Grading in a Capstone Class

I am thrilled because I just finished planning my two capstone courses for next year. This capstone course is going to be a research class, where students work on providing partial solutions to carefully-chosen open problems (thank you, Richard Guy).

I struggled quite a bit with how to grade such a course. Jill Dietz was kind enough to talk about it with me at a conference, along with the ensuing plane ride home (and emails once we got home). One of my big issues is: how do you grade research? You can’t predict where a student “should” end up. I knew that I wanted to mostly grade the students on “inputs” rather than “outputs:” if they are behaving like a good researcher, they will get a good grade, even if it does not produce good results.

I finally re-read some of Peter Elbow’s stuff for writing courses, and it feels like the this is the right approach for me.

Amazingly enough, Stan Yoshinobu just posted 2.5 hours ago about using a similar grading scheme in a course for elementary education majors! I don’t want to compare Stan and me to Newton and Leibnitz, but I am not going to stop you if you want to make that comparison.

Here is the basic idea of the mechanics (see Elbow’s article for the philosophy): come up with a list of activities where, as long as the students do their best on them, they will be given a B for the semester (regardless of the quality of their work).

Now, Stan deviates (appropriately) from Elbow’s framework by requiring a certain amount of quality (rather than just effort) for the list of B-activities. I think this is the right call for his class. However, I am going to grade up to a B strictly on effort. This is because I am essentially grading their research ability, and I have found that research is mostly about effort (they need to produce good results if they want a grade higher than a B). I am purposefully not spelling out the details for what grade they will get if not a B because (1) I want to set the expectation that everyone gets at least a B and (2) I think that there are many ways—to many to enumerate in a syllabus—to get above a B. Thus, I am going to meet with all (eight) of the capstone students four times individually during the semester; we can hash out where their grade is at those meetings.

Here are the activities that are required for a B. Basically, the Individual Paper and Presentation are the result of the student summarizing a math paper (appropriate for seniors) for a math major. The Team Paper and Presentation are the result of the work on the open problems from the semester.

  1. Complete all assignments below by their due date.
  2. All assignments are done with an honest effort—you give your best attempt.
  3. Attend at least 13 of the 15 classes for the semester.
  4. Participate in class by speaking \emph{and} listening appropriately.
  5. Do syllabus quiz.
  6. Do two essays on what mathematics is and what it means to be a mathematician.
  7. Write a learning autobiography.
  8. Write an essay on your best learning experience.
  9. Complete every Mid-Week Discussion Board assignment each week.
  10. Provide feedback on all formal presentations.
  11. Substantially improve on every draft of every paper.
  12. Significantly proofread every draft of every paper before you submit it.
  13. Meet with Bret outside of class at the end of every mod to discuss your progress in this class.
  14. Do your Individual Paper.
  15. Do your Individual Presentation.
  16. Participate in your Team Paper.
  17. Participate your Team Presentation.
  18. Give feedback about your Teammates at the end of the semester.

2 Responses to “Grading in a Capstone Class”

  1. Let’s Honor All Parts of the Mathematical Process | Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] other motivator for me is my success in my capstone class this semester. Briefly, I am giving them open problems to work on. They are doing amazingly well. […]

  2. Lessons Learned from Fall 2019 | Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] best class ever was my capstone class. I basically gave the students an open research question, and they went to town. I got to see them […]

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