Extra Credit Solves Everything

Extra Credit ButtonExtra Credit.  It is the great equalizer.  It solves a multitulde of problems.  If a student receives a low score on a math quiz or test, he can just come up and ask me for extra credit and make his problem go away.  Get a D on a math test?  Go write a 10-page paper about a famous mathematician and all will be forgiven.  Memorize the first 100 digits of pi and your D will miraculously become an A.  Who cares if you still don’t understand the math?  Extra credit is the answer!

After I returned a recent test I received two emails from parents as well as several inquiries from students wondering what they could do for extra credit, in order to raise their grade.  As you can tell by my sarcastic musings above, I am not a big fan of extra credit.  Extra credit is unnecessary for students who have demonstrated their mastery of a particular set of mathematical skills.  For those who have not mastered these skills, I find it a cheap substitute for the learning which should have taken place.

Extra Credit Happens Before An Assessment

My typical response when asked about extra credit is to share with students the following extra credit formula.  Before the next assessment the student should:

  • spend additional time preparing for the next quiz or test
  • correct problems that she has missed on previous quizzes or on daily assignments
  • ask questions regarding concepts or problems she doesn’t understand
  • listen carefully in class and use class time wisely when beginning assignments

I can pretty much guarantee students that if they do these things before the next assessment, they will receive “extra credit.”  By extra credit I mean that they will likely receive more credit as a result of their front-end preparation than they would have if they had utilized the same routine that led to their last assessment result.

Extra Credit That I Offer

Although I am not a proponent of any standard extra credit system which allows students to significantly raise their grades without demonstrating an increased ability in math, I do offer extra credit under the following three circumstances.

  1. I usually put one or two extra credit problems on each quiz or test.  This allows students to make a simple mistake or two and still score well on my assessment.  It also gives me the freedom to include a more challenging problem or two without feeling that these problems will sink the grades of the entire class.
  2. I sometimes offer extra credit if it is taking a current assignment to the next level or offering further practice on a math skill.  For instance, when I teach Coordinate Graphing I assign the first two student worksheets from my What’s the Point? assignment.  Students who would like to earn a few extra points have the option of completing a third worksheet and further cementing their coordinate graphing skills.
  3. Finally, if there is a special math event happening at our school, or in my classroom, I may give a few extra credit points for students who participate.  In the past we have celebrated Pi Day on March 14th.  Students have received a few extra credit points for bringing in a pie or sharing interesting facts about pi.  Some have written pi poems or looked up pi jokes online.

Authentic Extra Credit

Relevant, worthwhile extra credit is work which rewards students for extending their learning beyond the basic assignment or for participating in a special event in a way that will benefit their classmates.  Authentic extra credit is not manufactured solely as a means for a student to raise his grade. 

Resist the temptation to “save” students from unsatisfactory progress by providing extra credit supplements to the students.  I have found that an unsatisfactory grade will often provide the necessary motivation for the student to better his preparation and achieve greater results.  Students need to understand the connection between their efforts and the results that they experience.  Too much extra credit prevents this from happening.

Share Your Experience

The DigitalLesson.com community would benefit greatly from your insights into using extra credit in your classroom.  How do you use extra credit?  What can you share with us that might help us to be more effective math teachers?  Please take a moment and comment below.

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  1. Rob Gilson says:

    This is fabulously stated, Mark. Thank you for submitting this at such a serendipitous time: when Progress Reports and Report Cards are beginning to appear!

    • Mark Tully says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Rob! I’m glad that it reached you at a relevant time.

  2. Extra Credit can take your class in a new direction. I was looking for something interesting to do in Pre-Algebra last year and found an incredible DVD by Marcus du Sautoy, “The Story of Math”…4 hours long plus a bonus DVD on the Riemann Hypothesis. I wanted my students to love this DVD as much as I did, but who has 5 hours to delve into something as sophisticated as this…I had to wait until after CST. I developed the “Mystery Mathematician” extra credit assignment. I printed up pictures of the top 30 mathematicians in history (just their faces…photos, drawings, or sculptures) and handed them out for students to research. First, find out who it is…one girl Googled “ugliest mathematician” and Rene Descartes came right up. Second, tell their story, their life, death, and interesting facts. Finally, explain what made them mathematically significant. One of my favorites is Evariste Galois who was killed in a duel at age 22. He is considered to be one of the top thirty mathematicians and yet died so young…imagine what he could have accomplished had he survived the duel! I allow my students to deliver any type of 2 minute presentation they care to. Afterwards, we watch two edited hours of the Marcus du Sautoy DVD, and they all listen for their mathematician. Afterwards, we discuss the six Millenium Prizes ($1,000,000 each) offered by the Clay Institute and how there are many mathematical challenges left for us to explore and conquer. Who knows, maybe one of them will do it.

    • Mark Tully says:

      James, this sounds like a great project for your students to participate in. I also usually dive into some projects once my state testing has been completed. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Cathlene Terbetski says:

    I have coupons that are good for an extra point on the next class assessment. It is signed by me when I give it to them for a variety of reasons. Could be as simple as being prepared and ready for class at the beginning of the year. If reviewing for a test at the end of a unit – may be given to the first person to answer the problem correctly. I mix it up so that the same person doesn’t always get the coupon. They then must hand it in on the day of the test/assessment stapled to their test. Leaving it home doesn’t count. I also use an extra credit question on the test that is more challenging.

    • Mark Tully says:

      Cathlene, I like your system! Thanks for sharing.

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