Friday, February 1, 2013

What's the Point?

My students have really made me think this year about "What's the Point?"... meaning, what is the purpose of what I have them do?  Why do I have them make student videos (which they either love or completely loathe)?  Why do I want them to take quizzes every day or two instead of waiting until the end of the chapter?  Why do I "make" them write a summary and ask a HOT question?

These are all valid questions.  I haven't done a great job thus far of communicating the purpose of every assignment, and it's my goal for the rest of the year to do that.

Today as I was chatting with one of my classes, I explained the purpose of student videos.  From the first semester survey, many students don't like them and see them as a pain because "I don't need any more practice, I already understand the concept good enough from the PQs".  They have seen the purpose of the student videos as practice work for them, which turns into busy work when it's just something they do to get done.  Those comments really stood out to me because the purpose (to me) of student videos is not for "more practice" - I use them as an assessment tool of a students' ability to create their own problem (usually) and explain verbally using proper mathematical vocabulary, notation, etc.  Can they actually explain what they are doing?  That is an important skill I want my students to have.  I assess them with that using student videos.  When I explained that to my last class today, most of their eyes were like, "Oh... that makes sense now!".  Now, will they still complain about having to use technology and stuff... yes.  But, I think knowing the purpose behind their work will really help the quality of their work and their attitude towards it.

I also had similar conversations with my classes about quizzes.  I explained the difference between "summative" and "formative" assessment (in as simple terms as possible).  I said that "formative" assessment is used to inform both them and me of their progress.  Do they need more help?  Where are they getting stuck?  What mistakes are they making?  What connections are they missing?  All of these can be answered by them taking quizzes the day after the lesson to see if we need to re-teach something before it gets too late.  Again... eyes wide open... "that makes sense!"

So, I decided to put together a Google Doc of all the assignments/activities I have my students participate with.  What do I have them do... and WHY do I have them do it?  It's a work in progress (first draft of Friday night thoughts, but pretty close to being complete), but I thought it would be good to share...

I notice that most of my assignments are somehow used as an Assessment tool.  And, most of them are formative (informing) assessments.  Most of them are continually resubmitted until students show proficiency, with no "deduction" on grade for needing to submit it again.  It's pretty clear that one of my goals is to constantly be "informed" about my students' needs and progress by continually assessing them in a variety of ways.


  1. Hi,

    I just started reading your blog and really learn a lot from it. I teach technical & engineering subjects to adults.

    One thing that would help me is a glossary or listing of the acronyms you use. Things like PQ, WPP, etc.



    1. Hi Jim,
      Everything you are looking for is on my FAQ page.
      Thanks for reading!



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