Position vs. Velocity, which one is your favorite?
It is amazing how many students feel sheepish or silly for not understanding physics. I told many of my students today, “You look confused.” “Yeah.” “Guess what? It’s okay for you to not understand this material. That’s one of the reasons you are enrolled in this class! If you understood the material you wouldn’t need to be here.” So many students shut down in class and just wait for me to give them the answer. I don’t let them do that. I try and make sure my students know it’s okay to be confused. I come to class to help them with their confusion and hopefully by the end of the two hours I have given them enough confidence to go home and study.
Today the students worked most of the worksheets from ASU’s modeling curriculum on constant velocity. After all 54 students handed in their worksheet packages at the end of the of the two hours the other TA (We will call him Bill Clinton) asked me how we were going to grade them. Bill has never TA’ed in the SCALE-UP courses before. He has been a graduate student for some time but has always TA’ed the traditional lab course. So we had a long talk about how I grade the activities.
I don’t believe that marking a student down for something they write on an activity where they were supposed to be learning helps them. If a student hands in an activity with an incorrect answer on it I think I have failed them as an educator at that point. It is my job to get them to understand physics during that two hour activity period they have a week. I try to make myself as accessible as possible during that time. Students will ask questions and I will try to lead them to the physics that makes sense to them. Now exams are different. Exams are a time to assess whether or not students have been able to internalize any of the stuff we have been trying to get them to practice. Activities though are there for me to help them learn and if they aren’t learning then I am not doing my job.
Bill thinks I am weird. He looked at me in astonishment and I could tell he was thinking about how that would never fly in a more traditional class. I told him to think of it this way:
Bill is sitting in a graduate level quantum mechanics lecture and asks a question about a concept he doesn’t understand. The professor turns around and asks Bill what he thinks the answer is to Bill’s question. Bill answers incorrectly and the professor says, “Sorry Bill, but I am going to have to mark you down for that.”
Now how does that make any sense at all? Instead of correcting Bill’s learning, Bill is just told he is wrong. How is this different from marking down their activities? Students don’t take the activity once it’s been graded and spend hours and hours attempting to figure out the right answer. They just say, “Crap, now I have a B in this class. Hope I do better next time,” and they go about their merry way. So marking students down isn’t going to help them learn any better.
I do think I will discuss with the professor a grading mechanism for the students to self assess their own group members. This will provide some social extrinsic motivation for the students to work hard with their partners on activities. That is the one caveat of my no grading grading. If the students all say to themselves, “if all I have to do is show up to get credit why do I have to work?” I have lost them.
What do you think about grading?