Not easy

Many of the students said in their 1st first blog posts that they hated school science because it was all about memorizing facts, and that they’d chosen this class because it looked easy. 

First class test last Monday.  Class average 70%, only one A, and several fails. Students and I very disappointed.  The test was on-line, to be done in their own time in a 24 hour window. They could consult anything except each other. No facts to memorize. Having gone over the questions and the student answers, I can not see anything obviously wrong with the test. 

I could deal with the student disappointment by scaling this test up and dumbing future tests down, and several colleagues have suggested that. Certainly an easy solution. But the students deserve better – this is about skills for life. 

So I’ll go over the questions with the students, go back over the relevant bits of earlier lectures, and re-emphasize the key concepts as we work through different material in the three weeks until the next test.  The final score comes from the two best of four class tests – we’ve got three to go and can do lots of practice before then.

What is clear is that I am not getting the conceptual side of things across to many of the students.  Yet another reminder that scientific thinking is not common sense.  I suppose humanity did take thousands of years to figure it out, and most of the world still doesn’t get it.  So it probably was a bit optimistic to think I can get it across to non-scientists in a few classroom hours.  But that’s why we have tests.  We all learn from them.  Just so long as the students don’t start wishing there was a bunch of boring facts to memorize.

2 thoughts on “Not easy

  1. Andrew Read

    OK, so I took what turned out to be an hour of class time to go over the test. I guess this was a useful way to teach. But the comment wall [where students text me anonymously in real time during the class] suggested that at least one student expects more:

    “This is so boring. Sorry to say :(”


    “I thought the test was fairly simple. idk what everybody is going on about”

    (Parenthetically, I also got: “u remind me of the pelican in Nemo”. This meant nothing to me, but I took a punt anyway and told the class, and asked whether this was good or bad. One of the most vocal students who sits near the front said it was good, and I can trust her…right?)

    Conclusion: It was worth spending the time today on the test, because there were lots of important issues – so good teachable moments. And a couple of students made brilliant comments (the best being the correct point that I had screwed up the names of the Nobel prize winners, so that one of the answers that many of the students had chosen was even wronger than I had meant it to be). But from now on, I too am with the student(s) that found it boring. I’ll offer extra time outside class to go over future tests. There is too much cool stuff to do…. I gotta make sure MY students appreciate science is more than assessment. School already did that wrong. YUK.


    “When things are going well, something will go wrong. When things just can’t get any worse, they will. Anytime things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.”– Feynman

    …From a scientist’s perspective, Feynman was a happier fellow, eh?

    Or maybe he just wanted to re-iterate Murphy’s Law, ha!!

    In lieu of the situation I hope you appreciate the Feynman reference Andrew!
    …Just finished reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” — I recommend it to other classmates reading this.


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