[One-Minute Makeover] Algebra 1 • Topic 1 Assessment

Welcome to the Makeover!

Here’s an idea: I’ll write a post. It will take me a few minutes, or more.

Next, you’ll read the post. It’ll only take you a minute. It’ll be about assessment. Specifically, me describing how I took a terrible assessment question and made it less terrible.

Ready? Here we go!

Algebra 1 Assessment, Before

In my previous post I linked to the Algebra 1 SBG assessments I wrote in 2011-2012. Largely, they stink. Here’s an example of a terrible question from the Topic 1 assessment (full list-o-topics is here):

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That was Form A, and I’ve created about a million forms (okay, more like 5-10 forms) for each assessment (in every class, though, so the total really is pretty close to a million). Here’s a similar question from Form B:

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I was trying to write questions that assess whether my students understand the commutative, associative, and distributive properties. In particular, I wanted to see if they could name the properties based on an algebraic or numerical example. I was also hopeful that they knew which operations are commutative and associative (and which are not).

Oh. My.

Well, what I ended up with in my first attempt were some miserable true/false questions that don’t really accomplish any of what I was hoping for. An especially unfortunate consequence of the way I wrote the questions was that students who might otherwise have explained their reasoning quickly learned that this problem demanded no such thing. A one-word answer for each part is all that was called for. Worse yet, because I failed to require any record of thinking on the page, the majority of my students resolved to do no thinking at all in their minds. It became a guessing game, and one that they’re not particularly skilled at.

Algebra 1 Assessment, After

This year I’ve set about rewriting my Algebra 1 assessments. They’re not perfect, and I’ll probably want to run them through a revision cycle again next year (and the year after, and so on forever), but there are a few questions here and there that strike me as significant improvements over their original counterparts.

Here’s what the corresponding question looks like on the current Topic 1 assessment:

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Just below #2 I ask whether multiplication is associative (#3) and whether division is associative (#4). It’s immediately more demanding, doesn’t let students off the hook, doesn’t tempt them to do less thinking than they might naturally do, and gives me a fairly clear sense of whether students know which property is which, and which operations are commutative/associative.

In writing this up, the only immediate change that I’d like to make to the question is to throw a third sentence in between the two already there. “Explain.” It’s implied, but it would be nice to state it explicitly. So then I would have something like, “Is addition commutative? Explain. Support your answer/explanation with an example.”

Wrap Up

So, was that terribly longer than a minute? Or was it simply a terrible minute? Let me know what you think about this feature in general and/or this question comparison in particular in the comments.


Assessment Update: SBG in Algebra 1

With the start of a new semester, several of the assessment ideas that have been floating around in my brain are making their way into my classroom. I thought I might break my recent and unintended blogging silence (eleven weeks!) by sharing some of what I’m thinking, some of what I’ve done, and some of what I hope to do. Here goes…

The Beginning: Algebra 1

In August 2011, inspired by this post from Dan Meyer, I introduced SBG into my Algebra 1 class. There were some bumps along the way, but overall I was thrilled with the change. I loved being able to answer student and parent questions along the lines of, “What can Johnny do to improve his grade,” with specific comments about strengths, weaknesses, and areas to attack. (Of course, the improve-your-grade-by-improving-your-understanding-and-then-demonstrating-this-improved-understanding is already a huge upgrade over the days of old when kids—and sometimes parents—would ask/beg for extra credit. But I digress…)

I’m somewhat embarrassed of the quality of the assessments I wrote then, but it was a start. For anyone brave enough to look at that first wave of SBG assessments I wrote, enter at your own risk. (BTW, I’ve abandoned my favorite app in the history of the world—Dropbox—for the new kid on the block—Copy—because of the oodles and oodles of free space, and the seemingly comparable features to Dropbox. After a few referrals I’m at 80GB of free storage. If you’re interested in signing up—15GB + 5GB for using the referral link—go here.)

This year I’ve decided that my assessments need a major improvement in quality, so I’ve set about to accomplish as much of that as I’m capable of (while still creating resources and preparing for all of my other classes). The I’m-totally-not-finished-yet-but-have-a-look-if-you-want second wave of Algebra 1 SBG assessments live here.

