Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bad Cheaters

When I was in high school, I knew how to cheat. And if I wanted to cheat, I could get away with it.

Back then, I learned how to program words, equations, and complete paragraphs into my TI-83 graphing calculator. The "A-student" cheaters were the ones who didn't get caught. We had developed effective methods with minimal risk. For example, writing out an entire essay lightly on notebook paper the night before and simply retracing our pre-written essay during test time. We would strategically position ourselves next to those who might be marginally better than us during an exam we knew for sure we couldn't ace ourselves. But this new seating assignment wouldn't occur on test day - that's too suspicious. The new seating arrangement would take place weeks before the exam. The list goes on.

Some educators may disagree with me on this (from an ethics perspective), but I believe the art of cheating properly requires strategy, intelligence, and intrinsic motivation (probably the most important). You really have to want a better grade; it has to mean something to you. You can't cheat with the aim to pass, otherwise you'll get caught. Your goal must be to ace it. And to accomplish this, you need to know some of the material already. It's very difficult to successfully cheat something without knowing anything about it. Even Frank Abagnale, the protagonist from Catch Me if You Can studied and worked his ass off to cheat banks, the airlines industry, the legal system, and the FBI.

As a transfer high school teacher, I've seen students over my three years of experience attempt to cheat in many ways, but I have yet to be impressed. Either I just haven't caught anyone who is that good, or someone who is that good has yet to take my class. This week, my Algebra classes began discussing the Pythagorean theorem: the sum of the squares of two legs in a right triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuse. A great topic that both math lovers and haters tend to enjoy learning and applying.

I began this lesson by asking my students how big their TVs were in their apartments. Most students did not know, but when I got a response I asked, "Okay, so what does that mean?" Many students could not guess that TV sizes are labeled and sold by length of their diagonals. Good shit.

Mickey, one of my newer students, was struggling with applying the Pythagorean theorem, particularly when the hypotenuse is given and you must rework the equation to solve for a missing leg. Fortunately for him, he sits next to Brandee, a strong math student kind enough to hold his hand through every single problem. I'd love to do this for Mickey myself, but that's just not going to happen. Not when you teach at a transfer high school where every kid thinks their problem is more important than someone else's. Plus, it's not like this kid actually comes early or stays after school to get support - sleep is way more important.

At the end of the lesson I gave a short quiz. "Wait Brandee, I'm not done with that one. Lemme see what you got there." From the other side of the room, I could hear Mickey talking to Brandee. Actually by "talking to" I meant "copying off of." The problem: he was doing the shittiest job being sneaky about it.

"Mickey, you're going to have to show all of your work, you know that right? And eventually, you're going to have to take a test on this material. And, you'll be sitting next to people who have a different version of the test than you. What will you do then?" I asked.

"Mista, I'm not copying. I'm just going over her work," Mickey said, with the biggest grin I have ever seen. This kid seriously needs to work on his poker face. Come on, man! At least try to come up with something better.

"Dude, I can see AND hear that you're obviously copying answers right off Brandee..."

I waited for a response, but Mickey chose to ignore me, and then somehow I got busy helping other students. I made a mental note to take off points from Mickey's quiz and to also compare his answers to Brandee's side-by-side. As it turns out (Exhibit A, below), he blatantly copied three questions from Brandee, so I took off three points.

Exhibit A: What Not To Do.
Upon further investigation, I found that not only did he blatantly copy three questions from Brandee, but he didn't even do a good job copying the work. At some point it's evident that he just gave up, even though she got the entire question correct (Exhibit B below).

Exhibit B: Copying For the Sake of Copying.
This is the sort of stuff that really makes my day and simultaneously depresses the shit out of me.


Anonymous said...

I remember an instance in my high school physics class when two intelligent students sat next to each other and would occasionally "help" each other on physics test.

It's tough to catch these two students cheating as they were about generally straight A students. However, one physics test these two students had only one wrong answer in the entire test. The problem was they got the exact same problem wrong and looking closing at the test, both their work leading up this wrong answer was exactly the same.

The physics teachers notices this and asks for an explanation. Quick, would do you do?


Yo Mista said...

Good question... What did I do... ;-)

Anonymous said...

I believe our reaction was



Naa, it was probably really a bad acting job of being surprised, hahaha


Karen Perry said...

Gotta love when they copy the answers off of their partner who has a completely different form then they do - yet still deny it. When I asked a girl about it...she denied it. I asked another teacher, in front of her, what conclusion he would draw - he agreed, copying. She finally said that she asked the other student for help....but she thought that was ok on a quiz. ::facepalm::