Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mike the Math Guy on Following Directions. A CM Playlet.

On the board I wrote:
In your small groups, solve problem #7 on the whiteboard. Points for solving and points for the right answer.
The groups, which have worked together for six weeks, begin the process at their tables and then begin streaming to the board to get the material displayed.

5 groups do the solution properly and 4 have the right answer at the end. The sixth group's work doesn't resemble any of the others, different numbers, different equations, but the same answer as the 4 groups who got the right answer..

After they're done I go through the first 5 and show where they did things well, especially noting excellent displays of their solutions. Every group gets 5 points, except for the 5th group, which gets 3 points for good work, but not the extra 2 for the right answer.

I write a zero underneath the 6th group.

Group Six Member One: "Wait, why didn't we get any points?"

Group Six Member Two: "Yeah, we got the right answer."

Me: "Which problem did you solve?"


Another group member: "They did the wrong problem."

Me: "Indeed."

Group Six Member Three: "We did problem #8."

Me: "Yes," I said. "But that wasn't the assignment."

Group Six Member Four: "Don't we get partial credit?"

Me: "For doing the wrong problem?"

Group Six Member One: "But we got the right answer."

Me: "And how did you get it?"

Group Six Member Two: "We copied it off the other groups."



  1. The current version of the honor code at my university would allow me to report group six to the Dean who deals with honor violations. I'd be strongly tempted to do so (though I'm sure it would result in much time-wasting whining, belligerence, and/or mutual finger-pointing, and generally sour the classroom atmosphere. Maybe a strong warning to the whole class?)

    1. Absolutely! Cassandra's right.

      But I've been through one of those, and it just taught me so much about the complete bullshit that is most college's enforcement. By the time it was over, I was the only one who felt bad. These lying fucking scumbag students (and I'm being as polite as I can) were said to have "misunderstood" policies and rules developed by the college. Oh, they wouldn't do it again. Didn't I see their remorse?

      No, fuck, I didn't. They learned they could just skate through it. I had to take the lying fucking scumbags back in class with a PROMISE I'd be more clear about the academic cheating they were not supposed to have done.

      Yes, that was a day where I was so embarrassed to be in our profession.

    2. I've had the same experience, but with more egregious offences. They give a sob story and I end up looking bad and having wasted everyone's time. Fuck you, Disciplinary Committee!

    3. Every student in my classes takes a quiz on the honor code and plagiarism policies. They can have as many bites at the apple as they need to get 100% on the quiz, which is necessary, because until they score 100% on the quiz, I refuse to record any other grades for work done. It's in the syllabus. So when one of them (inevitably) cheats or otherwise commits malfeasance, I have a nice little quiz grade to prove that they understood the policies adequately. Adequately enough, indeed, to score a 100% on a quiz about them.

    4. We have an online version of this that all students have to take before access to the LMS opens up for them. Does it make a difference to the committee? Not one bit.

    5. I teach at a state university, and by law I can only punish academic dishonesty in three ways, on my own authority:

      verbal reprimand
      written reprimand
      allow the student to redo the work for full credit (in other words, reward cheating with a free deadline extension!)

      Even giving them a zero on the assignment has to be approved by the Dean of Students, with the student getting the full panoply of process.

    6. @Wylodmayer: Brilliant.
      @Flamen Portunalis: [jaw hanging in disbelief]

  2. My response to this is: "A boss in the real world won't pay you for doing the wrong assignment. That's socialism!" It shuts this down right quickly, even if they don't know what socialism is.

    1. One time I responded to "how can I get on C on this lab report when I spent so much time on it" with "If I graded people on their effort, instead of doing it right, that would be Communism."

    2. I'm using these lines: both the Socialism and Communism ones.