“The Mysterious Mess” –An Elapsed Time Adventure

I used my morning routine as a warmup for the mysterious assessment.

Wednesday morning I woke up at my usual 4:55AM with an idea in my head. I had been planning to assess elapsed time in math class (3rd grade) this week, but hadn’t decided on how. All kinds of ways to quiz my students’ understanding abounded, but none were optimal for this subject… or situation.

During the previous week, out of the blue, Laughlin came up with an astounding; an outrageous; a formidable goal. If all of the students in the class get a 100%, we should have a party. Immediately, I softened this to “between 90% and 100%–If everyone earns an A.” Through this suggestion, I was admonishing my acquiescence. And, I told them all that “If everyone received an A, I’ll bring in ice cream sandwiches for the whole class; except the two who are allergic–they would get something super special; I don’t know yet, but it will be awesome!”

Now, I know that grades are perceived negatively in some circles of pedagogical thought (Don’t hate me, @MaireCervenak), and there will be blow back from the start of this concept, but I am writing about it anyway, because I am looking for some help. My students and parents are used to grades from previous years and I have (yes, I’ll admit it) handed out grades, this year. What I am looking for is a way for every student to get to the A (mastery of the subject), while I can still assess each one’s understanding through standards-based assessment. I think that I am almost there, but I would like your feedback and help.

This is what my brain cooked up: I came up with a story where students would have to use elapsed time to solve a mystery. Rather than there being several questions that students answered right or wrong, I would have them wrestle with timed events to figure out the conclusion to one massive mystery.

Here is the premise: A parent comes home; it could be a mom or it could be a dad; late from work. The parent usually gets home at 5:15PM, but today he/she had a meeting that was two hours long. So, immediately, students are working out an elapsed time problem. What time did the parent actually arrive home? [When I introduced the story to them, I gave them this one. They all knew anyway, that the parent walked through the door at 7:15PM. I tell them, “This is just an appetizer; Wait until we get to the meat of the problem!”] After working hard all day, the parent is not too happy to find the house in disarray. There is a huge mess! And, here is the ONE question for the whole quiz: “Who dun it?” (Here is a link to the Google slideshow containing the story. Feel free to use!)

I explained to my class that the kids are all guilty unless they can prove that they were so busy the whole time that they couldn’t possibly have had time to make a mess. It was my students’ job to figure out if the kids filled up the time from getting out of school to the time that the parent arrived home with activities. If there was any missing or unaccounted-for time, then that kid was a suspect. My class liked the idea, but they hadn’t fully bought into it, yet. “So, we are like detectives…” Avery offered.

Students were more engaged during this assessment than during lessons.

“No, you are not like detectives. You ARE detectives,” I countered. Huge smiles of glee infected the room. Not only was this going to be fun, but don’t forget that we are working for As, so that the whole class (minus a couple, who are going to get something super special) can receive ice cream sandwiches. Now, they understood that all they had to do was figure out the answer to one question: “Who made the mess?”

Okay, I have to backup a little, here. While all of this may sound awesome, it would be too much for third graders to just throw a long tale full of times at

Students wouldn’t HAVE to watch the video, but it would be available to them.

them, no matter how well I prep their minds. First of all, this story, which I wrote from start to finish between 4:55 and 9AM that morning, was three long pages full of text! If I were truly assessing only the math concept of elapsed time, I would have to find a way around the students who need help reading and comprehending text. I have read test questions to my class in the past, but this is a long story that was full of information and nuance. Keeping everyone together would be too much. I decided to record myself reading the story.

I had just recently found an online, free teleprompter program that I was planning on having my students read from when video-recording themselves to use picture-in-picture within iMovie for a research project. I had already mentioned this to my students, but hadn’t shown them how to use it, yet. I decided I would take my math assessment story and use it to show them how the teleprompter program worked. At 10:30AM I got the equipment ready, and projected my computer screen onto the wall so students could see exactly how it all works. I copied the text from the slideshow that I had typed it in and pasted it into the teleprompter program, all the while explaining what I was doing. Then I tried different speeds available for reading. I was learning how to use this software right in front of my entire class. (I also had a student videotaping this whole process. See video below: Warning, it’s a little shaky:)

Video of reading

We had some fun with the different speeds.

