Resources that made me rethink how I grade and assign homework…

Yesterday, I had a good discussion with my principal about my homework/assessments/grading methods.

I’ve been using a variant of standards-based grading with no homework in Physics for two years now, but I never quite know how to choose my words when describing what I do.  Most people fixate on the fact that I don’t give homework, but don’t really want to hear about the framework that I’ve built to ensure that my class would not descend into chaos without homework.

The overall positive effect is that I have more time in class, less cheating, and better relationships with students.

The negative effect is that it takes a lot of planning and confidence on my part.  (I would not have been this brave as a 1st or 2nd year teacher.)  If you read the earlier posts in my blog, you’ll see that I was terrified of ruining a perfectly good physics class (with a cheating problem) by making such a big change.  My biggest fear was that by eliminating homework and cheating, I would also lower the engagement level of my class.  I’m so glad I took the jump, because I think I took a good physics class and made it something great.  My reflections on Q1 of last year can be found here.

Anyway, this post wasn’t meant to be so much about me.  I just wanted to share the resources that helped me most when I made these decisions.

On Ditching Homework Itself:

On Standards Based Grading:

On Reassessment


S2 Goals for Alg Support

For lots of reasons, I’ve decided that my algebra support classes need a change.

In semester 2, I will get quite a few new students, and some students will move out based on grades (both good and bad).

I usually tend toward ‘No-time-like-the-present’ when making changes to my classes, but since we only have 2 1/2 regular weeks left, and this plan requires a bit of work…I think I’m going to take it slow to maximize success.

This semester, Algebra Support consisted of me and 20ish students, and even though the goal of the class is to help students pass algebra, quiz and test scores were not as good as they could have been.  I chalk it up to me spending most of my time trying to get them to do late homework.

In theory, I was supposed to offer students a 10-15 minute recap lesson every day.  That didn’t always happen.  On days when they had homework, students were loud and cranky and would do their best to ignore whatever I had planned because getting the homework done had taken priority over learning the material.  I’ve had a few discussions with the Algebra and other Algebra Support teachers and we agreed that it’s ok to make changes to help our students.

My big change stems from the fact that I’m sick of being the homework monster.  I don’t assign homework in my other classes, and I’ve learned that chasing homework is a losing game when quizzes and tests make up a majority of the grade.  So since I really want support to make a difference, I’m going to attack the problem from a study skills and quiz/test performance angle.

I want to make this group into awesome quiz/test takers and students who know how to advocate for themselves and use resources.

I found some cool study skills resources from the Larson Algebra within Reach program, and I think I’m going to use their suggestions as the basis for a math study skills boot camp.

I want to give students credit for trying new things, applying new skills and learning what works for them as a math student.  We have also been given access to Odysseyware, which I think I will use as a supplement to help me remediate specific skills, rather than trying to tailor one lesson to fit all 20 students.

We’ll see how this goes!

End of Q1 Support Responses


I categorized and tallied responses to the handout I gave today.  The official prompt was “Three things that will help me:”

I wonder how this will change if I ask the same question at the end of Q2.

Q1 Reflection Handout

I made a handout to help the students organize their thoughts.

I’m an algebra support teacher, so I will look at the grades they’ve earned from their respective Algebra teachers and help the students interpret them accordingly.

Today we will be completing these sheets and I will snap a pic for their personal files in my OneNote.

Most students have a skewed view of THE FINAL.

They either see it as this mythical thing that can rise grades from the ashes like a phoenix, or they see it as this horrible impassible thing that is going to get them no matter what.

Some of them are repeating algebra because they had a D going into the final and didn’t understand that one test could make so much of a difference.  Alternately, some of them will say ‘I’ll just pass the final!’ as a catch-all any time I suggest they do homework or practice in class.

I hope I can help each student set and stick to a realistic goal.

Q1 Physics Data


My Q1 Objectives:

General Knowledge

GK.1    I can properly use scientific notation.

GK.2    I can properly use significant figures in calculations.

