Translucence

The AP workshop was good but not great. I had hoped for a little more focus on how to take an established AP program with modest success and move towards greater success. Its a tough move and one that might not even be fully teachable (I suspect it has almost as much to do with the culture of the school/community as it does with what the individual AP teacher does) but I could hope. In the end the workshop, the only one in the SE United States this summer I believe, had an overwhelming majority of new AP teachers (including some new physics teachers) so the focus was on content. Not bad, a week talking with other physics teachers can hardly be bad, but not perfect. One off hand comment did get me thinking about the difference between translucence and transparency.

I’m a pretty good logical, mathematical thinker. This, combined with a complete lack of hand eye coordination, has led me to prefer games that require thought whether its board games (war games in my youth, European board games now) or computer games (4x and other resource management games). Yet whenever I find that a game has been solved in my mind I lose interest in it. I find there needs to be some element of randomness through the use of hidden information (this is very big in computer games with fog of war), well balanced alternatives, or true chance (cards, dice, and the like) to keep me interested. Winning strategies must be translucent but not transparent.

Grading seems to be similar. I have yet to meet a high school teacher that really likes the current model of online gradebooks with constant parent and student access. Its just too transparent. Grades make both horrible carrots and horrible sticks. This is fairly well known among teachers, intuitively understood by students, and completely unknown among parents. Plus, as commonly done in the US, have a number of issues related to averaging, conflation of academic and behavioral issues, granularity, and time sequencing. The more that grades are transparent the more obvious these problem are as it becomes more difficult for a teacher to use professional judgment to correct for the flaws in traditional grading. If this issue moves us towards a more rational grading standard (probably some sort of mastery situation although I feel that assessing retention is a big stumbling block) then its all for the good. But until then I wish we could make grading a little more transparent through a little fog of war and some very well balanced options for showing competence. Lets leave the cards and dice out of things though.

ps Note that I am referring to overall grades – individual assignments should have fully transparent assessments.

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