Sunday, April 22, 2018

Grading: What does 63% mean to you?

If you are a long-ish time reader to my blog, you know grading is one of my soapbox items.  It seems like a basic concept, but something that is still so difficult to agree upon.  Ultimately grades are about communication: Communication between teacher and student about levels of proficiency on skills.  Communication between the school and families to let families know how successful the child is on specific skills.

I tutor a number of students outside of my school. One of the students I tutor recently got a 63% on her test.

What does a 63% communicate?  Does that mean she got 63% of the questions correct?  Did she know 63% of the material?  What do you think this test looked like when she got it back? This test covered quadratics, factoring, and similar concepts. We had been working on these skills pretty extensively and she was rightfully disappointed in her grade.  I was confused since I felt she was pretty solid on these skills.

The student that received this score is very knowledgeable in math, but like many students starting algebra, she is losing her confidence in her abilities.  This confidence took another hit when she scored a 63% on a math test.

Would you be surprised to know that this student actually knew the learning standards being taught? She could explain the process on how to factor quadratic equations. She could apply special rules for differences of squares.  She knew rules for sums and differences of perfect cubes.

Yet she got a 63% on the test.

Why?  Because the questions responses were either ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’  Despite showing her work (as was required by the directions), each question was scored based on the final answer.  No credit was given for correct steps. Here is a sample of some of her errors:

She misread her handwriting from one line to the next, turning a 7 turned into a 1.  Instead of a final answer of 4x2+3x+7, she wrote 4x2+3x+1. The question was marked incorrect and no credit was earned.

She was building a binomial picture with bars and squares to show (2x+3)(x+2) . When she finished her picture she forgot to put 1s in two of the boxes.  Instead of getting the correct answer of 2x2+7x+6 she got 2x2+7x+4.  The question was marked incorrect and no credit was earned.

When we went over the test we talked about attention to detail and how she lost a total of 7.5 points out of 20. Six of the points were due to attention to detail, an executive function skill.  Only 1.5 of the points lost were from a lack of math knowledge.

So as these grades and then report cards come home, what do the marks tell us about our child’s learning and acquisition of knowledge? Do the grades reflect what is known, or are the grades including other soft skills such as executive function? 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Running for the Children of Nationwide Children's Hospital

Hello friends and family,

In 2015 I ran my first marathon and dedicated it to the Hospice and Homecare of Nationwide Children's Hospital, running as a Children's Champion.

Back then 26 miles was the furthest I'd ever run.  Since then, as many of you know, I have run plenty of miles and raised money for other great organizations, but for a number of reasons none of the miles seemed to line up with the date of the Columbus Marathon.  This year is no exception.

Still, I felt the calling to help the children at Nationwide Children's Hospital.... so rather than wait until the stars align for the marathon,  I decided to dedicate another run to this great cause.

I'm writing to tell you I've decided to do something bold in June - I will be attempting my first 100 kilometer (62 mile) run.  Once again I will dedicate my run to the Hospice and Homecare program at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

I have set a goal of raising $1000 by June 10th.  These funds would go to helping the children in the Nationwide Children's Hospital Hospice and Homecare program.

100% of the funds raised will be donated to this program.  All donations are 100% tax deductible.

As always, I have included some incentive levels for your consideration:

$10 - A thank you e-mail and summary of the event.  I will also include periodic emails about my training and the crazy miles I am running.

$25 - All of the $10 incentives, plus you get to come run with me virtually! Suggest a song and I will add it to my play list. You'll be with me for that part of my run!  For those that have done this before, if you donate $25 or more, I will include all the songs you previously suggested!

$50 - A hand written thank you, you can choose 2 songs to add to my playlist, and I will send you a 4x6 photo of a memory from the event as well. Additionally, you will receive a complimentary one-month subscription to the bronze level of the Reality Bites Training Accountability group.

$62 (a dollar a mile) or more - All of the incentives above, plus you will be a naming sponsor for one of my 5-mile loops! What does this mean? I'll have 13 spaces numbered on my arms - and your name will be on one of them!

There are two easy ways to donate:

a) Click here and donate on my personal page by clicking on the orange 'donate now' button:

      My Personal Fundraising Page

b) Download this form and mail in with your donation. If you do this, please e-mail me and let me know so I can thank you as I will not get a notification:

      PDF to donate to my run

Please consider joining me as we invest in the lives of these children.

