Sunday, October 31, 2010

Psycho metrics

I occasionally throw a piece of pedagogy out here--I'd do it more often, but I cannot pronounce "pedagogy," and even if I could, the word makes me feel like a pedantic ass.

(Yes, I know I am a pedantic ass, but knowing and feeling employ two very different parts of the brain.)

I may have an overly developed numbers brain. I've been accused of such, and it helps make up for my lack of a frontal lobe. A big reason testing drives me to pedantic assery is that so few folks using them have a clue what is being measured, putting a new meaning to "psychometrics."

(I lost a lot of hair trying to explain sensitivity and specificity to budding docs--I'm losing even more trying to teach validity and reliability to anyone who will listen....Teachers test. A lot. How many of us have a clue about what we're doing?)

Exhibit A

I love analyzing my numbers after a test. Who missed what? Why? What would have happened had I asked the questions in a different order? Just how much more do I know now about the students than I did before subjecting them to the test?

With the push to ask more higher level questions, I started using a ☆ system. ☆ means the question is a simple swish and spit question that requires little more than a pencil and a neuron, ☆☆ requires at least two neurons to fire in some semblance of order. The stars are right on the test.

The first question above is just plain silly. Turns out I was asking a bucketload of them--if nothing else, my system revealed just how bad my questions have been. (I think I lifted the first question from the professionals--if anyone from Pearson cares, let me know and I'll edit it out.)

There is no need for a child to ever memorize commensalism except for this course. There is a need for a child to learn how to find words they do not understand.

Five minutes of test time is open note. (OK, we call it The Open Note Extravaganza! in our room, but what happens in B362 stays in B362....)

Turns out a lot, maybe most (I'm still crunching) of my lambs do better on the ☆☆ questions. ***

Exhibit B

I've mentioned this before, but I think it's worth mentioning again.

Occasionally I will use a magic wand during a test. Each child may call on it once, and only once, to answer a specific multiple choice selected response question. I may learn more from this simple exercise than I do from class averages, means, standard deviations, or any other metric you want to apply.

I demonstrate the phenomenal powers of my wand a variety of ways. This week I made a bean plant dance. (Charge it up with a few wipes with the silk hankie, wave it around a skinny seedling, and the plant bends towards the wand. With a little practice you and your bean are ready for DWTS!

The kids love it (though they groan a lot when one's wasted--"I knew that!")

If kids are zooming in on the single
☆ questions I know they have not been diligently studying their terminology or plain forgot to bring their notebooks in for the test).

If most of the kids are tapping the same question, it might simply be a lousy question.

If nothing else, the kids get a freebie, I get exercise running from desk to desk, and I get to wear my nifty wizard hat.

There, enough pedagogy for a day lifetime....

The photo of Thomas Bayes' grave is by Glen Wood, igl on Flickr, and used under CC license.
If you look real close, you can see the tomb tremble as Mr. Bayes spins in his grave as we continue to abuse statistics.
Thanks, Glen!


The Science Goddess said...

I didn't have a magic wand (although I love that idea), but I often marked incorrect answers as I monitored during a test. This gave kids a cue to think about some of their responses a bit more before turning in the assessment.

doyle said...

Dear The Science Goddess,

I got a bit nervous seeing your name, as you are indeed a psychometrician.