Saturday January 7, 2017

Diary of a Substitute Teacher #2

Yesterday's class was doing "IXL Math" exercises on Chromebooks: "Ratios and Rates". Sample question:

"What is the ratio of orange bottles to total bottles?"

Screen shot of ratio problem

These exercises have a strong "critical reading" element that makes them less about math and more about noticing the constantly changing required format of the answer. They try to trick the students and they regularly succeed.


  • Write your answer as two numbers separated by a colon (for example, 2:3).
  • Write your answer as two numbers separated by "to" (for example, 2 to 3).
  • Write your answer as two numbers separated by "/" (for example, 2 / 3).
  • No instructions given. One of the numbers and the desired symbol is provided.

The fill-in box is never constrained to a maximum number of characters, so it's possible to type in more than "required". It's easy to type "4 : 3" even for a problem where either the 4 or the 3 is already provided.

Also, every problem changes the objects and every problem uses colors. What if a child is colorblind? (One boy was. Brown looks like purple to him.) What if a child has other vision problems? Even I had some trouble sometimes guessing which objects were the "pink" ones.


Now, I agree that "learning how to follow directions" is an important skill, but this is supposed to be math class. Set the basic directions at the beginning, allow any of : or / or to (because the math is more important than the symbol here), increase the size of the text, don't hide the special directions below the problem image, add patterns as well as colors (e.g. balls to squares), and stop trying to be cute (every question had a different "object": pens, flowers, cars, hats, octagons, circles, bottles that look like candles)... none of this is pertinent to the issue at hand which is calculating ratios!

The kids get the math correct but get the answer wrong. They're required to have 80% accuracy, but they lose points for Not-Math reasons. They're not learning; they're fighting the program.

#SturgeonsLaw #DunningKruger #UIUXYuch

Diary of a Substitute Teacher #2 ( in category Trivial Pursuits ) - posted at Sat, 07 Jan, 10:13 Pacific | «e»

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