Interim Assessments, and How to Make the Most of Planning

I’m excited about the choice my school’s leadership has made for our Interim Assessments this year.  In the past, these assessments have been corporate-produced multiple choice tests that may or may not have aligned to what’s actually being taught when, and their results were not often seen and rarely useful.

This year, instead, we’re doing a series of five argumentative writing assignments in every core subject area, including math.  We teachers have the opportunity (or task, depending on your frame of mind) to write these assignments for our current classes, and we have common planning time to discuss the assignments and the student work they elicit.

The mathematical context of the assessments I’m writing is a semester-long study of statistics with my first-semester Algebra 2 students.  My first assignment in this series had students comparing the scoring stats of three fictional basketball players, then arguing for which one they would want to sign to the New York Knicks.  For this one, I’ve decided to give them economic data for three countries and to ask them which they’d choose for relocation.

It can be difficult, but if I make time for it, it’s really teaching work of my favorite kind to write a new assignment.  It’s a creative endeavor, it’s a chance to learn a little something new about the world, to surf the web and file ideas away for later, just to play with ideas.  I took these notes on my process last night, and paste them here just for the fun of it.

Planning Steps, 11/21/11

  1. Open a Sapporo Reserve and put OK Computer on the headphones, after noting to a student earlier today that although Exit Music seems like a pretty little song, it’s extremely dark and angry about the status quo.
  2. Look at list of countries by income equality ( – and note that Japan has the lowest Rich/Poor ratios – for both 10%’s and 20%’s – of all countries on this wikipedia page.  (A list of 34 highly suspect – to use a subjective term – countries do not list this ratio.)
  3. Look at a list of world populations and see that Japan, with about 128 million people, ranks behind Brazil (191 million), Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia and Bangladesh, and ahead of Mexico, Philippines, Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Germany (82 million).
  4. Open a blank spreadsheet and consider the stats that might be interesting here.  I only need three countries on this assignment, but let’s make a list of all 11 to get started.
  5. Record populations from, and add Egypt to the list because it’s right there with Ethiopia and Germany, and this seems like an interesting trio.
  6. Record R/P Ratios for these 12 countries in the next two columns.
  7. After wondering what to do next, see where wiki links take me.  Specifically:
  8. Recognize that why this is fun is that it leads to more question than answers, and more ideas for the future than I have days to teach in school year.  (Which is why, as I’ve ranted before, there is no reason for students ever to be bored in a math classroom.)
    • One such idea, that I’m very excited to definitely use next week, is writing a linear regression for Big Mac Prices vs. GDP/person, as shown in the Economist piece.
  9. Decide on Mexico City, Tokyo, Moscow – each anonymized.
  10. Play with this site, which is AWESOME, for many other lesson planning purposes:
  11. I went on a scavenger hunt for other data – and let me reiterate that the little side discoveries are the real reason to set aside a little time and work like this!
  12. In the end it’s always a bit of a shock to try to put everything on paper and distill a wild research goose chase into a digestible little 30 minute assignment.  I rarely feel like I used everything I’d hoped to use in the ways I’d hoped to use it.  But time being what it is, I made some decisions, some of which will make me happy a month or so from now, and some of which will fall flat.  Here’s what I came up with – debrief on student work will follow.

What got made:

What didn’t, yet:

  • A rubric

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