Thursday, March 13, 2014

Make a graph

Help me help you. There seems to be some confusion that I'd really like to be able to clear up and I'd welcome some feedback. In the at-home lab activity we recently did for class (, the first data analysis section says:
My intention here was that the students would take the time-dependent temperature data they collected and prepare a plot that looks something like this:
{NOTE: This plot contains more data that I expect in the student experiment.}
A significant number of students did not realize that they needed to include a graph as part of their data analysis and assignment. I don't understand why this was not clear. I am not being snarky or condescending or angry or mean when I say that, I honestly don't understand why that instruction in the "Data Analysis" isn't clear, so I would sincerely appreciate any help on how to write that instruction more clearly. I have a couple ideas of why this was not an effective instruction:

  1. The word "plot" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. Is there a better word that would make this more clear? Graph? "X-Y scatter plot"? I do not require students to use a spreadsheet to generate their plots because I don't want to introduce additional barriers and hand-drawn plots/graphs are sufficient for the data presentation and analysis in this class… Would it be better to require computer generated plots/graphs just to reinforce that a graph is required for the data presentation and analysis?
  2. Is this more a symptom of the broader problem of "science is hard" rather than poorly written instructions? If a student firmly believes that "science is hard" or "I'm not good at math", then the student is likely to accept a lower standard for himself or herself and perform below his or her abilities. 
  3. Do the students just not care? I refuse to believe that this is the most common problem; the vast majority of the students in this class are dedicated hard workers and really want to learn something. At the same time, the students taking this class are not (on average) the typical "sciencey" student, they are taking this course because they see it as one of the easier options for fulfilling the science requirement of their degree. That means that there are at least a few (and they're usually not that hard to identify) who are just in the class to do the bare minimum to pass and have no real interest in learning any more than they need to squeak by with a "C".

There is no magic single answer to this issue, BUT if there are some simple fixes (change the wording, etc) that will help some students succeed in this class, I'm happy to consider them. Anonymous comments are permitted here, so feel free to be as open as you would like. I'm always open to learning new and better ways to do things, so open feedback is helpful.

1 comment:

  1. Personally I thought the directions were quite clear. Love the word "snarky".