## 4-sided die quizzes

I’ve been teaching my calc-based general physics II course for a couple weeks now and I thought I’d get some thoughts down on how my assessment strategy is working. Quick description: Assign four problems per class day and use a 4-sided die to randomly select one of them to be the quiz at the beginning of the next class period. We discuss as a class how to “turn it inside out” and then they have 10 minutes to do it.

What works:

• I think students are putting much more time into learning how to do problems than last year.
• Grading is pretty straight forward, with everyone getting a single standard score using my Frank-Noschese-stolen rubric.
• Someone usually groans after the die rolls. Sometimes it’s me.

What doesn’t:

• The “turning inside out” takes up some time, usually 3-4 minutes. That means when it’s all done and they’ve turned it in and they’ve gotten into groups we only have about 45 minutes left. It’s not the end of the world, especially as I see value in the conversation about turning things inside out, but I’m nervous about it.
• My friend Joss had a really interesting comment on my last post about this, and I do see some evidence that this is happening. Basically he talked about students finding the governing equation for a problem and just plugging in the knowns to solve for the unknowns. That seems like it could be what we want our students to do, but I think I’d rather have them thinking about physics than memorizing governing equations.
• The fact that Monday’s quizzes overwrite one of the scores from the previous week still takes some getting used to by my students.

What’s surprising:

• I didn’t realize how much I would like the fact that I can have a much larger impact on what they’re practicing by picking particular types of problems. I tend to assign one “Question” type problem that the chapters have, 1-2 “exercises,” and 1-2 “problems.” Last year every reassessment was an “exercise.” I can have them attack problems of all sorts. For example, all the symmetry types are showing up for the Gauss’ law problems they’re doing for an upcoming class. Last year students just submitted re-assessments on whatever symmetry they understood the best.
• I really like the forced reassessments on Monday. On Fridays we have a review session (the nb.mit.edu usage hasn’t really taken off for that, but we’ll see) and then over the weekend they have 2 problems on Monday’s info and 2 on Wednesday’s info. It’s great to have them really reviewing stuff before we move on.
• There was a problem this past week that involved figuring out the force on a charge based on the location of 2 other charges. All I did to “turn it inside out” was change the sign of one of those charges. It fundamentally changed all the directions in the problem, and the class had an average of about 2 out of 4 on that one. I thought it was really interesting that such a seemingly minor change caused such problems for them. It makes me a little nervous that that type of change, ie the type that I’m excited about making them really think, is too deep/subtle/hard for them to swallow in 10 minutes.

Overall I’m pretty happy about it. We’ll see if any of them chime in on this post below in the comments section to see if they like it.

Your thoughts? Here’s some starters for you:

• I’m in this class and I really like the quizzes. What I like best about this approach is . . .
• I’m in this class and I really don’t like the quizzes. What I think would be better is . . .
• I like to assign problems that take a while to do. Isn’t 10 minutes too short?
• I’ve been wrestling with whether Joss’ concern is something to be worried about or not. I think that . . .
• I wouldn’t waste time having the students help you turn problems inside out (also, I think it’s bourgeois of you to constantly put that in quotes). I’d just figure out how I’d want them changed ahead of time and just tell them right after the die roll what the quiz is.
• I think that the “turning inside out” discussion is probably one of the most valuable things you seem to be doing with your students. I think you should do way more of “that,” even at the cost of not even doing the quiz.
• This is all a waste of time. You should use class time getting them to talk with each other and really learn, not regurgitate the work they’re doing outside of class. Don’t you trust them to do what’s best for their learning?
• I stumbled onto this blog after I heard that you did a gig with Bill Nye once. I’m really disappointed that there’s not image of him in this post.

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
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### 7 Responses to 4-sided die quizzes

1. Kelly says:

Hi-
Personally, I’m really liking the way this course is taught. I feel like I am learning SO much more than last semester, because instead of just being focused on memorizing equations, I can focus on understanding the material and how it relates to the real world (beyond the classroom). I think rolling the dye and turning the problem “inside out” is an effective way to see if students really understand. I also think it is important to reassess the same concepts the following Monday (to make sure the concepts are really sticking, and that we can apply it to more than one problem). I think because we have the ability to redo quizzes anytime- I am more focused on learning and applying and not solely focused on learning just to get the grade I want (because I only get one shot).

Overall, I really like the way this course is set-up! I can’t think of anything that should be changed at this time.

• Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

Thanks, Kelly. I’ve really enjoyed teaching this class so far. Every day it’s a challenge for me to come up with the best activities to help everyone’s learning, and I think I’m slowly narrowing in on what works.

2. Sean M. Hanson says:

Hey Prof. Rundquist, just thought I’d contribute my thoughts.

I’d say overall I do like your quizzing method, but I do have a few quibbles. In principal SBG is really useful in hammering information into my brain so that it stays there, and doing well on the quizzes is a big motivator for that. However I think in practice, or more likely execution, it leaves a lot of students struggling. I think this has less to do with the quizzes and more so with class discussion. I understand the dynamism and energy and question-posing you’re trying to infuse the lectures with, but in speaking with some other students I’ve found a shared sentiment is that not a lot is taken away from lectures. Class discussions are so often focused on the broadest strokes of the material that when we (read that: I) reach the more complex exercises and problems in the homework, there’s a lot of scratching of heads in confusion. And of course when that happens quizzes don’t go so well. I’m not sure what the compromise would be, but I think that I, and I can only assume others as well, would benefit greatly from going through example problems to see how concepts discussed in class are implemented, much like in math classes. Because as it is there’s a kind of learning-disconnect between lectures, your brief screencasts posted afterwards, and the homework, such that ultimately the overwhelming majority of material is learned through large of amounts of time spent absorbing as much knowledge as possible from the textbook. I voice this concern because aside from daily points gained from quizzes, lectures don’t seem very necessary in order to learn when one could just do so through text-osmosis.

To summarize, I think quizzes are fine, the review ones in particular are nice knowledge refreshers, but perhaps take another look at how the rest of class time is spent. The real meat of the subjects (e.g. crazy derivations) is much tougher to learn outside of class.

Just my two cents though. Maybe I’m just personally having trouble adjusting to your teaching method.

Sean

• Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

Thanks, Sean! I really appreciate the feedback. After you submitted this I changed my plan for our last lecture and I think it went much better. Every day something get’s short shrift, and I think too often it’s been the nitty gritty details of how to do problems. I think more often maybe it should be some of the bigger picture stuff. Either way I’ll always follow up with screencasts that are hopefully helpful.

3. Joss Ives says:

Andy, can you remind me if they are allowed to bring in their work for the four questions to help them work on the problem? Also, do you have to teach them how to read a d4?

• Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

No, they’re not allowed to use their work. And yes, I had to teach them how to read it 🙂

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