Mike Gordon is a secondary math-science teacher at Piedra Vista High School in the state of New Mexico, USA. He's put together an application that was originally intended to simply save time on grading student work by allowing the computer to do it for him. It has evolved over time and, while it has not met the original intent, it has saved Mike's colleagues and co-workers many hours. Over the course of 5 years, Mike and his colleagues have tested and refined the application through daily use at their school. It has evolved to become more of a data gathering and reporting tool for student performance than a grading application.
A little over a year ago Mike decided to begin using the NetBeans Platform to produce a more professional looking application. It turned out to be a wise decision. Users have approved the transition, though there is still a large amount of work to be done.
The application has two parts, one that students use and one that instructors use. The student software is used for formal testing and less formal assignments, directed at math skill development. The teacher software involves interaction with a MYSQL question database and a variety of student records.
The idea behind what the software does is this:
- The majority of questions use a random number generator to select numerical values presented in the question. The application strives for a minimum of 60 numerical variations on each question. This significantly reduces student dishonesty. Because the questions are not static, students can be given multiple chances to achieve success on formative assessments. Each attempt however comes at a cost. The maximum score that they can earn decreases exponentially.
- Each question is tagged with standards information. Standards are are like architectural blueprints in that they clearly define the expectations for the end product. The blueprints define the form and function of a building, while the standards define what a proficient math student should be able to do. These are produced on a national scale.
- The data collected is used to inform all stakeholders. Teachers are also given the ability to compare student scores with those of other teacher-student groups that use the same assessment. This promotes conversations among teachers and encourages the sharing of best practices.
Mike is working this summer to provide a simple survey capability. Professional learning communities will be able to produce a survey and get electronic feedback that is easy to tabulate and statistically analyze.