Thank you,


Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Ripcord Behavior Management System

How do students in your school find a safe place when they are emotionally overwhelmed?  Our school has a system called ripcord.

The ripcord system is based on parachutes.  When you jump out of a plane, you have to pull your ripcord to have a safe landing.

Similarly, ripcord is what you pull when you are overwhelmed emotionally.  Usually it is due to an overwhelming emotion such as anger or sadness, but it could be for any reason you do not feel emotionally safe in a classroom.

When a student feels like this, they always have the option to 'pull their ripcord.'  We talked to the students about situations this may happen - it could be because they are angry, upset, or just about to make a bad choice.  We also talk about timing: Just like a real ripcord on a parachute, a ripcord only works if you pull it at the right time: Pull it too late and it isn't an effective tool. We start to help the student connect their personal signals (tears pooling up, clenched fists, gritting teeth) as to when they need to pull their ripcord.

We explain where these emotions come from.  Students hear about the amygdala and how it 'flairs' when you feel threatened even when you really aren't in danger. If you perceive a threat, the amygdala goes into action.  This takes rational thinking away and leaves the student with just instinctive responses.  The goal of ripcord is for students to calm their mind down (relax their amygdala) to a point where they can talk to an adult about what is bothering them.

When students choose to pull their ripcord, they get a ripcord form from a designated space in the classroom.  Each classroom has a space for this since it is a school-wide management system.  Students then take some time to complete the form.  They may do it in the classroom, outside in the hall, or in an office.

The form consists of two main parts:

  • I am feeling ... because ...
  • My plan is to ... 

Students can write words, draw pictures, or use a combination to get their feelings and thoughts down.  For younger grades, we also include a feelings chart so they can circle faces.

After a student completes the form, they talk to an adult - it could be the school counselor, department head, their advisor, or other trusted person in the school.  This person then helps the student decide if they are ready to return to the classroom or if further discussion or action is needed.

This system gives all the members of our school a common way to take a break without fear of getting in trouble.  It also makes students accountable for returning to the problem (not avoiding it) and coming up with a solution.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Save the Penguins!

Hello, Readers!

I'm sorry it has been so long. Things have been crazy here on both a personal/family as well as a  professional level.  I decided to take a few weeks away from blogging since blogging became more of a chore 'have to' instead of a craving 'want to' thing.

Still, that didn't mean great things weren't happening.  I've gotten to teach a number of amazing lessons and have had so much success in the classroom.   Here was one of my absolutely favorite take aways from the past month.

In science, we had been studying Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer.  As a final project, students were challenged to create a "Penguin Vacation Paradise."  For this, students would build a structure to protect an ice cubed penguin from the natural paradise environment.

This is based on this fantastic lesson located here: Save The Penguins, Auburn University.

Students were given supplies and a budget.  We did some preliminary labs and demonstrations to make observations of different types of insulators and conductors.  From there they created their first structure.

Material cost list.  Definitely something I reflected on after the activity.

Students weighed their penguins and then placed them in paradise for 20 minutes.  After returning from paradise, the penguins were re-weighed.  Students then calculated the total mass lost and the percent of loss based on the original value.  Students calculated the total cost of the structure based on given values, and then added 20% for the retail cost.  They then had to create a argumentative paragraph explaining why their structure was the best option.

Here are some pictures of the activities:

 Paradise gets heated up 

Comparison of the two temperatures - inside and outside paradise. 

The first prototypes go in.

As my science partner and I were developing this, we realized it would be a perfect showcase for parents to come in and observe.  We invited family members to the classes and had a great turn out.  Students presented their results, explained their math, and talked about the different types of energy interactions they learned about.

A student's display of work - data, charts, calculating total cost, and a persuasive paragraph!

They were amazing with their use of vocabulary and explanation of procedures.  I would say how proud I was of all of them, but they were truly proud of themselves... and really isn't that my purpose in all of this?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE CPR of Discipline... and Bob Ross

When I meet someone and they ask, "What do you do?" I usually say I'm a middle school teacher.  That usually draws some interesting looks.  When they ask what subjects and I say "math, science, and reading" that draws even more looks. 

