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Why teach to the test when you can teach with the test?

The Massachusetts ESE has released hundreds of test questions.  These questions are well written, have been pilot tested, and have undergone multiple reviews by teachers and other curriculum specialists.   They are directly matched to the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.  Best of all, since they come from actual MCAS tests, they are a great resource for preparing for the test.  But why only use them as test prep a few weeks before the test?  Why not use them as another tool for teaching?  Perhaps you are teaching a unit on finding the volume of cones and pyramids.  Why not integrate MCAS questions into the lesson, perhaps as an introduction, as classwork, or as homework?  Why not use MCAS questions in your classes throughout the year?  Below are some suggestions for using MCAS  questions  in the classroom.

START UP:  Use a question at the start of class.  Use it as a springboard for going over Polya's problem solving strategies. Have students read the question, determine what information is given, what they know, and what they need to find out.  Perhaps they need to draw a diagram.  Maybe they can relate it to another similar problem they have solved in class.

THE COVER UP:  Take a multiple choice question.  Cover up the answers (this can be done by using a blank piece of paper to cover the response options and then making a  photocopy).  Have the students solve the problem, and then ask them to figure out some incorrect answers.  Point out that the incorrect answers are chosen to represent common errors or misconceptions.  Students should think about what kind of errors they might make in solving the problem.  In this way, students can engage in metacognitive thinking about their own problem solving strengths and weaknesses.

GET IT WRONG:  Give the students a multiple choice question with all of the answer choices.  Have them solve the problem and then try to get one of more of the incorrect answers.  This can be a fun small-group or whole-class activity.  It can also introduce students to some good test taking skills.

WRITE IT UP:  In addition to open response questions, students can also write up detailed solutions to multiple choice or short answer questions.  Ask students to explain their reasoning and to justify the steps taken in finding a solution to a problem.

POW:  Why not use MCAS questions as the Problem of the Week (POW)?  Open response items or multiple choice questions are great  problems for students to work on outside of class.

CLASS WORK:  Allow students to work on MCAS questions during class.  Students can work alone, in small groups, or at the board.  Students can be asked to explain to the class how they solved a given problem.

HOMEWORK:  Give MCAS problems for homework.  Going over a MCAS problem the next day is good way to start a math class.

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