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Effort vs Luck

Now that we are out of September, my students have enough work to do outside of class that I don’t need to assign any specific homework. Still, this view of in-class and out-of-class work is a huge paradigm shift for my students. Do they still have physics homework if there’s never anything “due” or that needs to be turned in the next day? When and how should they work on physics outside of class? Are they supposed to be working on physics outside of class at all (one of my students would almost certainly say no to that as he keeps leaving his binder in the classroom every day)?

I haven’t given them a lot of guidance yet about our whole cycle of assessment and learning. It is becoming clear that I need to talk more specifically with them as they start to think about (and ask for) extra tests. On a couple of recent extra test applications, I got comments like the following:

I didn’t do so well on these objectives last time because:
The question lacked clarity


Since the last assessment, I’ve done some practice on these skills. In addition to making corrections, I have also done these specific things and will bring this work to show you when I assess: I have reviewed my notes and I think a differently worded problem might help.

In both of these cases, the students misinterpreted one small aspect of the problem (which direction a block was being pushed), but they also had many mistakes that were not connected to the misinterpretation. They didn’t show calculations, or they didn’t make the forces balanced for an object at rest, or they didn’t use proper variables, etc. Their first reaction, though? It was a “bad question” because they didn’t answer the question being asked. The “bad question” idea makes it attractive to not analyze the mistakes that they did make, to not practice (after all, on a “good question” they may well get it right!), and to distance themselves from their own work.

Uh oh.

I’ve seen this story play out before. The student who wants to just try again (and again and again and again) because they just know that they know it (despite the soon mountainous amount of evidence to the contrary). No breaks in between for practice. No analysis of why they were failing in each attempt. Eventually, they must be thinking, their luck will change and they will get a better question.

So it must be time to start giving them that guidance. Practice for physics, but never study. Time to start learning how to pick apart your errors. Always make corrections on your tests/quizzes. Time to start figuring out how to structure your own practice.

To that end, I’ve started working on a graphic that will help them think about their in-class/out-of-class work. I’m too wordy in my emails, and I know that they won’t get read carefully. A visual representation might help.

First attempt at a visual organizer for how students spend their time in physics class.

Here’s my first draft. I’m not sure whether I should put more information about how/when to practice, how/when to analyze mistakes, how/when to apply for an extra test, etc. I have some more writing of college letters to do, so I’ll get back to fixing up this image after that. But until then… comments? Suggestions?

About Kelly O'Shea

I teach high school kids physics at an independent day school in NYC. Less homework, more thinking. Follow @kellyoshea


14 thoughts on “Effort vs Luck

  1. I like how this is laid out…I think you should keep it as simple as possible. You could provide links or QR codes to information like test requests along the bottom.

    Posted by Mark Davis | October 10, 2011, 3:14 PM
  2. Hi Kelly, I’m wrestling with this too. Joss Ives posted some ideas about modeling quiz corrections by explicitly discussing poor examples as well as good ones. I tried it the other day in class and on the quiz corrections I’ve received, no one has written “I learned to read the question more carefully.”


    Keep us posted…

    Posted by Mylène | October 10, 2011, 6:55 PM
    • I actually accept the “I learned to read the question more carefully” on my quiz corrections if they do a good job of running me through their thinking (my “diagnosis phase”) that lead to the answer they chose based on their incorrect reading of the question. I’m not too sure what more I can ask of them in these cases.

      Posted by Joss Ives | October 12, 2011, 12:20 AM
      • I think it is pretty clear from talking to these kids (and the subsequent emails) that they don’t think they need to read more carefully (or, the real problem… that they just haven’t practiced enough yet to know what forces are acting in a certain situation). Fixed mindset to the extreme!

        Posted by Kelly O'Shea | October 12, 2011, 6:41 AM
        • Make no mistake, I get some some fixed mindset submissions too, but the majority of the submissions are giving me feedback that suggests that they are taking advantage of their mistakes (even if they are simply errors in reading) in a way that leads to improved physics understanding.

          Posted by Joss Ives | October 12, 2011, 2:00 PM
    • Mylene, how are you using these quiz corrections in your SBG-implementation? Do they have to do them as part of evidence for work they have put in for reassessment?

      Posted by Joss Ives | October 12, 2011, 2:01 PM
  3. I would add “check understanding with teacher” or “ask teacher questions” as an additional step. Some of my students do the out-of-class work but don’t fully appreciate their incomplete understanding until I ask them specific probing questions. That is, they, at times, mislead themselves with their ability to self assess.

    Posted by Geoff Schmit | October 11, 2011, 11:51 PM
  4. Hi Kelly,

    I love the guide, plan on stealing it. I know I have a tendency to over-complicate flowcharts with little sub-loops and contingencies, I enjoy the clarity of yours.

    What software did you use to create the flowchart? And I keep meaning to ask you, what do you use for your reassessment requests? What questions do you have them answer?


    Posted by Conor Buechler | October 17, 2011, 10:13 AM

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