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

Posts Tagged ‘Standards Based Grading

SuccessMy year is almost over.  I’m not complaining, but I felt the strain of teaching too many different courses (Honors Physics, AP Calculus, 2 Robotics & Engineering classes, and Algebra 2).  Every day was a scramble to prep for class, make copies, and grade papers;  it took away from the time I got to spend interacting with the students.  Despite my insanity, I had a few notable successes.  Here are just two:

Story #1

I recently got two emails from the mother of a student.  Let’s call him Pete (no, it’s not his real name).  If you had asked me the first quarter of the year, I would have told you Pete was going to fail Algebra 2.  In fact, I was certain he was going to fail.  The first email came about a month ago:

Good morning. Just wanted to thank you for helping Pete with tutoring. He has come home excited about getting better grades in your
class. It is nice to see him working towards getting those “4’s”, and really wanting to keep his grade up. Thank you again for your time and encouragement.

And then just this week:

Good Morning, once again just want to thank you for helping Pete realize that with hard work he can “Master” things in math and life.
I was proud to hear that even though he was not feeling well on Thursday, he found a way to make it to the school to take a quiz, he didn’t want you
to think he was slacking.

Pete started staying after school for help one or two days a week for the last several months.  Sometimes he would just work out problems on the board for an hour.  Some days he took a quiz.  I never forced him to stay, I didn’t do anything except set expectations and keep the bar high.  Pete’s motivation developed as he starting mastering a single concept.  Little by little he started to have some success.  It was new to him, and he liked it.  The final is two days from now, but Pete will pass the course.

Story #2

Let’s call this guy Paul.  Paul was a royal pain-in-the-ass for the first half of the year.  I don’t think Paul had ever had any success in math.  He was a victim of “learned helplessness” and was often a belligerent student.  Paul is planning on going into the union and didn’t see much need to do anything beyond basic math.  It was pretty clear that if he was going to pass my class, it wasn’t going to be by much.

I didn’t give up on Paul, I made him work every class.  It took a while, but he mastered a single concept.  A little success made a huge difference in his outlook and after a short time, he mastered another concept.  Then something truly amazing happened.  Paul’s friends started asking him for help and his confidence started to grow.  With only a few weeks of school remaining, the students in the National Honor Society were asking Paul for help.  Whenever Paul was asked for help by his peers, I would make it a point of asking him how it felt.  I’ll take some of the credit for Paul’s turnaround, but I know for a fact that if I used traditional grading methods, he would have never mastered anything this year and would possibly be doing it all again in summer school.

 Epilog

I think if there is a moral to these stories it’s that students will rise to meet expectations.  Set the bar low and they will easily reach it.  Set the bar high and they will struggle, learn from their failures, and gain confidence in themselves.  But consistency is important.  If you start down the path to SBG and wavier or back down, you’ve permanently lowered the bar in the students’ eyes.  Don’t do it.

kuta imageI started teaching yet another course a my high school this year, actually two other courses if you count teaching at the community college.  In addition to Physics, AP Calculus, and Robotics & Engineering, I’m also teaching a section of Algebra 2.  My fellow math teachers have been using Kuta Software for the past couple of years, but it didn’t have a Calculus module, so I never got to play.  When I was assigned Algebra 2, I was given the license codes and found they now have a calculus module as well.

I’ve used other software in the past, but Kuta is just fantastic.  I can create a custom worksheet for homework, quizzes, and tutoring in under a minute.  Each section of problems has different options.  For example, multi-step equations let you decide if there are variables on one or two sides, if they have to distribute once or twice or not at all.  Each concept has lots of other specific controls, but you can also just use their Easy, Medium, and Hard problem selection button.

If you have a worksheet or quiz already made, just select a problem, hit the space bar, and the problem changes, but stays within the parameters you set.  This is perfect for Standard-Based Grading where you need another quiz.  Just open an old one, select each problem and space bar, and you have a brand new quiz.  Of course it can also generate multiple versions at once.

I can go on and on.  Visit their site at http://www.kutasoftware.com and look at the free worksheets.  Then download the 14 day trial and play.  I can’t say enough good things about this software.  We purchased unlimited 3 or 5 year licenses for Pre-Algebra through Algebra 2, and a single license for Calculus.  I wasn’t part of the purchasing, but it seems like there are more purchase options than are shown on the web page.

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.

year in review 2012It’s been a pretty mundane year.  No drama, no great leaps, no alien invasion or Mayan apocalypse, pretty much the same stuff, new year.

Hey, this would be a good time to assess the pro’s and con’s of standards-based grading (SBG) in my physics and calculus classes.

The Good

My spreadsheets are working great.  It may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t.  A well designed spreadsheet is the key to keeping SBG running smoothly.

It’s nice to have a bank of questions and quizzes at the ready.  My first year of SBG was non-stop quiz creation.  Now I need to make maybe one or two new physics questions a week.  I probably have 300 individual physics questions divided among the C, B, and A-level quizzes.  The hard work is done, weekly quizzes cause me no stress at all.

