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

Standards-Based Grading Moves to Physics

Posted on: November 17, 2011

Lame graphic, I know. Sorry.

As I mentioned in my 3-part update, my students absolutely love SBG in Calculus and have requested I move the system into my Physics classes as well.  However, after studying the problem at length, I have to take the tact that Frank took.  SBG as it is implemented in my Calculus isn’t a clean fit in Physics.

I’ve had to make some modifications, and I’m pretty sure there will be modifications in the future.  Instead of solving two problems perfectly to achieve mastery, Physics students will have three, but they will be tiered.  Here’s how it’s going to work:

  • Most concepts will have three levels of problems: C-level, B-level, and A-level.
  • Students must get a C-level problem perfect to take a B-level quiz.  The B-level problem must be perfect to take the A-level quiz.
  • If they get the C-level correct, they earned a 75% in that concept.  A correct B-level gives them 85%, and a correct A-level problem boosts the concept score to 100%.
  • C-level problems are basic.  Everyone should be able to solve them.  B-level problems are a little more advanced, but everyone should be able to get these correct with practice.  A-level problems are challenging and most of the class will not get these unless they really put in the work.
  • The 4 point grading system in still in effect, there is no partial credit.  This makes grading much quicker.  A 2 on a C-level is worth 60%, a 3 is worth 70%.  (UPDATE Feb 2012)  A 3 on a B-level problem is worth 80%, and a 3 on an A-level is worth 90%.

Quiz day will not have a standard group quiz.  I have lots of 1/2 page concept quizzes.  A student gets the quiz level for each concept based on what they have mastered.  Yes, this is a hell of a lot more work, but my classes are small.

Here is how I divided up the concept “Upwardly Launched Projectiles:”

  • A C-level problem is a projectile launched and landing on the same level.  They are given an initial velocity and an angle.  They have to find the time in flight, max height, and range.
  • A B-level problem involves different elevations for the launch or landing, or a building or mountain to hit or go over.
  • An A-level problem requires more math, like simultaneous equations or the quadratic to solve for initial velocity.

Points for the concepts are going to vary based on the depth of the concept.  Projectiles will be worth 50 points while Relative Motion is only worth 30 points.  Some of the topics will only have two levels, a B-level and an A-level, simply because there isn’t enough difficulty to warrant three levels.  But those levels, like relative motion, will also not be worth as many points in the system.  I’m still keeping grades for  Homework (5 pts), Labs (25 pts), and the occasional WebAssign (around 15 pts).

We had our first quiz today and it went well.  A few of the better students got 4’s on the C-level problems.  I was able to grade about 15 full quizzes in under 15 minutes because of the 4-point system.  I was also able to be a real stickler on the significant figures because the kids have time to correct their mistakes and get it all right.

I’m incredibly optimistic about the change.  The students are a bit nervous, but they’ve heard so many good things from my calc kids that they know this is going to work to their advantage.  I know they will be doing a lot more work and keep at the lessons longer than they would under a normal grading system.  I’ll keep everyone apprised.


4 Responses to "Standards-Based Grading Moves to Physics"

I must say I haven’t heard of this approach before (I’m studying education in Australia) but I do like the sound of it. Is the idea that you control students access to the questions? I.e. they will only be given a B-Class question once you’re satisfied that they have reached the C level successfully?

If you have the time could you briefly tell me what system this is replacing? I’d be very interested to know.

For my physics classes, I am using the grade level questions. I went this way because they had to get the basic concepts first. I don’t think all of the students will work hard enough to achieve mastery at the A level, but they should all be able to achieve B or C level. In past years, I’ve had only about 5% of the students earn an A in my class. If there was only one level, the problems would either be too easy or too hard.

I don’t know if there is a name for the standard system used by most teachers here. The kids take quizzes and tests, their grades are based on percentages. I think most teachers use the same system that was used when they were in school.

I have been hearing more about standards based assessments recently at a Physics teachers meeting, but have not had enough time to discuss on how to implement this. I am a new teacher, just finished my first semester,
we’re on block scheduling, so I have a whole new group of students today.
This method interests me, but I’m a little intimated implementing it (and
convincing my department to allow me to). How has this been going since you wrote this?

I would say it is going better than I expected. Since this is the first year I am doing this, I find myself currently making up 5-10 new questions each week. That seems like a lot, but many times, it will be three more of the same basic question just rewritten with different numbers and scenario.

Here are a couple things I’ve learned along the way, At some point I should add a new post to talk about these issues:

– When I create new problems, I need to do the solution immediately and put it in a notebook with all of the answer keys sorted by concept and level. I got lazy and I had about 25 problems to solve before I could grade that week’s quizzes. – The three levels of problems for each concept is working well but take a lot of thought and planning. – Unlike Calculus, different concepts have different point values. This has worked out well. – Students generally underestimate the amount of work required to get all of the levels complete. – I go easy on significant figures for the C level problem since we are after understanding the basic concept. Sig Figs must be done right for B and A level problems. – I only teach physics to a total of 16 students. If I had to do all of this for 75 or 100 kids, I’d possibly have second thoughts. Or maybe the economy of scale would have me doing things a little differently and more efficiently. – This is truly differentiated instruction. Kids are working at different levels, some are topping out at the C level. – Students can not get beyond a C in the class without coming in for help on a regular basis. I have students coming in my room all day long for tutoring and to take quizzes. – I’m starting to make a mark in my book next to problems, rating them as A, B, or C level for later use in quizzes. – Kids are getting quiz questions earlier than they normally would. The teach/review/test cycle is totally different and takes some adjustment. Chapter reviews don’t happen any more, it is more about individual assistance after school.

That was a lot of scattered thoughts. More later.

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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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