Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Archive for November 2009

Yes, more on lab reports.  I don’t grade them right away, they just take a long time and I sometimes put it off for a week.  As a result, I get a bit confused about who was there and who didn’t turn in work and why.

I finally figured this one out, it has been the bane of my teaching existence for far too long.  Here’s the scenario:  I do a lab, tell them it is due in two or three days.  When I collect it, I don’t recall who was there that day, who worked, who just stood around, etc.  Now I’m missing lab reports, but I can’t recall if it is because they simply didn’t hand it in, they were out when it was handed in, or they were out and missed the lab.  In case you haven’t figured this out by now, paperwork is my downfall.  The solution that works for me is to create forms.

Excel to the rescue.  I made a form for lab day.  On the form I make note of who is present and who is out.  I also casually make notes on who is writing in their lab notebook or working on separate paper.  Some labs I want made up, others are a pain for me, so I exempt them if they were absent.

We’ve already been through the problem that I can’t attach excel pages on this blog, so I printed a pdf of one of the pages from my spreadsheet with my students’ names removed.  I have a separate page for each class so I only need to fill in the title, dates, and hit print.  I used this for the first time this week and I knew immediately who didn’t hand in work and who owed me work today because they missed school the previous day.  When I collect the work, I attach the form to the stack from the class.  For once, I am in control of lab reports.

Lab Attendance Forms

If you grade labs, you probably struggle for consistency and simplicity in grading those beasts.  I know I do.  I’ve come up with a more simple plan through a series of iterations.

I make up these little score sheets, they run nine to a page.  The idea is simple; the lab is worth 25 points.  Each problem is a deduction of usually one or two points.  I grade on the score sheet, then staple or glue the sheet to the lab.  I find that the feedback of lost points gives them a clear indication of what to fix for next time.

I like a 25 point lab for a number of reasons.  I tell the kids, every lab starts at an A+.  Each point deduction drops the grade by one third of a grade.  So a one-point deduction drops an A+ to an A, where a two-point deduction drops an A+ to an A-.  This system lets me choose a value for a section, so if there is a lot of calculations and graphing in the analysis section, I can make omission of the work worth a full grade with a deduction of three points.  I don’t take late work unless they were absent, so not handing in a lab isn’t fatal, but it hurts.  A 25-point lab is also a good buffer for bad quiz and test grades.

I have played with this over the last couple of years.  My first lab or two of the year I grade holistically, I get a feel for what I think it deserves.  Then I go back and count where I would have given deductions.  That is why I know this works for me.  A lab that is in order and complete is an easy A.  I establish certain requirements, such as each page needs the header completely filled in, each section must be present and in the proper order, formulas and calculations are written out, and the last page is signed as an indication they did their own work.  As they get better at the layout and report, I can up the standards on the actual lab work.

The attached page is a pdf of my spreadsheet.  Use mine or make your own, whatever works for you.

Lab Score Sheet

As always, if you have ideas to improve upon this or do something you like better, I really want to hear about it.  I’m tired of having to learn all of this the hard way.

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normal_curveHere’s a little end-of-quarter gift for you.  I’ve been meaning to post my excel gradebook and curving routine for some time.  I think some of you are going to want to send me a Christmas present for this one.  (And if you are so inclined, I’ll give you an address to mail it to.)

The gradebook isn’t really all that special, it just does exactly what I need it to do.  The second sheet has a few sample grades so you can see how I use it.  In a nut shell, here’s the idea:

  • A line for each kid, you can do first & last names, I tend to do last, first in case I need to sort.
  • Along the top is the graded assignment.  I often use a comment in the field so I know what the actual homework was for that grade.  It’s helpful when they were out and need the assignments.
  • The column marked “Point Adjustment” allows me to exempt the grade for someone that was out.  You can see the example on sheet 2.
  • I have the kids give me a code, like their birthday or address.  Then when I go to print, I hide the name, sort by the average grade (decending), hit print, then undo, undo.  Don’t sort the first column.
  • You will see some boxes at the bottom, two stacked and ####’ed out.  That is the average and std dev.  When I give a test or quiz, I copy and paste one of those to the bottom.  It lets me know how the trend is going.
  • If a kid is failing or near failing, I color their line red.
  • You can keep extra rows, but make sure the averaging function is removed or it will include those zeroes into the class average.
  • A missed assignment can be blank, it still counts as a zero unless you do a point adjustment.  I normally don’t take late work, so I just put in a zero for those, but it’s useful for kids that were out to see a blank. It reminds them to turn in the work that was due.
  • When the quarter is over, I make a copy of the spreadsheet and store it under admin archives.  Then go back to my original and wipe out all the grades and start over.

What’s great about this program is I can make changes quickly.  I used to keep this on my USB drive, but now it sits in DropBox so I have access to it from everywhere.  I print grades at least once a week, it’s very quick to post grades on my bulletin board, and the kids keep me honest if I mess up their grades – which in the end helps both of us.  It’s much faster than our school grade book program, so I consider my spreadsheet the master if there is a conflict.

Now, the curve routine.   After a test that will need curving (and don’t they all), I copy and paste just the grades to the sheet labeled ‘stuff.’  Once there, I sort them high to low and then use the Average function and the Standard Deviation function.  I really only want the average, but the std dev gives me an idea how spread out the grade pattern looks.  I’m in a bullet kind of mood…

  • Look at the grades and the average.  I like my test averages to be 75-77, but they are usually like 60.
  • Go to the Curve sheet.  Go to the yellow boxes.  Here is where you get to play a little.  Take the highest test grade and make it what you want it to be.  If someone stood out from the rest, I may make it 100.  If not, 95 works for me.  Now the low – I usually start out with the low grade being curved to a 50.
  • Go down to the single yellow box and enter the average grade for the test.  Below it, you can see what the average grade curves to.
  • If the average is below what you want, you can boost the curves-to grade for the high score or the curves-to grade for the low score.
  • When you have it where you want it, change the title on the Curve sheet and hit print.  It will print the curve, plus what the high, low, and average curve to.
  • To enter into the grade book, I usually make a new column called ‘curve’ worth no points and put the delta in there.
  • Pointer (worth and extra dollar or two) – use the comment function and put the curve numbers onto the test header.  You can see this on the period 3 sheet on the test dated 11/10.  This way, if I have to go back and recreate the curve, you have the data to set it up instantly.

What I’ve found is that by keeping my test average around a C/C+, I have just the right grade distribution at report card time.

The file is in my public folder on DropBox:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/10163635/Grade%20Book.xls

If you have a problem with DropBox just email me and I’ll send you the file directly.

becky_nerdy1I got an email from Jeff asking me to promote his new physics forum.  It cracked me up because he called me an influential blogger.  Don’t influential bloggers get free t-shirts, or hot nerd chicks or something.  All I get is more papers to grade.  (As an odd side comment, and mind you, this was an after thought, I did a google search for “hot nerd chicks” and was quite surprised at the brilliance of my comment.  Who knew?)

I did say I would help him out and post a quick article and the link.

I think there is a place for his forum.  It’s actually what I wanted to do here along with this blog, but WordPress doesn’t make it easy and I need low maintenance to do this blog.

As of today there are only four questions, but I can see it growing quickly.

Jeff Hellman’s PhysExchange:  http://physicsteachers.stackexchange.com/

[1/20/12-I just clicked on the link and it appears to have either moved or died.  I was going to remove the post, but I don’t have the heart to remove the picture.]


What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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