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Everyone Gets An “A”!

, , , , , | Learning | September 12, 2017

(We’re coming up to the first exam of a summer class, for which I’m a TA. We’ve been discussing the importance of study design and accidental influence.)

Professor: “Often, these kinds of things can be hard to predict. Let’s look at a real-life example: when you take exams, there’s always an empty seat between each student. But here in this classroom, you’re all packed in. So, we split you into two rooms. We do this by randomly assigning each student to room A or B. There’s no room actually called, “Room A,” you see, it’s just what we call the two rooms. As you might recognize, both those letters are grades you can get on a test, and we were worried that this might influence the outcomes of the exam. What do you think we found?”

Student #1: “Well… if you’re primed to think you’re going to do well, maybe you’re more relaxed, more confident. So, better exams in room A?”

Professor: “Good! Any other ideas?”

Student #2: “If I’m coming into an exam thinking I’m already in the worse-off group, I’m going to read all the questions carefully, double-check my work, and so on. But if I think, ‘Look at me; I already got an A,’ then maybe I’ll be sloppy.”

Professor: “Also good! Both make sense, both are intuitive. So, [Other Professor] and I got together to study this. We looked up all the grades by room assignment to see what the difference was. We isolated students to switch rooms between midterms and finals to see if they improved or worsened. We even looked into how long they knew their room assignment to see if there was a dose effect. And what do you think we found?”

(There’s pandemonium for a while, while the students argue. Finally, we put it to a vote: 42% think A did better, 14% think B, and the rest don’t think there was a difference.)

Professor: “Despite your votes, the room B students had a higher average! Now… how many of you are checking your emails right now to see who’s in what room tomorrow?”

(Most students sheepishly raise their hands. The rest are too caught up in their laptops.)

Professor: “[Student #3], which are you in tomorrow?”

Student #3: “Uh… 1102? Is that A or…”

Professor: “See, we forgot that the students are just sent the room numbers, and not our little A/B system. So, here’s my last two pieces of information: statistically, flukes do happen occasionally, and we’ve gotten rid of our A/B system entirely!”

(On exam day, I saw that the A/B column I was used to now sorts students into group “A” and group “Other A.”)

Have A Lot To Answer For

, , , , , | Learning | September 5, 2017

(My friend and I are taking a summer class together. It’s one of the most basic ones in our major, and is a pretty small class, so the teacher is pretty laid back about it. We have the option to do the final on our own at home or during the final class, and he gives us free reign to help each other. About halfway through, the first person submits the test.)

Classmate: “Hey, guys… I just submitted the test and it’s showing me the correct answers.”

(We all stop working and look at the teacher.)

Teacher: *laughs and shrugs* “Go for it.”

(So, the classmate read off all the answers one by one. Easiest A ever!)

Coming To (Mid)Terms With A Bad Teacher

, , , , | Learning | August 4, 2017

(I had the same teacher for Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 while I was in high school. This teacher often picked favorites and treated me as if I was stupid because I was quiet and too afraid to participate, since he always mocked me when I got the answer wrong in class. On the first day of class, my teacher had said that no one had to be afraid to go to him for help because he would be more than glad to tutor us one on one with any problems we were having trouble with. I have never been good with math and I was struggling a lot. When my grade started to slip I went to him for help and he refused to tutor me saying I needed to figure it out on my own. During my sophomore year, I get really sick and miss all of my midterm exams due to being hospitalized for a week. The principal has given all of my teachers instructions to let me take my midterms in an empty, quiet classroom on my first day back and all of my teachers, with the exception of my algebra teacher, are really understanding. After my algebra class has ended, I go to my teacher’s desk to talk to him about making up my exam, when this exchange occurs.)

Teacher: “Hello, [My Name]! I see you are back; how was your week of ditching school to miss your midterms?”

(Thinking he’s joking, I smile but when I see he’s not smiling back, I know he is being serious.)

Me: “Oh, I wasn’t ditching. I was really sick and hospitalized all week. If you don’t believe me you can ask Mr. [Principal] as he has all of the medical forms I brought in today. And you can talk to Mrs. [Other Teacher]; she is a close family friend and visited me while I was sick to bring my school work to me.”

Teacher: “And you picked an excellent week to be ‘hospitalized’ during the week of your important math midterm. I am not an idiot, [My Name]. You purposely skipped school because you weren’t prepared for your math midterm and you were afraid you were going to fail as usual so you took a week off so you can have more study time for your midterms. If you think you are going to come back and be able to take your exam you are wrong. You can take a zero.”

(Instead of going to my next class, I immediately go to the office and complain about the teacher. They take his side and say there is nothing they can do because it’s my math teacher’s decision on whether or not I can make it up. Not knowing what to do, I call my dad during free period and tell him what is going on and he is livid. Within five minutes, he calls me on my phone to tell me he is in the parking lot and to meet him by the office so we can talk to the principal.)

Dad: “This is completely unacceptable! My daughter comes back from being hospitalized all week just for her teacher to accuse her of ditching and giving her a zero? This excuse of a teacher does nothing but preach how his students shouldn’t be afraid to come to him for help but has been treating my daughter differently ever since she had him last year because she is quiet and doesn’t like to participate in class, because he mocks her for being wrong. If it says in the syllabus that no student should be afraid to come to him for extra help or tutoring then why is he telling [My Name] he can’t help or to figure it on her own when she needs help?!”

(After a couple of moments of silence, my principal finally looks up at us apologetically.)

