Background: My calculus class has been going pretty well
these last few years. Last spring I
redid some videos on the lessons that students struggled with and that made a
big change for that chapter in how student did on their test. Their learning of the material greatly
increased; my test proficiencies for that chapter increased from 58% to
100%. I define proficiency as the number
of students that are at 80% or above on their assessments.
But over the last four years, I have
noticed students’ grades typically dropped in the second half of the class. On average, students who had below a 94% at
the halfway mark would drop on average 3.57% in their overall grade. Students who had above a 94% at the halfway
mark would drop on average 1.35% in their overall grade. I figured it was because the last half of the
course was significantly harder (volumes of revolution, integration by parts,
and doing calculus on transcendental functions) and initially dismissed it as
something out of my control because of the difficulty of the material.
The Change: This fall when I taught the class, I decided
I would require students who were below a 97% in the class to do “daily
problems” and turn them in every day.
The daily problems were three or four questions that student needed to
turn in before school every day except on test days. This is different from my normal assignments
that students do where they have access to the solutions manual and can always
check their work, but for these daily problems there was no solutions manual
for them to use to see if they were right.
Students would turn these daily problems in before school. If they got them all right, that was
great. If not, then they would get the
problems back and have to do corrections before the end of class. If students did not do the problems or did
not get the correction problems turned in, then they had to “hang out” with me
during their lunch and do calculus.
This change did a couple of
things. It was a reality check for the
students to see if they really did understand the material without looking at
the answers and for me to know which students were struggling with the material
or which students I needed to work with more to help them understand the
material. This was a good check for
understanding for the students since this class does not have quizzes and is
based mainly on their tests grades and final.
The Results: So, what are the results of this one small change? Well, 80% of the students found the daily
problems helpful in understanding the material better. But better yet is what happened to students’
grades from halfway through the class to the end of the class. Instead of student grades dropping by 1.35%
to 3.57%, the students’ grades actually went up by 0.25% to 0.56% even though
the material was significantly harder.
Another great thing that happened was the number of “A’s” rose
significantly from 43% to 76%. The
number of “B’s” dropped because a lot of students went from the “B” range to
the “A” range. This change also kept a
couple of my “B” students from dropping into the “C” range.
Calculus has a difficult reputation,
even among math teachers. When I shared my findings with a colleague, he replied,
"And Faulkner’s Calc ain't no cakewalk. Wow.” His reaction certainly helped validate the
positive impact this small change has had.
Since I am a dataguy, here is the
summary data of the big changes:
Fall
2013

Prior
Classes


Change
in grade if < 94% @ halfway

0.56

3.57

Change
in grade if > 94% @ halfway

0.25

1.35

This small change impacting students
also had an impact on me. I was reminded
that “change” doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking or a massive “redo”; small
things can also greatly impact student learning in more ways than I could have
imagined. I was reminded once again that
the journey is all about continuous improvement, for students and teachers.
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