I’m about one month into my Advanced Electromagnetism course and there’s a few things I want to note down before I forget about them.
I love voice!
I’ve been having some conversations with people lately about students having access to solutions (be it through instructor solution manuals, Cramster, or whatever). Some people are astonished that I have standards that are, effectively, fully worked out in the book. Take this one: “I can derive .” This is a crucial piece to electrostatics, as the Dirac delta function is central to making Gauss’ law useful. The book does a wonderful job of deriving this and showing where we need the delta function. So how can I tell that a student really understands it, since, in principle, they just have to copy the book down? My answer? THEIR VOICE!
As I listen to my students in their screencasts or pencasts (or in person on oral assessment days, see below), I can really tell the difference between a student reading the book to me and a student who has internalized the concept.
Here’s an example. This is a snip of a screencast from a student assessment for “I can discuss the foundations of, usefulness of, and ramifications of the method of images.”
If you listen to him, right at the end he says something that isn’t correct, and, in fact doesn’t make any sense. He says that the field lines from the image charge “cancel out” the field lines from the real charge. What is so interesting to me is how his finished product, essentially the page at the end of his screencast, would have almost certainly earned him a high score back in the days when students turned in static documents to me.
To me, this shows the value of both dynamic documents and the student’s voice in those documents. I feel like I have a much better sense of how a student is internalizing a concept when I hear it from their own mouths with their own vocabulary.
Two week rule
My two week rule (more clearly explained here) is working out very well, though it still needs some tweaks. Students have to turn in an assessment for every standard within two weeks of that standard becoming active. If they don’t, they have to take a zero for that standard for the whole class. One month in and I haven’t had to give any zeros yet! Basically, they’re treating those deadlines pretty seriously.
One thing I really like about the current system is that students are more willing this time around to turn in what are, essentially, drafts of their assessments. They’ll turn in a pencast or screencast that they’ll admit is not complete but they’ll be careful to let me know where they need help. For every assessment they turn in I generate a screencast with comments about what they’ve done correctly and tips for how to fix what’s not correct.
This past week we dedicated all three days to oral assessments. Students were given a random active standard during the previous class period and they needed to bring a single page solution to the next class. Each person, on the day of the assessment, puts their sheet up on the document camera. I study it for up to one minute and then spend up to six minutes asking them questions about it. Note that they don’t “present” the standard, we simply don’t have the time for that this semester. Finally, the whole class spends up to two minutes critiquing the student’s performance, culminating in me proclaiming what the rubric score is.
At first I thought I wouldn’t like not being able to surprise them with a standard on the day of the assessments. I was worried that letting them have at least two days to prepare their sheets would allow them to bone up on something simply to present it, not learn it. I’m still not sure if learning is happening as deeply as I would like, however, I do like being able to ask deep, probing questions about the standard, knowing that they’ve got the basics in their head at that moment. That probing that I do is often very illuminating. I’ve found that some students really do understand these things at a deep level and I’ve found others who don’t peer deeply enough into the various steps in the book.
My friend Brad Martsberger has sat in on several class periods so far this year, one of which was this past week. I’m going to ask him to, at least, post in the comments his thoughts about it, but I’ll share two things he shared with me that he found interesting. First, he was interested to see how the students seemed comfortable taking low scores. He didn’t witness the grade grubbing he has seen in other courses. Second, he was interested in how honest the students were with each other. I chalk both of those up to the SBG notion of reassessments afterwards being allowed. But, even though I think I know why it’s happening, I’m really happy it is.
Synthesis (or, here you go, Joss)
My good friend Joss Ives has often kept me honest about synthesis. He’s pointed out to me the slippery slope of SBG where standards can become silos, where students don’t see the connections.
This year I’ve made a few adjustments to my approach to try to protect against that slippery slope. First, I have several standards like the one above with the phrase “discuss the foundations of, usefulness of, and ramifications of” that go along with standards asking students to actually calculate things. Essentially I’ve forced them to spread their knowledge about a concept over a couple of standards.
Second, I’ve got a couple of standards that act in support of several others. The best example is “I can derive all the relationships among the electric field, the electric potential, and the charge density (this is one of Griffiths’ triangles).” This “triangle” one, with the six possible connections, is used all the time by me in my conversations with students, and by them in their assessments.
Third, during oral assessments I ask all kinds of synthesis probing questions. Last year, the students and I decided that, when I did that, they would get a score for every standard that was affected. This year, I’m sticking with a single score for the standard they’ve been assigned for the oral assessment. One reason for this is that generally the students don’t do enough on the secondary standards to warrant a score. However, I like holding them accountable for all the connections that a particular standard might have.
More to come
I’m really having a good time teaching this course this year. I’m happy to use this blog as a journal of sorts, though I’d love to get some feedback as well. In the future I hope to blog more about the peer review my students are doing, and on some ideas I have to improve our class time together.