Tag Archives: Participation Points

Memes for Participation Points

Over the break I had a new participation points idea, and I’m excited to see where the students take it.

I’m not really sure of the history of internet memes, but I know that they’re still pretty big among HS students right now.  I’ve always been impressed with teachers on other blogs who can use these and incorporate them into their classes, yet are still pretty funny.  So I thought I’d challenge my students to make some up on their own.

My rules (1) it’s got to be related to our class, and (2) it should be funny.  Even more than simply being related to class, it should show that a student understands something in class.  For Chemistry, I’ll give a comparison.

Side note: I simply found these, I did not make them!  I got them from memegenerator.net, the website I directed my students to make up their own.  [1]

Here are two examples I gave students:





While both memes are funny, the first doesn’t require any knowledge or understanding of Chemistry beyond the fact that Argon is an element.  However, the second requires that you know that covalent bonds share electrons whereas ionic bonds “take” electrons.  So I would probably give 10 participation points for the first and 20 (the full value) for the second.

They can only turn in 1 meme a week, although they can make as many online as they’d like.  If they go digging and find some obscure one that I’ve never seen, I’d probably be fine with that since one of my goals is to collect more memes.  I just don’t want 30 copies of the same meme from different students or I won’t be giving anyone credit.  But if a student finds an obscure meme, and understands it’s significance with respect to what we’ve been learning, then I say “mission accomplished”.


[1] Be careful sending students here because there’s no filter on the stuff that’s put there.  I teach Jr’s and Sr’s in HS, so I tell them to be careful because the site isn’t PG.  I expect that those students who find R-rated stuff on this website have already seen similar R-rated stuff online.


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Popsicle Sticks: A Tip

Many teachers, myself included, use Popsicle sticks (in a coffee mug) to select students randomly.  I still think it’s a great idea, but you have to be careful of one thing.

My Tip

Add positive incentives to the Popsicle sticks.  My first year I only used them to call on students to answer questions, often difficult ones when nobody was talking in class.  This created a negative vibe around the sticks and I could almost feel the negative energy emanating from the mug when I reached for it.  Students would come to dread the clink-clink of me shuffling the sticks in the mug.

This year one student even added several more of her name to the mug! I caught her (I *think* she was only joking), so she didn’t benefit from it, but it made me realize that I had done something, almost by accident, that turned out to be a very good thing for my class.  Why was she adding her name more times?  Well, I still use it to call on students, but I suppose the good outweighed the bad to the point that she wanted to add her name & increase the chances of my drawing her name.  You see, I also use the sticks to call on “homework writers” and select “best notes”–positions that students can earn participation points if they’ve been doing their HW and taking notes in class.

Even if you don’t use that system in class, I don’t care if you have to draw a Popsicle stick out and give candy away to make them positive–you should definitely help students to associate that sound more positively so they don’t dread being called on so much.  It has certainly helped my classroom become a more positive place this year.

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Daily Student Blog Reflections: I’m Learning, Can They?

My Observation

I have learned SO much this year from blogging and (especially) from reading blogs.  Well, if I’ve learned so much through this specific kind of reflection, shouldn’t my students be able to learn from it?  I’ve seen websites that mention blogging for students, but I never really considered what the students should blog about that would be worthwhile, especially in math.

My Problem

One thing I’m really bad about are “summary activities”.  My previous AP explained to me that if students’ minds are like boxes, then ticket-outs (or some other summary activity) at the end of the period are the keys which “lock the box and keep the information inside”.  I’m not so sure about the metaphor, but I do know that if I could encourage students to reflect and/or think about the lesson in its entirety at the end of each period, their recall ability the next day would most likely increase.

A Solution

So why not kill 2 birds with one stone?  Have students reflect AND think about the entire lesson through blogging?  Right now my tentative plan, when we return from spring break, is to have students get the iPads the last 5 minutes of class (we’ll begin with the last 10 minutes until they get the hang of blogging–oh, and I’ll have to give them class time Monday to set up their blogs).

Initially, I put this idea into the filing cabinet of “going to try next year”, but that’s getting over-stuffed, and I think students this year could benefit right away.  One comment I received back was “create more opportunities for Participation Points“.  I guarantee that students will complain “it’s not worth it!” for the amount of points I’ll give them, but they just want my class to be easier and I’m not going to give in to that silly nonsense.

My Example

I quickly created an example blog using blogger and my Google account (to make sure this is something that can be done quickly), and I created a series of posts where I gave examples of differing quality posts.  Because posting simply accumulates PPs for the students, they have the freedom to choose the frequency and the quality of their posts.  I’ll require them blog for one week so they can see how fast and easy it will be to accumulate PPs this way, however, students will still have the chance to decide what they want to do long-term.  Here’s the blog that took me 5 minutes to create (but then about an hour to come up with the examples)

Which Blogging Software?

