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

Posts Tagged ‘Homework

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.


“I hate WebAssign” is the most repeated phrase of the year.  I care, but I don’t care.  Let’s talk about the reality of high school:

  • Many kids don’t do their homework
  • Many kids copy their homework from the kid that does his/her homework
  • The kid that does his/her homework tends to do well in the class
  • The kid that copies his/her homework tends to not do well in class

WebAssign allows me to give them an assignment they can’t copy since each student gets a different set of numbers in the problem.  Oh sure, some still don’t do their homework, but the zero in the grade book is indisputable when we can pull up the WebAssign grade for Mom and Dad.  The kids have a week to do an online assignment.  No, the dog did not eat your computer.  No, you had a week to do it.  No, I don’t take late work.

My homework template was set up to allow up to five entries on an assignment.  At first, there was no penalty for getting it wrong.  I did an experiment in my calculus class and penalized them 10% for each incorrect attempt after the first two attempts.  The kids really resented that.  I think they felt like they were willing to keep trying, they didn’t want to be penalized for not quitting.  Lesson learned, next experiment.

Recently I tried a new approach (ah, the scientific method at work).  I started giving 10%-20% extra credit for completing the assignment 48 hours before it is due.  With the assignment due Mondays at 8am (the start of school), I was getting a bunch of  “help me” emails on Sunday evening.  The extra credit was an attempt to reduce these emails.  What I found is that more of the students were completing the work and doing it ahead of time.  Yahoo!  They will do their work if they feel they can boost their grade with extra credit.  The reality is most of them don’t earn the extra credit, but they get the points for doing their work, and these online assignments are equivalent to a quiz grade every week.

But wait, this gets even better (I’m smiling as I write this).  The kids think they outsmarted me.  Ready for this … they are getting together to work on the problems.  Oh, I don’t know, call it … a study group.  AAAHHH!!

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.

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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