GK.3    I can use dimensional analysis to convert units and check the validity of equations.


Constant Velocity

CV.1    I can differentiate between position, distance and displacement.

CV.2    I can solve problems using constant velocity in one direction.

CV.3    I can draw and interpret graphs and visuals to represent motion with constant velocity.


Constant Acceleration

CA.1    I can draw and interpret graphs and visuals to represent motion with changing velocity.

CA.2    I can describe the motion of an object in words by viewing a velocity-vs-time graph.

CA.3    I can solve problems regarding motion in one direction by using kinematics concepts.


Vector Operations

VO.1    I treat vectors and scalars differently and can distinguish between the two.

VO.2    I can solve problems by graphically adding and subtracting vectors.

VO.3    I can apply the Pythagorean Theorem and tangent function to calculate the magnitude and direction of a resultant vector.

VO.4    I can resolve vectors into components using the sine and cosine functions.


Projectile Motion

PM.1    I can accurately represent a projectile in multiple ways (graphs, diagrams, etc.)

PM.2    I can solve problems involving objects experiencing projectile motion


I decided on these concepts after looking at our textbook and the district curriculum guides:

I also knew that I needed to quiz on each concept at least twice, and offer the students the option to retest at any time.  (Some students did, but those informal quizzes on individual objectives are not included in my quiz schedule down below.)

I ended up giving 10 quizzes this quarter, and aside from Quiz #6 and #10, most quizzes took between 15 and 20 minutes of class time and did not take an entire day of instruction.

My quiz schedule and objective attempt numbers are shown below:


By having all objectives from GK.1 to VO.4 appear more than once, it meant that if a student was absent for a certain quiz, Quiz #6 served as a catch-all makeup for the 1st half of the quarter, and Quiz #10 did the same for the 2nd half.

Students were required to test twice on each objective.  The 1st attempt was on a 6-9 point scale, and the 2nd was on a 6-10 point scale.  After the 2nd attempt, the objective becomes out-of-10 in the grade book instead of out-of-9.  I provided this cushion for two reasons.  The first being that I didn’t want to assign a student a failing grade for their first attempt on an objective on a quiz.  A 6/9 would hold as a passing 67% and give them until the next attempt to improve.  If they received another 6 or did not retest, it would become a 6/10 or a failing 60%.

The second reason is that I did not want to award perfect scores for a first attempt either.  (Especially if I was going to let them keep their highest scores.) A 9/9 on a first attempt would satisfy my honor students, letting them know that their understanding was on track for my expectations, and allowing them to have an A until the next attempt.  Because the questions scale in difficulty, the second attempt question always sets the benchmark for concrete understanding.  So if the student has not made gains in understanding to tackle the increase in difficulty for the 2nd attempt, their 9/9 becomes a 9/10, or a high B grade.  This requires students to maintain their content knowledge after the first attempt.  I think this is a big deal because so many students cram for tests and then let the knowledge slide.

It’s simple:  A-level understanding on the first attempt is not going to be the same as A-level understanding on later attempts.  The class increases in scope and difficulty, and topics are revisited.  Likewise, a lack in knowledge on the first attempt should not lead to a failing grade unless that lack of knowledge continues to be present in later attempts.

We had some very honest discussions in class about what this grading scale means, and what I actually want from them.  Once the students settled into the quizzing schedule, I think they’ve grown to like it.  They are quizzed more often than previous classes I’ve had, but I think that has alleviated some of the test anxiety I used to see.  They are comfortable doing their best, and knowing that they have the safety net of upcoming attempts and ‘pick-your-own’ style quizzes has really relaxed the vibe in my class.

Now, let’s look at the final grades based on objective.  (I’ve sorted each objective from highest to lowest scores so it is easy to see how many students got each grade.)


(Looking back at this, I’ve noticed that the 3rd time is the charm for a lot of students.  I just know we could have gotten better scores on Projectiles with one more attempt!  I will do my best to make sure all objectives get 3 attempts next quarter.)

