I am trying something new this semester in my Calculus classes. I currently have over 400 students, and there is no way I can find the time to grade and give constructive criticism on all the homework they turn in each week. So this semester, I decided to use mylabsplus for the homework, strictly to make sure they are keeping up with the material, and then assign chapter-wide mini projects that are due on the test day.

In these mini projects, I ask students to solve a "realworld-like" problem or a "Reasearch-like" problem using the tools from the entire chapter. For example, on the chapter covering Jacobians, I ask them to "find a method to derive the formula for an n-dimensional hypersphere". or I may ask them to use Calculus to find both the straight line difference between 5 points on the globe versus the arc length distance between these points. In this manner I am able to give constructive criticism on each assignment, and the students seem to actually enjoy the projects much more than rote homework.

So far, test scores also seem to be somewhat better than in classes where I did not do the mini-projects, but I don't know if this is due to a better understanding of the material versus smarter students.

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    $\begingroup$ Very hard to say. In any case, more "real-world" problems should interest them more in the subject, I'd suspect that is the reason. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Mar 24 '14 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, I find that frequent homework keeps students aware of what is going on in class, instead of the (sadly prevalent) "let's cram a half term of unfamiliar topics in the two days before the exam," with the predictable results... $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Mar 24 '14 at 20:07

You have conducted an experiment, with your past sections of this course as control. However, you have broken the cardinal rule of the scientific method and made two substantial changes:

  1. Homework has moved from instructor-graded to mylabsplus-graded.
  2. Projects have been added.

With just this data point, it is impossible to tell which of these two changes, if either, causes any effect that you see.

In my personal experience, the biggest challenge facing students in large lower-division courses is motivation. The greatest ROI with such students is from keeping them focused on the course. Frequent homework/quizzes is one such way, engaging classtime is another such way, etc. It's possible that your projects have made some students very excited. It's also possible that the change in homework grading is helping students keep pace.

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