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

Investing in Extra Credit

Posted on: March 13, 2011


I’ve been struggling with a moral dilemma.  At least I think it’s a more dilemma.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, where are my story-telling manners?

I’m not a fan of extra credit.  Here is how I lay out my thoughts on the matter to my students:

  • If you don’t turn in your work when it is due, extra credit is not for you.  (This will be the one and only rhyme in this post, I promise.)
  • I curve the grades.  I make the tests and quizzes challenging, then I curve the average up to a C+.
  • You want to do well in my class, do your homework, come in for tutoring, pay attention in class, take notes, study for the tests and quizzes.  Do your homework!
  • My course is designed so that honestly attempting homework banks enough points to overcome poor test scores.  Did I mention, “Do your homework?”

There are some students that do all their work, they really try, but their math foundation is shaky and/or they don’t test well.  If you work hard but fail tests, I tend to secretly award point at the end of the quarter for coming in for tutoring.  Most teachers won’t fail a student that really, sincerely tries, but doesn’t succeed.

Now, about that extra credit.  Generally I don’t like it, but sometimes it’s my idea, sometimes it’s a request from another teacher or administration, like…

Toys for Tots:  Bring in a toy, help another child and you help yourself.  This one, the ends clearly justifies the means.

Support school spirit:  Attend a basketball game and support our team.  It was only 5 points, the value of a homework, so sure.  After all, I am the boys soccer coach.  Go CHARGERS!

Warning – slippery slope, proceed with caution!

Students that volunteered to help other students with their science fair projects (as research subjects) and were picked were given points.  Many applied, but few were chosen.  So if you were picked, you got 20 extra credit points.  That made a big difference for a few lucky people.  Extra credit is now a lottery.  Buy your tickets at the door.

So how about these:

  • Points for bringing in a (usable) box of tissues for the classroom?
  • Buying a fish for the fish tank?
  • Buying batteries for the robots?
  • Buying white board markers for the classroom?

So now it’s all about the Benjamins.  (For you international readers, those are $100 bills.)

Where does it end?  I mean, I’d really like a boat.

This all started because the school purchases Expo markers for the white boards.  I stopped using them, they don’t erase well.  I’ve been purchasing Quartet fine tip markers from Staples when they go on sale for $1 for five.  Yeah, the sale just ended, sorry.  I like these, they don’t leave a residue when you erase the board, so I never have to spray the white boards anymore.  I thought about letting anyone who wanted extra credit go out and purchase two packages for $2 (the store limit), but my conscience got in the way.

See where this takes us?  I mean, sure I really wanted them to buy me more markers, but the fate of the free world is in my hands here.

But seriously, if only for a moment, do we assign extra credit projects or purchases for students that don’t do their work when it is assigned?  How about students caught cheating?  Did I mention that roughly 30% of our students qualify for free lunch.

An engineering degree, a Master’s degree, twenty years of corporate sales and eight years of teaching just hasn’t prepared me for this decision.

I really do want a boat, though.

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8 Responses to "Investing in Extra Credit"

Most teachers won’t fail a student that really, sincerely tries, but doesn’t succeed.

I am with you up to this point, but then I stop. No extra credit. Extra credit has to be available for all students in the same way. I will, usually at the end, accept missing assignments and labs for marks, but that was work that should have been done anyway.

Charity? do it for intrinsic reasons, not extra credit.
Support school teams? We let them pay to go to a game, and miss class, but not for extra credit. hmm, we let them pay to skip class, I’m not sure about the morals of that one either!

Seems like we agree on most of the points. Last year I stopped taking late work. I was accepting work that was 6 weeks old that I had gone over in class. Worst of all, I was getting this stuff by the ream the last week of the quarter when I was frantically working to make sure I had everything graded and in order. The late paper insanity was making my life miserable.

Besides, what message was I sending? It’s okay to be lazy, wait and copy your friend’s homework and still get partial credit.

No more, no thank you. You don’t turn it in on time, man up and take the zero. Learn a lesson that success comes from work and effort. Most students now at least try their homework and the result is that my students have learned more physics than in any of my previous years teaching.

Our sports games are after school and are free, and we usually have a very poor turnout. Yet after only two games with extra credit, the kids came out to the next game knowing there was no reward. Sometimes we need a carrot to take a small step.

Let’s face it, teaching is a complex game, where, in the end, we have only a few tools and we use them to fit our methods and madness.

What does a student’s grade mean? If it is an indicator of how well that student knows the class material, then the extra credit question answers itself. You can no more get extra credit in class than you can get extra credit on your bloodwork at your annual physical.

If a student’s grade is not an indicator of how well that student knows the material, then what is the point of a grade at all?

I relate to my students that I try to have my grades reflect their perfomance in my class. I do not give extra credit for anything that involves the students purchasing anything, I do not know if these purchases can put a hardship on their family, even a few dollars per class can add up. My extra credit is to take the material to a different level and show additional knowledge. Some of my assignements are designed to answer questions that come up in class or to ask questions that the students may not have thought of. I have used some of their extra credit work to help me urge (convince) students that they should take AP.

Nice to know other teachers debate these things too. At my school (free reduced over 40%) we are not allowed to give extra credit for bought items. As for sporting events, I tell my physics students yes I know some teachers do this, but I hate sports unless its the physics of it- so if they want extra credit attend the game video tape it, analysis the video with Vernier and write up the physics for that I will give extra credit. So far just a few of my AP kids have taken me up on this one. And frankly they didn’t need the points. To me “extra” means above the regular , but I did once give a student EC after I hit him in the head with a projectile (I called them please don’t sue me points)

I think this merits a new blog post asking for appropriate ideas for extra credit. Coming soon…

I realize this is an old post but I’ve just discovered this blog and I liked this post. Extra credit is not something I give often. Occasionally I will throw a really hard question on a test and offer extra credit for solving it, by my inner city kids very rarely get a 100 on a test and the extra credit is only ever worth from 1 to 5 points. The only time I offer more points is if I have kids do a project that I think would be beneficial but I don’t believe everyone needs to do, or I don’t have the time to grade it, but I offer it to the whole class. I usually make it involved enough that the only people who would attempt the project are the ones who work hard in the first place. Projects like designing a game to teach a concept and providing me with all the materials – worth 20 pts, or writing and performing a song to help remember a concept – worth 5 – 10 points.

As for supplies, luckily our kids are required to do 100 hours of community service. I offer 1 hour of community service for every dollar of donated materials but I will only give them up to 10 hours that way. Its a good way to get supplies.

Since writing these posts, I became convinced that extra credit is not a good thing. Now that I have changed over to standards-based grading, the need for extra credit is gone because the kids can always come back to a concept and take a quiz to improve their grade.

What do you think? Your opinion matters, leave a reply.

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