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10 Posts authored by: Mark Collins

Do you get frustrated by computers, tablets, and phones in your class? Do you feel that students are not paying attention to the material you carefully crafted? In a recent conversations with a few intro biology instructors, I discovered some innovative solutions to the in-class technology conundrum.


Create a Digital District in your Class

Firstly, acknowledging that everyone is a different learner is important. Sure, some students might be browsing Twitter, but some individuals need stimulation and input to be engaged and effective listeners. In the same way, a student with back problems might choose to stand rather than sit for an hour of class.


If one student's screen is distracting other students, that is a different scenario. You have the option to intervene. However, consider instead creating a “digital district” at the start of class to proactively prevent this issue. You know that all the students with computers are going to cluster on the side of the lecture hall with electrical outlets. So at the start of class, indicate that students using devices can sit in a particular area.


Now comes the fantastic part of this deal. You have instant access to any online resource through the students using devices in-class! You let the digital district know that you may call on any student with a device at a moment's notice to look up a fact or confirm a finding.


So imagine you are midway through a lecture and a student asks a questions that you don’t know off the top of your head. You might normally respond, “I’ll get you an answer for next time”. But now that you have a Digital District, the world wide web is at the fingertips of your students with devices. Simply ask one or two of them to investigate and come back to get an response a few minutes later.


This makes researching, fact checking, and understanding additional material part of the learning process.

Are you getting emails from the registrar reminding you to submit course grades? Maybe you are looking to calculate the final grades for your students or download their homework scores? Or maybe some students in your class don’t match up with the registrar's list. Sapling Learning has solutions that can help easy your end of term turmoil.

Download your student's grade using the export tab in your gradebook. We support multiple file formats to help you calculate and analyse the raw scores for students in this terms course. Alternatively, you can finalize your course gradebook in Sapling Learning to determine final grades using our flexible gradebook settings. If some students have different names or emails from the official course list don’t worry! Ask your Tech TA to activate a recently added feature that requires a student ID is entered before the student can access your course homework site. And if you have any other gradebook questions, as always, please reach out to your Tech TA for help.

The Sapling Learning App gives an instructor the flexibility to change classwide and individual due dates. What would you do if a group of students approached you following a lecture to ask for more time on their homework? With the Sapling Learning App, you can simply pull out your phone and give an extension to the entire class. Or maybe you meet with a student during office hours and learn that they are struggling with a particular topic. Not a problem—all you have to do is pick up your iPad and quickly extend the due date for the individual student’s assignment using the “3 Days” or “1 Week” buttons.


Download the Sapling Learning App here, and learn more about it on our FAQ page.



Sapling Learning had its beginnings with Macmillan in 2012 when it was acquired by Macmillan Science and Education, a technology and innovation division of Macmillan Publishers, Ltd. We are excited to announce that Macmillan Science and Education has been renamed as a united team of educational imprints: Macmillan Learning. The launch of Macmillan Learning will unite a formidable legacy of content and technologies to deliver unparalleled options to students and instructors.


Sapling Learning will continue to provide you and your students with the quality of content and support that make us the premier online homework system for STEM and problem solving disciplines. Our partnership with Macmillan Learning will only enhance our ability to support your instruction and improve your students' learning outcomes.


To learn more about Macmillan Learning and its imprints, click here.

Mark Collins

Splitting the Assignment

Posted by Mark Collins Jun 16, 2016

As Sapling Learning Client Success Specialists collaborate with instructors to configure their online homework, one question we are often asked is how to split an assignment. An instructor may want to create practice assignments, or make each homework assignment a less intimidating prospect for their students.

For example, suppose you have one assignment with 40 questions, but want two assignments with 20 questions each instead. You can duplicate the assignment and remove questions in both the original and the copy to create a two assignments for a topic by following these steps:

  1. Click the corresponding ellipses button to the right of the assignment to open a popup menu.





       Next, click on Duplicate and then click OK to confirm the duplication.



