Monday, August 29, 2016

How can we see inside a teenager’s brain?

How can we see inside a teenager's brain?

This is the difficulty in measuring what students have learned. We can’t see inside their brain. So what if the information in their brain doesn’t make it on the paper for a paper/pencil test? What if this is the only way teachers assess student learning? How do teachers check for understanding along the way? Are there other ways to assess students' knowledge and understanding?

When we ask students to demonstrate what they know, and when we ask them to do something with what they have learned, we get a peek into how and what their thinking processes are. We can look for misconceptions, incorrect information, and cloudy understandings. With this knowledge, it guides us in targeting our teaching so that students can maximize their learning. 

Sometimes it’s hard to find ways for students to demonstrate what they know. Math is one of those areas that is really hard. In this blog post I’m going to share an assignment from one of our math teachers that required students to demonstrate their understanding. I hope it inspires you to FIND A WAY to create opportunities to peek inside students’ brains. 

One of our geometry teachers, Lauren Anderson, attended Laying the Foundation (LTF) training this past summer. There, she learned ways to use manipulatives in her high school math class. She didn’t just hear about great ideas, she implemented them in her classes this year. 

Here’s what Ms. Anderson had to say about the lesson

“At LTF, they just had us get in pairs and model each scenario while switching off. I wanted to create a way to hold them a little more accountable and so I could check to see if they actually understood what they were asked to model, so I incorporated the technology aspect. At first I had students taking pictures on their phones and emailing/uploading to google and then creating the presentation. I then saw some kids taking the pictures with their chromebooks and bypassing their phones, which worked out even better! One of the projects I attached is pictures taken with their phone, the other is with the chromebook. Another reason I liked the chromebook as their camera is it forced the person to be in the picture (maybe not their face) which allowed me to be sure not just one person was doing all of the modeling and that they were switching off.”

Did Ms. Anderson have any “aha” moments from this lesson? 

"The actual 'aha' moment for me was when this activity was presented at LTF. Every year students struggle with thinking in 3 dimensions. They have a hard time envisioning how planes and lines intersect one another. I had tried to think of ways to better model this for them and this project was exactly what I wanted.  

I was really able to see as I walked around while they were working who picked up on some of these things quicker. Some of the scenarios are tricky, and some groups need a little guidance to get them towards the correct model, while others were able to envision it in their head."

Want the instructions for the assignment? CLICK HERE 

How will you ensure that students get the opportunity to demonstrate what they've learned?


  1. It would have been nice for my math teachers to have had that idea almost 40 years ago