Calculating the Calendar: Leap Year

Today is Leap Day!  This is not only a day for exclusive sales and marriage proposal traditions, but also a chance to take a look at the science and math behind this special day.

One convenient falsehood that we are taught in early grade school is that there are exactly 365 days in a year. In fact, the earth turns roughly 365 and a quarter times on its axis by the time it has completed a full year’s orbit around the sun, which means that periodically the calendar has to catch up. A leap year contains one extra day, February 29, for a total of 366 days.  Without leap days, the calendar would be off by 24 days within 100 years.

The arithmetical formula used to calculate which years are leap years is as follows:

A leap year is any year whose date is exactly divisible by 4 except those which are divisible by 100 but not 400.

Why such complexity? Because the exact number of days in a solar year is actually ever-so-slightly less than 365.25 (it is 365.242374, to be precise), so the algorithm had to be designed such that every now and then a leap year is skipped to keep the calendar on track over the long haul.

The chance of being born on a leap day is one in 1,461. Four years is 1,460 days and adding one for the leap year you have 1,461. So, odds of 1/1,461.  Babies born on February 29th are known as “leapers” or “leaplings.”

Enjoy Leap Day this year as there won’t be another for 1,461 days!

Facts collected from BBC, NumbersGuy, and Scienceworld.

Feature Contest Top 5 Spotlight: Professor Jared Daily

Jared Daily is currently a physics/engineering/math instructor at North Platte Community College in Nebraska.  His feature idea of adding the ability to send students text message reminders for WebAssign assignment is one of our top 5 nominees in the Make Your Voice Heard contest.  He has taught at North Platte Community College since 2007 after coming from the College of Eastern Utah, in Price, Utah where he held the same position.  Read more to find out how Professor Daily has used WebAssign to enhance his classroom.

How long have you used WebAssign?

I began using WebAssign in January 2010.  I was disturbed by a trend that I have been observing with increased frequency among my colleagues.  So many math and science teachers are not assigning mandatory homework assignments to be returned for grading and feedback.  It has always been my belief that mathematics should be taught as a language, and the only way to properly learn a new language is through immersion.  Students learn little from reading and even less from lecture.  They must work through problems and get their hands and minds into the work. I am convinced that WebAssign is the first truly useful application of computers in education.

How have you adopted WebAssign in your classroom?

I use WebAssign principally as a tool to deliver assignments and learning tools to my students.  Enhanced WebAssign has been particularly effective on the learning end, and I have switched almost exclusively to those books.  The students use the learning tools (videos, practice problems, book links) a great deal while completing their assignments.  I do believe, however, that student feedback is the most appreciated tool for me as well as my students.  My students like to know when they have successfully completed a problem or an assignment.  I honestly believe that the little green checkmark acts as some sort of intellectual stimulant that drives students to care more about their math homework than ever before.  I find that miraculous, and beneficial to my goals.

What are some of your best practice methods concerning WebAssign or teaching in general?

WebAssign provides an organizational structure for a class that is complex both in its subject and in the content.  We cover so many topics, and I prefer to compartmentalize the topics in the assignments.  I also incorporate writing assignments, analysis of data and many other activities.  With all of these components in one place, the students are less confused and intimidated.  They know what is expected, and they know when it is expected.  I do use the automatic extension feature, because it is so easy to forget an assignment in such an intense course.  They have the option of up to 3 1-hour extensions at a penalty of 5% per hour.  This practice allows students to recover from minor lapses without any trouble.  They only have 1 day to extend, which sets a boundary for those who would take advantage.

How would your new feature suggestion impact your classroom?

The most obvious impact of having text alerts comes from observing the students of today.  Students rarely check email accounts.  Many students do not even have an email account until the college assigns one to them.  They all use Facebook and Twitter, but I do not care to enter those worlds just to reach my students.  Also, students regularly ignore phone calls just by looking at the caller ID, but I have never seen a student ignore a text message.  Nothing seems to stand in the way of checking and answering a text message.

In order to pass a tough math or science class, a student must stay on top of the work.  I can think of no better way to encourage this than to infiltrate their regular communications constantly.  Additionally, text-messaging seems to be an untapped resource for evaluation and assessment of students.  Why not work in an option for students to answer quizzes with their cell phones and have the results for the entire class displayed on an assessment page?  This would be like a clicker system built into WebAssign.

Vote for this idea and others on UserVoice or Facebook now!

Friday Funny!

Have your students ever turned in something like these creative homework answers?  If so we want to read them, send them in today!

WebAssign Grading Update!

WebAssign has simplified how you grade answers!

