Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.


What Quizzes Are Actually For (Teaching Better)

I used to think that teachers gave quizzes because they felt like it. My students think I do it because I’m mean, which is ridiculous. I’m mean because I care.

In reality, the answer to the why-do-quizzes-exist question is simple: so that you can know if you’re doing your job. All sorts of implications fall out of that:

  1. Quizzes shouldn’t be used to calculate final marks (at least not in the traditional way)
  2. Quizzes should impact what you do tomorrow and a week from tomorrow
  3. Quizzes should be really challenging. Like, the kids have to put an ice pack on their heads to prevent their brains from running out (that’s what mucus is, who knew?)

This flies in the face of what most teachers do with quizzes, which essentially boils down to an ethically perverse form of classroom management.

Nah, that ain’t me.

So, without further ado, I present to you the results of my most recent physics quiz:

Prompt: A hockey player takes a slapshot on goal. The puck stays on the ice and leaves the face of the stick at 60 m/s fast. When is the puck moving the fastest?

The responses were wild.


If the puck travels at 60 m/s then it was always moving ‘the fastest.’


The puck accelerates up to its top speed after the force from the stick wears off. Then it keeps the same speed until it hits the goalie.


It speeds up the whole way because the ice is slippery.

There were more, but they were all either correct, ambiguous, or iterations of those above.

Teaching science is all about attacking misconceptions with a tweezer, and I think we’ve got some to excise.

Here’s the crazy part: they would have passed this quiz three weeks ago. Think about what that means. You’re a shitty teacher. I think it means that we’ve trained kids to like the binge and purge, which is why you have to switch to SBG. It’s not just about grading, it’s about their little souls retention.

Retention. Retention. Retention.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to spend the next two days having students analyze NHL videos. I’m going to have them look for this misconception in younger students. I’m going to do anything to dredge this back up, and delouse it. That’s teaching like a boss.

Eat a bagel!

Shawn Cornally • November 1, 2012

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  1. Jackie Crawford November 11, 2012 - 7:54 pm

    Great and interesting post! I am a middle school teacher and sometimes find myself racking my brain trying to think of ways to engage and challenge my students in ways that I haven’t before, all the while making what we’re learning interesting. I just read a great book you might like and also find helpful, it’s called “Teach Like A PIRATE” by Dave Burgess. You can check him out and get the book right from the website Thanks for the post!

  2. Paul Bianchi November 8, 2012 - 9:26 pm

    For two years now, I’ve been trying to sell SBG to my colleagues by stealth, telling them “You really need to read this blog Think Thank Thunk, it’s brilliant and funny and has lots of great ideas”. And they all look at me like “You’re one of THOSE people, people who read blogs”. But I digress.
    Today in class we wrapped up projectile motion with a problem for the first half hour, and then someone asked about reviewing acceleration formulas (the previous topic) for an exam next week.I pointed out that they’d been practicing acceleration formulas for half an hour, but they clearly hadn’t made the connection. So I suggested they look over their acceleration notes for ten minutes and then I give them a “meaty” problem as a quiz. Half the class shrieked in protest, but then someone said “well actually, it will just be good practice for the test, right? The grade next week will override this one anyway”. And suddenly there was a consensus that it was a good idea, but three students asked if they could just work on more projectile motion problems by themselves because they needed more work on that. Which was perfectly OK. And I thought, I love SBG.

    • Shawn Cornally November 11, 2012 - 2:04 pm


  3. Joe Robinson November 5, 2012 - 6:22 pm

    This is something that I’ve been experiencing lately too, but I was noble to put in such an entertaining, and truthful way. Well done.

  4. Harry November 2, 2012 - 8:29 am

    Retention — the biggest problem among my students. This article actually triggered a thought I hadn’t had before.

    “We want retention, but is that realistic?” Patti W’s comment above adult forgetfulness hit home for me.

    We retain what is important to us. Standardized testing, which I hate, is what is important to states. It’s important to students in the short term because they have to take a quiz. Do they really retain it long term if it has no meaning for them?

    We only become proficient at the things we like doing and will be a consistent part of our lives.

    Thanks for the reminder about quizzes are for me, not for the student. Can you explain how you assess a standard not using a quiz? I admit that this is a weakness of mine.

  5. Chris Mitchell November 1, 2012 - 10:07 pm

    This is brilliant. I have started SBG as of this year and I find that students are learning better, but they are still forgetting a week or 2 after the quizzes. I think I need to implement some more formative assessment to make sure that they are retaining the things that we are covering – including the many misconceptions that the students are picking back up!

  6. Patti W. November 1, 2012 - 8:58 pm

    The retention thing is something we’re struggling with. When we reassess with a big test, we have multiple versions of the test. But what happens if the kid slips up on something he knew before? Is that fair to dock him and say he doesn’t know it anymore and isn’t proficient? What if he wants to reassess again and some other topic gets forgotten?

    If I assess at a more granular level (which is my preference because I can fix things before they get out of control), do you do a bigger, more cumulative assessment later to refresh brains? My department is having a hard time letting go of big tests.

    In our department meeting this week it was brought up that there’s a certain level of forgetfulness we accept as adults, but somehow we expect kids not to forget anything they learned. We were struggling with a sensible way of assessing that doesn’t penalize kids for things they haven’t used in awhile and so have forgotten.

    This comment isn’t useful in any way other than to let you know that retention is an interesting question. I have no answers. I think about it frequently, though.

  7. TJ Hitchman November 1, 2012 - 8:39 pm

    Hell yeah!

    Sorry. That could be more constructive.

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