Principal: “You are absolutely right, [Dad], and I am so sorry this happened to you, [My Name]. I will talk to Mr. [Teacher] and tell him to let you take your exam in a quiet room and I will talk to him about helping you with tutoring as well. No student should feel like they are being treating differently. I can assure you, I will take care of it.”

(The next day I go to my algebra class and my teacher calls me over to his desk. Without saying anything, he hands me the midterm and a calculator, and when I ask him what classroom I should go to take it, he says I’m not going anywhere and tells me to go take it at my desk. When the bell rings, he goes to the front of the room and says they are going to be doing something different today.)

Teacher: “Everyone sit on your desk. We are going to be playing Math Speedball to review for your upcoming exam.”

(Speedball is a game where the students sit on the top of their desks and the teacher will throw a bouncy ball at them and ask a question. They will answer it and throw it to the next person. The whole time while I am trying to take this exam, I am unable to concentrate because the class has gotten so loud and excited and sometimes the students sitting next to me will miss and the ball slams on my desk. Knowing I am for sure going to fail this exam, I still manage to do the best I can and turn it in at the end of the class.)

Teacher: *smugly* “How was it?”

Me: “Well, with everyone playing that game, it was so loud I couldn’t even concentrate on what I was doing.”

Teacher: *coldly* “Well, you should’ve thought of that before you missed midterm week. I’m not going out of my way to change my lesson plans for you.”

(I did end up failing the midterm exam. When I explained what happened to my dad, he made another trip to the school to complain about my teacher again. The principal was furious at my teacher, and told him not to include my midterm score into my final grade for the semester and that I would be exempt from the midterm all together. My teacher was written up for not letting me take it in an empty and quiet classroom like the principal told him to do, but he didn’t get fired. After that incident, I went to my counselor and was able to switch to a different teacher, who was actually willing to help me and it has improved my math grade tremendously. At the end of my sophomore year I heard from another classmate that he was told by the superintendent he wouldn’t be returning for the upcoming school year due to getting many other complaints from other students and their parents.)

A Testing Set Of Circumstances

, , | Learning | July 11, 2017

We have an impossible physics teacher. Everyone hates him, but he always specifically targets me. He always give us Scantron tests, which I always fail. This one, however, is the worst, with questions terribly phrased.

When I point this out to him and ask what to do, he simply tells me to “figure it out.”

There is even one question that asks about the velocity of a bicycle, and all the answers are about a rock rolling down a hill. The test is a total disaster, and he refuses to do anything about it.

At the end of the class, one of my classmates asks if he can keep a copy of the test to help him study for the final, and the teacher says no. So, he ends up stealing a copy, and during lunch most of the class get together and mark everything that is wrong with the test to give to the vice principal.

She was beside herself that the test was like that, and forced the teacher to give us all an extra 50 points on the test. It was the only one I passed all year.

A New Grade Of Understanding

, , , | Learning | June 28, 2017

(I’m on the advanced track for math, so my classes are with students a grade above me. Every year, I need to have the principal and the math teacher sign a piece of paper to give me permission to enroll in the class. It’s worked out fine so far, but the teacher for calculus is notorious for denying all of these requests. He’s never allowed an advanced track student into one of his classes and frequently tells people that younger students cannot fully comprehend calculus. The alternatives are either a really boring accounting class or “Intro to Calculus,” a basic class intended for people who won’t be taking calculus in college. Despite the calculus teacher’s reluctance, my mom and the principal convince him to let me join the class. The teacher only agrees to let me in the class if I’m on a probationary period. If I have less than an a B+, I’ll be kicked out of the class. We’ve recently had our first test.)

Teacher: “I’ve graded your first test, and a lot of you aren’t going to like your score. The average was 52.”

Class: *winces*

Teacher: “This was only the first test. It’s not going to get any easier from here. Most of you need to rethink your study strategies, and a few of you should carefully consider if you actually want to be in this class. It’s not too late to transfer into ‘Intro to Calculus.’ Since this was the first test, I’ve curved it. That way, once you’ve come up with a better study strategy, the first test won’t kill your grade for the semester. Also, the distribution of the grades was all over the place. The curve I used pulls in the standard deviation and then shifts the scores up.”

(This increases scores that are below the average and decreases scores above the average in accordance to how far from the average they are. Then it adds points to all of them until the average is what the teacher wants.)

Teacher: “While I hand these out, work in groups on your worksheets. We’ll go over the test once everyone has theirs.”

(The teacher starts to hand them out, calling out names as he does. I notice he’s going alphabetically, but he skips my name. When he’s done, he still has one test left. He sits down at his desk and gestures for me to come up and talk to him. By this point, I’ve started to think I actually failed the test, and he’s going to make me transfer to ‘Intro to Calculus.’ I’m just hoping he’ll let me stay for the rest of the period instead of kicking me out in front of everyone.)

Teacher: *gestures for me to sit in the chair by his desk*

Me: *sits down nervously*

Teacher: “In all the years I’ve used this kind of curve, I’ve never seen this happen.”

(He sets my test down on the desk and slides it over to me. It’s a 96.)

Teacher: “Your score was so much higher than the average that the curve actually lowered your grade by a few points.”

Me: “Oh!”

Teacher: “So here’s what I did. You can keep the 96. I’ve recalculated the curve without your grade, which several of your classmates should be grateful for. I’ve also informed the principal that you’re no longer on probation. Welcome to Calculus!”

Me: *shocked and relieved* “Um… thanks!”

(The next year, he allowed all three of the advanced track students into his class without complaint and without any probationary periods.)