MyMathLab – Homework Grades (Monday 11/23/09)

November 24, 2009 at 7:17 am Leave a comment

This week I’ve decided to focus on MyMathLab homework and the grades we assign to it. (Sorry for the delay – exams, exams, exams …)

How I’ve Always Done It

For the last few years I have made MyMathLab 25% of my students’ grade. I divide the 25% equally among the following 3 categories: homework, chapter quizzes, SLO quizzes. I have always felt comfortable assigning a little over 8% of my total grade to homework. I know some instructors get a little worried about students getting high homework grades without actually learning, and therefore setting themselves up for failure on exams.

I spend a significant amount of time at the beginning of the semester talking about how to do the homework to maximize understanding. I explain each of the learning aids and how to incorporate them in an effective plan to learn, while also explaining some of the pitfalls associated with the learning aids. (See my article on “Student Pointers” on my web site for more information.) With this approach I have a very small number of students who do well on the homework but do not learn.

Here are a few other strategies you can use if you worry about the homework.

Option 1 – Limit the number of attempts per question.

MyMathLab now allows the instructor to limit the number of attempts per question. I have a colleague who currently uses this strategy, limiting his students to 3 attempts, and has found it to be successful. First, he says, this is actually 9 attempts – 3 chances to answer each of the 3 questions. Second, he feels that his students take each question more seriously due to the limited number of attempts, rather than just going through the motions.

Another benefit to this approach is that the use of the “Help Me Solve This” learning aid uses up one of their attempts. This makes students less reliant on the learning aids, which should improve their exam scores.

(Keep up the good work, JB.)

Option 2- Turn off the learning aids.

MyMathLab now allows you to turn of some or all of the learning aids for an assignment. So, if you don’t want your students to abuse the learning aids, turn them off. You could create one assignment that leaves them on, and another that leaves them off. You could turn them off in homework assignments, and direct students to Study Plan problems for help.

Option 3 – Make the homework worth 0%.

What?!?!?! If the homework is worth 0%, the students won’t do it. Not so fast, my friend.

At Pioneer VI in Kentucky, I got a great idea from two instructors (one from Hazzard County) that I plan to implement next semester. For each section, create a homework assignment and a quiz. Leave the learning aids on for the homework, but not for the quiz. Make the homework a prerequisite for the quiz; for example, set the prerequisite to 90% for access to the quiz.

Students still need to do the homework to learn, because they will need to be able to solve the problems on the quiz. This way, they use the learning aids as they were intended – to increase understanding.

This is a win-win situation. We can get students to do the homework and demonstrate proficiency on the quizzes, without inflating their grades.


MyMathLab homework is not the “magic bullet”. It needs to be one part of a comprehensive plan to help students understand. Using quizzes, without learning aids, is one way to make sure students understand and are not simply clicking through problems until they get one they have seen before. Also, if you want to make sure your students are understanding the material, find a way to check out their written work. I give quick quizzes at the beginning of class and group assignments at the end of class so I can take a look at their work.

If you have any questions, leave a comment or drop me a line through the contact page on my web site. – George

Note – MyMathLab related articles appear every Monday.

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there are topics you’d like me to address in future MyMathLab articles, send in your requests through the contact page on my web site. – George


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Potpourri – Student Success Story (Thursday 11/19/09) Study Skills – The “Half Test” (Tuesday November 24)

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