The kids all love standards-based grading.  One of my students told me she couldn’t imagine taking calculus using a traditional grading system.  The kids are all on board.

The Meh

Probably the biggest problem with SBG is determining who is in danger of failing at the interim report.  Half way through the quarter, the class average is in the 50’s or 60’s.  One of my students emailed me over Christmas break asking me to call her mom.  She is an A student, but her 60 average at the interim was going to get her grounded for the break.  This is after I sent home letters at the start of the year and at the interim explaining why the averages are low.  The kids who plan on failing just don’t come in to take quizzes or get help.

I’ve noticed that the lack of testing pressure has caused the kids to put off studying for the weekly quizzes.  Now they look over the problems right before class.  It’s hard to determine if this would be any different with traditional grading; this year’s class is academically quite lazy.  They have been warned, there is no curve.  They can all get A’s and they can all get F’s.  Amazingly, it will be a normal distribution curve.

What’s Next

I’ve been thinking about what changes I would like to make.  I’m considering a small change to the calculus grading system.  Right now it takes two correct problems to master a concept.  The first perfect quiz gives them 40/50 points.  The second moves that to 50/50.  I’m thinking of scoring the second 45/50 and the third 50/50.  My concern is that they are earning the label of “mastery” before they really get there.  On the other hand, the kids probably understand the material so much better than they would through traditional grading.  Any thoughts?

One little thing I would like to do is color code the physics quizzes.  I’d like to copy all the C-level quizzes onto a pale yellow or pink paper.  Maybe a light blue for the B-level, and leave the A-level quizzes white.  The colors would give the student and me a quick visual check of everyone’s progress.

Considering SBG?

If you are, I am willing to share everything I’ve created; my spreadsheets, quizzes, experiences and ideas.  Just ask.

A few weeks back, my principle asked me to talk to the faculty about my experience with Standards-Based Grading.  Our professional development begins this week and I will be presenting on Tuesday (8/28/12).  This is my first public talk on the topic, I hope to present a more refined version of this talk at a conference later this year.  The slides aren’t glamorous and it’s a lot wordier than I like, but it feel the PowerPoint needs to stand on its own without me talking over it.  I’ll embellish with anecdotes and energy.

There are some comments in the note section on some of the slides, so you probably want to download the slide show rather than just view it directly on Dropbox.  I’ve also included an annotated set of spreadsheets that I will be using during the presentation.  Hover over the commented cells to see my thoughts on the patterns that show individual student development.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/s9f2r2jjko65ehs/5ooodjg10L

I would really appreciate any feedback, negative in particular.  If you find slides are unclear, confusing, any typos, or if I’m you think I’m missing something, I need to hear from you.

This is me. It’s been a good year.

This has been an incredible year for my students and me.  They continue to give me unsolicited positive feedback over the courses and me as a teacher.  I’m not going to lie, it feels great to know they appreciated me.  The students have seen a direct correlation between their effort and their grade, no more learned helplessness.  Even better, they’ve really learned the material.  I’ve become a better teacher by doing less and letting the students control their outcome.  It’s the kind of story you want to shout from the mountaintops.

So how does a year of SBG wind down?  The AP exam is done, so the students are done, right?  Nope, they are working harder than ever and I’ve become an observer.  Those last few concepts that we started in the fourth quarter were probably the hardest of all.  The kids want those grades to improve.  Every day, they come into class, join up with a classmate or two, meet at the whiteboard and work out problems on whatever concept they want to improve.  This has been going on for over two weeks now and it blows my mind.  The routine has been to stop when there is 15 minutes left in the class.  They erase the boards and I hand out a concept quiz to anyone who wants one.  Everyone is working bell-to-bell and I’m sitting back and watching them help each other master integration.  This is teacher heaven.  As we enter the last week of school, I’ll allow two concept quizzes in a day, not just one.  The quizzes have to be on two different concepts.  Its crunch time and they are feeling it.  I don’t want to pull the rug out from under them now.

First time through using SBG is a hell of a lot of work.  I’d say I got 80% of it right, the other 20% needs tweaking.  Some of my early quizzes were too hard, others were too easy.  I gave some insane quizzes on domain and range.  I’m sticking with WebAssign for Calculus, but I’m giving it up for Physics.  I’ve added a few inquiry labs to my physics routine and I’m hoping to add one or two more next year.  Calculus has been officially approved for the AP label, but honestly, the class isn’t going to be much different.

The biggest difference to me is the connections I have made with these students.  Usually by now I want them gone.  Not these kids.  I don’t think they are really much different from previous years students.  I think the real difference is the way they were mentored through the classes, rather than just lectured to.  I have more students going on to study engineering than in any previous year.  When the pressure of every quiz or test is gone, the classroom becomes more relaxed.  This year we covered more material in every course and had a lot more fun doing it.  Best of all, I have relationships with these kids that are stronger and more lasting.  I’m going to miss them but I’m also going to keep in touch.

I can’t wait to do it all over again in September.

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.


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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