Wasted 10 minute quiz

These days I do a daily quiz for my students. It’s a problem randomly selected from the three problems assigned last time (unless it’s a review day, then it’s randomly selected from the previous 2 days). These are typically deep, rich problems so the only way you could do them in 10 minutes is to have really worked on them ahead of time. I usually add some twists or turn them inside out but, basically, if they’ve worked on them and really understood the material they should be doable. The problem is there’s a noticeable minority of students who do very poorly on these quizzes. They get bad scores (1’s or 2’s on my 4-point scale) and spend a large amount of the 10 minutes just sitting there with a defeated look on their face. So I’m trying to brainstorm other approaches and would love it if you, kind reader, could chime in.

Learn their lesson

Option one is just do nothing and hope that they learn their lesson eventually. Perhaps enough 1’s and 2’s will get them to realize they really should work harder (or perhaps differently) on these problems.

Because I use a Standards-Based Grading approach they know they can repair their grade by turning something in later so there’s not a lot of pressure to perform in class. Of course many of these students pile up a lot of 1’s and 2’s and tend to fall far enough behind that my two week rule gets them in trouble.

I guess what I’m feeling right now (facing the prospect of (once again) turning in lots of F’s for midterm grades) is that the lessons aren’t being learned.

Remind them to ask for help

I could remind them that since the quiz grade doesn’t set in stone that standard’s score, if they feel like they’re likely to get a 1 or a 2 they could try to explain on their quiz what they’re struggling with. When this happens now, admittedly rarely, I tend to either give that person some feedback on their quiz paper, send them a video, or send the whole class a video with some explanation. I think in the smaller classes that I could handle this scaling up a little and I think I’d understand better where the students are at than grading a crappy quiz performance.

I think if I didn’t stay on top of it and continue to give personalized feedback, students would likely stop writing a whole lot and instead continue to use their 10 minutes in class to do other things (with a defeated look on their face).

Show them something else

I was brainstorming with a student who’s in class with me right now about what would work better for him on days when he doesn’t really know how to start the quiz. I asked him about the notion laid out above and he thought that seemed reasonable. Then we started to brainstorm this new notion. Maybe I could give students a choice: either take the quiz or come with me to another room where I’d do some additional instruction on the topic. Maybe that could just be me trying to articulate every thought in my head as I try to do the quiz.

I’m definitely attracted to this if only to avoid looking out and seeing defeated faces. On the down side I feel like this sort of direct instruction 1) makes the students feel like they’re learning, but 2) doesn’t really help their learning. It reminds me of the students who say “I own the solution manual but I don’t use it to do my homework. Instead I love to study from it much more than struggling over any suggested exercises.” I’ve never actually believed students when they say that (not the first part, the second part). I think they look at well solved problems and dutifully nod their heads saying “oh yeah . . . of course . . . yep that’s right” instead of what we want our students to be thinking: “hmmm … not sure… oh wait  … let me try … ooh, now I know!”

I’m also not sure if students would tend to make the right choice (for them) when offered to either take the quiz or come with me. I guess I’m not sure what to think.

Your thoughts? Here are some starters for you:

  • What does “turn them inside out” mean?
  • I like the _____ option but not the ____ option because . . .
  • Why do you do quizzes at all? Instead you should . . .
  • I’m in this class and this post is great because . . .
  • I’m in this class and I hate this post because . . .
  • Wait, how do they use Mathematica during their quizzes?
  • I study from worked examples all the time. Why are you criticizing me?
  • That’s not what I think should be going through students heads when working problems. Instead I’d like to see  . . .

About Andy Rundquist

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

15 Responses to Wasted 10 minute quiz

  1. I am interested in what you mean by “turning the problems inside-out.” I am doing oral exams in my E&M course this semester, and I have my own idea of what this means, but I want to hear how you do it.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      If it’s a problem that gives a, b, and c and asks for d, I’ll say, “ok, I should be able to give you any 3 of the four (a,b,c, and d) and ask you to solve for the last one, right?” It’s interesting because that’s not always true and the ones who’ve worked on the problem know that and sometimes say so.

  2. bretbenesh says:

    My opinion: I think you should keep having them doing quizzes. You can modify the quizzes if you like. Maybe “I will give you a hint if you like, but it will bring your score down by 1—so a 3 becomes a 2, a 1 becomes a 0, etc.” Or perhaps you could post a video of an exact solution to a second problem, and students can opt to do that problem with the understand that the best they can do is a 2 (or 3, or whatever).

    My reason for keeping the quizzes is this: the quizzes let them know they don’t understand, and the examples might trick them into thinking that they do. That is quite a swing.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Yeah, you’ve articulated the problem I have in a better way, I think.

      • Joss Ives says:

        I like the ask for help option as well. It is one of the places where you might need to take on a more active role in terms of checking in with students individually each time to see if they want that help.

      • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

        I think maybe I could formalize the “ask for help” by having them clearly identify that on their quiz paper somewhere.

  3. joe says:

    not a short term solution but get them to write the ‘elementary’ write up of things they do understand – a kind of ‘the way i wish it had been taught to me back in the day’. with some prompting, they’ll get in the habit of going back to something they understand well and then be forced to highlight the steps needed to get to the conclusion. if they build this muscle, they should be able to apply it to new problems and at least be able to (if they’re honest) find what bits of the chain they’re taking on faith. i suspect that thsoe students that are consistently getting 1s and 2s are finding their previous ‘memorise and trust’ behaviours aren’t cutting it any more. for bonus points, collate the ‘note to self’ write ups so next gen students get 100+ ways of reaching the conclusions.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      It’s interesting that I’m starting to get more vids from students that are along these lines but still not much coming from the written, in class quizzes.

  4. (As a student of yours) I told my mom–who is a professor of Theater–over Thanksgiving about your teaching style, and she said something along the lines of, “THAT is an educator!”

  5. it has been a couple years since you posted this, and I’m curious where you stand now. Do you still do quizzes that come from homework?

    • Andy Rundquist says:

      I’ve been in the dean’s office basically since I wrote this so I haven’t really been able to evolve my thinking about this. However, I think I’d still likely use the general structure when I’m back in the classroom.

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