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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Standards Based Grading: A primer

So every year during the modeling workshop the question of grading comes up. I think it is a natural question because this teaching method is fundamentally different from what most of us have done before. A lot of the onus of the learning is placed upon the kids. They need to construct their own understanding from their experiences in class. This can be problematic because since our students come from different backgrounds (experiences, math abilities, reasoning abilities, etc.) it is ridiculous to think that they all reach understanding at the same time. So how do we handle this? How do we tell our students that it is ok to make mistakes and yet not have a grading system that allows for this?

Grading has always been a particular beef for me and I am sure like most of you, your grading system is eerily similar to a teacher you once had. The problem is that I think many of us never considered what our grades actually mean? What does a C on a quiz tell a student? How do you handle that question at a parent-teacher conference? If you are like me you probably have said, "Your student just needs to study more." Really? Does that actually help? What do I need to study? I need a study guide! As a student that doesn't really help me. And it leads to the the obvious conclusion that many students have.. "I'm not a good test taker." And while some students legitimately have test anxiety issues I would guess an enormous majority of the students who say this do not. They just don't understand the material.

I'll do the math for you...
All of these students would get the same grade for the course.
Does this seem right?

So wouldn't it be nice to give them something specific to work on? If you told a student that the reason they got a C on a quiz is because they had difficulty interpreting a position vs. time graph. Now they have a direction. It is an actionable statement. And in my mind it is much preferred for both student and parent. These are the things that you get from your elementary student's teacher. Billy needs to work on his alphabet letters. Susan needs to practice her addition facts. This is something you can work with. Secondary grades? Not so much.

So I made the switch to Standards Based Grading.  Not without a bunch of bumps in the road but it is definitely a trip that I have found rewarding as have my students. Much like physics modeling instruction there is not a "right one way" to do SBG. And you will find lots of resources for it. The main page that started me on this road are Think Thank Thunk by Shawn Cornally. He has several others that he links to on his page that I recommend checking out. I warn you though...

                                   -Keanu Reeves

There are as many styles of SBG as there are traditional grading systems so I am sure you can find some to your liking. There are even some that are a hybrid of traditional and SBG together that I have seen. But no matter, SBG shifts the discussion from "What's my grade?" to "What do I need to work on to learn this?" It is a huge difference. Everyone can get an A as long as they master the standards.

So how does it look in my classroom?
I give the students a list of the unit standards at the beginning of the unit. I then give a series of short quizzes that spiral and build off each other. Each one tests anywhere from 3-5 standards usually. I score each standard on a 3 point scale (some would argue 4). A 3 means mastery of the standard. A 2 shows some understanding but with some mistakes. A 1 shows little understanding at all. A 0 is if they didn't take the assessment. When we are in the unit, most standards will get retested several times. If most of the students grasp the concept I will take it off the next quiz. If they struggle I will put questions on the next assessment for that standard. At no time is learning off limits to my students. So even if we are on Unit 4 and students are still working with Unit 1 standards, they can still retest those standards. If it is the next quarter I still let the students work on standards from the previous quarter. Even though this leads to more paperwork for me in regards to grade change forms, etc, they are worth it in my opinion because it reinforces the idea that it is ok in my class to make mistakes.

This change is hard for many of your students, but especially for your "Best" students. You know, the ones who have learned the game of school. Memorize, regurgitate, repeat. Nothing matters but the grade. Suddenly changing the rules on them is very difficult for them. They will need lots of reassurance and help but I have found all but the most entrenched are eventually converted. This is also challenging for many parents as they will not understand what you are trying to do and sometimes the message that comes home is not the best (see students referenced early in this paragraph.) I have found that having a script ready helps a lot for the parent contacts that are inevitable. As I have continued to use this method I have found parent phone calls have reduced as word has spread and on whole my students really grow to like this because they feel like they are actually accomplishing something. They are learning and they have proof.

I hope this helps. If you are not familiar with Rick Wormeli, you should be. Here are some of his youtube videos. Feel free to comment any questions you have!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Days 3,4,5 SEMiModPhys14: Why three days in one?

Answer: I'm lame.

These last three days have been difficult for me. I have been worried that we aren't making the impact that I have been hoping for. Are the participants getting the same transformative experience I got? Just wait.. Be patient.. But it is so hard.

I think it is starting to happen though and I think the Hammer and Mestre articles helped a lot. Comments and questions have subtly been changing from the "I don't know if this will work" variety to more in line with "How will I make this work?" That is a huge step in my mind. There are many who I know will never go back. Others that are on the fence and a few who I think still need some time to process everything.

