22 April 2014

The ACT: Does It Rock or Does it Suck? Pt 1

Our district is administering the ACT to all 1200+ juniors during the school day tomorrow, so its been on our minds even more than usual around here. Love it or hate it, the ACT and standardized tests like it are not leaving the American educational landscape anytime soon. 
I've been reflecting on the explicit and implicit information that preparing for, taking, and interpreting the test's results gives us and our students, so I wondered, does it rock, or does it suck? Today, in Part 1, I'll explore 5 ways the ACT rocks.

1. Comparisons between individual states, districts, schools, and even students.
Because the ACT eliminates factors that can be tweaked and fiddled with locally such as letter grade scales, state assessment rules, GPAs, and general grade inflation/deflation, it allows for more straightforward comparisons. A solid ACT score from a student coming from a weaker district takes any asterisks off a transcript that a selection committee may be tempted to apply to a student.

2. The ACT as a set of national standards.
The ACT (and SAT) have served as a sort of national "standards" since long before states began adopting the common core. "Adoption" is truly optional relative to any given state's emphasis on tracking scores or the universities within that state emphasizing it in admittance guidelines. Along with the SAT, it even competes in a dynamic similar to the two consortia dedicated to administering common core tests for students (Smarter Balanced and PARCC)

3. Empowering students to evaluate their own learning.
More than letter grades or standards, the ACT gives students a benchmark by which they can measure their own learning progress or quality of learning. Sure, there may still be an element of "I don't test well," to factor into the discussion, but after several attempts a student's score should be relatively representative of what they have learned in high school.

4. Initiating Goal Setting
Improving their ACT score is some students' first practice in goal setting. "I want a score of ____ on the ACT" is even just an intermediary goal to larger, long term goals. Career goals beget college choices. College choices beget ACT goals for admittance requirements. Admittance requirements beget higher ACT goals for scholarships at that student's particular school of choice. I've seen many students dramatically change their focus on the ACT (and school in general) after they found out they were probably unlikely to get into a school they were hoping to attend. 

5. Encouraging Self-Discipline
Beyond (but related) to goal setting, improving their ACT score is some students' first practice in self-discipline. You don't wake up on exam day and expect to meet your new goal. Like improvement in anything, it takes the time and consistency of practice and sacrificing of other, more "fun" choices. Especially for students that don't play sports or a musical instrument, reaching for an ACT goal gives real practice in what it takes to dream a dream and see it through.

Do you think the ACT sucks? Come back Thursday for part 2.

17 April 2014

Are The Chicago Cubs About to Be Historically Bad?

I have a student in one of my AP Stats sections that is a Cubs fan. Its usually a great opportunity to build relationship with him (and the others) by harassing him about how bad they are.

It's in good fun. And educational.

He was telling the class today about the Cubs 4-10 record through the first 14 games of the season. It sounds bad, and it is, but since we know significance tests now, I thought it'd be fun to through their preseason projected win percentage (.413) against their current (.286) to find the chances of a win percentage that low, assuming that the original .413 was close to correct.

1. Refer to preseason final standings projections from mlb.com to find the Cub's projection along with the other 30 MLB teams.

2. Find the standard deviation of all the team's projections using a spreadsheet.

3. Use the standard deviation of win percentage, projected win percentage, and current win percentage values to find the z-score and corresponding p-value on the normal curve. Our's calculated to .0015%. That's the likelihood of the Cubs having a win percentage that low, assuming the original projection was correct.

So what's happening here?
We probably shouldn't rule out that the Cubs could be worse than their projected win percentage, but with the team only 9% into the season, its certainly too small a sample size to declare that the team is headed to a historically poor season.

Supersize the Floorplan Area Project

Designing a floor plan to have students calculate and study area is pretty standard fare for a high school Geometry course, but the further we get into the CAD-era of drafting, the further it gets from relevance.

The only way I've ever seen this done is on grid poster board or with grid paper. It's good for modeling how someone might draft up an informal plan at the kitchen table or your workbench, but its completely unlike what "real" architects, engineers, and designers do at their desks. Your students might get some exposure in the career and technical ed department with the heavy tools from Autodesk, but there's no reason you can't get everyone a quick exposure from these free tools.

Google SketchUp

My students are in the middle of a project right now designing a water park for a fictitious town in southwest Missouri using SketchUp to lay out the 2D geometry, pulling up into 3D shapes, wrapping it with colors or images, and adding dimensions. You can add some pizzazz to your plan from the extensive 3D warehouse gallery of items contributed by SketchUp users.

I'm not mandating this for our purposes, but you can also add any text you want for identifying parts.

When you're done you can export your SketchUp to 3D printers or as images to be embedded anywhere else on the web.

How to get it:
SketchUp is available for download here for your personal use, but its software, so you'll have to wait for someone with admin privileges to install it for you at school. (I always hate coordinating this, so I stay away from locally installed apps whenever possible).

You can also run it with a browser plug-in from this link. I haven't tested that yet, but I imagine it might get slow at times. On the positive side, your students will be able to use it at home without having to install it on their own.

Autodesk Homestyler

Homestyler is marketed directly toward consumers wishing to design for their personal home or office. Therefore, there's less to offer to the "power" user, but its easier to pick up and use for your students that might be wary toward the technology aspect of your redesigned project.
My favorite parts of Homestyler:
  • When adding doors/windows/appliances to your model, beyond the generic options are brand name designs that you could specifically purchase at your favorite home improvement warehouse. 
    • Adding a budget or cost layer to your project because as simple as keeping a window open to homedepot.com or lowes.com
  • Exporting images AND interactive walkthroughs 
    • Users have a choice of several nature backdrops to have peeking behind any windows, and can even choose a setting to have the sun shine through. The point is to get a better feel for how a paint color would look in the afternoon sun of your actual home, but for your students' fake floor plans, it just adds an extra pop.
How to get it:
Not only is Homestyler free, but its also a web app, which means all your students need is the url to finish on their own at home. Launch the web app here. (requires Adobe Flash)

CONFUSION WARNING: There is also a Homestyler app in the iOS app store that has a completely different interface and functionality. The app directs the user to take a picture of the room they want to style and then add elements layered onto the image of that space. From a consumer standpoint, its a lot simpler than having to measure and layout your space like you do on the web app, but for the purposes of your floor plan area project, its useless.

Honorable Mention: Free, online tools that may also work for your project

RoomSketcher - looks a lot like Homestyler