I love having data like this because I can say “Where does my class excel? and Where do they struggle?”

By looking at CA.2, I can say that my students kick serious butt at reading graphs and determining whether or not acceleration is constant.

But by looking at VO.3 and VO.4, I know that I should probably review vector operations before we start talking about forces.

It feels better than my old system where I would say “Well Chapter 2, Quiz 2 was rough…I guess they have trouble with acceleration?”

Likewise, a student can see this info in the grade book too.  Rather than just ask to retake a vague chapter quiz, they will say “I don’t like my score on *Specific Concept*”  As a teacher, that makes my job a lot easier when the students know exactly what they need to review and what they need to ask of me to help them.

Speaking of individual students, for anonymity’s sake, I mixed the data for both physics classes and sorted by highest grade to lowest to create the table below:


I also added a column that keeps a count of how many of their homework assignments were submitted for feedback.  I don’t assign letter grades to homework (new decision as of this year), but I always recommend practice and offer feedback.

Surprisingly, I’m still seeing a lot of the same all-or-nothing that I saw in my previous classes.  Some students like to have every homework assignment checked over, and some have submitted nothing.

However, these are the highest overall grades I’ve ever given a physics class at the end of 1st quarter.

This got me thinking even more.  So I went back and looked at my previous 2 years of physics classes Q1 grades.  I made an excel column with their given grade, and then a column with just their assessment grade percentage.  (I had been treating tests as 40%, with labs/projects at 30% and homework as 30%)

I discovered than on average, a student’s given grade was 7% higher than their assessment grade.  At the extremes, I had 3 students who managed get a grade that was more than 20% higher than their assessment grade just through homework/project completion.  I also had one student who got a grade that was 27% lower than his assessment grade because he did not do homework.

With the inclusion of non-assessment items in the final grade, I had really diluted the grade as an indicator of a student’s knowledge.  I see students who only passed because they did the homework, and students who only failed because they didn’t.

I was very apprehensive about eliminating the homework grade from physics, but after noticing how much homework could inflate or deflate a grade, and after several run-ins with academic dishonesty from honor students trying to preserve their 4.0 because they were afraid to try and fail on homework, I feel it was the right thing to do.

Changing my class so much this year has been uncomfortable, sure.  I didn’t know if I’d get any students turning in homework simply in exchange for my help.  I didn’t know if they’d truly take advantage of the opportunity to retest.  But they have.

I think my physics students trust me more this year than they ever have.  They are more willing to try and ask for help.  They are more invested in the content because they see it broken into objectives rather than lumped into tests.  The conversation has changed.  I have yet to hear a physics student say, “What can I do to bring up my grade?”  Instead, they are saying, “I need to work on *concept*.  Can you help me?”

I’m using the same notes…same lectures…same labs from last year.  I assign the same problems as last year for practice instead of homework.  All I did was remove the grade and change my assessment format.

If I had known the difference this would make, I would have started last year!

Bathroom Log: A.K.A. The Poop Report


Thanks to to pre-populate this spreadsheet with names during testing!

It’s pretty simple.  Enter all of your students into the appropriate class sheet, and just check them out and in as necessary.

There is also a sheet that lets you edit the list of destinations.

(I have bathroom on top because that is where they usually go.)

There is an Archive sheet that keeps track of every student’s trip that can be easily sorted and copied.

During my regular classes, I am spot-on with keeping track of where students are, but during algebra support, I can easily lose track of time when I work with a small group.

This was inspired by another teacher at my school who is collecting data on bathroom visits, and let’s be honest, I just wanted a good excuse to use a poop emoji.

I’m going to try using this in 5th and 7th hour next week.  Wonder what kind of data I will get.

Feel free to modify and use if you have a need for such things:

Bathroom Log

Engineering Design Process Printables

These were CLEARLY inspired by Sarah’s Eight Mathematical Practices posters.  I originally tried to download her editable powerpoint, but for whatever reason it wasn’t working on my computer.

