad but true: the kind of math you practice comes with moral attitudes. Best to get these out in the open, talk about the values. We use a lot of old math books for this, as many wear their morals on their sleeves by today's standards, are not subtle at all. You can see where math has been used through the ages to enforce moral codes. Rainforest Math was in no way new or original in this regard (nor was Katrina Math, which I've written about extensively on math-teach, in the aftermath of that disaster, a time when Old Man River City would have been nice to have).