Friday, November 11, 2011

One minute survey: Grade This!

Out of 100 points, what score would you give this unit test?

(Edit: In hindsight I designed this survey poorly. Most of us assign points ahead of time for each question and then tally it up. I've changed the setup to reflect that so you only see the content and format first and then the results later. I'll mark on the spreadsheet where I made the change.)

You can use any criteria or scoring system you like.

The first three sections are testing content and/or skills that have been directly taught and are similar to something a student could find in notes, exercises in the book, homework, and classwork.

The essay is asking for a novel application of the content or skills that were directly taught. The question/answer would not be found in the textbook or notes but could be answered given sufficient mastery of the course material.

I realize this isn't a math-friendly format but if you're a math teacher, pretend 1,2 are the easy questions on a test. 3 are the harder ones. For 4, think "problem", not "exercise."


I've seen something like this in books and various conference sessions and have been wanting to try it. Don't leave any comments about your score just yet. I'll post results in a few weeks and hope to include it in a presentation for my staff. I have no idea if you can see the form at the bottom in a feed reader or on a mobile device. Sorry in advance. Thanks for the help.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Overall the class goes something like this:

  1. Pose a problem/Show something/Do something
  2. Do some experiments and figure stuff out
  3. Name/Practice/Refine/Elaborate 
  4. Reflect
  5. Do something with what we've figured out
  6. Break model and go back to step 1 (ideally). Less ideally but more commonly: Start over with something tangentially related but its in the state standards and so I need to force a connection.
There are some mini-cycles (epicycles?) embedded when we get stumped or someone asks a really good question but that's basically how things go.

So what's the layering part? Science teachers like to have these process versus content arguments. I know this happens in other subjects too, but we really enjoy a good argument about the value of scientific thinking and skills versus content knowledge. My own thoughts on this argument are tangled but I will tell you that if you're planning on only teaching process or only teaching content, you're actually teaching neither. Now I'm going to appear to contradict myself and add that if you're teaching both at the same time, you're not going to be satisfied with your results for either one.

The layers:

(Layer 1) In step 2 of the list above, students are playing the whole game. They're working with multiple factors. They're trying to decide what's important and what's not and making on the spot choices. They're messing up and messing up again. We're developing both content and process at the same time.

(Layer 2) Step 3, we pull out the content and we address it separately. What do we call what we just figured out? Here's some vocab. You just figured out how to calculate speed. Let's practice that now.

(Layer 3) Step 4, we go back and reflect how we developed our content knowledge. How did we solve the problem? What tools or skills did we develop? If it's something we're going to use again, we name it so we can refer to it later.1

(Layer 4) Step 5, back to playing the whole game. We've hopefully developed our content knowledge and process skills to a point where we can use it for something a half a step higher. For example, constant velocity collisions instead of just determining speed.2 The level of difficulty is crucial here. I tend to go too hard and they're back to trying to figure out new content/tools rather than having an opportunity to put together what we've developed.

I have no idea if layering is the right term, but it's how I picture it in my head. Actually I picture it as a stacked bar chart like this:


Sometimes, I'm embarrassed by how nerdy my brain is. My nerdy brain also needs to reassure you that those percentages are just approximations.

In written form it appears cleaner than it really is. There's a lot of overlap. It would be more accurate to say each layer has a different emphasis rather than truly divorcing content from process but it helps me to think in those terms.

I don't have any research to back any of this up. What I do know is that I've had the most success when we can develop process and content at the same time, separate them out to work on them individually, and then put them back together.

1: This layer is a glaring weakness for me. I never put enough time into developing this step as I'd like and I haven't yet figured out any solid moves beyond standard reflection types of things. 

2: My credential is in physics so I feel I'm much better at developing these culminating activities for the physics portion. For chemistry it's never as satisfying. Mainly, "predict what's going to happen," or "why doesn't this behave like our model predicts," kinds of stuff. Note to self: Hang out with more chemistry teachers.

For the non-bloggers: I wanted to write a post about the big picture of what/when/how assessment occurs in my classroom. In doing so, I realized I needed context first so I wrote The Cycle. Now, 4 revisions later, I realize I need more context and so you get another post. It's like I mentioned in the last post about Mylene going down the rabbit hole. I would consider myself a reflective person, but blogging has forced me to take those reflections and make them concrete and semi-coherent. If you don't blog already, do so. Even if you never plan on anyone reading it. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Deserves More Traffic

Here's November's edition of Deserves More Traffic. My inclusion criteria is that 1) Your blog is awesome and 2) You have less than half the Google Reader subscribers that I do.

Teachers who teach teachers

John Golden and David Coffey are colleagues at Grand Valley State University and teach future math teachers. John's got a lot of cool stuff going on with games. David had a recent series called Now What on extending learning through student generated questions.

Brian Frank teaches future science teachers at Middle Tennessee State University. The stuff on misconceptions at his old blogger site is brilliant.

The loneliest Google Reader folder belongs to

Mylene, who teaches electronics at a technical school in Eastern Canada. That is pretty cool all by itself. Befitting an electronic teacher, she is constantly tinkering with how she does things. Her posts on Reading Comprehension were particularly compelling. It wasn't so much what she was researching or trying out that I found most interesting. It was that examining this narrow slice lead her down the rabbit hole of questioning a bunch of other areas of her teaching. Every (good) teacher goes through this multiple times and it was fascinating to watch it happen in real time.

Finally, a couple of new teachers.

Daniel Schneider blogs at Mathy McMatherson and Molly Kate blogs at Mathemagical Molly. Both are high school math teachers although in very different working environments. I lurve me some new teachers. New teachers blogs spill over with angst and frustration and hope and wonder and I love them so. The downside is I get that "parent whose daughter is going to be out past midnight for the first time" feeling when a new teacher goes more than a couple of weeks without posting.

Hi sweetie, just checking in. 

Are you OK? I'm here just in case. 

Why aren't you responding to my texts? Hello??? 

Text me back right now so I know you're not lying in a ditch somewhere!!!

Ok. Go visit their blogs and learn something new. I'd say add them to Google Reader but we're fighting right now and I'm not ready to make up quite yet.