The new assignment, an exact copy, will appear below the original. The copy is hidden from students.




  1. To split the homework, open the original assignment and remove the questions you desire to have in the second assignment.


  1. Next, open the duplicated assignment and remove the questions that are found in the original assignment.


  1. Rename both assignments as desired. For additional reference, please consult our articles on how to name and describe a Flash-based or mobile assignment.


  1. The duplicated assignment is hidden from students by default, so when you are ready to release the assignment to students, you’ll want to update the visibility and “Available From” and “Due Dates” as necessary.

More help on editing assignments flash-based can be found here, or help editing mobile assignments is found here.

Originally posted by Maria Villareal


Did you know that students can add their college identification number, or student ID, to their Sapling Learning account? Student IDs are a unique identifier to help ensure grades are properly uploaded to a school’s grade-reporting system.


We often hear from instructors that getting students to update their profile and enter their IDs takes time. However, we have a new feature that requires each student to enter an ID, making this process easy and straightforward!


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Once activated, students without a student ID in their Sapling Learning profile must add their ID number before entering your course homework site. This feature can be turned on at any point during the semester—if you’re interested in requiring IDs, please contact your Tech TA.


If a student enters an invalid ID, this can easily be deleted in the Participants page. The next time the student enters your course site, they will be prompted to enter their ID number once again.

We tell you to send your students to and here is why: The Sapling Learning Student Support team is dedicated to guiding students through technical issues and inquiries, so you don’t have to. They quickly handle requests regarding payment, enrollment, class transfer, and more.


All of the student support team have degrees in STEM or other problem solving disciplines, they can easily help your students navigate our learning environment and any resources you’ve added to your site. They have the background necessary to explain common student misunderstandings within homework questions, like when students have issues entering answers due to significant figures. Saving your office hours for students struggling with concepts. They will also move a student into the right course. Saving you email filling up with students that enrolled in the 201 course homework site but are actually taking 101.


To reduce confusion and ensure continuity of service, direct your students to the student support team at Our typical support response time is well within 24 hours. Students can also visit our Student Help Pages to find answers to common questions.

As biology students progress to upper division classes, they move away from the stylistic foundation set by introductory biology courses. Memorization of terms and concepts, while important for understanding biological science, gives way to quantitative reasoning. This transition can be difficult for many students, as genetics is seen as a springboard course for developing scientific skills.

A foundation in biology allows students to build problem solving, critical thinking, and data analysis skills. Here is how Sapling Learning fosters skills like these in our genetics questions, and makes sure every student comes to class prepared.

Question Stem

Take the question below, in which a student is given a trait of interest, the experimental setup, and the phenotype data for different types of crosses. She is then asked to predict the mode of inheritance from the expected offspring ratio in four distinct scenarios. The student needs to understand the “how” as well as the “why” for each allele interaction in these inheritance scenarios.


First, the student must read and understand the experimental setup. She must infer that the F1 progeny are all heterozygous because both parental strains were homozygous for a particular trait, in this case tail length.

The student may begin by tackling the autosomal crosses. The offspring of the F1 x F1 heterozygote cross can inherit any of the three combinations of dominant and recessive alleles; AA, Aa, or aa. When the short tailed allele is recessive only the aa genotype would produce a short tailed phenotype. When the short tailed allele is dominant, both homozygous AA and heterozygous Aa offspring present the short tailed phenotype. For sex-linked dominant and recessive modes of inheritance, the heterozygosity of female and hemizygosity of the male offspring differs from the mendelian 3:1 phenotypic ratio.

Preliminary Help

Let’s assume the student isn’t quite sure how to get started on this problem. She simply clicks “Hint” at the bottom left of the question page to open a panel with some additional information to help her think about the four concepts that are combined within this question.


The hint introduces the concepts of chromosome type and dominance type. The dominance type describes the relationship between different alleles of a gene. The chromosome type describes limitations based on whether the gene is found on an autosome or sex chromosome.

