Written by Wendy B. Sanchez and Nicole F. Ice
(News Bulletin, November 2004)
Most teachers are aware of different technologies that are available for use during instruction. However, some teachers may not know that technologies are also available for assessment purposes. These technologies can help teachers quickly collect and summarize information about their students' understanding. There are several options for this type of technology, but generally the teacher displays questions for students to answer with different electronic devices (graphing calculators, personal digital assistants [PDAs], cell phones, laptop computers, hand-held personal response devices). The answers are transmitted directly to the teacher and can be summarized in a graph or chart. This process allows rapid assessment of an entire group, including students who do not usually volunteer their answers in class.
To illustrate how a teacher can use such technology to assess both students' procedural and conceptual understanding of mathematics, consider the following multiple-choice questions:
The teacher can quickly assess how many students can multiply fractions from the electronic responses to question 1. The incorrect responses can help the teacher identify where students are struggling. For example, students who find a common denominator, convert the fractions, and then multiply the numerators will obtain choice B. Thus, if many students selected choice B, the teacher will know that he or she needs to address this misconception.
Teachers can use electronic responses to questions such as 2 and 3 to evaluate students' conceptual understanding. If responses to question 2 are evenly divided between choices A and B, the teacher will know that additional instruction about number relationships is appropriate. An interesting activity would be a class debate about question 2, with students offering support for their answers. At the end of the discussion, students could respond to question 2 again, and the teacher would immediately receive information about the effectiveness of the class discussion. If all or most answers to question 3 are correct, the students have provided evidence of some conceptual understanding about the effect of multiplication by rational numbers. Otherwise, the question can be a nice starting point for an investigation into the effect of multiplication by rational numbers.
Assessment technologies are useful in a variety of situations, both informal and formal. For example, teachers can use them to have students respond to warm-ups, quiz questions, or end-of-lesson closure questions. Teachers need information about both students' conceptual and understanding their procedural mastery to direct their instruction. Efficiently assessing students' knowledge can allow teachers additional time to delve into more complex aspects of mathematics. By providing teachers with instant feedback about their students' understanding, this technology can help save time, a precious commodity in our classrooms, and can help us maximize our effectiveness as teachers of mathematics.