The best part of a trimester system is giving a major exam right before Thanksgiving break. Invariably, my students outperform what I might have predicted a month ago - because they take this major exam quite seriously, because they have matured both physically and mentally in the early part of the year, because we spend significant time in and out of class reviewing facts and basic recall items. And I discover these predominantly positive exam results right before the national day of thanks.
Keep the faith, folks. I know that most of us teaching physics don't have a major exam to see direct evidence of the great progress our classes have been making. But I know it's there. Maybe you have to wait until a December or January exam; maybe you'll have to manufacture a few high-stakes testing situations to assure yourself that the progress you're seeking is, in fact, there.
This is what a "summative assessment" is for. No, it's not torture intended to shame and expose our students failings; it's like a regular season football game, a chance for our students to see where their strengths and weaknesses lie. And, if we've been practicing well and building strength all season, we expect we'll be seeing far more strength than weakness.
The strengths are there, and will continue to get, well, stronger throughout the year. Eventually, you'll hear your students say "remember when these kinds of problems were hard?" Not yet. When we get back from break, they'll say, "wow, I did way better on this exam than I thought I would!"
Right NOW, though, they're eating and watching both kinds of football, enjoying the break from rigorous academic effort. As am I. Happy Thanksgiving.