Friday, September 14, 2007

Test Day

Oh how I love test day in math class, or as I fondly refer to them: "Celebrations of Mathematical Knowledge." For me, it IS a celebration of my hard work. It symbols the end of a unit of meticulous lesson planning, cogently delivering the lessons from bell to bell, and grading piles upon piles of what seem like reproducing homework papers. Yes, indeed, test day gives me a day to sit at my desk at watch my industrious pupils demonstrate what they have learned. And oh, do I enjoy watching them.

Most them are very anxious, nervous individuals. The best students are the conscientious ones who hate the anticipation. They sweat every little detail. They have gone over every possible question I can ask in their mind, and they deeply fear the unexpected, lest they score less than a perfect score. They are tense and red throughout the affair. They break their pencil lead several times from the force of their hand upon the paper. If they had any nails left, they would scratch their faces off.

Then there are the average kids who feel prepared, but who know they won't ace the exam. They will be happy with a B. They are not very entertaining to watch. They don't react much, and work with a casual efficiency, deciding not to go back and check their work. They are usually the first ones to turn in their exam papers.

And then there is the last group. This group is almost as entertaining as the first group, although for very different reasons. These are the students who like to work in the margins of their exam paper, but not in the same sense that Pierre de Fermat did. These are the "I don't understand a single thing on this exam" students who, instead of filling the pages with precise calculations (or even calculation attempts), decide it best to use their time to advance their art skills. It's very easy to spot a doodler: no real math student traces out the number zero that many times! The only thing more amusing that watching how an unprepared student handles 90 minutes of what must feel like an eternity to them, is actually viewing their masterpieces when the time comes to grade their paper.

Also in this category are the unprepared, non-artists. These are the writers. Instead of the intermittent jump between writing and punching buttons on a calculator, the writers are fully engaged in putting down every excuse into pathetic words where numbers should be. Paragraph after paragraphs of " . . . Mr. Korpi, I'm really sorry that I am not prepared for this test but . . . ." or " . . . believe it or not, math has always been my favorite subject before this year . . . " or " . . . it's not that you are a bad teacher, it's just that . . . " Although they are as interesting to read as the drawings are fun to look at, they are much faster to grade than a real math paper, so I can't help but applaud their efforts to lighten my load, save me time, and entertain me a bit.

I guess, really it's the students who get the last laugh, 'cause now I'm the one who gets to go home and carefully grade 200 math tests over the next two days. It is only then, in the middle of mind-numbing grade-a-thons that I truly appreciate the fresh perspective of the artists and writers in my math class.

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