Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Precalculus bingo: the multiplayer edition

File under: Those Who Can't, Meta-Meta, Queen of Sciences. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:40 pm.

Of all the snark I’ve posted on the topic of teaching intro college math, none has garnered as much sympathy - and laughter - as precalculus bingo. Everyone who’d ever taught a math class anywhere in the world could relate to my experiences; apparently that’s what this guy is saying, anyway. Grading sad, sad tests is as inevitable as death and taxes for those of us who teach college math, except we see a lot more bad tests than we see of either of those two staples. Even taxes, even me, and I’m Canadian.

Anyway: in the comments to the bingo post and in some of the links leading to it, many of my fellow mathematicians made suggestions for their own squares. There was no shortage of dumbass mistakes that my readers were willing to predict, and to them I say - make your own damned bingo cards, dammit.

And then send them to me.

Three weeks from now, my precalculus students will be writing their final exam, and grading it will surely test my faith in my ability to do my job, and in the high school system’s ability to do its. Grading the final exams will be like grading the tests, except that it will take twice as long as suck three times as much. I’m going to need more than a single bingo card to make it bearable.

So: make up your own precalculus bingo card, and send it over. I’ll accept submissions either as HTML tables, or as .jpg/.gifs that are 500 by 500 pixels. The day that I grade the exams, I will play all of the bingo cards simultaneously. The person with the best card will win a copy of Innumeracy, by John Allen Paulos, or a handmade crocheted Moebius strip, or a crocheted hyperbolic plane, or - if anyone has any other ideas, let me know. Cards will be judged on two criteria weighted equally: success in the bingo game, and precision of your predictions. (This latter one was inspired by the two friends I bounced this idea off of first, who said, “Oh, well, I can just win by making every square read ’student gets question wrong’! Then I’ll win!” Yeah, your card will do well, but you’ll still be a loser, loser.)

My precalculus class this term covered - in theory, anyway - the topics of solving linear and quadratic equations; factoring polynomials; completing the square; graphing polynomials, rational, and exponential functions; and solving logarithmic and exponential equations. You name a mistake on any topic thereto appertaining, they’ve made it at some point during the term. I don’t ask my readers for money - I don’t need to be paid to provide this snark, and I’m happy to do it for free - but right now, precalculus bingo is the only thing keeping me from deciding never to teach another precalculus class again, and if I made good on that decision, you’d get a lot less snark from me. So.

Submissions are due April 13, at 11:59 pm Pacific Time. Send them to moebiusstripper AT talldarkandmysterious DOT ca. And tell your friends! Tell your colleagues! Tell your students! Tell your readers, because the more of these I get, the more fun I’ll have grading exams, and the more fun you’ll have reading about the experience. Because there is a silver lining to the black, black cloud that is teaching completely unsuccessful classes to completely unprepared students.


  1. I try not to grade exams at my office, because they frown on alcohol consumption on school grounds.

    When I grade exams, I try to be as generous (and consistent) with partial points as a can. to ensure consistency, I write down mistakes for each question as I go, and then figure out what gets what level of partial points. With 30-40 tudents a class, I lose track of things if I don’t. After I look over the list of errors, I could probably easily come up with a finance bingo.

    - The Unknown Professor — 3/25/2005 @ 12:53 pm

  2. Awesome! This will definitely be going around the office (where a favorite diversion is to complain that students think everything is linear, and then craft particularly hilarious results from this). I imagine I’ll collaborate with some, but others (like the guy who found it he was teaching an algebra course two days before the class actually started) may well submit their own.

    - Paul — 3/25/2005 @ 3:06 pm

  3. Yeah I know what you mean, Unk. Prof. I used to get red wine stains on my students’ papers. I tried sitting in a coffeeshop once - got a triple latte, and had the calc exams graded in an hour and a half… but I was more irritable afterwards. So I changed tactics to MST3K videos and red wine. Took a lot longer, but I was in a much better mood.

    - meep — 3/26/2005 @ 9:14 am

  4. Unknown Professor - oh, but the trick is to make up a bingo game BEFORE you grade the tests. I write down mistakes as I go as well, but with precalculus there’s little point: I can anticipate most of the errors (which is part of what makes my job so frustrating: I know what they’re going to get wrong, but I’m completely powerless to stop it. Pointing out common mistakes preemptively makes no difference at all), and the ones I can’t anticipate are so obscure that I am not going to see more than one of each per class. Speaking of which, I found that I’ve been able to speed up grading by implementing a new guideline: if I find myself squinting at a students solution for more than ten seconds thinking “what in the goddamned HELL?”, I give it a zero.

    Paul - ah, yes, everything is linear. I think I had a number of versions of that on my original bingo card. (Two days before the class began? Nice. I got a copy of my calc text two days AFTER the class began, but at least I’d known for two whole weeks that I’d be teaching it.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/27/2005 @ 5:20 pm

  5. […] ing to do in my absence (or, more likely, my sporadic presence), I got three words for ya: Precalculus Bingoo Contest.


  6. Dammit! I’m a US tax accountant! I won’t even see daylight until the 15th!

    Looks like I’m only going to be an observer on this one.

    - Independent George — 3/28/2005 @ 6:03 am

  7. This doesn’t have anything to do with calculus, but here’s Joe Wolfe’s Bingo for surviving meetings with management. (Joe’s “How to Write a Thesis” page has been on my most-read list for several years now).
    My college calculus teacher once came to class with a big pile of crumpled exams. He had graded them by the pool and fell asleep and the wind blew them into the water. He fished them out and dried them to his best ability. In class he offered some feeble apologies for those whose exams were too soggy to grade properly.

    - Naomi — 3/29/2005 @ 5:51 pm

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