Great Expectations…

As soon as I began the readings for this week, I felt that everything we currently do in class is insufficient 🙁  I know this isn’t true, but we can make good changes in several assessments to better align with the course goals.  We encourage discussion of problems every day in class—allowing for mistakes, reevaluation, correction, critical thought.  Stepping back and letting the students struggle with a problem is difficult, but it is productive when they work through it and learn to solve for themselves.   So we do assess every week based on the group discussions we observe, obviously ungraded.  Every day we try to make real world connections in our class (15% off sale with an additional 5% off after that—is this a 20% discount on your jeans?  Spoiler—it’s not!).

But I think we can improve connections even further by having students bring in examples of a percent off, of where they saw/used pie charts or graphs in another class, having them write a few sentences at the end of each week in their own words discussing what we learned that week, where it could be used, and what questions they still have about the concepts, etc.   Maybe a few more group quizzes could garner even more discussion, but often times we find weaker students staying quiet and still getting the grade without giving input or help.

One assignment in particular is very time-consuming to grade, and we give a ton of written feedback (sometimes to no avail).   The modeling project is done outside of class over 10 weeks of the semester.  Most instructors feel that students never get out of it what we want them to–thinking about real situations and connections to math, thinking for themselves outside of the questions they HAVE to answer, discussing factors outside of math that can affect the situation (For example, if the data were fatalities on the highway, we would want this to decrease and we could lower speed limits, ensure proper roadway markings, increase speed limit enforcement, etc.).

Currently students write the intro to their report (background info on topic, what model was best, etc.) and discuss outside factors at the END of the project when it is due.  (They turn in a section at a time over 8 weeks then the entire project with intro/conclusion/bibliography, etc. 2 weeks later.)  They type this up, usually with a bare minimum effort and little outside research or true thought.  I wanted to find a way to get them to think about the situation BEFORE starting the math and maybe, just maybe, get excited about working on the project and hopefully make them want to explore more than just the bare bones.   I found our current questions to be very narrow, looking for a single and specific answer, so I tried to open them up for more student input and discussion, more like what we attempt to do in class.

Instead I think it might be exciting to do a video introduction to their topic with initial thoughts, and my responses to them would be audio comments, like using VoiceThread.  It would be fun, creative, but not super intensive, and I think since students would have to speak regarding the topic (instead of handing in something written that maybe only 1 or 2 of them worked on), they may put a bit more initial thought/research/care into it.  My hope is that it would also engage them more as well—sell them on the purpose behind such data modeling and peak interest!  The best 1 or 2 videos could be posted for the whole class to see.  Details of the current and new assessments are at the bottom of my GoogleDoc.

Students that haven’t made a video before may find this challenging, and students where English is not their first language may be intimidated (though I think this would be good for them).   Especially when students feel they aren’t strong in math, they are scared to make a statement or educated guess if they aren’t sure about the answer.  Having more open questions, there is a wider range of possible answers and interpretations.  The only challenge for me would be having high expectations if they weren’t met 🙂  I suppose I could model an example with a video intro to something, but I wouldn’t want to curb any potential creativity if they think my way is the only way to go.  I will have to think about that more.

I considered using a very simple rubric (categories like creativity, information, covering all questions) and have students turn in one for their group with the video (self-assessment early in class so maybe they will carry this technique throughout the semester), but I haven’t settled on that yet either.

Sorry for the novella—I didn’t realize I had so much to say regarding assessments!

4 thoughts on “Great Expectations…

  1. A very interesting post. The best teachers and writers I’ve ever known are the ones who always think their work is insufficient, so you’re in good company. ;o)

    Some good ideas here. Obviously you can’t do everything but picking a couple manageable changes is a great way to improve things for students and keep things fresh for you. The restructure of the major project seems to make a lot of sense.

    This seems so important: “I found our current questions to be very narrow, looking for a single and specific answer…” As you note, having more flexibility here may be a useful way to promote engagement and have students be more invested in the project.

    If one goal is to highlight practical application, having students find smaller examples, too, is a great idea. (I’ve done this–using something Tom built–in a sociology class using core concepts/topics.)

    1. I love that idea David! Every day we show them how math can be used, but I can only think of one instance where we ask them to really pull something from their own lives into class (making a pie/bar/line chart of their monthly expenses). It would be great if I could find a way to do something like this for my online class and continue it into my ground classes in the fall.

  2. I feel like all of my stuff isn’t good enough . . . usually within 5 minutes of ‘finishing’ it.

    While not necessarily conducive to jubilance, I do feel like that mindset keeps me working to improve things.

    The concept of getting students applying concepts outside of class as they go about their normal lives is a powerful one that we’ve done in a few classes. I think it helps breakdown the idea that this stuff is just something to think about in class and provides the concrete examples of the thinking for other students as well.

    Relatedly, Joe Hoyle from UR is an accounting prof who collects interesting scenarios from students like ‘–Car dealer donates a car to charity for an auction and then buys 20 percent of the tickets in hope of winning the car back.’ It’s another way to get students thinking about the concepts as they go about their day.

    All fun stuff I think.

    1. Yes, I absolutely want students to think more about what we do in class once they leave, and adding a few short tasks here and there throughout class can help! I should definitely have my students bring me problems/data they found in news/social media, etc. instead of always being the one supplying them–I like that idea!

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