Memories from MAAthfest 2018

0. At #MAAthfest this past August, Drew Lewis asked, “How can we make sure we are providing adequate opportunities for all our students to demonstrate mastery?

This year’s MAAthfest was held in Denver, Colorado from August 1st through August 4th. I went, I had a great time, and I want to tell you about some of the things I learned. While there, I presented twice: once as an invited panelist for Project NExT and then as a speaker in the Special Session on #MasteryGrading. Info about my talks is available here in my blog post called “MAAthfest 2018“.

Now I hope to give you a quick summary of some of the many great take-aways from the rest of the #MasteryGrading session.

1. Many of us noted that Mastery Grading reduces stress levels, both for the instructors and the students.

2. It’s hard to get by on a partial credit strategy. Mastery Grading holds students accountable for their own learning.

3. Many of us moved toward Mastery Grading after spending a long time really considering questions like “Why do we assign grades?” and “What do we want grades to tell us?”

4. I really like, respect, and enjoy these people.

We didn’t spend the entire time working. We also had shared some great meals:

5. Traditional Grading expects all students to learn material at the same pace, but Mastery Grading allows learners to find their own path.

6. Mastery Grading really changes the way you write questions. If your goal is for students to change how they answer questions, sometimes you have to change what you’re asking them.

7. In Traditional Grading, instructors give students points. In Mastery Grading, students have accountability for gaining and then displaying knowledge.

8. There are many different ways to implement Mastery Grading. The real challenge is  finding the one that works best for you, your courses, and your students.

I’m excited to read an upcoming issue of PRIMUS (Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies) devoted to Mastery Grading. Submissions are due October 15th, 2018 and more information is available here.

9. In all learning, there’s struggle. Mastery Grading supports and encourages students through the struggle.

Austin added, “Assessment should guide students toward productive struggle” and I really like this quote. On Deadlines, he also gave us two pieces of important advice:


10. Mastery Grading allows a path for improvement and success for all students, while still keeping clear, high expectations for learning.


Bevin Maultsby (NC State) shared with us course grade distributions for students in a course on Matlab, a computer programming language. Over 60% of her students earned As! So impressive.

11. Some adaptations of Mastery Grading work well in project-based courses, courses with proofs, etc.

Chad Wiley (Emporia State University) told us about his use of specifications grading, and I’m hoping to adapt some specs-style setup in my upcoming “Math for Teachers” course that starts in October.

If you’re wondering about the difference between standards-based grading and specifications-based grading, Joshua Bowman (Pepperdine University) really summed it up well:

12. Common benefits of Mastery Grading include sustained student effort, clearer learning objectives, and changes in conversations with students.

We had a great three-presenter talk about #SBG happening at three different institutions:

I really need to look back on this list of “14 Characteristics for Evaluating Grading Systems” by Linda Nilson.

13. The Mastery Grading community has begun gathering powerful data about student learning, and we’re seeing that Mastery Grading allows for students to be successful even with differentiated pacing of their learning.

Drew Lewis (South Alabama) had a really amazing slide called “A tale of two students” and I am committed to generating such graphs for my own students this semester:

Honestly, if I had to pick one slide that has stuck with me daily since MAAthfest, it’s Drew’s graph of the learning trajectories of two different students. If we want all our students to have the opportunity to be successful, we must construct our courses that allows for differentiated learning trajectories. 

14. Most University grade systems are already built with Mastery vocabulary in their grading scales.

15. Occasionally I missed Tweeting great stuff.

There are several other talks I don’t have archived on Twitter. Joshua Bowman gave a great talk about his years of experience using standards-based grading. His work was what originally inspired me to make the Mastery Grading jump in my own courses in 2013-2014.

Steven Clontz gave some really great practical tips (and I was too busy taking notes to tweet them!). Thankfully, he did that part himself:

I wasn’t able to attend David Clark’s (from GVSU) presentation when he won the Alder Award, but here’s what the MAA tweeted:

16. Outside of Mastery Grading, I was inspired and found joy in several other places.

 Her slides are available here, courtesy of the MAA.

  • I went to Emily Riehl’s talk in the “Category Theory for All” session and her talk was amazing.

    I mentioned to a colleague here what I had learned about category theory and it turns out one of our graduate students at the College of Charleston is writing a masters thesis in this area. I was invited to join his thesis committee, so now I’m going to have the opportunity to learn a lot more. Emily’s talk reminded me of some of the things I love about universal algebra.

  • One of my best friends from childhood was able to fly to Denver to spend some time with me, and her company was the best gift. Also, this was my first trip away from my three children — ever! — and by the time she got there, I was hug-starved. So great to have someone to offer a hug (and a hundred laughs) each day.

See you at MAAthfest 2019.

2 thoughts on “Memories from MAAthfest 2018

  1. Now that the semester is well underway, have you implemented any Mastery Grading ideas/techniques that you picked up from MathFest 2018? If so, which ones and how are they going?

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