Homework Presentation Rubric V1

In my 3rd-year quantum mechanics course last term I had the students each take a turn presenting an additional problem to the class. I wanted them to place emphasis on setting up their problem and interpreting their results over showing the intermediate mathematical grinding.

I wanted to share the rubric because I know how incredibly helpful it was to find rubrics that others had shared when I was putting together my own rubrics for various things. I have always adapted the rubrics that I found to suit my own situation and preferences, but they always provide a very helpful starting point as well as providing a useful framework when trying to put together my criteria.

A few notes first:

  • I asked them to give an 8-10 minute presentation, which sets the time scale against which “Appropriateness and depth was compared”.
  • Each category is assigned a score according to the lowest of the different things which could be evaluated as part of that category. For example, in “Appropriateness and depth”, a student that gave an overly long talk (say 15 minutes instead of the max of 10 minutes that I asked for) [Acceptable] and whose presentation only required minor clarifications [Good] would be assigned an overall score of  “Acceptable” for that category. When one of the criteria scores significantly lower than the others, I usually bump up the score so in the example above if there had been no clarification questions needed at all, I would have scored the overall category as “Good”.
  • One of the problems with a rubric with such specific criteria is that students always find amazing and new ways to break the rubric since it is nigh-impossible to anticipate every possible scenario. So I usually find ways to work these things into the rubric as well as I can and err on the side of benefit to the student. One of the ones that annoys me the most is when something comes up that crosses multiple categories of vastly different weights. I try not to double-penalize the students so it will mean that I am choosing between giving students a “Good” in a category worth very few points and one worth many points. And this choice tends to come with a fairly large swing in overall grade. I try to make notes of the occurrences so that I can revise the rubric in the future, but students are good at breaking any system you come up with.

Any and all feedback welcome.

