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

Posts Tagged ‘Grading

MasterYoda-UnlearnI have a steady stream of teachers asking if I would be willing to share my SBG files and spreadsheets.  My answer is always a qualified ‘yes.’

I have over 300 Physics quizzes, 200 AP Calculus quizzes, and various spreadsheets and other files.  If I dumped all of those files on you without a detailed explanation, you would probably be overwhelmed and get nowhere.  So what I ask is that anyone requesting my hard work do a few simple things:

  1. Go back and read over all of my SBG posts from the beginning.  I spent hours on research and reading before being convinced SBG would work for me.  I documented the how and why pretty thoroughly here.
  2. Ask me questions, as many as you want.  I promise to answer promptly and thoroughly.  Only with some discussion will SBG really start to make sense.  You can’t buy in part way.  As Yoda might say, “SBG – do or do not.”  Sort-of doing SBG doesn’t work.
  3. Don’t make changes to the system without discussing it with me.  After research and discussions with other teachers, I was able to avoid a lot of mistakes.  I have tried many tweaks and made a number of  incremental improvements each year.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  4. As you implement this and come up with your own tweaks, add to the dialog here.  I want to learn from your successes and failures.
  5. Once I provide you with my files, do not publish any of the questions.  They came from textbooks, I do not own the rights to most of the questions, so I can’t give you permission to publish them.

That’s really it.  I’ve done all the work for two courses, now it looks like I’m picking up Algebra 2 Honors next year.  Time to start work on a third course.


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.

With weekly quizzes and so many additional concept quizzes, I was worried about the time it would take to grade everything.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how quickly I can get through a set of quizzes, it’s quick because I don’t worry about partial credit.

Each problem gets one of four grades:

  • 4 – The problem is done correctly, no errors
  • 3 – The student understands the underlying concept but made at least one or more mistakes
  • 2 – The student is starting to understand the concept, but clearly isn’t there yet
  • 1 – No real understanding
  • 0 – No attempt at a solution

Grading in the grade book is simple.  Students get the highest score achieved times ten.  If they do worse on a quiz, nothing happens to their grade.  When they get the first 4 on a concept, they get 40/50 in the grade book.  Get a second 4 and the 40 becomes a 50 and they are done with that concept.  The kids love to write “MASTERED” on a completed concept.

I’ve set up a spreadsheet (Gradebook – names are removed) in Excel to handle the grades.  Each student gets their own block.  When I enter a quiz grade, I change the header grade and change the color to  orange to remind me to change their grade in the school system.  Blue means the concept is complete.  Red numbers means the grade came from an after school quiz and not a weekly quiz.

The students use a Concept Checklist to keep track of where they are on each concept.  Every week or so I cut up my spreadsheet and hand out the pieces to make sure their scores agree with mine.  I plan to start a new spreadsheet each quarter since I can’t change the previous quarter’s grades.  So far, this is handling my grading requirements.

Next post – Setting up concepts and creating quizzes

This is not a rhetorical question.  I am clearly making myself crazy.  When I started teaching robots using the  CMU curriculum, the students handed in 800 papers to grade in a little over a week.  Two nights grading until 1:00am … yeah, I put a stop to that right away.  But I keep doing this to myself and I need advice.  How do I keep the kids working, doing their own work (not copying from friends), and yet not bog myself down with endless grading, paperwork and prep work?

I’m looking for those little nuggets of gold, advice that came from your own hard work or maybe a supervising teacher or friend.  I don’t care where it came from, I want to know what you are doing to make your teaching life easier.  Here is what I’m currently doing; some of it is good, some, not so good.

  • In my Physics classes, I give assignments and simply check that it was attempted.  90% of the students attempt all of the problems.  I give the answers with the assignments so they know if they got it right.
  • In Conceptual Physics, those students copy from each other.  I tend to collect their work (when they actually do it).
  • This year I no longer take late work.  That has greatly reduced my workload since I’m not going in circles constantly grading the same assignments over and over again.
  • I do keep an Excel grade spreadsheet in addition to the school grade book.  Yeah, double work, but Excel is so much faster and more flexible.  I can assign each student a code and then post grades with their code and not their name.  I carry my data on a USB drive and can highlight, add comments, change color and do all the sorting and reporting I need.  I also keep past quarters and years, something I can’t do easily with the online system.
  • My midterm exam this week will be physics problems with multiple choice answers using Scantron.  I don’t have a choice, I have about 24 hours to grade 100 exams.  This feels wrong to me, I like partial credit and seeing their thinking process.
  • I use ExamView software that comes with our textbooks.  This software lets me use provided questions and create my own to generate tests.  I always do two tests and then alternate rows.  The kids know the person next to them has a scrambled version of the same test and copying is a waste of time.
  • The carbonless lab notebooks have been a big help, so we now do more lab work.  That certainly didn’t lessen my grading load.

What great wisdom can my readers impart?  I’m tired.

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.


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:

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

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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