Archive for September, 2016

Cool School Survey

Noticing patterns in data is a story – the initial ‘set’ is the experimental question. The data has hidden in it the resolution, at least partially. Like a joke with a set, an expected outcome and the sudden switch to something that is incongruous and yet makes sense. Unexpected truth looked at in a different way: why scientists are so fascinated is at least in a way, similar to reading a compelling and complex story that in science, never really ends.

Continue Reading September 30, 2016 at 9:18 AM Leave a comment

The Cool Box Comp.

How wrap up the cool shoe box competition: data collection and analysis with a minimum of time wasting frustration…

Continue Reading September 26, 2016 at 12:46 PM Leave a comment

Build Day!

How to love project build days with 156 twelve year olds…

Continue Reading September 22, 2016 at 11:44 AM Leave a comment

Working Less, Kids Learning More with PBL

Working less for more engagement and more science content covered even with PBL.

Continue Reading September 19, 2016 at 1:46 PM Leave a comment

Using a Sibling Sense of Fairness for Science

Conclusions have always been a boring minefield. What did you find out? How sure are you? And kids always say either ‘very sure (because can’t be bothered to think too hard and don’t want to admit to playing with their cell phones under the desk the whole period) or some kind of pat answer like ‘we could have made sure to time it better’. But most really don’t get that analyzing an experiment for uncontrolled variables is an application of the sibling rivalry keen “It’s not fair!” And it’s usually not. Remember when you got to stay up later than I ever did at your age, Diana? Let’s not get into who sits by the window on car trips…

So Dr. Stupid came in today to drop rulers through children’s hands to find the effect of light level on reaction times as a practice run to remind students how to identify the experimental and responding variables, and how to spot the unfairness aka the uncontrolled variables and other bad practice. Then I assessed them on “Who has faster reaction times – boys or girls?” using the “A Grading Policy”. And that’s working out okay too – I get a quick snapshot of who gets it without getting mired in a point for this and not for that tedium. The repairs and redos will be on Monday after coaching while the kids who pass do science news activity.

At the end, they wrote “The ice cube experiment we did was unfair because….”

Seriously better than previous years. Really cool to point out how naturally they are scientists. And much more fun, especially sharing unfair sibling stories, some of which are at least perceived as wildly unfair. Justice: let’s play that forward too.

September 7, 2016 at 11:39 AM Leave a comment

Ice Cube Challenge: Treat students like scientists for worse data and better learning.

This mini-project within a project showed the benefit of giving kids more freedom to design and do their own experiments.

Continue Reading September 2, 2016 at 11:57 AM Leave a comment

“A” Grading Policy

Don’t you hate “What do I do to get an “A”? Bright kids who just want to get the points and seem too stressed to give a rip about the actual learning? The standard way of grading is as hard on the straight-A student as on the kids who feel daily judged by a big, fat “D” on their foreheads. Kids who define their own selves as “I’m a C student.”

It’s time to change this.

We looked at a “No Grade” policy where students get written or verbal feedback and a notation about if they handed work in or not. But our community is not ready for that yet. Btw, you can find out more from this readable and inspiring book: “Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to go Graceless in a Traditional Grades School” by Starr Sakstein from the Hack Learning Series 2015.

Instead, we are going for “A” Grading Policy in an attempt to combine the best of both worlds. It works like this:

All assignments are graded on a 4 point scale, including assessments, projects, homework and class assignments. Students and parents will see their scores on tests and on rubrics but the scores will not be entered in the grade book. Students will keep a portfolio in their Google drive and a paper file in class. 

  • A “Pass” means they met the benchmark standard (perhaps a standard ‘B’). They get comments for excellent or bare minimum, comments for what could be improved.  P = 4 pts.
  • “Repair” means there is something fairly small missing or misunderstood. They can repair the work and re-submit within a week for a full Pass. R = 3 pts
  • “Redo” means there is a lot missing and/or significant misunderstandings. Students resubmit the entire assignment within a week to raise their grade to a Pass. Re = 2 pts
  • “Missing” means no work recorded for a week after it was due. M = 0 pts. Missing work can be caught up to full credit
  • “Late” means no work recorded after a week overdue. L =  0 pts. Late work can be caught up to 3 pts.
  • “Excused” is self-explanatory.

Our hope is that what we measure is what we will get – that students see the value in putting in the effort, in taking risks and learning from mistakes. And that’s exactly what is required in innovative companies, in project based learning and well, in life really. Stay tuned for how this goes in our suburban, high-achieving district.


September 1, 2016 at 10:54 AM 2 comments


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