Many parents are tempted to try and solve all of their child’s problems, but in some cases doing so is actually harmful to the child, as they never learn to do things and solve problems for themselves. Let me explain:

One of the most difficult things for high school chemistry students to learn is how to set up conversion problems. To make learning this method easier, I begin by showing them how to do it, and then over a period of weeks I assign them practice worksheets with sample problems. For the first few weeks, the problems are very easy. They start off with problems like converting a $5 bill into quarters, progress to converting grams to kilograms, and then once they have mastered the easier problems, we begin the more difficult ones. Each problem must use the proper number of significan figures, and all problems MUST be in scientific notation.

I require that each student show their work, so that I can monitor their learning progress and offer guidance when they make mistakes. Points are taken off for various mistakes, with the largest deductions coming for not showing your work, or setting the problem up improperly. Minor math mistakes result in small deductions, because I am more concerned with mastering the methodology than whether or not a student can tell me how many quarters he can get for $5.

Every year, I get a student who either decides that he can take shortcuts like simply moving the decimal point, or using a calculator to do the entire problem. Each of those methods work on the easier problems they face in the beginning, but they do not work with the more difficult problems, and as those problems get more difficult, the student falls behind his peers and grades begin to slide.

This year was no exception. I had a child who simply turned in a 7 problem homework assignment without showing work on three problems, showing the incorrect method on two problems, and a host of other, more minor errors such as failing to show units in the answer, and failing to use proper scientific notation. His  parent argued vociferously that those errors don’t matter as long as the student gets the correct numerical answer. I spend two hours typing up an explanation of my grading system, and pointing out that this homework assignment was less than 0.05% of the student’s overall grade, and the grade on this assignment was merely a feedback mechanism for the student.

The parent was having none of it. He insisted that I give the student full credit “for making an honest attempt” at completing the homework, and that listing the answer without showing his work should be good enough, because in the business world, it is results that count. I told him that his feelings on this were immaterial, and further told him that the grading system in my class would not change. He then became hostile, and said that as a parent, it was up to him how his child would be educated, called me “obtuse” and then said he was going to the authorities (principal, school board) to have me fired.

He then transferred his child to a much easier, less challenging class, where this child will be bored out of his mind.

But at least they aren’t my problem any longer.

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1 Comment

Anonymous · September 3, 2016 at 6:46 pm

I would be honored for you to be one of my children's teachers.

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