Blogger was fast and easy to setup on the iPad.  Edublog looks nice, but when I tried creating a blog on the iPad, it wouldn’t pass the “prove you’re not a robot test” because the Edublog app and Safari weren’t communicating well.  Wordpress.com also has a nice app, but it looks more built for professional bloggers, and I really just want my students to get their feet wet.  One last option is for students to use the blogging software that is built into their Weebly websites, which they are using for their Senior Portfolios at our school; however, I don’t want them to confuse their Senior Portfolio with their math class blog, but I think I will offer that as an option for some of the students.  I won’t really care to monitor these blogs in the sense that I need to have editing authority over them–I simply need a fast way of checking for recent posts, which I can do using e-mail subscription and my “throw-away” e-mail account.

Are there any other suggestions for blogging software out there?

Other Positives

One other thing I thought of as I was doing this, was I should get fewer “what did we do the day I was absent?” since students will be able to access each other’s blogs through my website.

If students want to study for tests, they can always go back to the blogs, which in many cases might (fingers crossed) be better than their notes.

If you’ve had students keep a blog in your math or science class, please let me know about it so that I can check them out and get more ideas (or be aware of possible pitfalls!).

Here’s my teacher website’s introduction of the blogging idea to my students.  We’ll see how many bite!

Oh, and I think I’m going to require that they use the word “Adventure” or some synonym in the title of their blog.  Perhaps this will help them realize that this is what they should be on in math class: an Adventure!


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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!


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Slow Down: Children Present

I’ve got a problem.  My problem is that I get excited about what I teach.  No, that’s not the problem–the problem is that when I do get excited, I talk fast.  Too fast for my students to understand me.  I know this because my principal gave a generic “how’s the class going/comments/suggestions” survey to a few of my classes and about 45 of the 51 students who took the survey mentioned that I talked too fast.  Oops.

So the very next day, I created a new participation points job: the “slow-down-Mr.-Newman-you’re-talking-way-too-fast” sign holder.  See explanation Powerpoint below:

Here’s the sign with front & back:

Please, consider them!

Please consider them!

Just like iTunes...

Just like iTunes…

Students may sign up for the role at the beginning of the week and all their job is to listen carefully as they are taking notes, and if I start talking too fast, they simply hold up the sign.

The first day I was very conscious not to talk too fast simply because I knew the sign was “out there”, but hopefully this can help me become a better teacher in the future.


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Parent-Teacher Conferences

Had conferences with parents this past week, and they went alright, considering how exhausted I was.  I like how our school does conferences: there are two days where all the teachers are set up at tables in our gym from 5pm to 8pm and parents can come in and can go find all their child’s teachers in the same close proximity.  Usually it is the case that the parents you need to see don’t show up, and the students who are doing fine have very helpful parents where the conference goes a bit like this:

Me: Well, your child is an absolute pleasure to have in class.  Thank you for having he/she/it at this school.

Parent: Thank you, so-and-so says he/she/it likes your class as well.

Me: Thank you.  I look forward to continuing to work with your child.

The End

Fortunately a handful of parents showed up where their child had F’s, and in every single case, they were thankful for “how many opportunities I give for their child to succeed and he/she/it is going to work harder in the future.”  I believe most of them.  I also exhausted my supply of oxygen explaining participation points, but I think it was worth it.  Here’s the sheet I handed them, which was also hopefully helpful:

I even received very positive feedback from the one parent who sent an angry e-mail just a few weeks earlier.  The parents got on my side once they realized that “Participation Points” were not a subjective measurement and it was simply that their child was not doing work outside of class.

Just curious if other people have more advice for parent-teacher conferences, from experience.  I always try to include something positive the child has been doing and really try to demonstrate that I have a personal knowledge of how much effort their child is putting into my class.  Anecdotes are always bonuses.  But the thing that really helped this time was pointing out, at least for every student with an F or a low grade, at least 3 different ways their child could be doing better, and I hope that the parents truly follow up, as I believe most will.

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Participation Points or Standards-Based Grading

So this has been bugging me for a while now, and I’ve been wanting to write a post on this, so I think I’m going to finally sit down and just type and see what comes out.

So here’s the problem: I’ve got this “system” I call Participation Points.  The way it works is this:

  1. Students have a list of options to choose from (see below) on how to get points for the week.
  2. Students must get 100 points a week, but may get up to 110 points each week.
  3. This is 30-40% of the student’s grade (depending on the class).

