Tonight was the first class this semester. 16 registered students but only 14 showed up tonight. It was close, the class was canceled again earlier last week but a couple of last minute registrants saved the day.
Tonight I went over the course structure with the class and got pretty positive feedback. With such a small class size the school district is concerned about attrition. We need to retain as many students as possible to get funding for them. So the district administrator came to the class to emphasize that point and to check to see if there were any students worried about the format and wanting to drop out.
In June I will be giving a presentation about my experience so far at the CanFlip13 conference in Kelowna. Since my class was canceled I only have one semester of experience to relate but hopefully my presentation will be well received. I will focus on the gamification of my class and standards based grading.
The good thing about being a presenter is that I get to attend the conference for free and since I don’t get any pro-d money from continuing education that’s a big plus. It’ll be nice to get away for a few days to the Okanagan.
Well the semester ended last week. In the last month most of the class attempted at least one lab although they did them reluctantly and only to get the grade, not to actually learn anything from the experience. Most of them inquired as to the “easiest” one to do before choosing and one student even submitted a report for a lab that she did not perform.
So was it a success? I’m not sure. I think I’ll assess each of the reasons I had for making these changes to my class:
Make the class more fun
Most students showed no interest in playing the game or doing any of the labs/investigations I developed. Most chose to use class time to watch the video lectures and solve practice problems. I think they see this as the easiest way to get a high grade. Or perhaps it is the familiar so that’s what they stuck with.
Get students more involved in doing physics rather than just solving questions
As I said above this didn’t really happen. Most ended up doing one lab but only as a last resort to get the grade. Hardly any chose to do any of the investigations. I specifically designed these as lab like activities that the students could do without having to write up a lab report.
Reduce the attrition rate of students
In the end only 12 of the original 21 students that enrolled in the course completed it. A few dropped out quite quickly (within 2 weeks). Others fell by the way as the semester wore on. In particular there was one student that complained to the district about the format of the course prior to dropping out.
Get students more interested in learning rather than grade seeking
This one might just be a fantasy. I don’t remember being so focused on grades when I was in high school but I guess times have changed. It was a lot easier to get in to post-secondary education back then. I’d hoped that the standards based grading would help stop some of the grade seeking behavior but it did not. Specifically with the labs, students almost refused to turn them in until I’d read it once and told them what to fix. My answer was that I’d give them feedback which they could use to make the next lab report they submitted better. They didn’t want to have to do a second report and instead seem to want me to write their report for them.
There were some positives to take away from the experience. The students that stuck it out did seem to like the fact that they were not punished for attempting standards but failing. However they may have just viewed this as a method of getting a higher grade.
In the future I will need to do a better job of encouraging students to do the labs and investigations. I think I will make the labs worth more of their final grade as this seems to be the only way to get them to attempt labs other than forcing them to do them (which is what I want to get away from).
I think I will also set aside time each class for tutorial sessions each with a fixed topic. This might appease those “just teach me” students.
The worst news is that there were only 4 students registered for next semester so the district has cancelled the class. I don’t know if the changes to the course have played a roll in the decline and I can take some comfort in knowing that four other class also had to be cancelled for the same reason so it seems that enrollment is down overall. So I guess I will have to wait until next September to try again.
On Monday night a student approached me and we had the following conversation:
Student: I have a request. Can you just teach us each night?
Me: Which learning objectives are you having problems with? We can sit down together and go over them one-on-one.
Student: No I mean just teach. Like a lecture.
Me: Well all the lectures are on the website. You can watch them anytime. If you don’t understand something we can discuss it right now.
Student: I know the lectures are there but can’t we just have a regular class?
Me: I want people to be able to go through the material at their own pace. You might be a whiz at projectile motion but another student may not. If I spend tonight teaching projectile motion you would be bored.
Student: But maybe they want you to teach as well.
Me: If they don’t understand something we can sit down one-on-one or in small groups and go over it.
At this point the student walked away. She is by far the brightest student in the class but it also the student who is most concerned with her grade. How much is this lab worth? Is this question worth more than this one? If I do this how much will my grade change?
I’m starting to feel like this experiment is failing. Why would this student prefer to sit in a lecture rather than discuss one-on-one the topics she is struggling with? No matter how many times I asked her which topics she wanted to discuss she just kept saying “I just want you to teach”.
I have created a scoreboard for the game. I take the average of the scores for each side (Villains/Agents) and use those two numbers in a google spreadsheet to generate a basic pie chart. The great thing about the chart is that it can be embedded into a webpage and will always display the current version. So all I have to do is update the spreadsheet once per week. This is trivial with the use of the Moodle grade feature.
The theme I’m using for my courses (Aardvark) also has a drop down menu bar. Today I found the php file I needed to edit to embed the scoreboard. The result is awesome!
Last night my class wrote their first test of this semester. There were questions from all 29 learning objectives (except for the lab report objective) and they could attempt as many or as few as they felt comfortable with. Since we’ve only been in class for three weeks I didn’t expect much but that they would at least be able to attempt the objectives on adding and subtracting vectors, relative motion, projectile motion and perhaps a few would get to forces.
