Set the standard at the end

Another in my series of cockamamie posts leading up to my spring semester. This one is another about Modern Physics (see my last one that talked about building and using a map for that course). I’m still on my kick about student agency, or ownership of the material. I want them to know what they’re studying, want to study it, and here I want to get my initial thoughts down on how they might aid in developing the assessment of their knowledge.

I teach using Standards-Based Grading (also known as Standards-Based Assessment and Retention, aka Learning-Objective-Based Learning, aka Criterion-Referenced Grading). The students demonstrate understanding on standards like “I can derive length contraction” or “I can discuss the foundations of, usefulness of, and ramifications of Planck’s Blackbody formula.” As is typical for me, I find I put time on syllabi issues that have made me crabby in the past. For this post, it’s that I set standards and students refuse to even consider issues that seem to go beyond them. In one sense, that’s how I’ve planned it. I’ve focussed the content for them, and I want them to put their energy on it. However, sometimes they don’t realize how far afield I might take them in an oral exam. Take the length contraction one above. I really want them to have a good understanding of Einstein’s postulates (likely a different standard), light clocks, synchronization, time dilation, and all sorts of other things when I use the verb “derive.” But the students run across a derivation in my screencasts or in the text or whatever and think that’s all there is. It takes them a few reassessments to get the gist of what I’m looking for. So, I have a new cockamamie idea.

What if we use the map and determine what to study in the next cycle (day, week, unit, something). That will be simple descriptors like “relative length” or “Blackbody.” They’ll have text(s) to read and some screencasts of mine to study, and we’ll spend class time working interesting aspects of the issues. Then, at the end, we all determine what the standard is for that day.

Upsides (please help me here):

  1. The topic will be broad, and they’ll have to study everything.
  2. They maintain ownership of their learning.
  3. I don’t have to make a list before the semester starts.
  4. They can argue whether a standard should be a calculation type or a derive, explain type. In my classes in the past I’ve used both quite liberally.
  5. My two-week rule (get at least a crappy assessment in within 2 weeks of us spending time in class) would still work.

Downsides (please help me here):

  1. The topic will be broad, and they won’t want to study everything.
  2. They’ll just want to know what’s important.
  3. I look lazy.
  4. Class time might not be spent in the most productive way (I’m not talking about the 5 minutes at the end to make the decision. I’m talking about how it might turn out to be a calculation type standard and we spent the whole day on derivations or something).
  5. The 2 week rule sucks (wait, that’s a different post — stay tuned).

I’d love to get some feedback on this. Those of you who do SBG, how much input have you given your students? What have I missed in my lists? Thanks in advance (and have fun in NOLA those friends of mine at the winter AAPT right now).

About Andy Rundquist

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

13 Responses to Set the standard at the end

  1. Do you have your students do a warm-up exercise to prepare for class? How about having this be part of the warm-up, e.g. “What do you think should be the standard(s) for today’s content?”

    What I would probably do then is have a preliminary discussion at the start of class (“What do we think the standard should be?”) and then a wrap-up discussion at the end (“Do we still agree on our standard or should we modify it?”)

    I like the idea; it seems like an interesting idea. Let us know how it goes!

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I definitely think that they’ll start to get into the habit of coming to class ready to advocate for things. I like the idea of a quick check in at the beginning of class, especially to keep from wasting their time during class.

  2. bretbenesh says:

    As far as “Upsides” go, I don’t really think that you need any more than “They maintain ownership of their learning.” That is pretty powerful.

    My concern (possibly unfounded) is that students will not know enough to determine what the standard should be. I guess that this is not so much of a problem if you are choosing broad standards, though.

  3. Joss Ives says:

    What about taking some time out at the middle of a given class to decide on the standards. Give them a chance to flex their muscles a bit with the new material so that they have a bit of perspective on where the standards for the topic could take them. And then spend the last half of class focusing on some pieces of those newly developed standards.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Hmmm, I’m intrigued. It’s only a one hour class (and I like to have one standard per meeting), but I think this could work well.

  4. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    I think I’ll probably do something like this for my Theoretical Mechanics class as well.

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  6. I like the upside of giving the students more responsibility for learning. It seems to me that this might be a great idea for a college course that does not have strict learning goals to prepare students for future courses. Or, perhaps the goal is to guide students to “discover” OUR goals for them. However, as a high school teacher, it seems to me that such an approach is the antithesis of the national standards goal of identifying a set of standards that all students should achieve. In other words, would this approach be compatible with the NGSS?

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      That’s a great question, Eric. Now that I’ve done more work setting up my syllabi for this semester, I can tell you that each day’s main topic will be pretty clear heading in. The work we’ll be doing on a given day will be determining which salient details of that topic should be in the standard. Should it be a derivation, an application, a calculation, or a discussion.
      As far as the NGSS goes, I think the same thing will happen in classrooms across the country. The main idea will be clear, but how to get there will be left, as it should, to the teachers.

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