Now, I want to list pros and cons, and I’m going to try to be as unbiased as possible.  First the cons:

  • Students could theoretically do very little work and earn an “easy A” without learning much related to what I am teaching.  Examples include: watching Khan Academy videos on topics we have already covered, pulling worksheets out of the Wall of Remediation that they’ve already aced, or writing on a PQ topic that is minimally related to class.
  • These points seem to be precisely the “extra points garbage filling up a grading book” that champions of standards-based grading point to when talking about how it does not show that students are actually learning.
  • There is a weekly deadline that I’ve been trying to be strict on.  I’ve made a few exceptions for those students who aren’t “with it” enough to understand how much it is hurting their grade to do nothing.  However, a students has 3 bad weeks in a row of not doing something outside of class, and their grade is reeeeeally hard to bring up after that.  Granted, that is a small minority of students, but as SBG-ers would ask “what if they could still master the content?!?”

Here are some positive justifications for having Participation Points:

  • It encourages students to find work that interests them: both in terms of “multiple intelligences” and finding work that meets them academically.  I’ve found that when it is left up to students, they will not choose to work on stuff way over their head (duh), nor with they choose to work on really boring “busy-work”, especially when they know a quiz on material they could be practicing is right around the corner.  Students who like to speak up earn points for that in class, but students who are very shy (me back in school, so I’m sympathetic) have several other ways to earn points without having to speak up.
  • It allows students to find connections to subjects and topics that interest them which might be outside the “list of standards”.  Students have only done a little of this, but the things like the PQs mentioned above allow them to relate the math they know to their “real life”.  How can that be achieved in SBG?  (I’m not saying it can’t be, but I have a hard time imagining how I would be able to do it as easily.)
  • I can create assignments on the fly and point students in the direction they need to practice.  An example of this is explained here, where students were having difficulty visualizing the inverses of functions (reflections over the x=y line), so I had my students create these and e-mail them to me for participation points.  If it wasn’t for participation points, most students wouldn’t give this suggestion for studying in this way a second thought.  (Perhaps that would be different if my students bought into SBG?)  Another example of this was students staying after school on a Friday afternoon to finish this class project.  I’m not sure they would have stayed had it not been for the combination of internal (cool project) and external (participation points) motivation.
  • I hold tutoring twice a week and students volunteer to be tutors because of participation points (they receive points for attending as well).  Yes, I’ve had some students help other students without that incentive, but this guarantees that I have a set of 4 tutors in my classroom, which is now full of 30 or so students every Tuesday and Thursday.
  • In Chemistry it is helpful to have a lab assistant, and even with the offer of points, I’ve had trouble convincing students to facilitate the labs instead of participating in them (I ask these students to make up the labs on their own time outside of class, hence the hesitation and the need to offer participation points for taking on these extra tasks.)  I even provide points for useful things around the classroom, such as “timekeeper” and “homework writer” (people who put up their HW answers while others are doing the warm-up so we can quickly discuss the HW and move on)
  • “Best notes writer” drawing.  This encourages students to take notes because I choose 3 students randomly and then we decide on whose notes are “the best” (often there are multiple winners).  That student then runs to the office, makes a copy, and now there’s a good copy of notes from class in my “previous work” folder for students who were absent or lost their notes.

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t completely unbiased, but I do want to hear feedback for how SBG teachers meet these items above without a blatant “earn points!” system.  I am especially interested in how you can motivate students to reach beyond the standards, in things such as extension activities, if they are focused on “reaching the standard”.

So here are some other things you should know about my classroom before burning me at the stake as if this is the only way I assess students.

  • I give tiered assessment quizzes which help me find out exactly where students are on a topic.  Students may retake any quiz at any time, provided they give me 30 participation points–a stipulation designed so that they will do some reflection or practice before retaking the quiz.
  • Students may make test corrections on their tests, which allow students to reflect both on the material and on their test-taking ability.
  • After both quizzes and tests, I’ve fallen in love with the “review sessions” idea: students teaching other students how to solve problems (for participation points, of course).

I might be writing to no-one, but I really wanted to think more about these because I honestly want to do what is best for my students.  This system is working so well in so many ways, but SBG is so appealing for so many other reasons.  Perhaps I can have a “hybrid” where some of the grade is based on SBG while some of the grade is based on this system.  Does that defeat the purpose of SBG?  I don’t know, but it’s late and I’ve written too much already.  Thanks for reading if you’ve made it to the end of this.

Edit: Thanks to Steve, I discovered that one of my links above is broken (kinda the whole point of the post!) so I’ve embedded the Participation Points document below.  Enjoy! (Here’s a (hopefully) working link to the Word document if you would rather be able to see this in Word.  It is formatted a little better here.)


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