  • Wow. you must have the patience of a saint. 
  • I could never do that.  Those kids are so rude!
  • Really? Kids that age are so bratty/spoiled/undisciplined/etc.

I understand that most people don't choose to spend their time with a couple dozen early-teenage adolescents on a daily basis.  They don't see their passion to want to know why, their questioning nature, the beauty of their squirrel-like attention.  Each day each student can have one of five different personalities show up, and I love that.

Discipline seems to be the one thing on most people's minds when I mention my profession.   People also ask, "how do you control so many kids in such a small space?"  This quote guides many of my philosophies regarding discipline:

Students do not come to school looking to get in trouble. They don't wake up, get dressed, then think about, "hmmm, how will I get myself in trouble today? Maybe I'll just shout some curse words during math class. That sounds good!"

Students come to school and are asked to do things that are extremely uncomfortable and not intrinsic to them. Each day they are asked to sit through multiple subjects of content, most of which they have never seen or heard about before.  They are asked to learn facts, do homework, and take tests in subjects they may not enjoy... And they are asked to do it by someone who may think that their class is the MOST IMPORTANT CLASS EVER.

It is so important to remember perspective.  The student that just called out or yelled at you or grumbled under her voice or threw a pencil across a room did it for a reason.  It is important that teachers look at that situation as "this student is struggling now... how can I help?" and stay away from, "that student is misbehaving, how can I punish her into submission? MUHAHAHA!"

My discipline style is similar to the steps of CPR.  The first part of CPR is making sure "the scene safe."  With discipline I ask a similar question - are any students (including the one in question) in any immediate physical or emotional danger?  Can I handle this in the classroom or should we step outside?  Once that is taken care of, I can move to give the student individual care (CPR: are you ok?)

I like starting off conversations with, "Are you angry at something I did today?" or "Are you upset at me?"  This does a number of things right off the bat.  First, it establishes that I'm not upset at the student. I am looking to get information. Second, it helps me figure out why the student is having some difficulty. Many times discipline problems are a result of something that happened minutes, hours, or days earlier.  By asking this one question I also am able to (usually) calm the student down both physically and emotionally.  This calms down the amygdala and opens up some more rational thinking. With the neural pathways more open, I can ask more mindful questions instead of rhetorical ones with negative connotation (why did you do that?) and get more insightful answers from the student. 

Coming from a perspective of a coach looking to improve a student, not a cop looking to write a ticket (detention slip), allows students to express their feelings and lets me offer solutions to help the student be more successful in similar situations in the future.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Who Knew Rice Could Be SO Powerful?

Exponents are a fascinating topic to me.  They rank up there with probability in the category of "unexpected answers that make no sense." With exponents students are amazed at how big numbers get and how fast they get there.  I have a number of activities I do to hook them in, but the first one I do involves some rice...

I started with an ancient parable of a farmer in Ancient China.  The parable has many different origins, most commonly in India, but I chose Ancient China because the students just finished a unit on this region and I felt it would be a great way to review the vocabulary and geography of the area. 

The story goes like this...

Once upon a time a farmer found a way to vastly increase the amount of rice produced on his farm.  He shared this information with his Noble who in turn told the Emperor.  The Emperor was very happy, for growing rice was one of the ways to get wealthy in ancient times.  It wasn't like they could just go to Kroger and buy rice, you know.

The Emperor insisted on an audience from the farmer, who showed the next day.  The farmer, being only a peasant, approached his Emperor with his head bowed the entire time.  The Emperor commended his subject and said as a reward he would grant him a reward of a pound of rice a day, every day, for a year.  This was an astronomical amount of food.

We then measured what a pound of rice looked like.  I always keep tupperwares of rice in the classroom - they come in handy for many different activities.  I also got out our science beakers and digital scale.  The pound of rice we measured had just more than 500 ml of volume.  We also estimated there were between 7,000 and 10,000 grains of rice in that pound.  Looking at a serving size, we learned that this would be between 8 and 10 servings of rice by today's standards. 

Doing some more math revealed that at the end of 30 days the farmer would have about 300,000 grains of rice. 

... Then the story continued...