I am using the design process recommended by Vex Robotics EDR curriculum, so I needed enough shapes for 10 steps.

As my role in the school changes from math teacher to physics/stem teacher, I need to change the focus of my decor.  I lovingly gifted my copy of the mathematical practices to a fellow math teacher, and hope these serve the same purpose in my new role while capturing the aesthetic of the originals.

All Posters as a PDF:


Powerpoint File (Easily Adjusted!)


The Beginning of Year 5

Today was really weird.

So for the past 2-ish weeks, I’ve been at our brand-spanking-new high school building.

I unpacked all of my stuff and made it look presentable.

I put posters everywhere.

I did my pre-planning.

But today the students arrived and it finally became real for me.

This was my new classroom.  These are my new classes.  I have some pretty big changes planned.


Geogebra: Eratosthenes

This year, my school is doing a Bring-Your-Own-Device initiative.  I’m super excited because it means that I can use GeoGebra and Desmos in class!

One of my favorite things to do in Physics is to discuss Eratosthenes’ estimate of Earth’s Circumference.  It’s a good early activity to check how much they remember from Geometry, and show them an example of how math knowledge can be applied to solve real world problems.  I think this year, it will serve as my intro to GeoGebra too!


Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth from his home in Alexandria.  In the city of Syene to the south, there was a deep well that served as a landmark.  Eratosthenes knew that on one day each year, at noon, the sun would be directly overhead, and the water below could be seen.  (This day was the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.)  On this day, in Alexandria, Eratosthenes went out at noon, and observed the shadow of a vertical landmark.  The angle between the base of the landmark and the end of its shadow was measured at 7.2 degrees.  Eratosthenes estimated the distance between Alexandria to Syene, and used these values to make his calculation.

    • We will estimate the distance from Syene to Alexandria as 800 km.
    • We will assume the Earth is a perfect sphere.
    • We are going to ‘guess’ the radius and circumference of the Earth, and use Geogebra to match our situation to Eratosthenes’

Click the picture to go to my Geogebra file

Eratosthenes 1

Extension:  The sun’s rays can be adjusted to show how to solve this problem with shadows in both cities.Eratosthenes 2

The End of Grad School!

I just submitted my last grad school assignment.  Graduation is on Friday, May 13th.

But instead of buying another cap and gown, taking a day off from school and getting up early to drive 2 1/2 hours to the university to walk, I’ve decided to stay with my students.  I’m not one for pomp and circumstance, and I’m not sure I feel that much smarter or experienced.  Maybe I’ll see if my mom wants to go out for dinner.  I’m mostly looking forward to all of the free time I’ll have now that there’s no more homework.

I’d like to thank my students, husband, family, friends and the internet for getting me through.

…mostly my husband though, for listening to all of the complaining.

The Good:

I really enjoyed my Algebra and my Geometry for teachers classes.  I had the same professor for both, and he was very good at taking the bite out of proofs.  I know that I have used a similar approach with my students after taking these classes, and I’ve seen improvement.  I don’t teach Algebra or Geometry, but helping students explain themselves has great merit in the Pre-Algebra and Physics classes.

I also enjoyed my Technology class.  I’m a bit of a geek, so I was worried that this would be a snooze like my Comp Sci requirements during my bachelors.  Even though I had this blog before taking the class, I found out that I was not quite as connected as I could be.  Sure, there were a few ‘gimmicky’ apps with minimal application that were presented, but for the most part it was a collective of teachers working together to use the technology available.  I’m sure if I took the class again, I’d find something new.  I’m not sure if I could say that about any other class I’ve taken.

It was also fun to meet other teachers and experience dorm life from the first time.  I met lots of people with different teaching styles, and it encouraged me to reach out of my comfort zone and be the type of teacher I wanted to be, instead of playing it safe and mimicking my coworkers.  That, in itself has worked wonders on my classroom management and my effectiveness as a teacher.

The Bad:


This thing.  The Action Research Project.  Much like the comic I linked above, it went through 39 revisions.  (My goal was to keep it under 40.  Go Me!)