I’ll continue writing new assessments for those 24 topics—the same topics I sketched out in August 2011—through the rest of this semester. Originally I just had a list of topics; since then I’ve added “I can…” statements to the course outline. However, I’ll scrap both of those in the next year or two (even with the “new-and-improved” assessments I’m writing this year) as we transition to an integrated Common Core sequence. I expect some of the topics, lessons, and assessments will slide into our new Grade 8 course, while others will make their way into the high school’s Math 1 course. Nevertheless, one major and lasting benefit I’ll carry forward from this Algebra 1 SBG experience is (I hope) a better understanding of how to write decent assessments. At the very least, I’m learning to identify what I don’t like about many of the assessments I’ve written.

Next Up

That’s all for now. I’ll write again soon about “Phase 1.5,” my experience applying SBG to AP Calculus AB midway through the 2012-2013 school year.

CCSSM Grade 7 Concepts and Skills List


CCSSM Grade 7 Concepts and Skills List

Earlier this year I described my schedule, assumptions, goals, and game plan as they all relate to my school’s transition to CCSSM. Here’s an update on that process.

Good Distractions

I haven’t spent as much time on this task as I originally intended in the first twelve weeks of school. I originally thought about 95% of my prep time would be devoted to the CCSSM transition project. Instead, about 60% of that time has been dedicated to helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms in meaningful ways.

The emphasis has been on students using technology to create and collaborate, rather than students watching teachers use technology, or students using technology simply to receive/consume content.

It’s been an enjoyable experience, one in which I’ve learned a lot as we make mid-stream adjustments to our in-house technology training plan. We recently put together a “Technology Leadership Team” with teachers from various grade levels and disciplines throughout our K-12 school. With this team in place, I have an opportunity to shift a bit more of my attention back to the CCSSM transition.

Adjusted Expectation

My original goal was to transition our entire 7-12 math program to Common Core next year. After some wise words from the other member of the math department, and an okay from our superintendent, we’ve decided to transition middle school in 2014-2015 and high school in 2015-2016.

First Fruits

It’s only a tiny piece of the whole puzzle, but this week I finished writing a CCSSM Grade 7 Concepts and Skills List.

If you open up the document, you’ll find a number of comments I’ve written in the margin describing my rationale for certain things, my uncertainty about others, and my game plan for (in many cases) weaving content throughout the course (rather than forcing a set of topics—e.g., geometry—to stay confined to a particular time period).

I hope you’ll add your own comments and questions. Let me know if you want a duplicate copy of the document so you can put your own spin on sequence, emphasis, etc.

Next Steps

In the next couple of weeks I plan to do the same thing for our CCSSM Grade 8 course. At that point I’ll turn my attention to writing brief, SBG-style assessments for each topic on the lists.

Further down the to-do list: Performance assessments for the big ideas in each course (we’ll probably start with one per quarter) and rich anchor tasks/lessons for each unit.

Much further down the to-do list: Individual lessons/activities/tasks/practice to fill out each unit.

And beyond that… The same process for our high school courses.

CCSSM Statistics and Probability Workshop (Links, Twitter, and Slides)


Simple slide stealing in three flavors: KeynotePDFPowerPoint.

Feedback Form

Attended the workshop? Let me know what you thought.


Estimation 180


A great resource for developing students’ number sense, estimation skills, unit sense, and ability to explain their reasoning in concise, specific ways.

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Statistics Learning Centre


A blog all about teaching and learning statistics from Middle Earth New Zealand.

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Illustrative Mathematics


A free online source of rich tasks illustrating the Common Core mathematics standards.

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Progressions (Tools for the Common Core)

General website: http://commoncoretools.me/

Progressions category: http://commoncoretools.me/category/progressions/ or http://ime.math.arizona.edu/progressions/

HS Statistics and Probability document: Here

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Emergent Math’s PrBL Curriculum Maps


“Geoff Krall Combs The Internet For Lesson Plans So You Don’t Have To”

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Join Twitter, follow some of these people, and check out their blogs.

@druinok (blog)

@gwaddellnvhs (blog)

@jkindred13 (blog)

@approx_normal (blog)


@mrmathman (blog)

@bobloch (blog)

@mrhodotnet (blog)

@mathteacher24 (blog)

@StatsMonkey (blog)