Math 113 - Spring 2013 Grades

This course is going to be different from most of your previous mathematics courses. In an algebra course, you had nightly homework and then didn't see the material again until the exam. In this course, we will not have exams, but are going to use projects to learn the material. You will be exposed to the same material several times in different projects. The problem with a project based course is that it is difficult to predict how long a project will take. In past semesters, we have taken as long as we needed to finish a project, but students lost interest after spending 6 weeks talking about one thing. This semester, we'll break them up into shorter projects and cover less material in them.

Classroom Response System

A portion of your grade will be based on an assessment of your learning through a classroom response system called Question Press.

Some of you might have heard of clickers before. I believe that Professor Stokes uses them in Biology and that some of the Health Professions instructors use them as well. A normal classroom response system involves having students use clickers (a device similar to a remote control) where they can answer a multiple choice question. These can be anonymous or the response can be tied to a particular remote. Students must check-out a unit or buy their own and management becomes difficult for the instructor; so many faculty are initially enthused and then that enthusiasm quickly wanes.

Question Press extends that so that any device capable of browsing the web can be used. It also allows for much more than just true/false or multiple choice responses. It appears to take all of the benefits and remove the problems of a clicker system. It does require a device to access the web, but we're in a classroom with computers, so that is not an issue in this course. The one thing that Question Press does not do is give partial credit. In a multiple choice question, that's not a problem, but in a numerical response, you'll need to pay attention to the instructions on how to format your answer.

Concepts – 50% of grade

This portion of your grade is based on an graded assessments through Question Press.

In a traditional course, the instructor wants to see whether or not the students have learned the material. The method they use to do this is a quiz or an exam. These exams are spaced out so that there may only be a handful of them throughout the semester and a student may have to remember a month's worth of knowledge. This method actually encourages students to cram for exams and procrastinate doing their work until the due date. The instructor is often unaware of whether the students are learning the material until the exam, at which point it is too late to do anything about it. None of these are beneficial for learning.

In contrast, this semester will employ an interactive approach to learning. There will be no major exams. Instead, we will use Question Press on an almost daily basis to determine your understanding of the concepts. This has the benefit of providing immediate to the instructor and student. The student will know right away whether or not they are getting the material and the instructor will know whether or not he needs to spend more time explaining things or can move on to another topic. Students are unable to cram for an exam because there are no exams. This also means that they cannot put off studying until the exam, they need to to keep on top of things as they go. These are all beneficial to learning.

Because of the interactive nature of the classroom response system, the questions cannot be made up if the student is absent or working on other things during class. This is also beneficial to learning as it encourages attendance and paying attention in class.

"Interactive nature" means that the questions are not self-contained as they would be on a traditional exam.  For example, there have been quizzes where every question is "What is the answer?" and you have to be paying attention in class to know the question.

The instructor believes that a student needs to be in class every class period. That said, sometimes things arise and a student must miss class. Some students appreciate knowing the dates of exams so they can work their schedule around those, so not having exams makes that more difficult. Some instructors who give many quizzes will do things like throw out the two lowest quizzes to allow for their "no make-up" policy. That is going to be difficult in this class as the quizzes are not uniform in length or points. Sometimes we may have 3 questions worth 15 points and another day have 20 questions worth 40 points.

To address these concerns, the instructor is going to use a 10% grace factor on concept-based points. The instructor doesn't really like the concept of "extra credit", so think of it as the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). You've all seen those commercials on TV that advertise a $179 value for $19.99 and if you act within the next 8 minutes, they'll double your order ... just pay shipping and handling. Or when you buy a car, the manufacturer suggests one thing, but that's just a negotiating point, you'll get it for something less from the dealer. The MSRP is what its "claimed value" is, but we know we're going to get a discount. In this class, that discount is automatic. For every 10 points a quiz is worth, you only pay for 9 of them.

In other words, if you have a quiz worth 50 points, it goes in the grade book as being worth 45 points. You can earn 50 points on it, but only 45 count towards the possible points. In other words, for every 10 possible points, you can think of one of those as being extra credit.

There is no way of knowing how many points we're going to have when this is all done. Many of the questions will be made up on the spot as the instructor gives their lecture. The way to handle this is to weight this portion of your grade as a percent. This portion will make up 50% of your grade in the class.

Projects – 40% of grade

Projects will be the main learning tool for the course. We will gather a real set of data, describe it, analyze it, and draw conclusions about it. We will take a couple of weeks to complete a project and then move one to the next project.

Considerable class time will be spent working on the projects. Towards the beginning of the semester, we will work through things as a class to get you comfortable using the technology. Later in the class, more time will be spent covering material and we'll start the project in class and then you'll need to finish it outside of class.

The various projects will be worth different amounts of points and it is unknown how many projects we will have. This makes it impossible to determine how many points of projects we'll have, so we'll use a percent based value instead. The projects will be worth 40% of your grade in the class.

Individual Projects

Some of the projects in this course will be individual. These will primarily be towards the beginning of the semester when you are learning the technology that we're going to be using. They will typically be shorter and less involved than the group projects.

Group Projects

Some of the projects in this course will be group based. Most of these will occur towards the end of the semester and be longer than the individual projects.

Groups are assigned the day we start a project, which means that you will be working with different people with each project.  Groups are randomly assigned and so it is likely that you will get teamed with the someone more than once.  This also gives you a chance to work with different people and to get an idea of their strengths and weaknesses before you start picking teams yourself.

In particular, there will be a capstone project where you go out and collect your own data, write a paper detailing the results, and then present your findings to the class. This capstone project will be used to show what you've learned throughout the entire course.


There will be some individual and group projects that are designed to be very quick, possibly taking only one or two class periods. They will involve taking a problem from start to finish in as short of time as possible and with as little direction from the instructor as possible. They are your opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the material. Because of the short time frame and limited opportunity for absent students to make up work, these are graded differently than the full-length projects. If you miss class for one of these mini-projects, then your grade on the project will be adjusted according to how much class you've missed.

Groups are assigned the day we start a project.  For a single-day project, that means that you don't have a group.  So, if you miss class on that day, you have done none of the project, which means your grade will be a zero.  This would be a good time to take advantage of the "late work" policy and at least get some points.

Participation – 10% of grade

This is similar to the concepts portion, which is worth 50% of your grade in the class.

The problem with the concepts portion is that there has to be a "right answer" to grade things and sometimes there just isn't a right answer to a question. For instance, consider questions like "Which President on Mt. Rushmore do you like the most ...Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Roosevelt?" or "Have you ever smoked marijuana?" There are no right answers to those, so we can't grade the correctness of the question to give points for understanding a concept.

Other times, the assessment may be used during the instruction of a new topic. It wouldn't really be fair to assign points based on something we just started covering (unless you've been asked to read about it ahead of time), so a non-graded option is best in this case.

The participation portion of your grade is meant to address these situations. Basically, if you're in your seat, paying attention, and answer the question, then you get the points.

Some might wander why you should get points for doing this. Others are saying, I don't care, they're free points, but they should count towards more of my grade. Despite what you think, you are participating in class just by answering those questions. The instructor can use them to determine where the class is and whether mastery of a topic has been achieved or more time needs spent on the current topic. If the 90% of a the class is getting something, then the other 10% might need to meet with the instructor outside of class to get caught up.

But the good news is that you'll know right away whether or not you're getting the information.