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*From*: "Anthony Lapinski" <Anthony_Lapinski@pds.org>*Date*: Thu, 24 Sep 2009 17:43:07 -0400

Never heard of this? Is it a paper, test, book,..?

Forum for Physics Educators <phys-l@carnot.physics.buffalo.edu> writes:

What about Jerry Epstein's math assessment?

joe'

Joseph J. Bellina, Jr. Ph.D.

Professor of Physics

Saint Mary's College

Notre Dame, IN 46556

On Sep 24, 2009, at 4:22 PM, John Denker wrote:

On 09/24/09 09:10, Anthony Lapinski wrote:

We would like to come up with some sort of "pre-test" to act as a

filter

Good plan!

to give us some sort of indication of which course might be best

for them,

or what "skills" are needed for honors vs regular. We don't want

kids to

be in honors and then feel overwhelmed after the first few weeks.

Getting

into another course can mess with their schedules or be impossible

to do.

Right. Putting a student in over his head is a

disservice to the student in question *and* a

disservice to the others in the class, because it

almost-inevitably holds the others back.

The math part of a pre-test is relatively easy. I can test their

algebra/trig skills.

OK.

I would test for algebra, geometry, trig, and logic.

Suggestion: The Sam Loyd puzzle books are a bountiful

source of logic questions that don't require much in

the way of specialized knowledge in any field.

http://www.mathpuzzle.com/loyd/Thumbnails.html

Suggestion: Bongard problems are a fun way to test

and/or exercise the logic muscle.

http://www.foundalis.com/res/diss_research.html

http://www.foundalis.com/res/bps/bpidx.htm

However, most physics problems are word problems, and

these questions are harder to design since the students enrolling

would

have no formal training in the subject.

1) I'm not sure there is -- or should be -- any "physics"

prerequisite for the introductory physics class. To a

first approximation, I might be content to test for

-- math and logic skills, plus

-- motivation and dedication

and leave it at that.

The motivation check doesn't have to be subtle. I might

ask:

1a) How many hours per week are you prepared to spend

doing homework _for this course_? ________

Anybody who answers "zero" is disqualified from the honors

course, either because they have no clue about what is

involved, or they are overcommitted with other after-school

activities ... or because they just aren't interested.

Don't underestimate the value of self-selection. For one

thing, sometimes parents push a kid to sign up for a

course he isn't interested in, and answering "zero" on

the placement test is an honest and convenient way for

the kid to bail out before it's too late.

Also you get to use the answer later, to confront any

student who signed up for the honors course but isn't

doing the homework.

Also:

1b) Based on what you know, do you think you would

be better off in:

-- The standard course

-- The honors course

-- The AP course

1c) Why? _____________________

Again, don't underestimate the value of self-selection.

2) To a second approximation, I make a point of not

recognizing any definite boundary between physics and

other fields, including mathematics.

So, I would ask some simple questions that look like

math questions but have a physicsy flavor to them,

such as scaling laws. For example:

2a) Given a solid stack of bricks that is 8 bricks high,

8 bricks wide, and 8 bricks long, where each brick

weighs 6 pounds, how much does the whole stack weigh?

Show your work.

This works better if it is _not_ multiple choice. I

want to see the method of solution. Anybody who writes

it as a one-liner starting with 3 x 2^10 is probably

going to do fine in my course. I value cleverness over

brute force.

All of these questions are designed to work better

_without calculators_.

2b) How much water is there in an olympic-sized swimming

pool? Show your work.

-- 2500 liters

-- 2500 gallons

-- 2500 metric tons

-- 2,500,000 liters

-- 2,500,000 gallons

-- 2,500,000 metric tons

The point here is that you don't need to know the exact

size to find the best answer, because the distractors

are wrong by more than an order of magnitude one way or

the other. Basically I'm testing for courage, i.e. for

not giving up on a problem that requires a little bit

of thinking.

I say "show your work" because I want to know whether

they mis-estimated the starting data (length, width,

depth), or don't know how big a gallon is, or just

bungled the arithmetic.

It is also amusing to see who is freaked out (or not)

by more than one correct answer. This is partly a

check to see who is actually thinking and who merely

has good test-taking skills, i.e. who has been trained

to work multiple-guess questions backwards by checking

each possibility.

Remember that *I* am grading the test, and I'm looking

for more than just quote "the" quote "answer".

2c) Estimate the square root of 50, with accuracy

better than 1%. Show your work.

There isn't much physics in this, but again there

are clever ways and not-so-clever ways of finding

the answer.

2d) We have a small triangle abc and a big triangle

ABC. Each leg of the big triangle is twice as long

as the corresponding leg of the small triangle.

Choose the best answer: Compared to the area of

the small triangle, the area of the big triangle

is:

-- Larger by a factor of 1.4 approximately.

-- Larger by a factor of 2.

-- Larger by a factor of 3.

-- Larger by a factor of 4.

It is always distressing how few get this right, but

when they do get it right, it tells you something.

2e) True or false: A cube has at least one axis of

four-fold rotational symmetry. Explain briefly.

Again, it is distressing how many get this wrong.

They were supposed to have learned this in 3rd grade.

A weakness of this question is that it requires

knowing the terminology, not just seeing the concept.

Perhaps it could be improved by rewording; I don't

know.

2f) True or false: A cube has at least one axis of

three-fold rotational symmetry. Explain briefly.

3) There are also some really simple qualitative physics

questions. For example:

3a) Bricks on a teeter-totter: Three bricks at the

halfway point on one side, versus one brick at full

length on the other side.

-- Does it immediately tip to the left?

-- Does it immediately tip to the right?

-- Or is it more-or-less balanced as is?

4) Last but not least, I would make room for exceptions.

The rule is "passing grade on the placement test, or

instructor's permission". I say this because on many

occasions instructors have allowed me to sign up for

courses where I did not come close to meeting the

prerequisites ... and I have on occasion repaid the

favor by allowing in students who by any objective

measure were verrry underqualified, but who really

wanted to take the course anyway ... and generally

they do fine. Motivation counts for a lot.

_______________________________________________

Forum for Physics Educators

Phys-l@carnot.physics.buffalo.edu

https://carnot.physics.buffalo.edu/mailman/listinfo/phys-l

_______________________________________________

Forum for Physics Educators

Phys-l@carnot.physics.buffalo.edu

https://carnot.physics.buffalo.edu/mailman/listinfo/phys-l

**References**:**Re: [Phys-l] physics assessment***From:*Joseph Bellina <jbellina@saintmarys.edu>

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