One of the biggest hang-ups I think some people are still having is the question of student buy-in. How will you get your students to fundamentally change to where they accept this radical change where you have removed the spoon from their mouths? It is not easy for some. But I think most crave this style of education. They just don't know it. So how do you build this culture of cooperative student learning? For me, culture building is another aspect of my class. Do I get preachy at times? Yep. Do I tell them repeatedly that I have utmost confidence in their physics and science abilities? Yep. Do I actually believe that? Yep. And I think that is the difference right there. I truly think that EVERY kid that comes into my classroom will learn physics. They may not get a perfect score on the FCI when I'm done. (Did I just say may?) But they will learn. And they will have fun doing it. And they will ask me to give them homework. Even though it is not graded. Ever.

Crazy right? No. It's not. It happens. And not just with my IB students. It happened in the normal high school I taught at as well. Students want to learn. They want to be challenged. They want to be told they can fail and you will still admire, love and respect them. And I do. It's not rocket surgery people.

I guess this goes for my students this summer too. No matter what the outcome, I know they will go back into their classrooms changed from the experience this summer. I know they will think about their student's understanding. I know they will try and probe for misconceptions and work to correct these to create a better conceptual foundation for what they teach. So I guess I've already made that difference I was hoping for, and I haven't even showed them my bowling ball lab.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SEMIModPhys14 Day 2: Who is in student mode?

It is hard to believe this was only Day 2! This group is doing really well with the student mode. I felt like today's discussions were almost authentic to my classroom. This is such a huge advantage for the participants. They really get to see how an experienced modeler can deal with things that a student in their classroom might do or say. I hope they are taking good notes.

I remember the confusion I felt the first few days of my modeling workshop. I really didn't know much about it coming in and while things were happening that I thought was awesome I really didn't understand the power of it until the third unit we did. It is so hard to be patient and let the workshop unfold which is really what the participants need to do. We've already discussed the hypocrisy of the 2 hour lecture on constructivism and yet we are so quick to ask for that mode of transmission! Pretty ironic. It is how most of us learned though. How did we make it through as the grinder of science education with our sense of wonder as science teachers intact?

The other thing that arose today was some confusion about modeling practices versus teaching practices. For instance one participant commented on the fact that Laura let a lot of the same people talk and didn't force everyone to be engaged. This is not a modeling practice. This is a classroom management choice by the teacher. I think this will become clearer when they see more discussions led by the three of us facilitators. It will be quite apparent that we have vastly different styles even though we are all modelers. There is not a specific way to model. There is not a specific way to present the information necessarily. For me a good modeler knows what their students know and figures out a way to allow the students to build on that knowledge in a meaningful way that allows for changes to alternate conceptions that students have previously constructed. Sounds so easy, right? Well, not at first.. but hey we have 13 more days to practice!

New digs tomorrow as we move to Oakland University for the remainder of the workshop. Great space. I'm looking forward to getting in there and deploying our first model tomorrow! I do need to find a place for a bowling ball activity though....

Day 1: SE Michigan ModPhys Workshop - Practice what I preach?

So seeing as how I am requiring the participants of the workshop to do a reflective blog I need to get back to my blogging ways again as well. 

Why blog? One of the participants in her blog asked what are the rules as far as what should you say in a blog. The power of the blog in my opinion is that it is public. You are putting your thoughts out for the world to critique. This is what makes it so much better than a private journal. Sure you need to be careful choosing your words, but I think that is also a good thing. 

“If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.”
Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451

 Day 1: This year's participants seem like they are in a good place for learning. There is a few that seem more open to the changes we will be suggesting than others, but that is typical. I felt the teachers did a fairly decent job of being in student mode today. We only had a few lapses and hopefully this will get better as the workshop continues. Time got a little bit away from us today and we didn't get quite as far as we had hoped, but again this is fairly typical! Laura, Michelle and I seem to be working together pretty well. We had a couple of small fumbles today, but they were small and I am sure we will work out the small wrinkles in our communication. The best thing is that I feel I can trust both of my co-facilitators and they trust me as well. We all have different styles which I think is awesome for the participants to see. I am also really excited because we all teach different levels of students. This will really allow for the participants hopefully see the way this method can be adapted to all situations.

I am excited to see how Circle Lab #1 resolves tomorrow as well as the remaining lab boards. The conversation was so good and so authentic to something that could happen in the classroom. Overall it was a great first day. (Well besides all the boring paperwork stuff before lunch!)

Oh, and did I mention tomorrow we use Tumble Buggies? Oh yeah.