Participation Points: A Statistical Analysis

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk about Participation Points at the Global Math Conference, and I didn’t receive a whole lot of immediate feedback like I thought I would have.  Perhaps I didn’t explain it well, or perhaps people were fed up with me taking more than my allotted 5-10 minutes, or because of the fact that I was very late due to a Tennis match running late.  Whatever it was, I was expecting tons of questions and got just a few.  One question I’ve been asking myself since I started this, 3/4 of a year ago, was “Will this work?”.  By that, I mean “Am I prompting and creating in students the right kind of study habits to help students learn my material and to help students when they leave my class?”

In an SBG (Standards Based Grading) classroom, students must get the concept of “In order to make a good grade here, I have to show the teacher that I understand.”  I hope that my quizzes and tests motivate that attitude in my students, but I also want my classroom to address those issues that SBG doesn’t directly address (SBG advocates would probably argue that these issues are indirectly addressed, and that this is a better way to do things).

Now that it’s been going on for 3/4 of a year, I have data that could perhaps attempt to answer that question: I can ask the question “Has this been working?” I’ve got a running tally of students’ participation points, test & quiz scores, and overall grade, which I could plot and look for relationships.  I got the idea because in Precalculus, we’ve been going through regression lines and correlations, though now we’re about a week past that, and I have no idea why I didn’t think of this sooner.

The question that this data probably most accurately answers is “If you do Participation Points in my class, will your test & quizzes grade reflect that?” and the more obvious “If you do Participation Points in my class, will your overall grade reflect that?”.  I’ve plotted, on the same graph for convenience and comparison, “Participation Points vs Test & Quiz Grade,” and “Participation Points vs Overall Grade.”

PPs vs Grade

Yes, I showed this to my Precalculus classes, and yes, we had a great discussion not only about what the data means, but what that should mean for a students’ study/work habits in my class.  We also created graphs for their own class, so they could see if the trend was true for just their class.

Now before I go much further, let me warn you that I never took a statistics course until required to by my Education Grad school (I got a BS and an MA in Math without having to take a single statistics course–not even in high school!), and so I suppose this is one part of statistics that I just can’t stand (or I don’t have a good idea about and so act like I can’t stand it).  My question to myself and to my students is “What does this data mean?!?”  We know that R^2 being close 1 means that they are “more correlated” and that is a good thing, but I find that I simply cannot answer the question “Do participation points help me with my test scores?”  Or if I try to answer it, I get some answer like “maybe” or “sort of”.

What’s nice is we can discuss practical things, such as “hey, if you averaged 110 points for Participation Points, then the lowest you would have made is an 89, or a B+!” (Yes, I know I have to be careful with my language because that’s actually not true–just because it was true for students in the past does not mean it would have been true for anyone under any circumstances).  So yes, we discussed a handful of those points and observations, but when it comes down to it in the end, statistics simply cannot answer questions as elegantly as algebra problems can.

There is enough of a correlation there for me to be happy with participation points.  There are far too many variables going into this to expect a 1:1 correlation of Participation Points to understanding.  Often the Participation Points are a way for me to give confidence to those students who do not often experience that in a sit-down, pencil-and-paper assessment such as a test or a quiz, and my hope is that the confidence I am giving them will translate to a better work ethic.

Thoughts, ideas, or questions?  Please, I want feedback on this idea because otherwise I’m an island of teaching out here going in many wrong directions on my own!



Filed under Teaching

2 responses to “Participation Points: A Statistical Analysis

  1. Been a long time since I stretched my old statistical muscles gained by arduous work in an econometrics course. I was surprised to find that I even remembered what the R^2 indicator meant 🙂

    Anywho, great post!

    Julien Haller

  2. Pingback: Start of Year Difficulties | Hilbert's Hotel

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