Word version of the rubric: Homework_Presentation_Rubric_V1.docx

Excellent (x1) Good (x0.75) Acceptable (x0.5) Poor (x0.25) Unacceptable (0)
A1. Roadmap and organization [2 pts]
The main ideas or overall purpose (“what the question is about”) of the presentation are clearly communicated at the start of the presentation. The purpose of each sub-question is clearly stated before jumping directly into the details. A brief summary is provided for each sub-question, tying the answer back to the original sub-question. If appropriate (e.g., all the sub-questions make up a greater whole), a summary of the overall question is provided. There is room for creative license here, but the main point is that the presentation needs to be well-organized. Brief purposes and summaries are provided for most of the sub-questions. Some attempt is made to present the main ideas or overall purpose of the question at either the beginning or end of the presentation. Brief purposes and summaries are provided for most of the sub-questions. No attempt is made to present the main ideas or overall purpose of the question. Brief purposes and summaries are provided for less than half of the sub-questions. No attempt is made to present the main ideas or overall purpose of the question. No attempt is made to present the purpose or summarize any part of the question.
A2. Appropriateness and depth [2 pts]
The presentation is presented at the appropriate level for another person enrolled in the course (a “peer”) to be able to follow along with only minor clarification questions. Mathematical details are presented in a concise way, but are still worked out in sufficient depth that a peer does not need to fill in important details on their own. The overall presentation makes good use of time. One or two major clarification questions would be needed to fill in conceptual or important mathematical details that were left out. Mathematical details are mostly presented in a concise way. The presentation ran a little long or a little short, but was overall still reasonable in terms of use of time. Multiple major clarification questions would be needed to fill in conceptual or important mathematical details that were left out. More effort should have been put in to make the presentation more concise or to make the presentation fill the time allotted. Due to shooting way too high or way too low, a peer would wonder if this presentation was targeted toward a person in this course. Little effort appears to have been put in to make the presentation concise. No effort appears to have been put in to make the presentation concise or the presentation lacks enough depth to be informative in any way.
A3. Consistency and correctness of terminology and notation [2 pts.]
Terminology is always used correctly or when a mistake in terminology is made it is corrected by the end of the presentation. Notation and terminology are used in a consistent way. Some terminology is misused or is missing as a result of nervousness or oversight, but the audience recognizes that the presenter would probably be able to correct these errors if follow-up questions were asked. This misuse of terminology does not introduce any significant confusion into the presentation. There are one or two inconsistencies in notation or terminlogy that are left unaddressed. Some terminology is grossly misused or missing, and would be distracting to a peer. There are enough inconsistencies in notation and terminology to be distracting to a peer. Enough terminology is misused or missing to distract a knowledgeable audience and to confuse a peer. There are enough inconsistencies in notation or terminology to be confusing to a peer. Terminology is misused or notation / terminology are used inconsistently to the point that a peer would find it mostly impossible to follow the presentation.
A4. Accuracy and completeness of Physics [6 pts.]
The physics in the presentation is consistently accurate. Corrections to inaccuracies are made at the time of the mistake or by the end of the presentation. No significant errors or omissions are made. Audience is able to recognize that small errors or omissions are the result of nervousness or oversight. One significant error or omission is made. Multiple significant errors or omissions are made. Errors, contradictions and omissions are apparent and serious enough to make it almost impossible for a peer to determine which information is reliable.
A5. Interpretation of results [4 pts.]
Obvious effort is made to interpret results (in terms of analogous results in other contexts, why the result makes sense, or why the result is counterintuitive) whenever possible. The flow of the presentation is such that the mathematical details feel like their purpose is to support the results and their interpretation. Some effort is made to interpret results, but it feels like these interpretations take a back seat to mathematical details. There is only a small effort made to interpret results, and one or two results that beg for interpretation (e.g., extremely counter-intuitive results, obviously incorrect results due to execution errors) are mostly overlooked. The purpose of the presentation appears to be a demonstration in mathematical grinding. Most or all of the results that beg for interpretation are overlooked. No effort at all is made to interpret any of the results.
A6. Correctness of execution [2 pts.]
No mathematical or other execution errors survive uncorrected. One or two minor mathematical errors are made, but these do not result in answers that are incorrect in a significant way. There are multiple mathematical errors, but do not result in answers that are incorrect in a significant way. One or more errors are made that result in answers whose incorrectness should be apparent if the presenter were to try to interpret the answer or consider physics issues such as units. (Yes, you do get penalized for this sort of thing in multiple categories.) A step in the solution is purposely manipulated to compensate for an earlier mathematical error and to attempt to force a reasonable or known result.
A7. Speaking style [1 pt.]
Presentation is free from vocal fillers. Speaking style is conversational. Vocal variety (pitch, volume, pace, etc.) is used to enhance the message. Words are enunciated clearly. Vocal fillers are sometimes present, but are not distracting. Speaking adheres mostly to a conversational style. One or two words are not enunciated clearly. Vocal fillers are often present and are sometimes distracting. Pace is rushed. Speaker sometimes reads passages aloud from the poster or recites them from memory with a complete lack of vocal variety. Vocal fillers are often present and very distracting. Parts of the presentation are difficult to understand due to a lack of enunciation or appropriate speaking volume. Speaker usually reads passages aloud or recites them from memory with a complete lack of vocal variety. Most of the presentation is difficult to understand due to a lack of enunciation or appropriate speaking volume.
A8. Ability to answer questions [2 pts.]
Speaker answers all reasonable questions correctly and coherently. Speaker answers most of the reasonable questions correctly and coherently. Answers to questions indicate that the fundamentals are reasonably well understood. Answers to questions indicate that most of the fundamentals are reasonably well understood, but one or two important fundamental ideas are not. Answers to questions indicate that many of the fundamentals are not reasonably well understood. Answers to questions indicate that little to none of the fundamentals are reasonably well understood.
Overall [21 pts.]

The rubric was inspired by “NEIU Oral Communication Rubric” and “PHY420 Final Oral Presentation Rubric” by Ernie Behringer at Eastern Michigan University, but no longer bears any real resemblance to those rubrics.

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Trying out a new type of simulation-based pre-class assignment

I always had trouble picturing the ground state of the deBroglie model of the Hydrogen atom. Now I don’t!

