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Friday, May 3, 2013

Innumeracy: An Affliction?

As an English teacher, I'm supposed to be concerned with kinds of literacy, not numeracy. Nevertheless, I remain concerned by the lack of math savvy of many of my students. Could this be why there's a student loan problem?

Our realtor informed us--with a sly look--that he had checked out our ratings on Rate my Professor. Not surprisingly, I am liked a lot or disliked--with no middle. The more mellow Mr FS has less love, but also less dislike. Being a sensitive sort, I haven't checked out my ratings. Mr FS did though and came to me with a surprising comment.

A lot of students complain that there "aren't enough points" in my class. Because students were having trouble with the traditional ABC and then having trouble with 85% and 78% etc (because they couldn't figure out how to compute an 85% of an assignment worth 20% of their grade), I simplified. Each assignment is now worth what it is worth out of 100 points. We have a 25% exam and a 20% project and so on. Add up all the points and you have your grade, on a ten point scale. Easy-peasy, or so I thought.

I have heard mutterings from anxious students that assignments weren't "worth enough" and that they wished they could get "more points." Mr FS suggested that I multiply by 10: each assignment is worth--instead of 20 or 25 points out of 100--200 or 250 points out of 1000. I had thought that would be unnecessarily complicated, but...if that's what they want, that's what I'll try.

Is it just a psychological issue to think an assignment worth 250 points out of 1000 is "worth more" than 25 points out of 100? Or is something else going on?

Have you ever encountered similar math issues?


Duchesse said...

When I read "not enough points" I thought they were asking for more assignment options, aka the concept of extra work for extra credit. It is an intriguing concept to me that I could get, say 30 points by either writing one 30-point essay or taking three 10-point multiple choice tests.

Why not ask the class (at the beginning of the year) what they want, a 100 point or 1000 point scale?

My own math skills have eroded shockingly thanks to all the widgets available and disuse. (I have not done a quadratic equation for over 40 years!) Like cursive writing, I suspect some basic functions will be handled entirely by calculators except for the realm of math students.

Diane said...

Yes, Frugal Scholar, the 1000-point system is better! My grading evolved to this and it is much, much easier for students to understand. I am not sure why. I teach in a math-challenged field, too, and somehow 1000 points is less constricted psychologically than 100. And it really doesn't matter to me as long as it works. Frees me and the students up for what's important -- content in the class.

Remy @MLISunderstanding said...

I appreciate a larger total number of points because it's often easier to earn a better grade. For example, an assignment worth 10 points can be graded with an 8 or a 9 out of 10. That is, an 80% or a 90% -- and there's a lot of difference between the two! What about the borderline? (I don't think I've seen anyone return an 8.5 or an 8.2 on that sort of scale.) Instructors grading the same assignment out of a total of 100 points can assign 80, 81, 82... 90. The larger total allows for greater finesse in grading and perhaps a higher grade overall.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--I have a lot of assignments--in fact, I can hardly handle them! I can't remember how to do a quadratic equation either!

@Diane--Thanks for the comment. I will change my ways and report back.

@Remy--Yes, but it can go the other way too. See today's post.