Friday, February 28, 2014

Standards-Based Grading, Levels, & Percentages

Standards-Based Grading

Grading is always a tricky subject to discuss.  I have developed my grading system over the last 4 years shifting from points based, to standards based.  I really like how I grade and feel that it reflects exactly what a grade should, student learning.  

Being called out twice on twitter by Ken O'Connor, grading guru, really got me reflecting about how I grade.  It made me question what I am doing and whether it is really good for the students and parents.  

Here is what I do.  Anybody can do this, regardless of whether your district is doing standards-based grading or not.  This method was developed because I am the only teacher in our secondary school doing standards-based grading.  

So 4 years ago I wanted to move away from grading on points and start grading on learning.  I tossed out my curriculum, read a lot of Dan Meyer,  went to some trainings, and went at it.  I developed a list of learning targets (concepts) for 7th and 8th grade.  The only scores in the gradebook were based on assessments of those learning targets.  My gradebook is set up like this...

1. Algebraic Patterns
2. Algebraic Equations
3. Algebraic Properties

There are no "assignments, quizzes, daily points, or tests", listed.  I
Where I get in trouble from Ken O'Connor is that each learning target in the gradebook has a percentage to show how much the student has learned.  This percentage can change depending on how the student progresses during the quarter.  

The percentages are based on numerous and varied assessments of the student's knowledge.  The percentages come from a conversion chart.  The students are given feedback on a 1-4 basis.  The following picture (that I got from someone on twitter) perfectly summarizes the 4 point scale.  

I try to assess students at least 2 times before anything gets entered into the gradebook.  I do however allow unlimited re-assessments from the students.  They are required to study or remediate somehow before they are allowed to retest.  Students of course will try to just take it hoping for a miracle, but I find a quick conversation with the student quickly exposes the student as ready or not for a re-take.  

If you have doubts about re-takes, or redos take 8 min and watch this video.  Life-changing...

I emphasize the words "master" the learning target during class.  Students are taught that 2 scores of 3 or higher mean "mastery."  We even have a wall of mastery in class to celebrate students mastering a skill.  There are different levels of mastery, but I feel if a student can score two 3s, they know the standard to a sufficient level.  

Here is my conversion chart from the 1-4 to a percentage.
This is the part that gets SBG purists going.

4,4 = A = 100%
4,3 = A- = 95%
3,3 = B = 90%
3,2 = C+ = 85%
2,2 = C = 80%
1,2 = D = 70%
1,1 = F = 60%

Of course there are more combinations than this, but these are the basics that I build off of.  

Last time I got called out by Ken O'Connor it was that 90% represented mastery.  He told me to go read an article in Ed Leadership by Thomas Guskey.  So I read the article.  The article made a great point, that percentage (Based on points) is not a good reference for mastery.  The article said that 90% or 80% or any percentage cut off was not a good way to define mastery.  I totally agree with this.  Percentages, when based on points say very little about what a student knows and doesn't know.  I agree.

This is not what I do.  I convert to percentages from a 4 point rubric for 2 reasons.  

1. Our school is not a SBG school.  
I am not even sure I want our school to be an SBG school, top-down mandates like this never seem to go well.  I just wish more teachers graded more on learning and less on points.

2. Parents understand percentages.  
It is way easier to communicate to parents that 90% means mastery, than to try to explain the 1-4 rubric, and they need two scores of 3 or higher, and so on.  Parents of junior high students are busy.  They want to know how their students are doing in a quick and efficient manner.  The percent makes this possible.  

I feel standards-based grading's main emphasis is to shift the focus on learning, instead of points.  My grading system does this.  This is the first step in creating a learning-centered, student-centered classroom.

The arguments about grades, percentages, rubrics, etc... really is only about communication with parents.  To me this is a secondary argument that doesn't mean nearly as much to my classroom, my students, or the school, as truly making sure the class is focused on learning. 

This got way to long.  I really just had to think this out to convince myself that I want to keep implementing my grading system.  I have at least convinced myself.  Now if I could just convince my grading hero that keeps telling me I am wrong....



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Flappy Birds Math Lesson

I have to admit that I got caught up in the Flappy Bird craze for a couple days.  It was a fun, infuriating and addicting game.  The whole time I was playing I was wondering how I could turn this into a math lesson.  Ideas I came up with were minimal.  They involved measures of center and variability, as students would play a couple times and then find a bunch of one-variable stats and see how outliers can effect some of the different measures.

However this week we are introducing percent of change.  I thought this was also a great opportunity to give this a shot.  So here is what happened...

1. As students came in I had on my mirroring program and on 1 side of the screen was the day's schedule and on the other side was the iPad showing Flappy bird.  As students came in I sat and played a couple games.  Students came in excited and hooked right away.

2. We talked about Flappy Bird a little bit and shared high scores.  We then transitioned to percent change and how it can be used to measure improvement.

3. We went through 2 examples on the board of how to use a graphic organizer to solve a percent of change word problem.  The students took notes and listened, anxious to get to the Flappy Bird part.  I then asked students to solve a word problem on their own using the graphic organizer.

4. After each group proved capable we finally get to the Flappy Bird tie-in.  I made sure each group of 3-4 students had at least 2 devices with the game.  Students were instructed to play 1 time and write down that score.

5. Students were then given 10 minutes to practice their Flappy Bird skills.  

6. Students were then asked to put down their devices and listen.  They surprisingly complied very quickly and quietly.  I did mention that non-compliance would be grounds for being thrown out of the "Flappy Bird Olympics."  

7. I then told students they get 1 trial to get their final score and they should write down that score and then calculate their percent of change.  

8.  Students then helped each other as they worked in groups to use the graphic organizer to calculate percent of change.  I walked around the room helping students who really struggled.  

