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Students’ Problem-Solving Audience


Try as I might to be open about how students should complete and submit homework problems, I have arrived at an old conclusion: the audience matters. What exactly does this mean? The goal of practicing problems is to reinforce the taught concepts from the course. Want to try out some Newton’s Laws problems? Go to the back of the chapter and give it a go! Want to practice for the test? Ask for extra work to hone your skills. In this sense, the audience is the student, with the student alone being the audience for the work.

But what about work submitted for credit? That’s a different story, maybe. Each student expects (rightfully) to be patted on the back for the effort and success in each submission. So is the effort alone enough? What guidelines should be in place for receiving this credit? In other words, who is the audience for this work?

It is appropriate at this point to draw a parallell between science and any other academic discipline. Consider an English course, within which a student is assigned to write an essay about a written work. I suppose the conversation is the same: margins, spacing, grammar, spelling, paragraph structure all are an accepted part of the requirements. What are these elements in science? Is it the teacher’s job to prescribe such things?

One of my pet peeves about being a high-school teacher is the overwhelming attitude that it is my job to search through student work to find that which is relevant. In other words, I am grading a problem and I have to spend extra time searching for the logic and answer. This doesn’t include not writing a name or identifying the problem being attempted. Keep in mind that I do not assign a grade for correctness so all that is needed is to get an answer, assuming I can find it. (My other pet peeve is students’ leaving course materials on the desk or table without any consideration for returning them to their original locations, even though I carefully handed them out at the beginning of the period. Do I look like your cleaning guy?)

So, despite every effort to avoid this moment I am now codifying exactly what I want for homework. I hate to be “that guy” but given the length of this post I am most assuredly “that guy” in this case. Whatever – they will get over it.


  • Each problem is spread out, with no problem along-side another
  • Student name and problem are written at the top of every page
  • Must use binder paper that can be turned in
  • Pencil, not pen
  • Each problem has a picture (or diagram), centered at the top of the page
  • Each calculating step must be shown, preferrably without numbers
  • Units and Significant Figures matter

One comment on “Students’ Problem-Solving Audience

  1. Pingback: Physics Honors – Week 10 « Soxteaching: Physics, Chemistry, Technology

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This entry was posted on 2011-11-02 by in Education, Philosophy and tagged , .


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