In the video below, I talk a little bit about what lead me to flip AP statistics and move to a mastery learning philosophy with skills-based grading. In my case, my challenge in Statistics was that I had a few talented, prepared students in my incoming class for the fall of 2016, and 25 others, who, for various reasons, were not so prepared. How could I go at the pace needed so that those students who were willing and able to learn at the AP pace could get the learning and instruction that they needed while the others in the class were also supported? I use the TPACK model (Mishra, Koehler 2006) to present these ideas; TPACK is an acronym for thinking about how to use technology to assist in teaching students: technology, pedagogy, content knowledge.
My pedagogical strategy for tackling my problem was mastery learning and skills based grading. Mastery learning maintains that students must achieve a level of mastery in prerequisite knowledge before moving forward to learn subsequent information. If the student does not achieve mastery on the test, they are given additional support in learning and then tested again. Skills based grading, in turn, means that most or all of a student’s grade is determined by his or her showing mastery in content knowledge skills. This is in contrast to compliance grades that focus on homework completion or assignments turned in on time.
The technology used was an Ipevo document camera, Screencast-o-matic, Edpuzzle, Youtube, and Pearson Math XL. The student grade was determined as follows: 10% was watching Edpuzzle videos, generally on phone apps, along with answers to short comprehension questions embedded in the videos; 10% was an assessment grade, a traditional grade which measures whether students are learning on schedule with the class and meeting suggested deadlines; 25% was XL practice problems,which include various supports, including access to a pdf of the book, View an Example, Help Me Solve This, and sometimes animations; finally, 55% was the skills grade, which was determined by student mastery of content area skills like Confidence Intervals for Proportion or One-sample Hypothesis Testing, Sigma Not Known. All grade categories had flexible deadlines with the exception of the assessment grade, which was included to encouraged students to keep up.
The result of this experiment in skills based grading and flipping was that we were able to cover almost all the required content knowledge for the year, a huge improvement, while attending much more to the various needs and ability levels of the students. Anecdotally, one student (with just a month left of school and a 40% overall in the class) recently showed me a whole bunch of old completed XL assignments and asked when he could retake the associated skills! Why are you so happy about that, you ask? Because I will always have students who fall behind; it is the nature of the community where I teach. Yet, here the student was, despite obstacles in his life that often prevented him from doing his work on time, or even getting to school, he did not give up, and still continued to learn more about statistics. In a traditional grading system, that student would not have had a chance.
I hope that every math class I teach has some elements of blended instruction and uses skill based grading because I think these philosophies put the emphasis on learning rather than assignment completion. I look forward to being even more aggressive with this system next year, and also giving students access to almost the whole course content in the summer, so that motivated students may step into the classroom on day one with a head start on the material, ready to help friends, and serving as inspirations to others in the class.