20 Minute Assessments

Last year, I decided to make all of my assessments 20 minutes or less, even in my AP Calculus classes.

My school created a post covid schedule, to reduce stress for students and teachers. In this schedule, students had three 70-minute periods a day. Since we had 6 total periods and a “drop day” each rotation, some weeks I saw my students three days, and some weeks I only was able to see them twice for class. The schedule was wonderful for everyone’s mental health, but it did significantly cut down class days. As an AP Calculus teacher, this was concerning. Because, excluding the month of April for review, I only had 58, 70-minute class periods to teach 126 days of AP content!

This meant that I needed to teach two lessons every single class period to teach all of the required AP material in. In order to not waste a single class day, I decided to make all of my assessments 20 minutes or less. I had been doing this in my non-honors classes for years, but I had been afraid to try it with AP Calculus. However, our schedule left me no choice.

I am so glad that I tried it, as 20 minute assessments changed my classroom. Shorter assessments took me less time to make and to grade, so my students got my feedback much more quickly after an assessment. Students who needed extra time could finish their entire assessment in less than one class period. This was so helpful for these students, who often have to schedule finishing multiple assessments during lunch and after school.

Giving shorter assessments meant that I never lost an entire day of instruction due to testing. Instead, I gained back time for my students to practice mathematics during class time! In addition to practice, we also had extra time to learn and even experience more mathematics together.

I spent less time on assessments, and more time teaching students effective study strategies for math. One of their favorites was working together to create One Sheets.

Additionally, with short assessments I had time to give immediate feedback during class time! After all students were finished, I had them put away their pencils and I gave them colored pens. I then went over all of the answers with them, while they took notes right on their test paper. Not only did they get immediate feedback in their own handwriting, but this saved me time grading, as I did not have to write as many comments and corrections on their papers. I did not do this for every assessment, but students really liked this, and often asked to do “colored pen corrections”.

I have always heard that long exams prepare students for the rigor of the AP test at the end of the year. So, I was a bit concerned that my AP students would not be prepared to take a four hour exam after having only 20 minute assessments all year. But my AP students pass rate actually increased by almost 15% from the previous year! In order to prepare them, after a year of 20 minute assessments, I gave them a timed, full length practice test a few weeks before the AP test. I broke this exam down into three days, so that students who were taking too much time on one day would be able to realize that and adjust for subsequent days. I had a couple of students who went over time on the first day, but were able to be aware of that and adjust on subsequent practice assessment days. I checked in with these students after the exam, and they told me they were all able to finish. I truly feel that they did better because we spend more time learning math and less time taking assessments.

OneNote and Remote!

It’s the most Omicron time of the year!

I have a fair number of students out this week, so hybrid teaching is once again in full swing! I have been surveying my students to make sure they can see and hear each day. It has been going remarkably well, so I thought I would share what I have been doing.

iPad. I am Zooming from my iPad and it has been wonderful. It is much better than Zooming from my computer like I did last year. I bought an iPad case with a handstrap so I can easily carry it around class with me. I detest being “tethered” to the front of the room. Now I can walk around the room instead of being stuck at the front next to my computer. My remote students can hear me very clearly, even with a mask, and I can hear them as well, as I am holding the iPad as I walk around the room. I share my iPad screen so students at home can see what I am writing with very little lag time. When students in class have a question, I walk over to them before they ask so that the remote students can hear them well. I can then write the explanation out on the iPad so students at home and at school can see my work.

OneNote.  All of this has been working seamlessly because of Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is a free notebook app that is very easy to learn! I have tried many other notebook apps, but OneNote has the most features and draws really well, which is important for math teachers. I have the app on my iPad and computer, and can also log in to OneNote in my browser. Everything syncs up almost instantly, so when I write on my iPad, it updates on the computer automatically. This allows me to carry my iPad around with me as I teach, and write on it, while projecting what I am writing on One Note from my computer at the front of the class.

  • Remote students are on Zoom, which I have started from my iPad. I am screen sharing on my iPad so they can see my work on the OneNote app. 
  • In class students can see my work at the front of the room, where I am projecting One Note from my computer.

