I happened on the idea of giving voucher points accidentally, but over the years they’ve proven quite valuable in promoting active student involvement. It started when I was still teaching math in high school, and a student came up with a particularly clever method of solving a mathematics problem. As a reward, I wrote him an IOU good for one point on any of my tests. A few months later it happened again, and then later on I gave out a third voucher point. That semester, I received very positive comments about the practice on my student evaluations. Students requested that I “do voucher points more often.”
I’ve continued to use the technique, but I’ve refined it over the years. I still give voucher points for particularly insightful student contributions. But I also ask specific voucher point questions during class. And students can now use these points on any test, in any course that I teach (so if an “A” student gets a voucher point and doesn’t need to use it, he/she can use it in a future class that I teach). As a result of this adjustment, I had top-notch high school students take my computer programming course in addition to my honors calculus course. They would earn voucher points in the programming course and use them in the calculus course. I might add that I have had two of my former high school students use my voucher points in my college class!
In addition to offering voucher points for correct responses to challenging mathematical questions posed during class, I have also offered a point for completing a quote from Macbeth and for spelling “mnemonic.” The other day, I muttered “ecsetera, ecsetera, ecsetera” and offered a voucher point for the famous movie that expression came from (“The King and I”). When we finish a mathematical proof, we write “QED.” It’s a Latin phrase that loosely translated means “the truth has been demonstrated” although we jokingly say “quite easily done.” I then said that English mathematicians say “EMDW” and for a voucher point one of my class detectives should be able to figure out what that meant. Finally, after quite a number of guesses by different students, one correctly answered, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
The voucher point is a simple device that helps me make the class enjoyable, and it encourages student involvement. Students with expertise in nonmathematical areas still have a chance to earn a voucher point in my class. My hope is that if students have an enjoyable time in my class, they will discover that learning math can be equally pleasurable.
Melvin Billik is an Associate Professor of Mathematics, Northwood University, MI.
Excerpted from Voucher Points Encourage Student Involvement, The Teaching Professor, Aug./Sept. 2007.