I was very disappointed when the first student to hand in their test attempted NONE of the questions. When I asked her why she hadn’t tried any she told me that she’d only read the first two chapters of the text book. Seriously? Three weeks and that’s all you’ve done? Those chapters don’t even cover any material that she shouldn’t already know from grade 11. Another girl seemed to be trying but got nowhere with the questions.
I’m starting to feel like this experiment is failing. Perhaps I’ve given the class too much freedom. I’ve tried to make sure people were moving along. They all seemed to be working on the practice problems and watching the videos. Some were attempting the missions but not all were. I mention in class where I think they should be and post the same information in the course discussion online.
Maybe I’m just letting a few poor performers cast a shadow over the class as a whole.
There was one bright spot in the class. One girl attempted 11 of the objectives and has already shown mastery of 7 of them.
I posted previously about taking part in the 12×12 Vancouver Photo Marathon, well the Raw Talent Exhibit took place this past Saturday night. This year the exhibit took place at a different location than previous exhibits, the Salt Building in Vancouver’s Olympic Village. While there was more space and better temperature regulation, the lighting was a little dim making it difficult to see the photos. The other odd thing was that the individual theme winners were already unveiled on one wall. I tried not too look until I saw my set but I couldn’t help but notice that none of my shots had won. I was a little disappointed, I thought at least one or two could have been in the running. My disappointment got worse when I finally worked my way down to my set and saw that one photo (theme 10: Float) was very underexposed and another (theme 11: Background Story) didn’t turn out at all. I wasn’t expecting much from these anyway as I was very rushed for time at the end of the marathon but it was a shock to see one not turn out at all.
I wandered around looking at the other marathoners work and eventually the time came for the unveiling of the overall winners. First was the runner-up and winner for best photo. Then came the runner-up for best series……and it was me! How had I even been considered for best series when two of my photos were so poor? I was stunned but there it was a 24″x36″ print of theme 2: Through the Looking Glass mounted on aluminum.
IThe rest of my set and the other participants can be seen here.
One thing that I was worried about when giving the students the freedom to work through the class at their own pace was having the class turn into chaos with students all over the place and having lots of different activities going on at once and not being able to properly meet all the students needs. However it is the exact opposite. The class is so quiet. There are times when I am walking around in complete silence and I wonder if I’ve removed myself too much from things. The students are all on task, watching videos, working on quiz questions, or working on practice problems. I guess I would prefer if they did more of the labs. Quite a few did the uniform motion lab during the first week but since then no one has tried the accelerated motion lab or the projectile motion lab. Perhaps they’ve decided that these are too much work for too little gain. Maybe if I made the labs worth more next semester? Maybe I need to emphasize that doing the labs can demonstrate mastery of the objectives. Maybe I need to have more of the investigation type activities be more than just the instructions. If each one was an “online text” activity where the student had to enter their observations and this could count towards mastery of objectives. Maybe things will change if I just wait.
When I set up the grade book on Moodle I created a Category for each standard. Then for each standard I will add the individual items used to assess that standard. Each category has a maximum grade of 3 and takes the highest grade from the individual items. The missions I intended to have a maximum score of 1 out of 3 and I thought I had set this up correctly as each question has a mark of 1. However I noticed that one student who has already decided to complete some of the mission quizzes (he’s taken physics 12 from me previously) was getting a score of 3 for category total.
After a lot of trial and error with different settings I think I finally have it correct. The issue was that although I had the questions on the quiz out of 1 mark the quiz itself was getting a grade of 100%. So when that 100% was added to the category it takes it be a maximum score and assigns a grade of 3 for the category.
In the grade book I had to set a multipier (0.3333) on each of the mission quizzes and this reduced the category total back down to the correct score of 1. However the student would then see a score of 33.33 for the quiz. Still not ideal. So I had to edit each quiz and set the maximum score to 3. This way when they complete the quiz they see their mark of 1 and the category total is also 1. It is still a bit confusing for the student because the quiz itself displays a mark of 1 and a grade of 3 but then in the grade book this gets scaled back down to a 1. At least it is calculating their final grade correctly now.
With less than a week to go before my class starts panic is starting to set it.
While I think I have all of the activities (investigations, labs, quizzes) for the first six missions I only have the instruction videos for the first two missions complete.
I am going to be taking Friday off from my day job to try and develop a few more videos. I feel like if I can get the first six missions done I’ll at least be two months ahead of the students. It takes a lot longer than I thought to make each video. So far I haven’t been able to complete one on less than 4 attempts. It has taken a while to get used to using the writing tablet, something as simple as drawing a straight line causes me to have to start over sometimes. In some videos I’ve resorted to drawing the vector diagrams in PowerPoint, which to be honest is probably a better approach anyway.
I’ve created a google account for the class and a youtube channel with the videos. When a video is added to youtube the initial permissions can be one of Public, Unlisted or Private. Public means anyone can view the video. Unlisted means that the video doesn’t show up on searches but anyone with the link to it can view it. Private means that I authorize individuals to view it. At first I was going to go with Unlisted, but I have decided for now to have them Public. I have however turned off comments.