At this past week’s Global Physics Department virtual meeting Noah Podolefsky spoke with us about PhET simulations. Noah’s best practice suggestion was to let students play around with a simulation for 5-10 minutes before asking them to do anything specific. And when you ask them to do something specific, to use open / investigative questions (e.g., “explore all things that affect pH”, as opposed to cookbook directions such as “set the acid concentration to 0.010 M…”).

I asked Noah

I’m wondering how you would suggest using these in pre-class (JiTT-style) assignments. If I am ultimately going to give them some sort of a question (could be nice and open like you suggest), I feel like most students will jump to try to answer the question without first doing the “free play”. Any suggestions on getting them to do “free play” first?

Noah suggested getting them to play around with the sim and generate 2-3 questions or screenshots of “cool things” that they found, which Brian Frank echoed by suggesting I do the same thing I did when I got my Quantum Mechanics class to generate questions based on a reading. Andy Rundquist also suggested I could get them to screencast their interesting discoveries (instead of just screencapping).

My Quantum Mechanics class is in the middle of developing the Hydrogen wavefunctions (I showed them the shooting method results for the angular wavefunctions last class, thanks Andy!).  We’re skipping our regular pre-class assignment this week, so I sent them a bonus pre-class assignment before we look at the Hydrogen spectrum on Monday. Here’s a slightly paraphrased version of what I asked them to do with the “Models of the Hydrogen Atom” PhET simulation:

Spend 5-10 minutes playing around with the simulation. Generate 3 items of interest — these could be any combination of questions that you have, interesting observations that you made or descriptions of things that the simulation made really clear to you that you didn’t quite get before. You can take screen captures, generate screencasts or just send me regular old text.

I’m really interested to see what they come up with. I will make sure to report back.  Just for fun, I have embedded the simulation below

Models of the Hydrogen Atom

Click to Run

Using review homework assignments to minimize class time spent on review topics

One of the many great ideas that I use from the University of Colorado Physics department is to start my 3rd-year Quantum Mechanics course off with a review assignment. On the first day I gave them an assignment which was due on the second day and had questions addressing the major relevant things that they should know coming into  this course based on their prerequisites.

It consisted of some fairly straight-forward review questions on topics such as complex numbers, matrix multiplication, dirac delta functions, the relationship between energy and frequency for light, orthogonal functions, the deBroglie wavelength and basic discrete probability.

But what really makes this work is that you ask them to include, along with their solutions, a rating for  each question on the following scale (credit goes completely to the University of Colorado folks that put the original assignment of this type together for these ratings):

  1. I knew this material, it was fairly trivial for me.
  2. I knew this material, and didn’t need to look up anything or get help, but it was not what I would call “trivial” for me.
  3. I knew this material, but still need to look something up in a book/notes or on the internet.
  4. I knew this material, but still need to get help from a person.
  5. I did not know this, and had to learn it for this homework.

I really like this system for multiple reasons. It communicates to them that there are some things that they should know from their previous courses and we are not going to use class time to review it. And if for some reason they have completely forgotten that material or never learned it in the first place, that they are in a position to go out and use the resources at their disposal to learn it. It is also a bit of a reflection exercise in that there are students that probably don’t realize how much help they ask for with their assignments and having to rate how much help they got might be a bit enlightening to them. And, of course, their rating of each question gives me a much better understanding of where everybody in the class stands coming in compared to if I just gave them the review assignment without asking them to rate the questions. This is related to the common issue of never knowing how much a student’s written homework represents their true level of understanding.

As for the idea of the review assignment in general. It won’t work that great if every single class they are taking has one, but since they typically have very little homework in the first week, asking them to do this first assignment in two days was very reasonable. It also saves me some class time and sets us up to immediately challenge more difficult things in class instead of always having to go through some review first.

Note: The University of Colorado shares all their course materials for their intermediate and upper-division reformed courses (Classical Mechanics, Quantum, E&M), including the review homework assignment that I adapted slightly based on my students’ prerequisites coming in.


Great student questions generated from Postulates of Quantum Mechanics reading

In my 3rd year (intro to ) Quantum Mechanics course the first homework assignment I gave them was meant to serve as a mostly gentle review of probability and modern physics as is relevant to the first chapter of Griffiths.