Being a humble peasant, the farmer refused the reward.  Instead, he said, he wished for merely one grain of rice, doubled each day for the 30 day period. 

The Emperor laughed, but was impressed by his subject's modesty.  He granted his wish.

Students then discussed if this was a good plan.  Many of them had heard this story before, and so knew that the farmer made a good choice, but the challenge was to estimate how many grains of rice he would end up with after 30 days.  Estimates ranged from "a few hundred" (from students that had never heard the story) to "about a million." 

So to emphasize the deal I got out the rice again and said, "OK, day 1... ONE grain of rice" and I put the grain of rice on a random student's desk.  "Whew... ok... day TWOOOO.... two grains of rice..." (another student) "day three... four grains! that looks SO FILLING!" (another student.)  I do this through the first 5 days getting up to 16 grains.

Students were then challenged with proving which deal was better.  To do this we decided to use chess boards and post its to help organize our thinking and planning.  Students were put in groups of two or three students to record the results. 

The numbers started small...

... but they started growing...

and kept growing...

Students were shocked at how large the final answer was (over 500 million grains of rice on day 30 alone!)  At the end we did some reflection on exponents. Here are some responses from the closing:

  • The numbers start off really small, but got big REALLY fast after like day 20.
  • The emperor must have been really upset!
  • It didn't seem like a good deal, but on day 19 he already had more than all 30 days from the other deal. 
  • That was WAY more than I thought it would be. 
  • How many pounds of rice is that??? 
The last part of the assignment was for them to write how the story ends.  What happened to the farmer? Ideally they would use their knowledge of social structures to answer the question (would the Emperor kill the farmer? Honor the agreement? something else?) 

It was a very fun lesson and really emphasized the power of exponents!  

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Amazing (Review) Race

For a final review in term two I decided to host an Amazing Race activity.  This review would use the TV show as inspiration to review concepts in the major content areas.

The students walked in to a dimmed room with the opening theme to The Amazing Race playing on repeat.  We watched a quick clip to help orient students that have never seen the show before and then I explained how it was going to work today.

  • Students were on teams of three or four. 
  • Each team was assigned a color and symbol.
  • Clues for each team were in envelopes with their symbol. 
The Teams

Unlike the actual amazing race, the goal wasn't necessarily to be the first team to finish. Instead it was a point-based game where you can earn points for various tasks:

  • Completing a route: 20 points
  • Completing a road block: 15 points + points for creativity, quality, and originality
  • Bonus points: 5 points each (given at the end of the match, similar to Mario Party)
Students were also told there were ways to lose points.  I really wanted to focus on them working together and using each other as a resource:
  • Getting help from an adult or other team: -5 points
  • Running or unexpected hallway behavior: -5 points
  • If your group is split up / not together: -10 points
  • Opening the wrong envelope: -10 points
We also talked about 'sabotage' and how it wasn't allowed (for instance, seeing someone else's envelope and moving or otherwise interfering with other teams.) 

That is a great haiku about China - but you didn't talk about the government... ROAD BLOCKED

After that I put them in their groups and said their first clue was in the commons.  They left the classroom, found their clue and the game began.  

We played a total of 4 route cards and one road block.  The route cards reviewed skills from all the major subjects that my partner teacher and I presented in term two.  To add to the game I bought some programmable padlocks from amazon.  Certain route cards led you to a locker number with a lock. The clue also had the combination to that lock embedded in the clue.  A few groups came up to me for clarification, but when I used the phrase, "is this an official asking for help question?" many of them chose to figure it out as a group rather than lose the five points. 

$10 on Amazon. Great purchase.

After the game was finished, students completed a reflection / feedback survey.  The results were very positive.  Students rated their partner's helpfulness at 3.2 out of 4, Fun rated a 3.3 out of 4 and 93% of students said they'd want to do this again.  It took quite some time to create this, so I'm glad that it went so well!

I really enjoyed this activity for a number of reasons. Students were encouraged to ask each other for help rather than asking a teacher. Only two groups asked a teacher for help throughout the entire game, and that was after they realized they all were stuck.  I got to incorporate a mix of topics - science, social studies, math, and language arts were all represented.  On top of academics, the social pieces - communication, team building, and all the skills that go with that were also emphasized.  I'll be excited to try this again in term three!