Going from “What’s the answer?” to “How do you find it?”

During my first year of teaching, I quickly gained an appreciation for the importance of handing out multiple versions of assessments when the students were in tight quarters.  Some students would even copy directly of their neighbors without looking at the question.  If you have handed out regular homework assignments with math problems, you may of seen a similar problem where students can get answers from other students and not actually attempt the problem themselves.

These sorts of actions ruin the purpose of both assessments and assignments.  So I started to wonder what I could do to help my students learn and eliminate copying as a problem on both homeworks and assessments.  What if each student got a different assignment???

I started with word and excel.  In excel, I used random number generators and the formulas to create a different version of each question for each student automatically.  In addition it would solve for the answer for each question.  I then mail merged these into a document that created 70 different quizzes and an answer key.  The files are here:

The Word Document for the Quiz
The Excel Document for the Quiz
The Word Document for the Key

Now this is a pretty time intensive way to do it.  From start to finish it took about 3 hours for a first attempt.  As the year continued, this idea stuck in the back of my mind searching for an easier way.  Enter Edu-Hackathon!

In May, the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia held an eduhackathon.

At the SLA EduHackathon, developers will have access to an online demo copy of Slate, as well as its documentation and developers, to (optionally) build your apps against its RESTful JSON API. You can also set up your own copy of Slate to hack it directly, or not touch Slate at all—the choice is yours. Staff and students of the school and district will be present to participate with ideas and a passion for improving their school. The best projects will built by teams that best combine development skill with perspective from the classroom. Projects that integrate with Slate or Google Apps could even be put to immediate real-world use at SLA. The event is also open to educators and projects from all schools.

Over a weekend with two awesome programmers and a developer, we created a random problem generator that could be used for any class.  By Sunday afternoon we had a working online demo.  We ended up taking first prize!

Using our program you can write a question into a text entry box putting the variables in curly brackets.   The webapp detects the variables and allows you to put constraints on them.  Then in a separate box you enter the equation to solve for using the variables from your question.  Finally just tell it how many questions you want and it will give you questions with answers!  I’ve done up to 10,000 at a time. Okay, you probably won’t need that many.  There are still plenty of things to do with it!  We’d like to add meta data to store questions by subjects and standards.  Eventually, you will be able to select questions and create assignments and quizzes for your classes with answer keys.  Then when your students collaborate the question goes from “What’s the answer?” to “How do you do it?”

Here’s the interface!

One thought on “Going from “What’s the answer?” to “How do you find it?”

  1. Or if you were using Moodle, you could have just used their already made options on the quiz or assignment modules. I am really loving Moodle right now. Of course, it’s best if your school is 1to1, like mine.

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