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Monday, July 11, 2011

Big Ideas About Math Education: Math Crossword Puzzle Vocabulary Diagnostic

By Derrick Brown (Email) (follow on Twitter @dbrowndbrown)
Download Math Crossword Puzzle Vocabulary Diagnostic (Free Preview Available)

This week, we move from "Big Ideas" to "Best Practices" for math education.

Learn how a simple crossword puzzle (of elementary and middle school math concepts) can be used as a creative diagnostic, or as a formal or informal assessment.

This resource can visually demonstrate your students' level of math proficiency by measuring their command of its language.


I was named Math Department Head at my charter high school during Summer 2009. This new role made me directly responsible for catalyzing improvement in student achievement, and provided me with the opportunity to begin to formally research, evaluate, and implement language-based approaches to teaching mathematics.

To qualify and quantify the current level of language proficiency, I designed this 25-word diagnostic language test of math terms commonly used from kindergarten to eighth grade. The test was first given in July 2009 to 25 incoming 9th-grade students during our week-long Summer Orientation Camp.

Early results of the test indicated a remarkably low level of math language proficiency.

Less than 10% of the students tested were able to define terms like "square", "volume", "sum", and "circumference".

None of the students were able to define terms like "addition", "subtraction", "multiplication, "division", "area", "line", "circle", "diameter", "principal", and "interest".

One frustrated student put it best as she scribbled the following message at the top of her test: "Some words I could not define because I cannot explain, but I know how to do them."

This rude awakening convinced me that we have to stop congratulating ourselves for drilling our students on rote memorization and pattern recognition techniques to achieve short-term success, and to retain little fundamental understanding.

Students must learn to do math, and must then learn what math does. Establishing that level of proficiency requires a steep, uphill climb that is facilitated by sobering honesty, and a committed work ethic displayed by all school stakeholders.

Also check out:
  1. Reach - Then Teach (Big Ideas About Math Education)
  2. Math Crossword Puzzle Language Diagnostic (Alternate Download from Scribd.com)
Please share your thoughts on these "Big Ideas" and best practices by leaving comments below. Email us or follow us on Twitter @dbrowndbrown to submit your own "Big Ideas" and best practices!
Copyright © 2012 Derrick  Brown. All Rights Reserved.


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