While WebAssign grades most of your questions for you, all short answer, essay, PencilPad, file-upload, and Show My Work answers must be manually graded. Previously, manual grading was separated into grading Essay/Files and grading Show My Work. Now you can grade these types of answers for an assignment simply by clicking the Grade Answers link on the Scores page.

When you access the Grade Answers page, you will see one student’s answers to all of the questions that can be graded on the assignment, shown in the order the questions occur on an assignment. You can review the student’s answer and enter a score and/or comment for each question. After you save your score, shading will indicate that you have graded the answer.

This shading can be used to quickly identify what answers you have previously graded every time you access a page. To grade answers for a different student, simply click Next: Student Name or select a student from the Go to Student menu. You can still have the ability to grade answers one question at a time, grade answers for a selected set of students, and download file-upload answers.

For more information about this feature see our instructor manual.

Feature Contest Top 5 Spotlight: Professor Carole Simard

Professor Carole Simard’s feature idea of adding a sort & search feature to the assignments list is one of our Top 5 Feature nominees from our Make Your Voice Heard contest.

Carole Simard is a part-time mathematics lecturer at California Polytechnic State University, and a part-time mathematics instructor at Cuesta Community College, both located in San Luis Obispo, CA.  She took the time to answer a few of our questions below.

How long have you used WebAssign?

I have been using WebAssign since September 2009 for homework assignments.

What WebAssign features do you use most or find the most useful?

The features I use frequently are the assignment creation, assignment schedulingcourse creationgrade override, and the assignment extension features. However, the WebAssign feature that I use most is viewing assignment responses in the Gradebook summary.

What are some of your best practice methods concerning WebAssign or teaching in general?

Since I believe it is important for students to develop good mathematics notation, I assign a few homework problems to be turned in on paper alongside their online work. This allows students to practice notation and solving problems step by step and also receive feedback before taking quizzes and exams on paper where these things are graded. However, I assign most of the homework problems on WebAssign to expose students to a broader variety of problems and to allow them to take advantage of the great features offered by WebAssign such as immediate feedback, extra practice of similar problems, in line tutorial, video tutorials, and digital access to the book.

Homework assignments, both WebAssign and paper, are usually due on Friday at the beginning of class. I sometimes allow extensions for extenuating circumstances, which is  easily managed through WebAssign.  To encourage students to think about the problems which are assigned on WebAssign, I limit the number of answer submission to three. If, however, they get the correct answer after using their three tries, I use the override option to give them an additional point, especially at the beginning of the session when they are not yet completely familiar with the syntax of WebAssign. I find that a few weeks into the session there are rarely requests for additional points.

How would your new feature suggestion impact your classroom?

A new sort & search feature on the assignment list would improve the administration of WebAssign for my classes. Teaching different courses using WebAssign generates many assignments and I have found myself spending a fair amount of time looking for a particular assignment which I may have created several months earlier or updated at some other time. Having the possibility to filter assignments across all courses by book, name, date, type as well as the ability to search for specific assignments quickly would be very helpful.  Additionally, adding the ability to organize and group assignments together would be useful too.

Vote for this idea and others on UserVoice or Facebook now!

Friday Funny: Presidents Day by the Numbers

Presidents Day is this upcoming Monday, February 20th, and along with great shopping deals, it is also a chance to celebrate George Washington’s birthday and to take a look at some presidential facts by the numbers:

1 – The phone number of Rutherford B. Hayes who was the first president to use a phone.

2 – The number of presidents who are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

6 – The number of languages Thomas Jefferson spoke.

7 – The number of presidents who attended Harvard University.

8 – The number of presidents who never attended college.

8 – Also the number of presidents who are left-handed.

12- The number of presidents who appear on American money.

15- The number of children John Tyler had, more than any other president.

18 – The number of presidents who never served in Congress.

31 – The number of days William Henry Harrison was president for.

43 – The age of the youngest president, John F. Kennedy,  at inauguration.

44 – The number of presidential terms served so far.

69 – The age of the oldest president, Ronald Reagan, at inauguration.

80 – The number of pants Chester Arthur owned.

Where in the World is WebAssign?

Do you want to meet some of our great employees in person?  We will be at the following conferences during the month of March and always love meeting our customers.  If you are planning on attending any of these events please stop by our booth and say hello!

APS March Meeting 2012
American Physics Society Meeting
February 27–March 2, 2012
Boston, MA

2012 NCMATYC Spring Conference
March 15–16, 2012
Wilmington, NC

Pearson Addison-Wesley & Pearson Prentice Hall
24th International Conference on Technology in College Mathematics
March 22–25, 2012
Orlando, FL

American Chemical Society
ACS 2012 Spring National Meeting & Exposition
March 25–29, 2012
San Diego, CA

National Science Teacher’s Association
2012 National Conference
March 29–April 1, 2012
Indianapolis, IN