The hint also provides an action item of “Draw Punnett squares…” to put the student’s knowledge into action. If extra guidance is needed, a Punnett square interactive provides a workspace that will assist the student in drawing the squares using this method.

Targeted Instructional Feedback

Once the student clicks “Check Answer”, her answer is submitted and recorded. If she gets it wrong, Sapling Learning has already predicted possible misconceptions she might have with the concepts being tested and has provided targeted instructional feedback to guide the student from her misconception toward the correct solution.

One possible misconception is that the student may switch the concepts of dominant and recessive alleles. She is reminded that if the short allele were dominant, the heterozygote would be phenotypically short-tailed, whereas if the short allele were recessive, the heterozygote would be phenotypically long-tailed.

Another possible misconception is swapping the autosomal and sex-linked chromosomal modes of inheritance. In this situation the student is advised that a male is XY, so only one copy of the allele, on the X chromosome, is present to be expressed.


Each answer choice is also addressed with individually tailored feedback. For example, if the student does not correctly identify that an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance produces an offspring ratio “3 long : 1 short”,  she will be guided toward this choice. The feedback does this by indicating that heterozygous offspring would have long tails. It also address the distinction between an autosomal recessive and a sex-linked recessive mode of inheritance.

Worked-out Solution

Once the student correctly matches the expected offspring ratio for each mode of inheritance, and clicks “Check Answer”, she reaches the answer and solution. The solution lays out a clear and complete explanation of the problem. It guides the student through the logic of each mode of inheritance, with four Punnett squares illustrating the four ideas presented in this question.

To ensure that misconceptions do not persist, the solution also addresses incorrect choices, even if a student answered the question correctly on their first attempt. The solution and targeted feedback are saved for a student to come back and review, before class or even before an exam.


Impact to Students

Sapling Learning’s online homework for genetics aims to help students develop and apply a new skill: scientific thinking. First, we reinforce the concepts you teach in lecture by providing specific starting points for students to approach the problem that are easily accessible within the question itself.

Students need to infer data from the text and practice skills mastered in class to generate Punnett squares and solve the four related concepts. If mistakes are made, our targeted feedback corrects misconceptions and provides distinct guidance to the correct answer. This feedback can lead students to illuminating moments in the problem solving process.

Once the problem is complete, a detailed solution address all of the relevant concepts and works through the logic of each, allowing students to concept check and see how the problem should be approached as they journey away from rote memorization.

Originally posted by Frank Ankudey.


Identifying topics your students find difficult allows you to delve into them during class time. Sapling Learning’s assignment statistics help you identify problematic topics so that you can effectively prepare for your lectures and discussions, or for implementing either a flipped classroom or Just-in-Time learning approach.


After students begin a pre-class assignment, a Stats column appears in the Activity Editor.


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In this example, students made the most incorrect attempts on the second question, so the instructor decided to focus on activation energy and reaction rate in class. Student performance improved when revisiting this topic in the post-class assignment.


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Student Assignment Statistics also identifies students who can help struggling peers during group work. Click the bar graph icon in upper right corner of the Activity Editor to open the Student Assignment Statistics page.


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Students with green blocks for a question’s column answered correctly and can enhance their learning by teaching the concept to their peers who answered incorrectly.

Originally posted by Christina Barry.


At the end of the term, your Sapling Learning grades need to be incorporated into your final course grades. Your Sapling Learning site breaks grades into grade categories—the total grade is aggregated from each category, usually called Graded, Ungraded, and Extra Credit. The graded category is usually calculated as a sum of grades or a simple weighted mean. Your gradebook may have other grade categories such as Quizzes, Exams, or Labs. Please keep in mind that our system does not allow grades to exceed 100%.


Once you are satisfied with how the grades are calculated, you can export them into one of several file-types, such as an excel file or csv, for easy integration with your institution’s gradebook.


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We also offer the option of including a requirement for students to enter student IDs to help match them with their grades. Please contact your Tech TA if you need additional assistance.