MAAthfest 2018

Right now I’m in Denver, Colorado at the MAA’s annual Mathfest. Mathfest is fantastic, and every time I come I tell myself I should come back every year. Check out the Twitter hashtag #MAAthfest to see some of what’s going on.

I’m here to give to talks — one was yesterday and the other is this afternoon. Both are on the topic of non-traditional grading (or mastery grading), which I’ve written a lot about in the past. Here are copies of my slides:

I think my take-away message of both presentations is the same, and it’s the following:

Kate’s Grading Philosophy: Grades should reflect student knowledge and should have a positive effect on student learning.

Standards-based grading is the way I’ve decided to build this philosophy into my courses. Since I’ve written about my implementation in the past, now I’ll describe something I want to do in the future.

I want to implement some kind of portfolio assignment for students to show off their homework solutions. I imagine letting each student pick her best/favorite solution for each course standard, and gathering them all up together, for an end-of-term “look at all the stuff I’ve learned!” binder. This project would fit into course grades as a “grade modifier” on top of a “base grade”. The base grade would come from performance on standards on normal assessments (exams, quizzes, etc) and would be a typical letter grade (A, B, C, …). The performance on the portfolio would modify a B-grade into B-, B, or B+, depending. My rationale for implementing this project is (a) to have the students work on a single thing throughout the term, with changes for feedback, revision, drafting; and (b) to motivate them to work on homework problems or even more difficult problems that aren’t necessarily accessible in an in-class assessment.

My fear is by doing this, I’m asking dozens of students to hand me dozens of problems to review, right at the time that the clock starts speeding up for me to get my final grades submitted. Also, this is probably going to be at the same time that I have to write and grade final exams, and also tackle all of the re-assessments that students are excited to tackle at the very and absolutely last second possible. Until I find some way to schedule my way out of a complete grading nightmare, my portfolio idea is going to be on hold.

4 thoughts on “MAAthfest 2018

  1. Kate,

    Just stumbled across your blog post. I love the portfolio idea and have been sitting here trying to figure out how the grading could be done reasonably with minimal pain to the instructor.

    I wonder…

    I took a bio class in undergrad where we had to create a portfolio of I think 100 pressed plant specimens. The way the grading worked was if we had less than 100 distinct specimens at the end of the semester we got a zero on the assignment. But, we had the opportunity all semester to be “signed off” on each plant specimen as we collected/prepared it. This meant that by the end of the semester each student had only a few specimens that hadn’t already been “graded”.

    I wonder if something similar would work with your portfolio idea. i.e. could you “sign off” on portfolio items throughout the semester so that the final grading was simply an assessment of the quality of the portfolio as a whole?

    • That’s a great idea. I’ll have to digest it and think about how I could get it to work. Thanks! I’ll keep you posted on how things turn out…

  2. You know all students crave more points at the end of the semester. Can you upend this by making the portfolio assignment due in the middle?
    Or a celebration of their learning progress, maybe one standard with verbal analysis of their increasing understanding and a conclusion about how they learned mathematics? One page for them, one page for you.
    I’m just spitballing, of course, my plus grades are based on something else. I hope to see you post your trials.

    • Thanks for the idea! I still haven’t figured out my whole plan. Basically, I want a way for them to gather together solutions to problems that are too involved to be on a quiz or exam. And my thought was to do it at the end because then they could pick from material spanning the entire semester, but (in theory) would be working on solutions a little at a time from the start to end of the course — rather than cramming and trying to tackle all at once at the end.

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