If you give a student a tool…

If you give a person a hammer, they’ll stop using a rock.

If you give a farmer a tractor, he’ll stop using the walking plow.

If you give a road worker a jackhammer, he’ll retire the pick-ax.

If you give someone a tool, you expect it to be used.

So when I gave the 7th grade special education students calculators to use on the state math exams…

I saw students compute the supplementary angle to another using their fingers.

I saw students look at an order of operations problem and do the computations with pencil & paper.

That is how they did it in 6th grade where calculators are not allowed for use on the exam. This year, their teachers taught them how to operate the calculators and they say the students enjoyed using them in class.

The test directions even tell the students to use the calculators.

So would somebody please explain to me why they didn’t? I just don’t get it.

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6 Responses to If you give a student a tool…

  1. Lucia Meyerson says:

    I believe this can be attributed to “comfort level”. If in former years students calculated only with pencil and paper, then they resort to this method even though it is less efficient.They may not be as proficient using the calculators as their teachers thought they were by observing them in class. If I am unsure of myself, I will revert back to what I know to solve a problem. Also, the students may feel that “they personally” have to do the computing, without calculators, as it is “they” who are being tested. Just trying to remember how our Sped kids think about things.

  2. Kate Olson says:

    Perhaps the students feel that the “old” method gives a more reliable answer b/c that’s the way they were taught first? May have had a better result here if they were taught always to use 2 methods, one to back up the other. Regardless, now you have a skill to work on with them!

    • I like both explanations, but I can assure you that the “old method” was not giving reliable results. In fact, I saw students who were in my common branch class last year not answer the Order of Operations question at all. I KNOW they know the PEMDAS rule inside out because I kept re-teaching and re-assessing it all last year. They also know that four to the third power is 4X4X4.

      The problem in question had 8 to the third in it and that;s what they balked at. They knew it was 8X8X8, but they could not do the computation, or thought they couldn’t. That is precisely the situation in which the calculator would have been most useful.

      No one answered the calculation part of the problem correctly even though most were able to write the steps to take to solve the problem. At least they’ll get partial credit.

  3. Kate Olson says:

    And that brings us back to the fact that standardized assessments don’t assess actual knowledge……..and to the fact that some students just can NOT demonstrate their knowledge in this format, no matter what tools we give them :-( I wish your professional knowledge of their skills was worth as much as a state test to the powers that be…….

  4. Kate Olson says:

    I just HAVE to share this experience here because it’s so relevant and I thought of this blog post instantly:-)

    I took my Praxis II test today (3rd Praxis I’ve taken, this time for my SpEd licensure, it was the Middle School Content Knowledge exam) and had the most horrible sinking feeling in my stomach as I watched everyone else pull out calculators. I’m not sure why I thought I wasn’t allowed to use a calculator, maybe b/c the instructions just said to bring #2 pencils, a pen, admission ticket, and driver’s license. They’re so strict I figured if it wasn’t in the list, I couldn’t bring it! Anyway, so there’s me, no calculator. I consider myself pretty good at math and pretty good at tests, but this really threw me. I have to say though, that my former math training and skills did me proud and I’m pretty sure I did just fine on the math portion, but it took me FOREVER to do all the calculations by hand. If I hadn’t been a fast reader and gone through the other sections of the test very quickly I never would have had enough time to finish the test with the extra time it took me to do the math. Also, if I would not have had the skills needed to do the problems by hand, I would have been doomed.

    I’m not quite sure what lesson I learned from this experience, except that the calculator on my BlackBerry does me absolutely no good due to the fact that the BB is a “forbidden device” and had to be under my chair, in my purse at all times.

    I could rant forever about standardized tests and the insanity of restrictions and how this particular test tested NOTHING that is necessary in quality special education teachers, but that would just be focusing on the negative…….I’m just going to focus on how I did so well even WITHOUT that particular tool! Who knows, maybe your kids were practicing for this exact same future situation ;-)

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