Saturday, January 10, 2009
I don't give too many big tests in calculus, mainly because I have trouble keeping quiet for two periods in a row. But, I also don't like to over stress the kids. I feel if they made it to AP calculus, they paid their dues. Now, it is their turn to learn without stressing about grades. So, instead of 100 point major tests, I give quite a few little exams (one period) and take-home exams. Each short answer question is worth 1 point and the long questions are worth 9 points. I try to keep AP standards when I mark and, when I am in doubt, I just mark the question wrong. At the end of the marking period, I add up all the points and figure out some sort of curve. No one who is working gets under an 85 and almost all the grades are between 85 and 95. The kids don't really know how they are doing until they get their report cards. The only thing I tell them when I go over an exam is the class average so they can see how they did compared to everyone else. The AP exam is marked on a big curve. To get a 5, they can score 70 out of 108 points (sometimes more, sometimes less.) These kids are not used to not being able to complete an exam and they are certainly not used to not knowing everything on it, so calculus is a new experience for them.
The most important thing I try to teach my students is how to think. They learn the basic skills but the application of these skills is a killer. No two problems are the same. In the past, they memorized materials taught in class and regurgitated it all on an exam without real understanding. They hate thinking.
Our midterm is coming up. It will be a double period exam. During the first period, they will be given calculator problems and during the second no calculator is permitted. I know the test is hard and long. Most won't finish. But, they have to learn to budget their time and they have to know that skipping a few 1-point questions won't harm their scores.
I've been spending this week reviewing. I even stayed two hours after school helping them yesterday and today. They are upset because I won't tell them exactly what is on the exam. I won't give them review sheets.
My students are smart but, they are kids. They are not as energetic as they ought to be. They won't work too hard if they think they can cram it all at the last minute. I have to toughen them up now, so they can succeed in May. I know my methods work. Last year, I had over 90% of my class pass with grades primarily of 4's and 5's. They walk out of the exam and tell me how much easier it was than anything I gave them to do all semester. I know its not easy. I've just gotten them to do the unthinkable. I've gotten them to think.
I know the grades on the midterm will not be good, but that is okay. It is only January. By May, they will be ready. I have a good group this term. I know they will succeed.