One Note has many amazing features, especially if you use the “Class Notebook”. I used many of the Class Notebook features last year when we were fully remote. You can even insert, write, and solve math equations inside the Notebook! However, this year I am just using One Note in the most basic way, as I do not need students to upload files to me since we are all in person.

To use OneNote, just create an account using any email. Then create a Class Notebook and add your students. This year, I mainly use three sections of the OneNote Notebook, the Collaboration Space, the Content Library, and the Teacher Only.

One Note Sections I Use:

  • Collaboration Space – students can work and write together as if it is a Google Doc. They can also create pages. I post all work from math help sessions here, so students who are not able to attend can see extra help.
  • Content Library – students can see and download content, but cannot edit. This is where I put everything that we do in class. I have a section for each chapter, and then a page for each day. You can add files that the students download. And, when you add a file, you can chose to “print out” the file on the page so you can write on the work. 
  • Teacher Only – this space is invisible to students, they cannot see any folders or files. I keep all of my plans, assessments, and answer keys in this section, by chapter. 

Here is a sample of what my OneNote Notebook looks like for AP Calculus:

OneNote Organization

Here is my Collaboration Space looks like, I use it mostly for Math Help Sessions:

Collaboration Space for Math Help

Tip: If you are using OneNote on your iPad and it is not updating, or it freezes, just close the app on your iPad and open it again. I’m not sure if this is a One Note issue or a WiFi at my school issue.

Tips for getting started with and using One Note:

FLAG – Fix Learning And Grow

Addressing the needs of students when they struggle haunts me.  I am not only talking about students who may be working below grade, but any student who begins to stumble on a concept.  At times even my best students have trouble on new topics.  Currently, I use a Concepts Checklist, which is an altered version of SBG (Standards Based Grading) to identify this.  However, I would ideally like to give additional support to students when they FIRST begin to have trouble, instead of trying to remediate when they are already behind or completely lost.

I read about using “red flags” in Robyn Jackson’s book “How To Support Struggling Students” while doing a book study with my amazing PLN (Professional Learning Network) of mathematics educators on Twitter.  I immediately loved the idea of the red flag, but was worried about the negative connotation of a student receiving a “red flag”.  I do not want the flag to be seen as a negative, a sign that a student is “not good” at math or “in trouble”.  To give the flag a positive connotation, I decided to come up with a positive acronym for FLAG.  Thanks to @fourkatie via Twitter, Fix Learning And Grow was born.

I do not plan to use FLAGs for purely academic reasons.  I would like to give students a FLAG in any area where they can “Fix and Grow”.  I plan on handing out flags for incomplete or missing homework, recurring misunderstandings in class, sloppy/incomplete notebooks, and excessive absences and tardies if they are having trouble making up the work.

UPDATE:  I originally included disruptive behavior, but after some insightful comments, I rethought that and will NOT be including disruptive behavior in the FLAG system.  I want to FLAG to focus on academics.

As teachers we do not have much time to implement an exhaustive new program.  It must require low maintenance from me in order for it to be long-lasting.  Thus, I am organizing the FLAG program to encourage independent learning.  When I identify a need, I will place a flag on a students paper (or notebook).  I will write the name of the FLAG on the flag.  It is then the students responsibility to address their FLAG.  The student will visit the FLAG page on our Wiki to read about their FLAG and see the steps they need to follow.  The FLAGs are only temporary, and once they have addressed their need, their FLAG can be “waived”.

I think that this will save me time because a FLAG is quick and easy to write and hand out (post-it flags).  I do not have to worry if an issue is serious enough to warrant a “talk” with a student or initiate a parent contact.  I do not have to come up with “fixes” for the problem each time I do talk to a student.  FLAG is a system that is already in place and ready to address many student needs, from the minor to the major.

I am still developing this idea and the overall FLAG system so I would LOVE any thoughts and feedback.  Read more on my FLAG page on the wiki.  Please help me make FLAGs better!