This project was plagued with little problems.

Because students move in and out of our school district, even though I had 40+ students sign consent forms at the end of Q1, I only had 22 students remaining in the project at the end of Q3.  The last two chapters were hard to write as a result of this small sample size.  Even though my data showed positive changes, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the small sample size was a limiting factor.

I became really sick of getting asked if I was flipping the class.  I thought my students would find the Khan videos boring, and there was no guarantee that students would have computer access outside of my class.  I used this explanation and even put it into my paper, but it still came up at every single meeting, and at the defense.

I also made the silly mistake of requesting to start my thesis project during my first year of graduate school.  I heard that sometimes the thesis takes more than a year, and I did not want to get caught doing my study during my first year in our new school building.  Turns out that my graduate program lost its funding last summer, and they decided to waive the thesis project for everyone who started the same year as me, but hadn’t started the project.  This means that people who started the same summer, not only didn’t have to write a thesis, but didn’t have to take classes during fall or spring (because they were related to the thesis).

I did have to take these classes, because I took thesis classes last year.  So I ended up being the last scraggler to finish a thesis project, one of 2 people in the fall class and the only person in the spring class.  The other students did a smaller project to make up for the credits they missed.  So I got to watch the other people in my program post their diplomas in December, knowing that I still had to take a spring class.  It didn’t work well for my motivation, but I made sure to maintain A’s.

With all of my colleagues being finished, my Saturdays this school year often boiled down to just me and the grad school requirements.  There was nobody working on the same thing to talk to.  I’d never been in such small classes, or so isolated with respect to education.  It felt lonely.

That being said, I feel that this is the most significant thing I produced during my grad school experience.  I might even be a little bit proud of it, and at the end, I’m glad I know how to do solid action research now.  I may even be crazy enough to do it again someday.  (Someday far, far away from today…)

So even though it was really frustrating to be the last one in ‘my group’ to fulfill the graduation requirements, and even though we all walk away with the same degree, I guess I’m happy to have the knowledge of writing the thesis.

The Ugly:

The first summer, we had a Calculus class and a Math/Science connection class that were taught by the same professor who would frequently ‘rage-quit’ problems halfway through.  If, in Calculus, he noticed something wasn’t working out, he became flustered.  Instead of troubleshooting the problem as teacher and class, he would get really angry, erase the board, tell us it was easy, and move on.  Closer to the end of the semester, several students in my class got so fed up with it that they demanded an explanation on a problem and did not want to let him wave it away.  He got so angry and went on an extended rant.  He pretty much told us we were all too stupid to be in the class if we didn’t understand it.

We had a test the next day.  Some students lost an entire letter grade for rounding.  The test never specified how to round or whether or not to take significant digits before.  I got lucky.  I rounded to 2 decimal places out of habit and got an A.

The Math/Science connection class was even sadder.  He simply photocopied a textbook (which I think was originally mathematics as applied to biological sciences) and had us popcorn read.  The class was 2 hours long.  Two hours, three nights a week of listening to other people popcorn read.  Occasionally we would get an assignment.  Regardless of how well we did those assignments, we all got 100% on everything.

When course evaluations came out during that class, he told us everyone was getting A’s before he left the room.  I don’t think offering grades as a bribe helped with his evaluations.  He wasn’t back the next year.

This spring, my biggest complaint is that it has been 42 days since anything has been graded in the class in which I am the only student.  It would be really nice to know if I’ve done well enough to maintain straight A’s before the gradebook closes at midnight.

My other complaint is that the content of the course is mostly busywork.

The Verdict:

Despite one crazy professor, one gigantic paper and some really boring homework assignments, I think that going to grad school was still a good idea.  It feels really cool to know I’ll get my master’s degree before 30, and I feel really lucky that I was able to be a part of a grant-funded program.

And every part of the experience, even the negative, has given me a lot to think about as I progress in my profession.

8/10, would go to grad school again.