2 weeks left in my SBG experiment

We’ve got one chapter left, then a couple of review/oral assessment days and then a final. The pace of submitted assessments has really picked up and I’m trying to find the best policy for how fast my turnarounds should be. Today we decided that they could continue to do reassessments through finals week (no graduating seniors), but only if they already have a 3/4 on that standard already. That was a pretty cool conversation, actually, because they agreed that if you don’t yet have a 3 you really don’t understand the material and finals week is not the time to be learning the core material. I actually expected a little more pushback from them, since obviously they’re masters at procrastinating, but this new policy really was mutually agreed upon. Okay, I recognize that I hold all the power here, but I really do feel like it was an honest conversation.

I think my favorite part of the class at this point is how I’m having some pretty deep conversations with the students outside of class about things. Just yesterday two students and I debated the “Momentum is king” concept for half an hour. I pointed out that it didn’t seem like they were sold on it but that no one had really taken up my challenge to defend the typical “Force is queen” approach during their screencasts. It was a fun conversation because they had really put some thought into it (and gotten a couple of 2’s because they hadn’t really taken a side in their screencasts).

We’ve had some good in class conversations, too. On Wednesday I gave them a choice at the beginning of class. They could either work in groups to do a standards-assessment-like activity, or they could plow through the tedious math of finding an inertia tensor for a simple system. I pointed out that the latter would likely really help them understand the concept but that the former would be direct practice for the standard:  “I can use Mathematica to model a rigid system (either use N masses or an inertia tensor).” They were mixed on the idea, with some great comments like “if it doesn’t directly affect my standard assessment, I don’t want to do it” and “if it helps me understand the material better, let’s do it.”

Something awesome happened today in our physics department seminar course. All my students are in there along with a bunch of other juniors and seniors. One of my students asked whether the rocket thrust being discussed by a different student should be described as Newtons/second. The latter student pointed out that Newtons are already essentially a rate (while I wrote down poms/second, of course). Then a student that isn’t in my class said “I guess you just went down on that standard, huh?” Everyone laughed, which I thought was awesome because it showed me that my class is being talked about.

My biggest complaint, as it has been all semester, is the lack of timely assessments turned in, but I feel like I’ve got some great ideas to address that next time around. I feel like the general attitude of the students is positive and that keeps me going when I’m buried under a pile of screencasts and pencasts to assess.

Two more weeks of class and a final. I can do it! More importantly, they can do it!

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in sbar, sbg, teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to 2 weeks left in my SBG experiment

  1. Joss Ives says:

    Andy, I love their rationale for not being able to reassess in finals week unless they already have a 3/4. I think that, in a traditionally graded course, studying for the final is (unfortunately) where a lot of students put the big picture of the course together and improve their understanding of many of the little things. I say unfortunately for many reasons: retention is known to be much better with spaced out studying (as opposed to cramming) and they typically get no targeted feedback from the final exam.

    So despite the fact that it is not reasonable for them to be able to reassess the world during finals, the precedent that has been (typically) set is that finals week is often a time when many students show greatly improved mastery, with jumps in mastery that are equivalent to students that have been showing only 1s all years managing to show a bunch of 3s on the final.

    On the flip side, in an SBG implementation, students have this ever-present feedback cycle that should help them learn in a way that is much than better than cramming at the end.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Yeah, Joss, the more I think about it, the happier I am with this policy (3’s by last day of class to reassess in finals week). It was funny that one student pointed out that it might be hard to do the last standard we’ll cover (the Monday of that week) but he’s one who is behind. I don’t think having that week to get an assessment in is that bad.

      One standard I’ve decided is exempt is my project one. Essentially they have to do a flexible, scalable Mathematica implementation of one of the other standards. That one is really testing their ability to use good mma syntax so I’m happy let that one be active past the final.

  2. Brian says:

    You know, I intensely watch your experiment, hoping to glean insight for my own SBG experiments down the road. And a part of me knows that my first year as a new faculty member is not the best timing for such experimentation…

  3. Brian says:

    Also: Do you think your relationships with students, and/or your students relationships with physics learning have changed as a result of your experiment?

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I would say that, yes, my relationships with my students have changed a little. Certainly the notion that no single assessment is final has been great. In the past they want to argue points or something and our relationship has to go back to grader/graded as opposed to our typical “let’s both try to figure this out” which is more the norm this semester. I also think a few of the students have changed how they view learning things. I think they’re pretty impressed with themselves when they realize they can still derive the Euler-Lagrange equation from scratch 3 months after we covered it in class.

      As for watching my experiment for tips, I often think about the advice my wife gave me that I ignored. She suggested I teach this semester normally but keep notes on how to switch to SBG. I was too excited about the possibilities to heed her advice. She’s right, though, that surprises come if you haven’t thought it all through and you have to know if you have a flexible enough environment to just wing your way through those things. I’m glad I picked a very small class for this but I don’t think I regret doing it.

  4. Mark Hammond says:

    I’ve struggled with stragglers in my SBG implementation. Some students have suggested deadlines for each unit, a concept I don’t really like, as I don’t want a student to give up on any concept or skill. But I need to do something. As the year has gotten busier (the last four weeks of school are insane), there are more and more kids falling behind on re-assessing. The last week of school is looming and I’m not looking forward to it.

    The urge to procrastinate is the heart of the problem, and some students see SBG as a license to to not prepare for an in-class group assessment (“I’m really busy this week… I can always re-assess later.”) These are, in fact, the same kids who don’t re-assess until two or three weeks after the group assessment. Luckily it’s not too many of my students who do this. But still, those few make for lots of craziness.

    One other downside of these students: they are uniformly showing me that they don’t remember much from the first semester. They have forgotten how to analyze constant acceleration motion using graphs, one even forgot Newton’s Second Law (and didn’t seem to recognize it when I pointed it out to him). These are the students who crammed the last week of the first semester, ticking off standards frantically before the exam. Predictable, really. Yet, they would have done the same thing with any grading system… only now I can point exactly to the skills and knowledge that they seem to have lost and make the case that they never really “had it.”

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mark. I’m really curious to see how the retention piece plays out next semester. I’ll have a few of these students in an advanced E&M course in the fall and a few of the math tricks will come in handy.

  5. bretbenesh says:


    I trust that your great ideas for encouraging students to keep up with assessments will show up in another blog post soon? I am really curious about this.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Hi Bret. I think I will blog about that but here’s a few two ideas quick:

      1) You have to submit a first assessment within 2(?) weeks of it being presented in class or you have to take a zero for that standard. This is mostly the punitive thing that Mark doesn’t like but I think I can sell it a little differently. I think I can spin it as helping me tailor my help for them as I’ll be able to see how the whole class is handling that material.
      2) I can hand out white boards at the end of a class period along with a random standard written on each. I’ll then randomly select just one of them to present their work on it during the first five minutes of the next class. My guess is they’ll reluctantly appreciate the practice even if they don’t get an assessment entered for it (only the person who would present would get that). I could do this quite often as 5 minutes or even 10 is not that bad to cough up when you have a flipped classroom. I say 10 because we could take the next 5 for another crack at the collective assessment that I’ve enjoyed so much this year.

      • Joss Ives says:

        With #2, you can sell those that don’t get assessed on the idea that they were preparing for a student-initiated reassessment. If you don’t mind a lineup outside your door later that day, you could just let those that would like to, (re)assess during office hours based on what they prepared. Or if that seems like a bit much, you can tell them that the question you gave them could be used as the base for a slightly more challenging or thorough student-initiated assessment.

  6. Pingback: SBG with voice revisions | SuperFly Physics

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