Monday, June 20, 2022

Heterogeneous Lab Groups

Rationale and method for creating lab groups that consist of four students, each from a different performance quartile

Paperwork Reduction
Most teachers don’t want to painstakingly grade every lab report from every student in each physics (or any science) class. Students within a lab group tend to produce highly similar lab reports, anyway. You really don’t need to look at more than one lab report from each lab group.

Limited Engagement?
Each student should be fully engaged in the lab activity and feel invested in writing his or her own report. So don’t allow each group to produce one report to be turned in. Each student needs to be responsible for completing his or her own report.

No Group Member Left Behind
Pick up one report from each group. But do so only when the activity is over and all the reports are complete. Let the students know which group member is to turn in the lab no sooner than the time at which the report is to be turned in. Brighter, faster students cannot race ahead of slower students since it may well be one of the slower students whose report will be graded.

No Cliques
Students naturally prefer to sit with their friends. This doesn’t always yield the best results. As the grown-up in the room responsible for the instructional program, you have the freedom (if not the obligation) to improve the environment. Here’s how you can create lab groups consisting of students from across the performance spectrum within the class.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Test Correction Mastermind

I clearly wanted to turn assessments (summative assessments, mind you) into learning tools, as evidenced by Test Correction Journals (see previous post). But I wanted to do it differently in my AP Physics classes. Some students in AP Physics 2 had been in Physics, so TCJs were old hat to them.

So I developed Test Correction Mastermind for my AP students. The broad goals are the same: get students talking to each other about test items with the possibility of some sugar (points) at the other end if they got the questions sorted.

As was the case for TCJs, this activity is done well after the test has been administered in class and the make-up window has closed. This time, I give each lab group (3 or 4 students) a blank BairdTron and a copy of the test. Again there are 4 forms and I give different groups different forms. The questions are all the same, but scrambled differently. Different forms in adjacent groups minimizes the value of conversations overheard between neighboring groups. 

The objective is to complete the test as if it were a group activity. But each group is in competition with all the other groups to get the top score (20 multiple choice items on the AP unit tests, and one free response—the free response isn't part of the TCM).

The reward structure is as follows: each member of the group gets a point for every correct answer above 15 (P=score–15). The top-scoring team members get 4 more points on top of that; second place folks each get 2. At most, a student could add 9 points to their test score. Among AP students in whom competitiveness is sometimes strongly expressed, 9 points is plenty.

When about 20 minutes of class time remain (57-minute periods), I rattle my thunder drum and announce the "The oracle is now open for 5 minutes!" Group members submit their BairdTron for scoring and return to their group. I tally up the number of incorrect answers, write that number on their form, and call them back to retrieve the scored document. 
I do not indicate which items are incorrect, only the total number of items they answered incorrectly. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Test Correction Journal

Assessments: quizzes, tests, exams. There is a big part of the teacher's soul that hates these things. We love our subject matter and love sharing it with our students. We love it when our students are engaged with our subject matter and learning.

Tests? What a chore. You need to construct them. You need to administer them, You need to grade them. Yuck. Yuck. And yuck.

Construction: what should be assessed and how? Is that question too hard or too easy? Administration: to what extent can cheating be prevented and how much energy is that going to cost? Grading: do you hate multiple choice or do you hate hours upon hours of grading?

To students, assessments may seem like nothing other than punishment.

Of late, there has been much examination of grading. Anything smacking of "traditional" is guaranteed to be on blast in Teacher Twitter. Some teachers have gone all in on Standards Based Grading and are eager to evangelize that movement. Others are all for ungrading, and are keen to share The Good News about that with anyone who will listen.

Having given my first assessments in 1986, I grant myself a modicum of "old curmudgeon" license. I don't recall much talk about SBG or ungrading on Twitter back then, mostly because there was no Twitter. Web 1.0 was still in the future (it exploded in 1995). If it was talked about at the conferences (national or local AAPT), those conversations eluded me. Should I have jumped on the SBG or ungrading bandwagons as soon as I heard from proponents? Maybe. My own district was pushing Myron Dueck's Learning Targets hard.

My aversion to going with anything that I deem to be trending may well be a character flaw, and I own it. I was very late to listening to anything by Norah Jones because her album was plastered all over the record stores. (Remember record stores? Yes, I'm that old.) If she was that popular, she wasn't for me. I figured it out eventually.

In any case, here's what I did with Physics unit tests in the vacuum of my own classroom kingdom.