Day 57: Final Exams

Today and tomorrow are final exams for first trimester, so both my classes are testing in 90 minute blocks.

Physical Science

I made my final a two-stage collaborative exam. Students start with an individual portion that includes conceptual questions for all of the learning targets we’ve done this trimester. Once everyone was done, I put them in assigned groups of three for the collaborative portion, which includes fewer, but generally a little more conceptually challenging, questions. The collaborative portion counts for 25% of their final exam grade.

There are two big reasons I like the two stage collaborative exams. First, from a practical standpoint, they provide a way for students to get immediate feedback; many students figure out mistakes they made in the individual portion as they work on the group portion. Since I won’t be teaching any of these students next trimester, it will be tough for me to give them any feedback on their finals beyond a score. Second, the course is structured to be very collaborative, with students spending most of their time working in groups and discussing ideas with each other. It makes for an odd dichotomy when students are encouraged to rely on each other and discuss points of confusion when it comes to everything but the final, so the two-stage collaborative exam feels more in-line with the rest of the course.

I was also pleased by how many students recognized the reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I’d put on the cover, though I did get chided for coming up short of 42 questions.



After the other physics teacher and I talked about the final, we agreed to take an approach he’s used in the past and use the final as one last retake opportunity. The final includes questions for each learning target for the course, and students are expected to complete every question. Based on their performance, their score for a given target can go up one level, down one level, or stay the same. Our goal is to base grades on where students are at now, rather than where they were in September.

Most students reacted positively to this approach and are feeling very confident since the Modeling Instruction curriculum does a really nice job of spiraling and linking content, so students never get a chance to be “done” with a concept or skill. A few students have let me know that they see the final as making their earlier quizzes and retakes worthless. That tells me I need to work on improving the feedback I put on the quizzes and on teaching my students how to effectively use their quizzes as a learning tool.

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