Sunday, September 9, 2012

Three Weeks In

It's been so long since I've posted I now qualify for the blogging initiation. I'm writing just to get in the habit again so lower your expectations appropriately. It's a new school year and there are many changes.

1. I'm teaching 6th grade for the first time. I have three classes of 8th and three of 6th. Slightly fewer kids than last year (from 194 to 186). They are tiny and fun but earth science is still a huge struggle for me. I'm constantly banging my head figuring out how to actually run experiments in class and not just "build a model" activities. I have that new teacher shine again where I can't think ahead more than a few days in advance so even if I can figure out something I likely don't have the materials available. The previous teachers, while very capable, were more traditional "hands-on" types. All you need to know is I have an entire shelf full of Model Magic.

2. SBAR is both dead and alive. I have a new principal and AP and didn't get to talk to them before school started. Like many of you out there I hybridized what I could. I've got four categories now. Content Knowledge (50%), Inquiry (23%), Argument (20%), and Pillars (7%). Content Knowledge is described as my "Show me what you know" category. For most kids this is quizzes. This is basically standards-based. Inquiry is labs and lab design. This is assignment-based. On the plus side, I can still make the grade based on inquiry standards, but it won't be designed as a few basic standards the students are improving on as the year goes. Argument are mostly CER and ADI types of things. It's the same as Inquiry though where it will be assignment-based but I can grade on the standard.1 Pillars is the school non-academic/character building/thing that goes on a poster on all of our doors category and is as tiny a percentage as I felt I could reasonably make it. I don't like it myself but I don't have a problem with people including non-academic categories in their grading (as long as it's explicit). I just spend zero time teaching those kinds of things beyond lip service and what's required and don't feel like it's fair for me to grade students on anything I'm not explicitly teaching in class. The good news about SBAR is the high schools we feed into switched over and so I think it's only a matter of time before it trickles down to us.

3. Shout out to prediction graphs. I've been pretty religious about getting students to make model-based predictions before doing an experiment. But it has mainly been in the form of sentence frames. My early introductions are spoon fed. "If the production model is correct, then the mass of the alka seltzer and water will increase/decrease/stay the same." I now have students include prediction graphs on their whiteboards in the graph section and I can't even believe the difference. Visually matching the prediction graph to the graph of the actual result is so much more powerful. I've had far less instances of students ignoring their evidence in favor of their own preconceptions.

1: I don't know if the distinction made sense since it's almost midnight. Think of them as exact opposites. With standards-based I have Standard 1 and apply Assignment 1, 2, 3, 4 to it. With assignment-based I have Assignment 1 and apply Standard 1, 2, 3, 4 to that assignment. Assignment-based is what Pearson seems to think standards-based is because my PowerSchool says it's "standards-based" but it definitely is not. If anyone from Pearson is reading this, I should be creating standards and adding assignments to it, not the other way around.