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Tag: Education

Teachers: stop sending out antiquated elementary school report cards! Instead of assigning a row of letter grades to each student, assign a huge matrix of letters instead!

Background:

Elementary school letter grades theoretically indicate the achievement of a certain degree of competency in a subject (e.g. a fourth-grader receiving an “A” in math would have learned all of the math that a fourth-grader is expected to know).

The issue:

There are a couple of immediate problems with the way report cards present this information:

  1. There is pressure to assign a full range of grades across students; even in a theoretical world where all students in a class achieved all the expected proficiencies, there would be pressure on the teacher to further differentiate the students into “extremely proficient” (A), “basically the same but maybe missed a couple questions” (B), and “I guess mis-read a couple more questions” (C). But this is unfair to the students, who are all at more or less equivalent competency.
  2. By having the “A” and “F” be absolute maximum / minimum values, it’s unclear what competency a student actually has: a kindergartener would almost certainly get an “F” in a calculus class, but it would be easy for a reasonably competent calculus student to get that same “F” grade despite having a decent understanding of the material.

Finally, the current report card system presents knowledge as a “treadmill”: school just gets more and more difficult, until some students give up. This is not a reasonable way to depict the acquisition of knowledge, and gives an unintentional sense of futility to the whole educational endeavor.

Proposal:

Instead of just showing how the student is faring in the current grade, the proposed new style of report card is “progression based” (Figure 1): it shows how the student is doing overall, on a spectrum ranging from kindergarten all the way through Nobel-Prize-worthy research.

2-report-card-third-grade.png

Fig. 1: Here, we see a hypothetical nearly-straight-“A” report card for a third-grader. But instead of just showing “A, A, B, A, B,” this report card puts the overall amount of knowledge achieved into perspective: this third-grader would be unlikely to be able to successfully present a Ph.D. defense or obtain a Nobel Prize, so clearly there is still more knowledge that could (theoretically) be acquired.

This has at least two benefits:

  1.  It allows a student to have the satisfaction of “locking in” some progress: rather than school being an endless treadmill of increasing difficulty, it becomes obvious that skills are accumulating. This might be motivational to a student who would otherwise give up upon getting a “D” in calculus.
  2. It prevents a straight-“A” student from losing motivation by incorrectly concluding that they have learned everything in the world, just because they’ve mastered the 3rd-grade curriculum.

Implementation Detail:

Actually implementing this sort of report card has at least one difficulty: how do you assess from a 4th-grade math test whether or not a student has learned college-level math?

One possible solution would be to add a few unreasonably-difficult questions to each test: for example, in the 4th-grader’s math test, a few calculus questions could be mixed in. If the student successfully answers these, they would get an “A” in the “Intro College Math” section of their report card, but if they don’t know the answer—as expected—this will not reduce their Grade 4 letter grade.

Conclusion:

There are probably other “gamification” techniques that could be used in grade reporting to motivate students more effectively, but this would be a good start.

PROS: Since humans apparently love to see progression occur / numbers go up (as evidenced by the popularity of many mobile games and of the entire RPG genre), this “progression system based” report card would definitely be a hit.

CONS: Extremely overbearing parents would probably berate their 2nd-graders for not getting the masters-degree-level science questions right, thus making the tiger-parent experience even more stressful.

One weird tip to having every meeting end punctually! It involves sharks, though.

TITLE: One weird tip to having every meeting end punctually! It involves sharks, though.

Background:

People giving presentations are famous for going over their allotted time. However, presentations are frequently unmoderated or have a lax moderator, leading to time overages being the norm rather than the exception.

Proposal:

An automated system that made the presentation stage increasingly unpleasant as the presenter reached (and went past) their assigned time would greatly improve efficiency both at conferences and in college lecture halls.

Specifically, the proposal is as follows:

  • The lecture stand is in a small sunken area of the stage (or surrounded by small walls). This area is also connected up to a large tank of water by a pipe (see figure 1, tank is on right hand side).
  • As the lecturer goes over time, water is pumped into the lecture stand area, gradually increasing the water level until the presenter is knee-deep (or neck-deep) in water.
  • This will encourage the presenter to quickly wrap things up, instead of going over time with no consequences.

lecture-3d-view

Fig 1: Orange / red: lecture stand with laptop. The lecture area is surrounded by a low transparent wall. Right: a tank of water is connected to the lecture stand area, allowing water to gradually be pumped in to encourage the presenter to wrap up their talk.

shark-lecture-diagram

Fig 2: An alternative arrangement, where the lecture area (B, C) is slowly lowered into an ever-present aquarium (D) by a system of overhead cables on winches (A). The audience sits in the seats marked at E.

shark-octo-buddies

Fig 3: Some presenters may not be fazed by mere water; in these cases, we might want to introduce denizens of the deep to also encourage the presenter to finish their talk. Pictured: a rare purple octopus and extremely lethargic shark.

PROS: Saves many hours of time for college students and professionals in various fields. Encourages presentation discipline for both the talk and any subsequent Q&A sessions.

CONS: Would probably exacerbate any existing “stage fright” due to the presence of deadly animals. Presenters with rivals in the audience may find their talk extended by irrelevant questions as their foes attempt to cause them to descend into the aquarium with an over-long talk.

How to easily solve “helicopter parenting” by providing a safe way for children to learn about safety and danger

The premise:

Due to the high degree of safety in modern society, the idea of what is “safe” vs “dangerous” has changed. As overall safety increases, people begin to see previously-acceptable situations as dangerous. This cycle may continue as time goes on, unless action is taken.

Example:

This concept is perhaps most evident in the increasingly conservative construction of children’s playgrounds, where even the humble swing set is under threat of removal due to its perceived danger.

playground-safe

Fig 1: Example of a playground.

A possible solution to this safety-to-danger perception treadmill:

In order to re-calibrate people’s perception of safety and danger, we suggest providing an extremely dangerous situation in juxtaposition with a “normal” situation. This way people can get a proper grasp of the full range of possible options for safety / danger.

playground-snakes

Fig 2: Example of something that would generally be regarded as “dangerous” across all human cultures.

Specifically, the idea is to have a playground with a “normal” section and then a (possibly fenced off) deadly snake pit.

This would allow both adults and children to realize that the deadly snake pit was “very dangerous” and that the swing sets were relatively safe in comparison. No doubt this new realization would also pay dividends in many other aspects of life. Education is very important!

playground-all

Fig 3: Artist’s rendition of the final “safety and danger” playground.

Left: safety. Right: danger.

PROS: Would help provide useful perspective on the degrees of safety and danger in modern society. Would help children learn the various degrees to which something can be dangerous. Additionally, would provide employment for hard-working snakes.

CONS: It’s hard to imagine any downsides or problems to this proposal.