Finally, I did record my reading of the first section of text, right in front of my class. We have an early lunch, 10:45AM, so we had to pause the project, so I could bring the class to the cafeteria. When I got back to my room, Ms. Bee’s student teacher was waiting for me. He said that he had a question about how to get a Word document into an email. I hadn’t freaked out, yet, but I was teetering on the verge. I smiled at him and told him that I would like to help, but “I have a test that I still have to make, and I am planning on administering it in 30 minutes… I would be happy to help you, but I can’t right now. I recommend using Google Docs and sharing a link with your professor. Good luck, and stop back later, okay?” He assured me that he had time, and we agreed to get together after school. Alright, it was go time!

Not only did I have to make my video so that kids could listen to it, but I still had to print out the papers that I wanted them to record their work on!!!

As I write this, I honestly don’t remember the exact order that I did things; It is all a blur in my memory. I’ll tell you the outcomes, though. I screen-casted the teleprompter scrolling through the script that I had already recorded myself reading. Then I prepared the teleprompter with the next section of text. I screen-casted that as it scrolled. I videotaped myself reading the text. I then airdropped the screencasts to my iPad. Using iMovie, I created a movie with the screencasts. I put the videos of myself reading out loud into the movie as a picture-in-picture. This way my students would see, but more importantly, hear the text being read to them. I thought about providing some voiceover of instructions on how to use the movie, but I didn’t have time. I just got the raw footage ready, edited it a tiny bit, making sure the PIP wasn’t covering any of, or very little fo the scrolling text, and double-checked that all of the volumes were appropriate (I even stuck background music in; Thank you Bensound.com. You are awesome.) Then I exported it.

While my iPad was uploading the video to Youtube, I got the story ready for printing. I was able to at least type my instructions into the top right hand corner of the first page of my story. My district has begun using ReadyMath this year. ReadyMath has a very specific way of having kids proceed through problems. I am supposed to be using this curriculum with fidelity, and I have been, for the most part. But, this story-quiz was all me. Here I had the opportunity to merge my assessment with the ReadyMath way of teaching.

Now, we back up even more. I had come up with an idea a couple of days earlier that I thought would help the class all get As. They would not take this quiz as though it were a standardized test, with desks spread out and stress prevailing. Rather, I would have them work the way they were used to:

Step 1Step 2Step 3 Discuss

And, now for the secret weapon: After solving the problem multiple ways, they would discuss what they had figured out with their turn and talk partners. In order for this to work, they must “Record their process”, so that they can more easily and accurately communicate their work their partners. (Of course, I wanted to see what they did, also, but I didn’t even have to say the most heard phrase in all of math, “Show your work.”)

Back to my lunch. I was sneaking bites of a tuna sandwich, while typing, formating (I needed students to have plenty of space next to the text to record their work.), and printing the papers. Before collecting the papers from the printer to bring to the photocopier, I (virtually;) grabbed  the link of my movie from Youtube, threw (again, virtually;) it into Google Classroom as a “Question” and punched keys (literally at this point) to provide a minimal outline of expectations. I pushed this out to my math class. iPads were ding-ing acceptance of their new assignment as I rushed out the door to print the paper versions of the assessment.

With thirty copies of my story/quiz in hand, I met my students as they entered the building, from recess. After walking them up to the classroom, I sat them all down on the carpet. Before launching the assessment that I had just barely managed to pull together, I told the students a different story.

I wrote times on the board, as I explained all of the things that I had done that morning prior to arriving at school, starting at waking up at 4:55AM. Other than being inspired with this great idea of a math story/assessment, it was a pretty typical morning, so it was easy to rattle off all of the stuff and times. They were in awe of an adult life’s responsibilities. I ended with “What time did I get to school? –Go!” They rushed to their desks to get Math Spiral notebooks. No two students figured it out the same way. Most everyone got the same answer. After discussing it a little, I told them that this was the hors d’oeuvres for their assessment.

