Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two by two and three by three

E. is in the middle of another testing cycle at school.  There are three or four in a year.  I'm going to try to stay off the broader issue of standardized testing in our schools today.  Let's just say that as both an educator and a parent, I feel like there is WAY too much emphasis on test-taking.

Standardized testing does not "count" for E. until third grade.  Nonetheless, he began taking a version of the tests in kindergarten.  My impression is that they do this in part to provide teachers with a relative measure of students' achievement, but largely in order to get them acclimated to the testing process.

Much different than my experience in the days of yore, very few of these tests are done with pencil and paper.  For E. this is a good thing.  His motor skills are such that he might actually miss a number of questions based entirely on inaccurate filling of bubbles.  Instead, he just has to move the mouse and click his answer.  As a child of the computer generation, that is well within his ability.

When the standardized tests are completed on the computer, they tend to be adaptive, meaning that they difficulty of the questions is adjusted to your performance.  Get questions right, and the difficulty increases little by little; miss several and you go the other direction.

E. came home the other day and told us that there had been multiplication on his test.  3 x 100 was the first question.  And so he figured out how to multiply.  As far as I can tell, he surveyed the available answers, considered how one might figure out the question, and moved on from there.  He now knows how to multiply, figured several random facts I gave him--more of the basic-facts variety, but still requiring an understanding of the underlying concept.

I can't say I'm surprised by this.  I remember doing some math problems with him in a year or two ago when it was clear that he was close to using multiplication to figure out answers.  He just didn't realize that was what he was doing, didn't know the term 'multiplication' or its symbols.

Math is a second language for me.  It gives shape to my thoughts.  I love its order and do figures for fun.  When E. would come home last year, complaining about math, saying he hated it, I had to steel myself not to take it personally.  This year has been so much better for him in many ways, helped a lot by the fact that his current teacher is a math-science kind of person.  Even when E. has struggled with the occasional concept, he is much less resistant to working with me and, dare I say, we end up having fun and connecting over the lessons.  And when he tells me that he's figured out an advanced concept on his own, just because it was there in front of him, I can't help but say, "That's my son!"