Skills List Learns to Travel Light

4 courses (that I teach now) 

+ 3 weeks (into the semester)

+ 2 ways to assess (quiz or shop)

= 1 overstuffed gradebook


I got over the urge to stuff 24 skills into each topic.  How did I kick the habit, you ask?  Easy.  I gave myself permission to indulge in it.  The resulting tired crankiness lowered my level of motivation just enough — from “I can do anything, I don’t need sleep!” to “let’s be reasonable here.”  A wise teacher once told me that “when you are tired, that is the time for practice.”  He didn’t mean to work into exhaustion until you injure yourself.  He meant that you can harness your natural laziness to teach yourself efficiency.

The new format retains the things I like:

  • Clues about learning progression (do this first)
  • Clear boundary between quiz skills vs. shop skills (I assumed they would know.  I know.  I know.)
  • Guidance about which parts are “forest” and which parts are “trees”
  • Clear sense of my expectations
  • Help with formulating questions (students are starting to ask questions like “What does it mean to use a Bode plot to support an argument?”  Jaw still hanging from that one.)

At the same time, it prevents quizzes from ballooning to 25 questions, and helps students recognize themes within the topic.  I’m using it in a slightly different way, too.  I now make sure there’s at least one Level 2 shop skill that most students can figure out on their own (there’s been some interesting autonomous experimenting going on, and I want to feed it).  Also, students perceive “hands-on” tasks as less intimidating, so they like to start with one.  If all the shop skills are in the 4/5 category, it looks like a scary wall of theory that you have to scale before you can get to the “easy” stuff, which makes people put off getting started.

The students only get the first two pages (on a double-sided sheet).  The last page is where I jot down Level 5 questions when I think of them.  Feedback so far has been good.  Making the quizzes will be a good test.  Seeing the students do in the next unit (the one that depends on their understanding of this one) will be a better test.

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