Homework Plan, 2016-17

I’m about to talk about homework even though I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The system I’m about to describe is all about working around my big teacher weakness (I hate updating grade books) and as a bonus, helps me at staying organized. I have no idea if this is even a feasible system, so would love your feedback before I unleash it on my freshmen in two weeks.

About the environment: We’re a 1-1 laptop school, student absences are mostly due to doctor appointments and sporting events (and therefore mostly known in advance), and more kids do homework than don’t.

About me, the teacher: I absolutely hate grading work overnight. I have trouble establishing routines like starting class.

I’ve developed a homework & classwork tracking system that I think will be manageable. Would you consider giving me feedback once you’ve read about it?

The System

1. Students get Work Tracker handouts to be kept in their binders. Here’s a screen grab of the current iteration of the Work Tracker:

Unit_1_Cover___Equations__page_4_of_4_

2. At the end of each class meeting, students update the Work Tracker with the next due date.

3. At the start of class (while kids are doing a warm up problem), I go around to each desk, glance at the work laid out for me, and enter a grade for yesterday’s assignment on each Work Tracker. In the event of absence or tardiness, a student must see me during the next scheduled office hour.

4. I update the gradebook once per unit with the average of the 15ish assignments on the Work Tracker.

Potential Problems

What if a kid loses the Work Tracker? That’s gonna suck for them. I plan to model backing up their data by taking a picture weekly. Also, the data can be recompiled because all the work should either be on paper in their binder or in the cloud in WebAssign. Side note: it’s gonna be rough on anyone who loses their binder. We’ll cross that bridge if it happens. I’m not trying to be a jerk here but this will still make some kids nervous.

How open am I leaving myself to fraud? Couldn’t a kid write in their own scores on the Work Tracker? Yes. That’s a flaw in my system, because I’ll be writing the scores in by hand. We have an honor code and if I catch anyone cheating, I’ll hand it over to Honor Council. On the flipside, the Work Tracker accounts to just 10% of a kid’s grade, so getting away with this crime isn’t terribly valuable.

Won’t it take a long time to go around the entire class and grade everything? Yes. I’ve tried to mitigate by putting many of my assignments on a generous “did you even try to do something?” scale, so I envision laying eyes on most papers and granting a perfect score. Class discussion will sort out the correctness of the work. The stuff I grade on correctness is kept in WebAssign, so I’ll ask kids to open their computer so I can just copy the grade down. Yes, it takes time but I see three benefits: 1) no matter what, I enter grades daily, 2) I get an idea of who’s falling behind daily, and 3) kids have an established class start routine. All of these were problems in last year’s system.

Benefits for the Students

Organization is generally good. I hear from the type A students that they like when teachers give out all the assignments at the start of the unit. I’ve never been organized enough to do it, plus I’ve always held on to notions of the class being too prescribed. I’m thinking that the type A kids could possibly work ahead and if I get a weird idea, I can always change out assignments and accept either the old or the updated work for credit.

Thinking about physics nightly is generally good. The nightly work ranges from “read this and answer 3 questions” to “solve these 10 problems”, from 15 minutes to an hour. In the past, I’ve only ever given out the second type of work and it was far more infrequent (maybe once a week). The new assignments encourage more independent reading, which I think will help their study skills.

Get the Work Tracker

Download the Work Tracker (.docx, it’s on the last page)

Your Homework

So, that’s my system. What do you think of it? I have a few questions if you want to help refine the process:

  • Did you spot potential problems I haven’t thought of?
  • I’ve never looked at work at the start of class. Have you? How hard is this to maintain?
  • Would it make more sense if I kept all the Work Trackers in my own binder to eliminate fraud and loss risks? Kids could have a blank copy with assignments and due dates.
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18 thoughts on “Homework Plan, 2016-17

  1. OK, so this is super computer science nerdy, but you could totally solve the verification problem in the following way – come up with a password that only you know, and then when you write down a student’s grade, hash the following string: [grade] + [student name] + [password] and write down the last 7 digits of the hash on the sheet along with the grade. Later, you can check for fraud by rehashing the grade written plus the password that only you know. If a student decides to change their grade, the new hash won’t match the one that you wrote down, and without knowing your password they will be unable to create a new hash that does match.
    I recognize that this definitely over-complicates the system, but it does solve the problem. I also may have already written a python script that automates this process from the terminal, so if you do want to use this system I can hook you up.

    • I love you man

    • In solving my fraud problem, you broke a major feature of this system: I can grade and write down the result in the first 10 minutes of class for an entire class. However, you’ve introduced the idea of a tamper-resistant grade. Maybe there’s a low tech way to do this.

      • I’m not convinced that there is – if there were, crypto would certainly be much easier than it is.

      • I take it back. I think I may have thought of a slightly less secure way that’s still pretty good and could be done with a calculator. I’ll elaborate when I’m not typing on my phone in the back of a moving car.

      • OK, so I’ve got a method for doing it with a calculator, but it still takes a pretty long time to enter everything. At this point, it’d be faster to be doing the python script with the hash function than to be entering all this crap into the calculator.

  2. Maybe for verification you could use a unique rubber stamp. Put three boxes next to each assignment and stamp in the appropriate box.

  3. Checking homework at the start of class is the only way for me. Otherwise I get buried under a mountain of papers. My favorite part is that I’m not actually losing any class time checking homework. Students would be working on a warm up during that time anyway.

    The way I deal with recording grades is to have a clipboard (or notebook, whatever) with a standard template to record homework grades. Mine also includes attendance, classwork and behavior notes for the week. I enter all of the grades on Friday and move that sheet to the back of my clipboard. If you want students to also keep track of their scores you could put the grade mark on their assignment and they have to record it on the work tracker.

    • Yes, exactly this! I want to avoid the mountain of papers and establish a warm-up routine. I like your added benefit of taking attendance at the same time.

      Ever forget to make a warm up problem? What’s your fallback plan?

      How do you avoid getting mired in conversations or questions from the kids? I’m easily distracted and love to talk.

      Thanks for sharing your routine!

  4. I have a answer sheet for students to look at, and use a high lighter. They highlight what they got wrong, and I grade them on completion and if they were honest in corrections. They highlight because they can see what they need to review or redo when it comes time for a quiz or a test. Its east to see for them. They grade the HW and pass it in with a grade at the top with what they think they deserve. For the most part students are pretty harsh on themselves.

    • The highlighted idea is genius! Do students do the grading at the start of class? Does it lead you into a Q&A session? Interesting idea with low teacher burden that still allows feedback.

  5. Off topic to the post, but a related question to the picture you embeded. How do you like the Physics Classroom materials? How do you use them in your classroom? I started using them for the last few units last year (I wasn’t assigning any reading prior to this, I really dislike our hardcopy textbooks) and the students didn’t seem to hate it.

    • I love Physics Classroom because the reading and content levels are perfect for my students. Plus, they have a great section of practice problems with solutions. Biggest drawback, like any online text is that few people read well off of their computer screens.

      The creator, Tom Henderson, is on Twitter @physxclassroom.

      • Awesome! Do you set up any structures around the reading assignments to help their comprehension? Outlines, note making, etc.

      • Assigned reading is a new thing this year, so the structure I’m considering doing is answering a couple of review questions at the end of the reading. The online textbook I use has the questions already. Since there are more than the kids can answer in a reasonable amount of time, I’ve got it set up so they’ll answer say three of the 10 questions.

  6. Pingback: Day 2: Getting the Slinkys Out | Physics180: A photo-a-day blog

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