It turns out, I’m not above bribery.

I’m really worried about the life science classes I’m teaching this year. These are students who have or cannot pass algebra and it seems in most cases they have failed previous science classes. Many of them are very unmotivated, and most of my students are failing so far despite my best attempts.

I am shadowing another life science teacher since I have not taught science before and have no curriculum of my own. In fact, I believe I’m expected to use the same assignments at the same pace so that all the life science classes are virtually interchangeable. This approach is not working out too well. I think I’m teaching it the exact same way as the other teacher, yet her classes have far fewer failing students. I cannot help be feel something’s wrong with what I’m doing. However, the teacher whom I’m shadowing is less than approachable.

My BTSA Support Teacher – I’ll call her Mandy – had two suggestions that together gave me a brainstorm. One, she suggested that I might ease my problem with students repeated talking during exams by randomly giving a candy to those who are behaving correctly. I love this idea. Two, she suggested I can justify changing up the curriculum a bit because “the current path is not working for these students.”

So I bought a bunch of bags of small candies at Wal-Mart. You can get like 200 pieces for seven bucks. Then I got plain and colored tongue depressors at Michaels. They even had some glow-stick bracelets at a good price, and I grabbed those too. Today, I located a few large beakers in the science hallway. I pulled out the markers.

Near the end of each science class today, I introduced “Five Questions”. I had each student write his/her name on a stick of his/her choice, decorate the stick and return it to me. I put all the sticks into a large beaker. Then I asked five questions, one at a time. The questions were right out of today’s notes and should be right there in front of the student. After each question, I pulled a stick out of the beaker and called on that student. If the student knew the answer, his/her stick went into a smaller beaker. A wrong answer landed the student’s stick onto my desk. When we were done, the students who answered corrected came up and picked their favorite goody from the goody jar. They were so excited! Many students were disappointed that they were not called. I told them they might be next.

Of course, many students still did not know the answers because these students did not bother to write the notes today. I am hoping that Five Questions is incentive enough to start writing notes. Subsequently I hope test scores will go up too, and perhaps even the general level of work completion and turn-in.

I’ll report back in a few weeks or months.

UPDATE 10/2/08

This has turned out to be very popular with my life science students. They are better at getting their materials put away and back into their assigned seats quickly so that we can do “5 questions” at the end of class. So far, the winners have mainly been those students who were already doing okay. I’m interested whether the less engaged students will start answering correctly, which means having paid closer attention in class that day. It may be slow going, but I’m hoping that this will have a positive effect. At the very least, it is a nice closure activity.

Having graded tests today for my graphic design class, I’m think I need to try “5 questions” there too. They do not appear to be taking the reading seriously and are just jumping ahead to do all the tutorials. This is detrimental to their understanding of the software and design concepts in general.

UPDATE 10/13/08

After viewing recent quiz scores in my design classes, I decided to try this game there as well. The kids in the design classes love it as much as the science students.

There’s a life science test coming up on Friday, and various design quizzes tomorrow and Friday. I’ll be calculating the average scores for these and see if there’s been any improvement in lesson retention so far.

UPDATE 10/17/08

My life science classes have shown some improvement. In 6th period, for example, last month’s Unit 3 test generated a 60% average grade. Today’s Unit 4 test generated a 66% average. These numbers include only students who took the test. This difference may have to do with the nature of the individual test questions and not my methods, but this result encourages me to keep trying 5 Questions.

Here are some stats:

PERIOD 5 Unit 3 Test Unit 4 Test
Class average 50 62½
% students % students
As 4 0
Bs 11 10
Cs 11 38
Total As, Bs and Cs 26 48
Ds 15 19
Fs 59 33
Total Ds and Fs 74 52


PERIOD 6 Unit 3 Test Unit 4 Test
Class average 60 66
% students % students
As 13 0
Bs 4 24
Cs 22 28
Total As, Bs and Cs 39 52
Ds 13 8
Fs 48 40
Total Ds and Fs 61 48

UPDATE 11/18/08

5th Period did much better this unit test, while 6th period dipped but still did better in terms of % of As, Bs & Cs compared to Unit 3.

PERIOD 5 Unit 3 Test Unit 4 Test Unit 5 Test
Class average 50 62½ 69
% students % students % students
As 4 0 18
Bs 11 10 18
Cs 11 38 18
Total As, Bs and Cs 26 48 54
Ds 15 19 23
Fs 59 33 23
Total Ds and Fs 74 52 46


PERIOD 6 Unit 3 Test Unit 4 Test Unit 5 Test
Class average 60 66 60
% students % students % students
As 13 0 5
Bs 4 24 10
Cs 22 28 33
Total As, Bs and Cs 39 52 48
Ds 13 8 19
Fs 48 40 33
Total Ds and Fs 61 48 52

By Dawn Pedersen

Science advocate, web designer, educator, artist, and mommy.

2 replies on “It turns out, I’m not above bribery.”

I’m not sure if you can think of a way to modify this for your purposes, but here is something I did with my Cub Scouts that worked very well.

In the pocket of my uniform, I had one slip of paper per Scout, with their name written on it. At the beginning of the meeting, precisely at the time we were supposed to start, I would draw out a name. If that boy was there (on time) and in uniform, he got a blow-pop sucker. If that boy was not in attendance that day, or he came in late, or he did not wear his uniform, nobody got a sucker.

BUT… the next week, when I drew out a name, that boy (if he met the requirements) would get TWO suckers.

I wasn’t above rigging it so that I drew out a boys name who routinely “forgot” to wear his uniform, either. Amazingly, he would remember it better after that!

Hope this helps, you sound like a great teacher. Cool name, too!

Dawn Ogden

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