SBG with voice round 2

This semester I’m teacher Advanced Electricity and Magnetism to juniors and seniors. I’m once again using a standards-based approach, and, once again, I’m having all assessments involve the students’ voices. I have made three major changes to what I did last semester and I wanted to document those here.

Combating extreme procrastination

In an earlier post I posited a few different approaches to dealing with this problem. Essentially, many of my students felt they could produce miracles in the last few weeks of the course and a few fell short. I wanted to find a way to get students to turn in assessments much earlier, much closer to the time when we’ve spent time as a class on the topics.

Even though I got a little negative feedback on it, I decided to go with what I call the two-week rule. Once a standard becomes active, students have two weeks to get in an assessment on that standard. It doesn’t have to be a great or even good one, just one that helps me understand how far along they are with their understanding. If they don’t do it, they are forced to take a zero for that standard for the rest of the course.

The negative feedback I mentioned was centered around the SBG-philosophy-based notion that students should be able to learn things when they’re able, not according to a time table. I get that, but I knew I had to find a way to keep the log-jam from happening at the end of the semester.

There is another huge upside, though, that I think really brings this policy back into the SBG fold. On any given class day, I’ll be able to talk about the assessments I’ve received on two-week-old standards and plan ways with the students to spend more time on any common problems. Last semester I would get a small number of assessments within that kind of time period and, if they were good, I would not spend any more time on that material in class. Then, as long as months later, I would start to get assessments in from other students and I’d realize there was some sort of fundamental misunderstanding about it. At that point it was awkward to use class time to help the students with those content issues. I’m really excited for these two-week windows for a standard where most of the class will at least be on the same page about them.


One of the biggest pieces of feedback I received at the Physics Education Research Conference this past summer was that people were nervous about the scalability of this approach. Can you handle all these screencasts with 20, 30 or more students?

At the conference, many of us brainstormed the notion of peer review of these screencasts. For my current class I thought I’d see just how valuable that sort of peer review could be. One of my standards in the class is “I can accurately assess another student’s work and provide useful feedback.” This is one of roughly 30 standards so it represents about 3% of the course grade. Last semester there were many times when I felt that one student would benefit from hearing how another student had approached a particular standard, but I never really followed up with making that formal. I’m really excited to see if this one standard helps the students with their learning this semester. One thing I’d love to ask you, dear reader, is how I can assess that?


This one was a last minute change on my part right before the semester started. I was reflecting on the screencasts from my students last semester and I remembered how some of them were quite long. I asked a few of my colleagues both in person and online about the notion of brevity when showing understanding, and, even though there wasn’t a large consensus, I decided to put in some flexible language in my syllabus:

Being able to show your understanding of material efficiently is a sign of deeper understanding. It shows that you know the priority of the important concepts, as you don’t spend too much time on less important ones. You will not receive a 4 (see scale below) for a technically correct assessment, even one whose content is “brag-worthy,” if it is deemed to be too long. A good rule of thumb for the duration of a typical assessment is ten minutes.

I’m, of course, hopeful that this will cut down on the 20 minute+ screen/pencasts but I’m also hopeful this will cause some self-editing and meta-reflection by the students as they’re preparing their assessments.

The semester is just getting started and I’m still quite excited about this course. It’ll be interesting to see how that enthusiasm changes throughout the semester. I’ll be paying close attention to how these three changes affect both my students learning and my enthusiasm.

About Andy Rundquist

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

24 Responses to SBG with voice round 2

  1. John Burk says:

    Here’s an idea for how to assess the quality of students assessing one another. And it comes from a philosophy class I took way back in 94. Everything for that class was done anonymously and online. Each week, you’d have 1/4 of the students charged with being lead writers; they’d have to write a 4-5 page paper on a topic selected by the professor. Once submitted, that document was sent to 3 critics, other students hwo were to give feedback on the article, and then the lead writer would revise it. From there, it was delivered anonymously to 4-5 reviewers, who assigned it a grade. The reviewer’s grade was determined by how closely he/she predicted the grade the professor would give the assignment.

    Just a thought,

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Thanks, John, that’s a souped up version of what I had planned. What I’m also interested in is how to assess whether the peer review process helps them learn. That seems harder.

  2. rhettallain says:

    Quick question. I would like to try this screen cast thing for students. The one example I found from your class was for a mathematica assignment. Do you have a way for students to do this with analytical solutions where they write out equations and diagrams or something?

    It seems like it might be easiest to make a video of them working on paper or a blackboard or something, but that might require more equipment than they have (video camera).

  3. bretbenesh says:


    Here is my answer to how to assess the standard (actually, it is your answer reflected back): Calibrated Peer Review. Seriously—it could do the work for you. I think that it rates how well the students assess—just assign some sort of a number threshold, and you are done.

    I am about to make my first problem live; I will let you know how it goes.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I knew you’d rub my face in that. Seriously, I want to follow up with that but I think subconsciously I’m waiting to hear from you how it goes.

  4. Joss Ives says:

    Hi Andy. I’m pretty sure we’ve talked about it before, but I too am still trying to figure out how to not give them so much rope that they hang themselves, but still give them enough rope that they can hurt themselves and learn from it. The 2 week rule might accomplish that, but they might ultimately think you will back off and let them still get marks for it. I would be inclined to ask for some certain minimum amount of effort on the initial assessments that show up in the two week window in a way that communicates that your time assessing their work is valuable and that handing in “obviously minimal effort put in” assessments is ultimately worse than not bothering to submit them at all.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      The notion that they might turn in garbage is something I’m a little nervous about. However, I think I have a good enough rapport with these students (I’ve had all of them in at least one class, most I’ve had in three or four classes) that I can nip that in the bud if it starts to happen. We’ll see.

  5. bwfrank says:

    I’d ask them to locate one place where they think an idea or some lines of reasoning were either unclear or incorrect. They’d have explain what made that reasoning unclear (or incorrect) and suggest how that idea or line of reasoning could be clarified or rectified. If they thought they it was “braggable” with nothing unclear or incorrect, they’d have to write (1) what specifically made it braggable and (2) what they learned about how to improve their own screencasts to make them clearer or maybe even braggable. I don’t care how close their grade aligns to me; I’m interested in how they assess ideas and the assessment of ideas change their own thinking; not what grades they’d give.

  6. Chris says:


    I’m curious to know how your quizzes look? Are they asked questions and then suppose to write out a response on paper for submission and grading? Also, are you finding that people are doing worse on quizzes then on other assessments, and are therefore reassessing those standards more frequently?



    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Hi Chris,
      We don’t have any written quizzes, because everything needs to involve their voice. There are 9 days of the semester devoted to in class oral assessment days when students go up one at a time to “do” a standard and I ask follow-up questions. One goal of those questions is to get at the notion of synthesis of many standards.


      • Chris says:

        Oh I see, in that case let me modify my question. If I’m understanding your method, the students can choose to reassess however they like, so are you finding the students have a preferred way of doing these, say, Mathematica vs livescribe vs pencast?

      • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

        Hi Chris,
        I think they like the pencasts the best. It’s natural to write with a regular pen, and they still get the benefits of a scast (pausing etc). For ones that need Mathematica, then they have to do a scast, but I think they like to show off their calculations on the fly, especially with the Manipulate command.

        Some students really like the in class days because they feel very confident. Others have the usual stage fright and would prefer the privacy of their room to do a pencast or scast.


  7. jsb16 says:

    Andy, I think Kelly O’Shea addressed the ‘turning in garbage’ idea in her Monkey, Monkey, Monkey post.

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