Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Making engagement visual

At semester's end, it's possible to look back and see how student engagement in the course manifested itself into semester grades.

Students who perform well on tests and labs naturally percolate to the top. But those who don't excel in those objective measures have alternate routes to good grades in my courses.

During the semester, "extra credit" (credit toward the final: CTF) is awarded in dribs and drabs for various tasks and in-class competitions. Completing paperwork associated with the beginning of the school year and team performance in our egg-toss competition are typical first-semester sources. The credit is accumulated through the semester, but only becomes active as an addition to the final exam score. Some teachers add in extra credit as it comes in. That leads to disappointment when final exam scores are low. Adding it to final exam scores at the end of the semester leads to delight similar to finding money under the cushions of the sofa/couch/davenport.

More importantly in my Physics (PHY) and Conceptual Physics (CP) courses, students can earn back points lost on unit tests. The process is called Test Correction Journal. Students write "journal entries" for each item they missed on a unit test and reflect on why they were drawn to a wrong answer over the right answer. Later, a quiz is given consisting of questions from the original test. If they get 10 out 10 on the quiz, they earn back half the points they missed on the test. If they 9/10, they get 90% of half the points they missed, etc.. A 60 can turn into an 80 and 40 into a 70. A 90 can turn into a 95. The more help you need, the more help TCJs provide.

Neither CTF nor TCJs depend on rapid assimilation of course content. But they do depend largely on engagement. Sometimes students who miss many items on a unit test cannot finish the journaling process that we begin during class time. They need to come it at lunch or after school during an approximately two-week window to finish the journal. Only students with completed journals are allowed to take the quiz that will earn their missed test points back.

Students who disengage from TCJs create and expand a gap between themselves and those who are engaged. My engaged students earn only As and Bs. But Cs, Ds, and Fs are given every semester, as many students elect to disengage.

The listings below are actual student data. Each is a period, sorted by points earned. I used Excel's conditional formatting to color the cells in a spectrum from top-score green to bottom-score red, with yellow in between. The next column colors CTF points on a same basis (green good; red bad). Then (for PHY classes), it's the TCJ column with the same color scheme. The last column shows the final exam raw score out of 50. The top number in each column show the maximum value possible.

The pattern is fairly consistent, with anomalies here and there. Nothing to shatter the Earth here. I just wanted to see how well the seemingly nebulous "engagement" tracks to overall class performance. Teachers know this pattern is really the only one that's possible. Students don't always have an intuitive understanding of it. Some will see the evidence and reject it nonetheless.

Those students believe it's possible to get a top score with minimal engagement. It's mathematically possible. It just never happens. They may also fear that investing in full engagement will not be rewarded in a top score. Yet we don't find a red Points value followed by green CTF and TCJ columns. That's actually much less mathematically possible, given what TCJs do.

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