But I also asked them to read an 8-page section of some supplemental notes prepared by Michael Dubson and Steve Pollock at CU-Boulder (they can be found in the “Lecture Notes” folder of the “all course materials EXCEPT assessments” link on this page). These notes talk explicitly about the postulates of quantum mechanics (which Griffiths does not), about postulates in general and they compare and contrast classical and quantum mechanics.

As part of that first homework assignment I asked my students to read these notes and gave them the instructions:

Please write one or two questions that were burning in your brain after you read these pages.

And they gave me some wonderful questions which should provide us with some rich discussion on Monday. Here they are:

  1. I’m very confused how a wavefunction can change instantly after a measurement has been made on it’s position. (note: several variations of this question showed up)
  2. What reasoning did Schrodinger have for writing down his equation? (note: several variations of this question showed up and one student noted that it looked a lot like an equation he had seen in our PDEs course)
  3. Why is gravity proving to be so difficult to incorporate into quantum theory?
  4. Do quantum and classical mechanics agree with each other in predicting the outcomes of physical phenomena at a particular intermediate scale between the quantum scale and the macroscopic scale?
  5. Why does Planck’s constant have that specific value?
  6. Does the wavefunction ever reconstruct itself after being collapsed due to an observation?
  7. How come taking measurements changes the look of the wavefunction? It almost looks like a dirac delta function in the after measurement graph shown.
  8. (edited for brevity) Since real-world sized objects are made up of large quantities of microscopic particles shouldn’t the (quantum) laws and properties that govern the small not also govern the behavior of the large, which are really just big groups of the small? Why would we get different physics looking at many than looking at one?
  9. If x and p are not well-defined for a point particle, how does putting a group of them together suddenly make them defined for the group? how many does it take? Two? Three? Four billion trillion? At what point does a system become macroscopic?
  10. Where did the notion of wave-particle duality originate?
  11. How valid is string theory and a fundamental level?
  12. How does a measurement give the particle a definite position?
  13. How does Psi-squared represent the probability that a particle is at a specific location when we are told that Psi only “carries information about the particle, it is not ‘the particle’ or ‘the position of the particle'”?

Fantastic! Now they’re curious. And I’m not great at establishing a framework that ties together the ideas in a course, but I think that these questions mostly provide that framework and it was them that generated it instead of me. It’s their framework! I am thrilled.


Flipping Quantum Mechanics I

In a recent post I discussed my plans for my fall 3rd-year Quantum Mechanics 1 class and one of the things on the list was that I was planning on doing a full flip for this course. Bret Benesh asked in the comments to hear a bit more about my flipping plans so here we are.

For anybody needing to catch up, a flipped (or inverted) class is one where there is some content delivered to the students before class (by video/screencast, reading, worksheets, whatever) and then in class you have that freed up time to do more productive things than stand at the front and lecture. My two favorite recent run-downs of flipping the class are here and here.

First of all, I plan to call the complete package of what they do before coming to class “pre-lecture assignments”. In the end these will actually be quite similar to what I have been doing in my introductory Physics courses with textbook readings, but the upper-year textbooks are (in my experience) a much tougher read for the students. So I will be using screencasting of some form to present the easier-to-grasp ideas from the text and then use class time to build on those.

Why am I flipping this class?

There are two main things that I am trying to accomplish by flipping this class:

  1. Buying myself more time for the fun stuff. In class I use a lot of clicker questions and whiteboarding. I would sum the approach up as I give them some basic tools (the pre-lecture assignments) and then use class time to get them to explore the intellectual phase space of these tools and what can be built upon these tools.
  2. Reducing student cognitive load by having them learn, before they come to class, the basic tools and associated new vocabulary so that their precious working memory isn’t mostly occupied trying to deal with that low-level stuff when we’re trying to work on the more advanced stuff.