9.  While I walked around I kept note of some interesting examples to show to the class.  We then spent the last 10 minutes of class discussing examples.  

Example 1:
A pretty typical percent of change example with a small increase and a percent change above 0% and below 100%.

Example 2:
A pretty typical example of percent decrease, with a small decrease between 0% and 100%.

Example 3:
An example with the first and last score being the same.  

Example 4:
An example with over 100% increase. 

Example 5:
I tried to pick Example 4 as the highest percent increase in the room.  For the next part of the discussion I picked the highest initial score in the room.  We then calculated what that student's new score would have had to have been for them to beat the highest percent increase.  In one class we figured that a student's initial score of 133, would have had to increase to 646 for them to have won.  

Example 6:
An example where the first score was zero.  This led to a very interesting discussion where we talked about how to get an answer.  Using the graphic organizer and proportions we would have had to divide by zero to get the percent change.  We then studied what happens as the divisor gets smaller.  It led to a very interesting discussion!  

Surprisingly all these examples happened in both classes of 7th graders.  It turned out to be a very exciting and productive day.  We will see tomorrow about how much they remember about percent change.  


Saturday, February 8, 2014

I am the Lorax, I Read with a Wheez

February is I love to Read month, or so they tell me.  Our school decided that every Friday morning their would be a mystery reader after the morning announcements.  This is the first year they have done this and I was very excited when they asked me to be the first reader.  My excitement kept "biggering and biggering and biggering" when I found out I would be reading a selection from The Lorax, my favorite Dr. Seuss book.  

I love reading this book to my kids and get very dramatic about the whole thing.  I was excited to share my overdramatic side with the entire school.  Keep in mind we are a Pre-K-12 building, so my voice was going to be heard by students age 3-18.  

Fast forward to Friday morning.  My lovely wife had to go into work super early leaving me to get all 3 kids ready for school, ages 5, 8 and 11, and be on time for our Friday morning meeting.  We made it on time but there was some 11 year old drama that day as she lost some of her homework.  Then came the staff meeting, always a good time.  Then I got caught up in a conversation with another math teacher about class offerings for next year.  This is where the fun begins...

I was supposed to be in the office to read at 8:15.  The bell rings to start homeroom, at 8:15, and I am still in the middle of my conversation in my room with the other math teacher.  Nothing is registering yet in my brain about where I am supposed to be at this time.  

Then at 8:16 the speakers crackle and the principal begins his weekly Friday morning message.  In the middle of a sentence, I stop what I was saying, yell out "Oh no!" and in one motion grab my paper with the reading and head out my door.  

Now running in school is generally frowned upon, but I had a very short time to get to the office.  So I ran from my door all the way to the office.  Now keep in mind, I am not at my peak physical shape and I am a pretty big dude.  Even in my younger days, running was not my strong suite despite being a 3 sport athlete.  

I learned later that my principal, while reading the morning announcement had his eye on the cameras and saw me sprinting through the hallways trying to make my reading on time.  He slowed down his reading to try to give me time to make it to the office.  

Just as I reached his room where I was supposed to read, the principal was finishing up the last couple sentences.  However, there was a problem...breath.  

He handed me the phone to do the reading and I hadn't even gotten close to catching my breath.  So instead of a great dramatic reading of the Lorax, hundreds of students, ages 3-18, plus my fellow colleagues,  heard lines from the Lorax a couple words at a time and then a middle aged math teacher gasping and wheezing, and then a couple more words.  I tried to pass it off as dramatic, but I think that just made it worse.  

"From the ... (deep breath) ... rippulous pond ... (wheez)
came the ... (gasp) ... comfortable sound ... (long pause)

This went on for about 15 more line until thankfully it ended.  As I left the office and ran into students, they all yelled out a mixture of "I knew it was you, because we saw you running" and "Are you okay?"  All in all a total failure.  

I think I am ordering a treadmill on Monday.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Twitter: Light Side vs Dark Side

Twitter Wisdom

I scavenge Twitter for many ideas and resources to help me with teaching.  I often come across things that I think are pretty cool or could be useful to teachers that are not me.  I often send these links and ideas on to colleagues in the building.  I am sure they get sick of this, so I try to limit it, but I do send out ideas quite a bit.  

Yesterday I sent out back to back emails to elementary teachers.  The first tweet quickly explained that I found this resources on twitter and that elementary math teachers might find it useful.  I forgot that I had come across another idea aimed at elementary teachers.  I think it was an app for practicing basic skills that looked pretty fun.  (I think it was Math Slicer)  The subject line of this email was "i spend too much time on twitter."  Trying to poke fun at myself for sending back to back emails to the elementary about ideas that I found on twitter.  

After sending this email out I got a response back from 1 teacher, asking about some drama going on in the Twitter world involving our students.  She asked me what I knew about the drama.  My response to her was that I try to "avoid the dark side of twitter" and I knew nothing.  

The use of the phrase "Dark side" got me thinking.  Star Wars often talks about the Dark and Light side of "The Force."  Twitter can be viewed in a similar way.  

It is the Jedi's choices that put them on the dark or light side of the force, the same is true for twitter users.  

Twitter connects the world just like the Force flows through and connects all of us.  

A Jedi's light saber color symbolizes a lot about the Jedi themselves, much like the twitter user's profile pictures and cover picture.  

A Jedi can move objects using the force with just their mind.  My autocorrect is almost that good as I type things on my phone.  

So all these similarities inspired me to seek out advice from the wise master Yoda.  He gives great advice throughout the Star Wars films and surprisingly a lot of it can be applied to use of Twitter.  So I made the graphic below to remind myself, and my students of choices, consequences, and digital citizenship.