As a previously shared, I am not making many changes in Honors Physics this semester. However, we are making two significant changes related to homework. Despite my strong belief in standards-based assessment and reporting philosophy, I have always provided some credit for completing homework. I’ve previously shared my attempt to justify this policy.
To minimize the overhead of checking homework and discourage blatant copying, we use WebAssign for homework. It worked well and certainly didn’t require much effort once I had created the problem sets. However, at the end of this semester a huge problem hit my colleague and I like a brick wall:
You get what you reward.
We rewarded a student submitting the correct answer for 80% of the homework problems in WebAssign and that is exactly what we got.
The behavior that we were unintentionally rewarding began to become clear when I would help students outside of class. The dialog would go like this:
S: “Mr. Schmit, I have a question about a homework problem. Can you help me?”
Me: “Of course! Let me see your notebook and what you have so far.”
S: “It is problem number 38. I’ll show you in the text.”
Me: “Okay, but let me see what you have written down so far.”
S: blank look
Me: “Let me see your sketch, diagram, list of givens, equation with variables, substitution of values with units, â€¦”
S: blank look
S: I just solve the problem on WebAssign.
Me: blank look
S: I just type the numbers into my calculator and enter the final answer in WebAssign.
While I don’t have this conversation with every student, it is not at all uncommon. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, the students are exhibiting the exact behavior that I’m rewarding.
So, this semester, no credit for homework. None. I will still create homework assignments on WebAssign since students do like to check their answers or to ask for another version of the same problem for practice. This change will at least stop rewarding the behaviors we don’t want.
While hopefully students’ experiences during the fall semester will be sufficient to encourage them to adopt robust and organized problem solving methods, I realize it won’t for everyone. So, the second change that we are making is that before reassessment a student must show me clear, detailed, and robust solutions to the homework problems related to that standard.
Yes, I realize that many of you have been doing exactly this from day one. I’m a bit slow to catch on as it took me two and a half years. Better late than never.
As a humorous endnote, one student solved a circular-motion, car-on-banked-curve problem on the semester final exam without showing any work at all. He wrote a note about how he did the whole thing on his calculator and didn’t expect any credit. He also noted how it would be quite ironic if he got the answer wrong. He didn’t.