In the time it has taken me to get this post together Brian Frank has posted twice (with rapidly growing comment threads) on topics related to the point of vocabulary first. There are tons of great conversations to be had related to this, but for now my mindset is that I have a good chunk of the in-class activities for my course fleshed out, so what I am going to work on is trying to have the students show up as prepared as possible to do those activities, with as little headache as possible for them. Most of what is found in a Quantum text does not qualify as basic tools or easier-to-grasp ideas so my screencasting plan is to extract those parts from the text and present them so that they are not overwhelmed trying to read the text.

The plan

My plan looks something as follows, but I have to do some trial runs on the first couple of pre-lecture assignments to find the first-order issues. Assume that these get assigned on a weekly basis.

  1. Sit down with the sections of the text that will be “covered” that week. Determine what I would realistically expect an average student to get from reading those sections before they came to class: vocabulary, simple and fundamental concepts, the easier examples and derivations. Let’s call these “base ideas”.
  2. Make some short screencasts that present the base ideas and try to put a framework or narrative around them to make them look like a cohesive set of fundamental ideas that can be built on. I am not great at helping the students build a larger framework and showing how all the ideas fit together, so this will be a very productive activity for me.
  3. Give them 3-5 questions that ask them to wrestle with with these base ideas. In my intro courses I typically use my easiest conceptual clicker questions for this purpose and expect that I will do the same here. These easiest questions typically force the students to deal with the new vocabulary and get a chance to apply the fundamental concepts to reasonably simple situations. They are much like the “check your understanding” questions typically found at the end of a section from any recent intro physics textbook. Other options for these questions are ones that ask the students to go one step beyond what was presented in an example or to fill in a critical step in the reasoning process in a derivation. These assigned questions always require both an answer and an explanation of the answer and are submitted the evening before class. In order to get credit the students do not need to be correct, but their answers need to demonstrate that they put in an honest effort to figure out the answer to the question. There will also always be a “what question do you still have after completing the rest of this pre-lecture assignment?” question.
  4. Before class, I will respond by email to each of their submitted answers. I do this in my intro courses and feel that it helps communicate to them that I am reading their submissions and that I am there to support them at every stage in their learning. There are often quite a few copy and paste explanations as part of my responses to their wrong answers since the reasoning behind their submitted answers mostly falls into only 2 or 3 different camps. But I still make sure to personalize each response even if the bulk of the response is a copy/paste job.
  5. Pull student answers and questions into the lecture material. I don’t usually re-organize my class-time plans much based on their submitted answers, but I will use their words in place of my own as much as possible or present their questions to motivate something we were already going to discuss or an activity we were already going to do. Since the questions I use are mostly my easier clicker questions, I will usually show the question again in class at the appropriate time. More often than not I will skip over voting on the question and instead just try to have a discussion with the students that looks similar to the one we would have after they had just done a group vote on a Peer Instruction question. If most of the people nailed the question in the pre-lecture assignment, I usually skip the question in class and move on to a more challenging question on the same concept or one that builds on the question from the pre-lecture assignment. This gives the students that didn’t get the correct answer a chance to catch up because we are still addressing the concept in class.

Many folks will note that much of the above is a Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) implementation. The JiTT bits are the pre-class content with questions to be submitted before class and the adjusting of what is done in class in response to the answers to those questions.

Some last thoughts

One thing that I will use to help me sort out which are the “easy-to-grasp” ideas is the collection of student questions from the last time I taught this course. Last time I had them send me (for some bonus marks) questions from their reading of the textbook before coming to class. The completion rate was usually 4-7 of the 10 students and the questions were mostly about things they had trouble understanding from their reading (but there were real-world application and other interesting questions as well).

There is a great conversation about flipping the class going on over at Jerrid Kruse’s blog with lots of great ideas being brought up (same goes for the pair of posts by Brian Frank that I link to above). Like I have previously mentioned, I already have a lot of resources (mostly clicker questions and some whiteboard activities) and a general course trajectory laid out, so the plans I have laid out here are ones that are meant to help make my current plan work better. Given tons of time and more experience running Quantum courses I would probably be inclined to move further toward an exploration before explanation model. What I will do is keep good notes of my reflections along the way for possible ways to bring in more exploration-first activities. I will also take advantage of OSU’s Paradigms Wiki and try out some of their appropriate exploration before explanation activities.