On the fly, I decided to separate the first page of the story from the other two and administer it independently. The papers hadn’t been stapled, so it was easy. Before handing it out, I displayed the page on the screen and went over the directions. They still didn’t know that they would be “discussing” their findings with their neighbors. I told them that when they read the text, they should highlight the important information. Then, as I read, we made high-pitched, inquisitive sounds of marvel at each mention of a time. This was hilarious and reinforced picking out the necessary numbers.

Finally, it was time to set them loose. I explained the video available in Google Classroom. A student asked, “Do we have to watch/listen to the video?” It hadn’t occurred to me that they might not want to.

“No, you definitely do NOT have to watch the video,” I answered. I knew that several would need it. But, it started to sink in that the video could very well be just a distraction for strong readers. As I handed papers to students, they went to their desks to begin figuring out whether or not the first-born child of the parent in the story might have made the mess.

All the papers being handed out, students either watching the video or reading intently, the classroom was as silent as the morning after an evening snowfall. I finished my tuna sandwich and took some pictures and video. I dragged teachers in from the hall to witness my class. I was so proud of how hard they were working and what I had put together for them.

This might be hard to believe, but when I was writing this story, I was adding the times of all of the different activities that each kid was using as an excuse up in my head. I didn’t even know if I had done the math accurately, or which kid was really responsible! I know this seems crazy, but it made it extra fun for all of us. I ended up having to figure it out with the students when they had questions, or told me they were done.

As it turned out, Angela, the oldest of the three kids and first to provide the parent with her excuses, had provided times adding right up to the minute that the parent came home. Only a handful of my students were not accurate in their calculations. I encouraged them to try solving the mystery through using a different mathematical strategy. Everyone recorded more than one way to solve Angela’s elapsed time. This brought us to the end of our math hour, and I collected everyone’s paper.

Scanning Station

Overnight, I scanned everyone’s papers using the Notes App on my iPad. I was insecure about students changing their work when they discussed with partners. In this way, I would be able to see how well each student understood what he/she was doing. How well did they meet the standard?

At the very beginning of math the next day, the class revisited the premise of the assessment. “What are we trying to find out?”

IMG_1286“Who dun it?” –Who made the mess?

In order to solve this mystery we were calculating the times of the kids’ excuses to see which, if any, had any unaccounted for time that might mean they might have used this time to make a mess. With all of my students on board with the mission of our mystery, I handed back the paper they had worked on the day before. They were instructed to discuss with their partner what they had done. I was explicit in that they were not to erase anything. I told them that they could add to their notes if, in discussing with their partners, new ideas or information came to light. I told them I had scanned the papers, so they were not going to be tricking me at all if they decided to break the rules. I don’t think anyone did. The discussion was lively. Everyone was energetic about figuring out “Who dun it?”

I then handed out the second page of the story. This one had Angela’s brother, George providing excuses. This part of the story has a lot of dialogue between the kid and the parent. Students were again able to access the video to listen to the text being read aloud. Many did. They were told to highlight the important information: the times. After students had ample time to complete their calculations, providing more than one strategy for solving the elapsed time, I had them again discuss their work with their partners.

It was now time to work on the third and last page of the story. This was a kid with a slightly different name. Rowan was a relief. His times were just half hours. There were six of them, so students could try using multiplication or repeated addition or skip counting. The timeline method seemed to work best. Once they had finished this and discussed their work with partners, I explained that it was time to provide answers. Students were to use the work that they had diligently recorded on their papers to provide explanation for their choice of who they think made the mess. They were to revisit the Google classroom and type the name(s) of the culprit(s) (another vocabulary word stemming from the experience), along with why they think that these children might be guilty.

When finished typing, they were permitted to read each other’s answer and comment within the Google Classroom on each other’s answers. The room was pin-drop-quiet for fifteen minutes. You could smell the neurons firing.

They loved interacting with each other within Google Classroom.

And, now it is Sunday morning. I have a pile of papers and a Google Classroom full of answers. Did everyone get an A? Did every student display mastery? They were all present for the assessment. One student left her grandmother at the airport to not miss school!

The work looks very impressive, but I will have to comb through it all. I don’t think everyone got everything perfectly accurate. As far as the mystery being solved, the story ends with the parent saying that he/she trusts the kids’ stories and just wants some help cleaning up the mess. In the end, as long as everything is straightened up, it does not matter “Who dun it”.