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Friday, September 27, 2013

Standards based grading (SBG) from a new perspective.

      I have been using standards based grading for several years now.  It is the fairest way that I can see to inform a kid and their parents of how he or she is doing in my class. I love the feedback they get. I love the openness it creates in communication between student and learner. I love how it converts point-grubbing students back into actual learners. In a nutshell, I love it. And I love that I can't stop talking to my colleagues about how great it is. It is one of the best things I've done for my teaching.

     But not everyone uses it. And previously I was O.K. with that. I have great repect for my fellow educators. I am willing to do what I do because I feel there is a problem with the traditional grading system. But there are many who don't. And I can respect that. Or at least I thought I could.  Because up until now my son has always received straight A's. This year he started junior high. It is three weeks into school and he has missing assignments.

     Some of his teachers don't accept late assignments. Or reduce the credit significantly. And it is surreal to me. Because I used to be that teacher. I was on this kick that someone had to show them responsibility. This is a very real theme in junior high schools. Sure I gave them something. Even back then I realized that a zero would kill a kid's chances of ever coming back from F-dom. So my lowest grade was a 50% if they turned it in late. (I know what you are thinking... How gracious of me!) I also gave extra credit to help improve the grade. (Although I wouldn't accept it if you had any missing assignments.) So I totally get where they are coming from.

     BUT THEY ARE TOTALLY WRONG!!!! Sorry about that. I can't handle it now that it is my son being affected by the nonsensical grading system. What is the point of education? Is it to make sure things are turned in on time? Is that really our top priority? That is not really what I think our focus should be. I'm with Rick Wormeli on this one. If it doesn't relate to the learning in the classroom of content, it shouldn't affect the grade.

     Parent-Teacher Conferences should be interesting.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why I'm excited and can't sleep.

4 years ago I began this wonderful journey into modeling. I can't begin to describe how it has transformed me as a teacher. I'm excited that this year I get to come full circle as a facilitator for a whole new crop of teachers. These men and women will go through a workshop and transform their own classrooms into something they probably never imagined. So much is packed into the next 3 weeks. I can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why you need to master the standards.

So for the first time I am teaching freshmen physics. It is going really well so far. They all have had algebra 1 so I think I can do a lot of what I would normally do with modeling, but there are some differences. After pre-testing on unit conversion and sci. notation, etc. I find a lot of their skills are lacking, so I will definitely have to spend a little bit of time on that, but I think I want to move on and just intersperse that in where I need it. Nothing kills the momentum of a science class more than spending days doing rote problems. It is important though so I will be making those standards for my freshmen to tackle.

Whiteboarding is going well though with the freshmen. I think part of it is they are here for the first time in a new building. They knew the school was different than a traditional program and they are just rolling with it. I would say I have nearly 65% of my students already participating in discussions after only a couple times doing it. That is great and makes me very excited for where I can go with it. Not only that, but the thinking shown by some of them based on their comments has already impressed me.
I'm wrapping up my intro to graphing and whiteboarding labs this week and will be moving on to constant motion next week. Can't wait!

The other new development is the new state law that mandates teacher evaluations. I'm really impressed by them. And they are creating something that I think I really have hoped for since I became a teacher. When I did my student teaching I thought it was very valuable when my supervisor or supervising teacher would watch my lessons and give me feedback. After reading this article, I tried to get some colleagues to try coaching without a whole lot of luck. I think it would be great to get outside eyes watching what I do and sharing what they see from their perspective. Up until now our evaluation method was a joke.  Administration would have to announce when they were coming in in advance. I always thought that was stupid. What if health inspectors had to tell you in advance they were coming to check your restaurants kitchen? I bet they'd have a LOT less violations. I never told my administrator a date any more than, "Probably not Tuesday I'm giving a test. Any other day would be fine." I didn't put on a show when they came in. I did my lesson. But the evaluation was usually short and didn't really give me the feedback I was hoping for. I didn't have any benchmarks. My feedback has always positive for what I was doing, but that was sort of the problem. I know I am not the best teacher I can be. I know I will never be the best teacher I can be because perfection is impossible in this profession. Every year brings new students and new combinations of challenges. That is what I love about my job. So the old evals didn't fulfill me. So what about the new ones?

I can't wait to start. As opposed to the old method where I get observed once every three years for about 20 minutes. I will be observed 6-8 times over the course of this year. I will have a pre-observation meeting where I can discuss with my administrator my goals and where I think I need to do the most work. Then throughout the process, I will have additional meetings where I will get feedback on what was observed. Then I will have a chance to change my practices before my next observation. And get this... They gave me a list of outcomes(standards) on which I will be assessed. I will know what standards I'm exceeding expectations and which ones I need to work on! I'm getting standards-based-grading for my teaching. So excited. Yes. I'm a dork.

The downside is now this rubric will be assigned points to judge my worth as a teacher. But as I tell my students, work on mastering the standards and your grade will take care of itself.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A new slate.

I began this blog 2 years ago as a means for me to reflect on my teaching. I did not anticipate that anyone would ever actually read it. To my surprise people did find it and I appreciated the feedback. Then I made one post in the last year. Despite that I still run into people who have found this blog and appreciate it so I thought I might as well jump back into it. I am probably back to typing to myself again but that is no matter.  That was my original intent all along. If it helps others then that is awesome. So thanks to those few still here. I plan on posting at least one blog entry a week. Maybe more if I can.

