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Five Reasons To Download Classkick

Before I get to the good, here’s the tragic, a comment from a father about a math feedback platform that I don’t want to single out by name. This problem is typical of the genre:

My daughter just tried the sine rule on a question and was asked to give the answer to one decimal place. She wrote down the correct answer and it was marked wrong. But it is correct!!! No feedback given just — it’s wrong. She is now distraught by this that all her friends and teacher will think she is stupid. I don’t understand! It’s not clear at all how to write down the answer — does it have to be over at least two lines? My daughter gets the sine rule but is very upset by this software.

My skin crawls — seriously. Math involves enough intrinsic difficulty and struggle. We don’t need our software tying extraneous weight around our students’ ankles.

Enter Classkick. Even though I’m somewhat curmudgeonly about this space, I think Classkick has loads of promise and it charms the hell out of me.

Five reasons why:

  1. Teachers provide the feedback. Classkick makes it faster. This is a really ideal division of labor. In the quote above we see the computer fall apart over an assessment a novice teacher could make. With Classkick, the computer organizes student work and puts it in front of teachers in a way that makes smart teacher feedback faster.
  2. Consequently, students can do more interesting work. When computers have to assess the math, the math is often trivialized. Rich questions involving written justifications turn into simpler questions involving multiple choice responses. Because the teacher is providing feedback in Classkick, students aren’t limited to the kind of work that is easiest for a computer to assess. (Why the demo video shows students completing multiple choice questions, then, is befuddling.)
  3. Written feedback templates. Butler is often cited for her finding that certain kinds of written feedback are superior to numerical feedback. While many feedback platforms only offer numerical feedback, with Classkick, teachers can give students freeform written feedback and can also set up written feedback templates for the remarks that show up most often.
  4. Peer feedback. I’m very curious to see how much use this feature gets in a classroom but I like the principle a lot. Students can ask questions and request help from their peers.
  5. A simple assignment workflow for iPads. I’m pretty okay with these computery things and yet I often get dizzy hearing people describe all the work and wires it takes to get an assignment to and from a student on an iPad. Dropbox folders and WebDAV and etc. If nothing else, Classkick seems to have a super smooth workflow that requires a single login.


Handwriting math on a tablet is a chore. An iPad screen stretches 45 square inches. Go ahead and write all the math you can on an iPad screen — equations, diagrams, etc — then take 45 square inches of paper and do the same thing. Then compare the difference. This problem isn’t exclusive to Classkick.

Classkick doesn’t specify a business model though they, like everybody, think being free is awesome. In 2014, I hope we’re all a little more skeptical of “free” than we were before all our favorite services folded for lack of revenue.

This isn’t “instant student feedback” like their website claims. This is feedback from humans and humans don’t do “instant.” I’m great with that! Timeliness is only one important characteristic of feedback. The quality of that feedback is another far more important characteristic.

In a field crowded with programs that offer mediocre feedback instantaneously, I’m happy to see Classkick chart a course towards offering good feedback just a little faster.

2014 Sep 17. Solid reservations from Scott Farrar and some useful classroom testimony from Adrian Pumphrey.

2014 Sep 21. Jonathan Newman praises the student sharing feature.

2014 Sep 21. More positive classroom testimony, this entry from Amy Roediger.

2014 Sep 22. Mo Jebara, the founder of Mathspace, has responded to my initial note with a long comment arguing for the adaptive math software in the classroom. I have responded back.

[LOA] Sam Shah’s Worksheet

Sam Shah’s been writing a lot of thoughtful material about calculus instruction lately, including this piece on related rates.

He includes a worksheet with that post and two items struck me. One, this is a pretty charming illustration of a rocketship climbing into space.


Two, it asks students to climb down, not up, the ladder of abstraction. Check it out. It asks students to calculate a table of values for the rocket …


… then it asks for a prediction about the graph.


It asks students to calculate the instantaneous rate of change …


… and then make a prediction about the instantaneous rate of change.


Calculation is something you can do once you’ve ascended the ladder and turned a concrete situation (a rocketship lifting off) into an equation (h = 50t2). Prediction is something students can do while they mill around at the bottom of the ladder and it’ll make their eventual ascent up the ladder easier.

So I’m here, again, wondering what would happen if the worksheet had asked the prediction questions first and then moved on to calculation. Would the students be more successful? Would they have enjoyed the work more?

2014 Feb 24. Sam Shah updates us:

Yup. I introduced the rocket problem this year and I had each group make guesses for what the three graphs were going to look like. I loved hearing their conversation and their incorrect thinking for some of them. Tomorrow they are going to do the calculations and see what they got right and what they got wrong…

Thanks for pushing back in this good way. I’m glad I remembered to go back and reread this this year!

[LOA] Family Feud

Once you see the ladder of abstraction you can’t unsee it. Family Feud is a game show that’s played on the ladder. When Steve Harvey says, “Name something that gets passed around,” that’s a higher level of abstraction than all of the items listed: a joint and the collection plate at church.

Every other quality of the joint and collection plate is eliminated except their passed-around-ness.

Which game show works in the other direction, giving you lots of items and asking you to move one level of abstraction higher to the category that includes them?

2013 Mar 18. Andrew Stadel mentioned on Twitter that he gives students on level of Family Feud’s abstraction (the joint and the collection plate) and asks students what higher level of abstraction they all belong to (“things you pass around”). Great idea, easily adaptable to mathematics also.

[LOA] London Underground Maps

Here are two maps of the London underground railway, the first from 1928, the second from 1933.



I stipulated earlier that the act of abstraction requires a context (some raw material) and a question (a purpose for that raw material). These are two different abstractions of the same context. So what two different purposes do they serve? Rather, whom does each one serve?

BTW. If you’ll let me troll for a minute: aren’t we doing kids a disservice by emphasizing “multiple representations” rather than the “best representations?” Given that some abstractions are more valuable than others for different purposes, why do we ask for the holy quadrinity of texts, graphs, tables, and symbols on every problem rather than for a defense of the best of those representations for the job given?

BTW. I pulled those maps from Kramer’s 2007 essay, “Is Abstraction the Key to Computing?

2012 Nov 19. Christopher Danielson links up two examples of curricula (CMP) emphasizing “best representations” over “multiple representations.”

Featured Comments


My intuition is the first (‘real’ scale, ‘real’ layout) is more useful to anyone who cares about how far it is between locations that are not connected, or how they relate to things not shown on the graph, while the second is for those who only care about connections.

Sean Wilkinson

I’m not sure that I agree that both maps are same-level abstractions of the real-world subway system. I would argue instead that the second map is an abstraction of the first.

In order to abstract away the lengths and shapes of the curves that connect the nodes, we need to have already interpreted the subway system as a network of curves and nodes — as the first map does — rather than as a three-dimensional physical structure.

Similarly, I would argue that graphs and tables-o’-values do not occupy the same rung; rather, a graph is an abstraction (and infinite extension) of a table-o’-values.

[LOA] What “The Literature” Says

If all of this ladder of abstraction material has seemed soft, fuzzy, and opinionated so far, I’ll offer up my summer project, A Literature Review of the Process and Product of Abstraction. Feel free to add comments or questions in the margins. I’ll try to get in there and chop it up with you. If you have written more than a handful of literature reviews yourself, I’d be grateful for your feedback on the format.