Student strengths at start of physical science

Summer session physical science is a high speed romp through a blur of topics. This summer there is only a single lecture and laboratory session each, limiting the class to sixteen students. The term started on a three day week, thus the first Friday test is almost a pre-test. I used the test to have a look at some of the graph skills I evaluated at term end spring 2011.

The test is an HTML5 document with MathML and SVG served as html/text, which means that only FireFox 4 can natively render the document as of June 2011. Chrome and IE 9 can handle SVG, but MathML remains a missing piece.

Test one focused on measurements and a density of soap experiment. A follow-up report on the laboratory including data gathered is available.

Fifteen of the sixteen students completed test one, the following table indicates the number answering each question correctly, along with a descriptor of the question.

t q topic n corr perc strength
1 1 calculate slope from line on graph 15 10 0.67 weak
1 2 density as equal to slope 15 7 0.47 weak
1 3 infer effect of density 15 10 0.67 weak
1 4 calculate volume from measurements 15 15 1.00 strong
1 5 calculate density from measurements 15 8 0.53 weak
1 6 identify vocabulary term 15 12 0.80 moderate
1 7 inferential reasoning 15 11 0.73 moderate
1 8 calculate mass from density and volume 15 10 0.67 weak
1 9 plot data on graph 15 15 1.00 strong
1 10 draw line through data points 15 14 0.93 strong
1 11 calculate slope from line on graph 15 11 0.73 moderate
1 12 determine units from table 15 2 0.13 weak
1 13 recall fact from text 15 9 0.60 weak
1 14 recall fact from text 15 11 0.73 moderate
1 15 recall fact from text 15 5 0.33 weak
1 16 recall fact from homework 15 10 0.67 weak

The students demonstrated a strong ability to plot (x, y) scatter graph data, draw a line through the data, and to make a basic volume calculation. The volume calculation involved only multiplying three numbers together.  The students enter physical science knowing how to plot data.

They have some ability to calculate the slope of a line on a graph and can recall some memorized information.

Their ability to handle units correctly is quite weak. While question twelve directly asked students to determine units based on the heading row of tabular data, many other questions included numbers that had units in their answers. In the above item analysis these questions were considered correct if the value was correct. The above item analysis does not look at whether the units were correct. In at least half of the answers, the units were incorrect.

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