So a new year and a new challenge. My students did not do very well on their IB exam in physics last year. I had a feeling that would happen though. I came in late to the game and found that my students were lacking in many of the basics. IB physics is a 2 year program and they had a different teacher for the first year. She did a commendable job considering her situation. She is a math teacher who was thrown into teaching chemistry and physics for the first time ever. Add to that a new math course as well and I can't blame her for any of the student's lacking. I had hoped to fill in some of the gaps but just ran out of time. But I feel much better about this year's group of seniors. They are a great group and  will do much better this year I am sure. Plus I know now a lot more on how to prepare them for the test this year.

In addition to this I will be teaching all the freshmen in our program introductory physics. I've not taught physics to 9th graders before. There are only 5 incoming freshmen who haven't had algebra so I think I will be able to include some of the math rather than making it purely conceptual. In addition as one of only 2 teachers in the program who have all of the freshmen it will fall onto me to help nurture the culture we expect at the Academy. I have some plans on this. I may have them read a bit of Carol Dweck's Mindset. I want to get them started early and often though with thinking about their thought processes and how they are actually learning. It should be fun!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why I'm winning.

Ok. I started this post on Nov. 11th! Time to finish it up don't you think?

Changing schools is hard.  You have no reputation. You have no connection with students or staff. You have not developed the trust that comes from these things. So you can imagine the chaos that ensued when I arrived with all my new-fangled teaching ideas. Modeling and SBG at a school that has seen neither before. It has been an exciting few months.

My biggest hurdle to date has been my students view that I am some guardian to the knowledge. My new position is at an IB acadamy in my district. The kids are hard workers, but they are grade obsessed. Their visions of college are the best available and they will not entertain any ideas of any lesser program. They are experts in the game of school and my style of teaching is making many of them very uncomfortable.

I made myself a goal this year not to lecture in my Biology class. I have been weeding the practice out the last few years. In fact last year I used it mainly as a review before a test. But this year I decided to forego it completely. At this point I think it has been rather successful. In the words of Dan Meyer I am being less helpful. The kids are doing more than they ever have for me and are learning great things. I think the move to SBG made this all possible. Students are in control of their learning. I still have all my old powerpoints, and I have made them available to the students. I just don't waste classtime reading them. So what do I do instead? We whiteboard ideas. We have socratic dialogues about the labs we have completed. We analyze texts and problem solve and think. We research current issues and hold debates. My students are getting a conceptual grounding in what make Biology so important. And the tide is turning my way. 

At first my students were very frustrated. "How can we learn if you won't teach us?" "I really need a lecture to be able to understand the material!" "You need to give us more homework!" "How can I get an A if you don't collect our homework?" That lasted until students first started retesting on objectives they had missed. They soon discovered that I could very quickly spot a memorized response. They discovered that I was looking for deeper connections to a conceptual understanding. They discovered that I expect them to do homework because it is vital to their learning and not to jump through a hoop. They discovered that they can do way more than they had thought. How do I know this? Because these are the questions/statements I'm getting now. "Wow! I'm so happy I failed that first test. I am learning so much now!" "I'm having trouble understanding hydrogen bonding. Do you know of a resource I could use?" "Dude, you have to know it better than that if you expect Mr. B to give you a 3." "Can you give me some problems so I can practice calculating magnification?"

The climate is a-changing. I'm so enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What happened to summer?

I had truly planned on being a blogging fiend this summer. What happened? I bought a new house. 'Nuff said.

Lots of changes for me though and so I feel it is time for my blog to morph as well. I accepted a position at my districts IB school. I'm still teaching Physics but have also jumped from Intro Biology to teaching the AP/IB Bio course. Now that I have had so much success teaching physics using the modeling method it is infuriating to teach any other way.  I must figure out how to teach this way with biology. So I will still be exploring physics, pedagogy, and technology,  but I will also delve more into my attempts at "modeling up" my bio course.  More to come soon I hope!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why I am excited today.

What a blast these last two days have been. I have had the opportunity to visit with this year's crop of modeling workshop participants.  It seems crazy to me that only 1 year ago I was in their shoes. It seems like such a long time ago. I have grown so much as an educator in the last year. This post is directed at these new "new modelers".

Today I gave the advice to join twitter. This was the best thing I have ever done for my teaching. (Well besides the modeling workshop of course.) So why Twitter?
1. Well it is a lot less of a time waster than facebook.
2. You don't need to "friend" someone to hear their ideas. If you get tired of watching someone's tweets you can unfollow them without the guilty feelings of "unfriending" them.
3. Hashtags make a great way to focus your twitter feed on a particular topic.
4. There is a huge community of educators already connected on twitter. There is a pool of like-minded professionals to answer your questions. Try the hashtags #scichat (meetings every Tuesday at 9), #edchat, #physics, #physicsed just to name a few. As you find people whose comments you like, follow them. Soon you will have a stream of interesting ideas flooding your way.

I mentioned Planbook. Great software that allows you to keep an electronic lesson plan book. You can post your lessons in an online calendar. It even allows you to attach documents and such so you can find them later. Very cool stuff.

Finally, I mentioned many great blogs. I have some of them listed in the table to the left. From there I'm sure you will find many others, but I recommend starting your own. I got a lot out of forcing myself to reflect on my journey into modeling. As an added bonus I began to get feedback that was invaluable on my journey. If you start one let me know. I guarantee you will have at least one follower!