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

Appropriate Extra Credit

Posted on: March 28, 2011


This is my second time trying to write this post.  The first went so far off topic that it is banished to the unpublished file until it behaves itself.

As I mentioned before, I’m on the fence with extra credit.  I’m now totally convinced that anything purchased for extra credit is just plain wrong.  I don’t think there is a gray area here.  No pay-for-points.  I’ll play the benefit to society game because the results outweigh the costs.  I will provide extra credit when it works to my advantage.  If the students correctly answer their WebAssign problems 48 hours before the due date of 8am Monday morning, there is a 10% bonus.  For a very few extra points, I get far fewer Sunday night emails.  Instead, they want the extra credit, so they bring in the problem during school and ask for guidance.  The result is they are looking at the work early in the week rather than waiting until the last minute.  Am I tricking them into better study habits?  I’ll take that.

I do like the idea that extra credit is for work above and beyond the norm.  This brings me back to where I am right now, with a lot of kids in bad shape as the end of the quarter nears.  My fear is that the normal grade distribution will be badly shifted by an extra credit assignment.  I am a big fan of a normal curve, with an average at a C+.  I give challenging tests and curve up to make the class average about 77%.  The A’s earn their A’s, as do the F’s.

So what is an appropriate extra credit assignment?  Here are a few ideas I’m thinking about:

  • A 2000 word research paper on a Nobel prize winner in physics and the impact of the discovery on our every day life.
  • A video that teaches a physics concept, done so that I can use it in class.  It should be scripted, edited, and several minutes long.
  • For less points – Creation or redesign of a lab for use in future classes.

None of these can be group projects; they must all be individual efforts.  Points awarded for this level of effort should be valued at about 5% of the total quarterly points.

I’m right at the point where I need to assign these if I’m going to allow extra credit.  The quarter ends in about 12 days.  I could use some feedback.

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7 Responses to "Appropriate Extra Credit"

I don’t do extra credit except for a really hard problem at the end of the test that I pull from my old college textbook, but that doesn’t help your quandary.

Do the kids have any zero for assignments in your class? If so, I wouldn’t let them have any extra credit. If they did do what you have asked them to in the first place, why are you going to make more work for yourself to make up for what they did not do.

Is it so bad to have some low grades? My kids have lower than usual grades this nine weeks (just by a few points), but I’m OK with it. They have been adopting the “second semester senior” attitude and the year ain’t over!

Is it really going to help them understand physics better/improve your life to research a Nobel prize? Maybe. It could inspire some kids to go on to do great things and earn one of their own, but for most probably won’t add much content/concept knowledge.
My favorite suggestion of yours is the video.

Keep up the good work, Scott. Your year of one million preps is nearing a close (well, sort of)…

I a rarely give extra credit, but if I do, I try to make it something that can help everyone in the class, finding a better way to remember how to do/think about some class of problems, or a useful mnemonic that we haven’t used in class…

Thanks Marcie. I went through the grades to see how many did all their work this quarter. I was pleasantly surprised to see that 23/70 turned in all of their work, more than I expected. Sixteen of the 23 have an A or a B. Isn’t that a surprise?

Funny how that works isn’t it! I have to laugh when I over hear kids talking about other classes and they say, “She doesn’t look carefully at the HW so it doesn’t matter if you actually try, but her tests are so hard that they are really bringing my grade down.” Has it never dawned on them that there is a coorelation!

I pity these kids in college next year when the only things graded are two tests a quarter. They are sunk.

[end of my side rant] 🙂

I think the quickest and easiest solution in this case is to make the class average an 82% rather than a 77%.

As for me, I work the averages to avoid having to deal with extra credit. For example, the classwork grade makes up 20% of the total grade and I will give additional classwork to help students that are falling behind. Another thing I do is to give mini quizzes that have only 25 points assigned to them (vs. a 100) with questions that mirror the ones I’ll have on a test. This increased just about everyone’s test grade and the quiz grade didn’t have too much of an effect. I don’t curve my tests on a bell curve, but add 10 extra points that they can earn by doing an extra word problem. There are four word problems on every test, but I don’t tell them that they have to do only three or my students wouldn’t bother doing the last one…

I respectfully disagree. Our administration wants a normal curve centered around a C/C+ and I agree. We have a funky grade distribution, our D is only from 65 to 69; less than a 65 is failing. So a small D range causes me to move my average from a C to a C+. Having a B as the average is grade inflation. That leads to too many students on honor roll when they don’t deserve it and it devalues the overall grade system.

I think that extra credit is very good, coming from a student there are students that like to go above and beyond and with extra credit it they really want it they usually ask the teachers instead of the teachers giving it out. I also believe that extra credit is good because not everyone is perfect and not everyone is good at taking tests and quizzes and some people are perfectionists. I like to use my self as a good example because I am not the best at taking tests or quizzes … but i am very good at oral presentations, therefore it gives me room to get a good grade and not feel so bad about bombing a test!

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