Simple Math Assessment

Today was test day in my class.  We have been deconstructing Triangles and Quadrilaterals, and I needed to pause for a second and make sure they were getting it.  Instead of doing the standard pencil and paper test (which I have vowed to not do even once this year!), I used this little exercise;

Each child gets a Geo-Board and a pile of elastics and finds a quite spot in the room

Students are given a list of instructions
1.Make a right angle triangle

2.Make a triangle with an obtuse angle

3.Make a triangle with three acute angles; What type if triangle is this?

4.Make a Scalene triangle; why is it Scalene?

5.Make a quadrilateral with four equal angles; what shape is this?

6.Make a quadrilateral with two sets of equal angles; what shape is this

7.Make a quadrilateral with two obtuse angles; what shape is this?

8.Make a quadrilateral and two triangles and have them overlap; how many shapes can you now notice?

When each step is finished, students bring their geoboard to the teacher and check their answer

Teacher tracks progress of each student on a table (with whatever grading scheme you use)

For those who finished quicker, play time!

I felt this went well today, and as a teacher, I got to know exactly who knew what, and where they need to work.  It gave me all the data I need.  Also, it was fun, low stress, and the kids thought it was a game, not a test.

Am I being naive and idealistic?  Do we need to prepare kids (elementary aged kids, mind you) for high pressure tests that will face later in life (maybe)?

I say no.  How about you?


  1. As always another great post. I love how you were able to use a simple form of formative assessment to get an accurate gauge of what you students know and understand about the geometry you were studying. I am very interested in your vow to take now paper tests this year. While I would love to embrace your philosophy fully, I have to admit that at my school I cannot. A question to consider is if your approach is balanced? While I do find traditional tests slightly abhorrant like you, I also recognise with my staff that they are a reality and ONE WAY that we can measure student progress and undestanding. I challenge my teachers to include a balance of assessment approaches in their teaching practice so one form doesn cause stress and discomfort like you mentioned above. Do you think there could be a point where you might resort to a traditional assessment? If yes, what might prompt that?

    As always, a thought provoking post!

  2. Don't get me wrong, I do assessments with pencil and paper. However, I do not use tests in the traditional sense. I do assessment through problems, puzzles, challenges and mysteries; all of which are carefully selected to have the students use the math we have been studying. Art is another great form of assessment. I find a traditional test to be a terrible way to gauge student knowledge. To me, its a matter of efficiency. With a traditional test, you can assess basically one skill (maybe two), but with a problem, inquiry, story, piece of art, drama; you can assess multiple skills, subjects, and content areas at the same time. It is more complex (like the real world) and I find the traditional test is a way simplifying something to the point of irrelevancy.

    Do you think there could be a point where you might resort to a traditional assessment? If yes, what might prompt that?
    Interesting question. If we are talking about our levels of meta-learning (think Blooms Taxonomy) then possibly if the goal of the lesson was to Remember, then yes, a traditional test would be a good way of assessing remembering (assuming that a traditional test is the best way to asses remembering?). However, if we want to encourage to students to think in more complex and ultimately creative ways, then I think it is important to move up the taxonomy.

    Let me give an example; I want to assess my students to see if they have remembered the names of different types of triangles. I could give them a piece of paper with a picture of each triangle on it, and have them write the name of the triangle underneath. I would then know if they knew the types of triangles (and it would take only a few minutes and be nice and easy for the teacher). Or, I can ask them to rank the triangles from most beautiful to least beautiful, and give a rational for each one (which takes a little longer, but not much). In the first method I am testing only remembering. In the second, they have to remember the names (or they can't do it!), however they also have to analyze, apply, and evaluate. For me, I just get more data doing it this way.


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