one year of #sbar: misconception essays and the midterm exam

yes, it's July and today my plan for the afternoon will be "work on physics assessments!"

Last year was my first year of standards based grading, and I did make my assessments for each set of objectives ahead of time, but I didn't make the midterm or final exams ahead of time.  Here's what ended up happening:

I was crunched for time because the first semester always goes by so quickly, and I had started a unit on lenses that I wouldn't have time to assess before the midterm exam came around.  So I just lumped the first assessment for lenses in with the rest of the objectives on the midterm exam.  The exam consisted of one or two multiple choice questions for each objective (mostly taken from previous assessments) and four or five essay questions, published ahead of time with a word bank.

yeah, I made some mistakes there that I wouldn't want to repeat.

For one, the midterm exam is no place for first assessments on any objectives.  Summative exams should be only another opportunity to demonstrate  mastery, not the first or only chance.

Another was the heavy use of multiple choice questions.  Multiple choice questions can tell me some things, but they can't give me the kinds of evidence I want or need to assess intermediate and advanced level objectives.

My saving grace was the fact that, due to quirks of our calendar, there are two more weeks in the first semester when we come back to school in January.  We used to have midterms in January, but since we've moved them to December the end of the first semester has stayed in mid-January.  I used that time for feedback on the midterm exams and a type of reassessments I called misconception essays.

Misconception essays start with the student stating a particular misconception someone could have about the objective they want to demonstrate.  Sometimes it was a misconception that particular student held, but other times they had to put themselves in the mind of another person.  It had to be a reasonable misconception, I told them.  There has to be a reason someone might believe this misconception, like a personal experience they had that led them to believe this.  It can't be a case of "they don't know because they're stupid."

In the rest of the essay the students would debunk this myth or misconception, and then explain the correct physics behind whatever objective or phenomena they were describing.  I loved reading these because students couldn't just paraphrase the textbook's explanation and say they knew it, they really had to analyze and explain why one thing was correct and another thing wasn't.

Often their "correct" explanations would show me even deeper misconceptions they held, but were never highlighted because they always said the "right answer" in class but had been using faulty logic to get there.

In any case,  a poorly planned midterm exam led me to a really cool reassessment in the misconception essays.  I had students asking to them them many times during the second semester, and they often used them to clarify their thinking.  But after lunch -- next year's assessments!

it's summer, so here's a picture of a butterfly

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