Skill Feedback and Candy

Wow! Someone told me this week that short have all the energy of a five day week packed into three days. How true it is…

I had a really hard time yesterday (##setbacks), and my 8th and 9th period classes were kind of a mess, so today I wanted to come back strong. Trouble is, “strong” is a tricky thing to find in this environment, given that one of the most effective tool in my classroom management toolkit is relentless kindness and positivity.

I’d planned three things for the day. Returning the quiz from last week, learning about where skill feedback is posted, and making and testing a prediction for a 12-noodle pasta bridge. My plan was to give 1 candy to all students if the class predicted a range that included the correct value, or 2 if they predicted one specific value. They’d have to choose. I wanted them to work out through discussion that predicting one value was virtually impossible, so finding a big range was the way to go.

Of course, by the time we’d done all the logistics of handing back the quiz, recording skill grades in the Consensus Notebook, handing out codes, and checking number grades with the posting on the wall, we didn’t have any time for the prediction… And I had all this candy to burn.

Candy is a secret weapon that I’ve never used before, but wow, what a weapon! I announced that I was extremely impressed that (almost) everyone had clearly responded to their quiz feedback with a very productive attitude. No one in the class had crumpled up their quiz and thrown it in the garbage. So I wanted to show how appreciative I was with a little reward.

Period 8 had a pretty rough class again, but they still got the candy. It was easy and truthful to say, “This was not your best day, but one thing was especially impressive.” This is an example of that relentless optimism. A cause and effect mindset might suggest that bad behavior shouldn’t earn you candy, but when my goal is to outflank badness with goodness, they need the candy more than anybody else. This weekend my goal is to call every single student in that section with good news about what they bring to my class – a kindness punch to the gut!! I’ll let you know how Monday goes…

##physicsfirst ##culture

Graph Grading Question… Can I have your thoughts?

Having given my first quiz on the first two skills of the year, I’m faced with a dilemma. I’ve tried to make a really big deal out of “scaling both axes consistently, starting from zero, because I know how important it will be later on in the course. Along these lines, I’ve worded the “X” description of my “skill rubric” as follows: “The scale I used wasn’t consistent, or didn’t start at zero, or many required parts of the graph were missing.”

This sounds well and good, but according to this rubric wording, all four of these graphs have earned the same grade:

Doesn’t seem totally right, does it? The first graph clearly knows what a consistent scale is, but thought that 0 to 90 didn’t really count, so do they really deserve the lowest possible grade for their graph? On the other hand, graphing this way won’t make it easy to find “y-intercepts” when the time comes. Foremost on my mind is the very fragile emotional relationship to failure that my students are beginning my class with (see yesterday’s post for details!), and I worry that the students like the one who made the top left graph, and there are MANY, will cross a threshold of frustration that’s unhealthy for the beginning of the year.

Am I just being nitpicky about the importance of “starting from zero”? After the rubric has been written, does whether this is picky or not even matter? Or is this first and foremost another chance to talk about setbacks as learning opportunities?

I’d love any thoughts you have, in the comments below or via twitter at @josephlkremer! We’re doing our self-assessment on Monday, so I have until then to make up my mind how to handle it.

##graphing ##skills ##setbacks ##physicsfirst

Non-Self-Assessment

My students have been slow to adjust to my system of skill-based feedback (better known as standards-based grading). I’ve done a “Check-In” at the beginning of every class, and I’ve marked this work with a four point scale (X for Struggling, P for Improving, M for Solid, MM for Inspiring) the next day. Students who get an M or an MM are all smiles, but many of those who get a P or an X get visibly angry, crumpling or ripping up their paper. Even students who didn’t write anything on the paper are offended that they were given an X…

The remarkable thing is that I’ve been very open with students that I haven’t recorded this grade anywhere but on the Check-In sheet itself! It’s literally ONLY formative feedback, but this doesn’t make the experience any less emotional. To most of my students, being “graded” feels like an evaluation of their intelligence, or even their character. A bad grade, I’m guessing, feels like a personal insult from the teacher who gave it, not information about your work.

With this in mind, I scrapped the self-assessment of graphing homework that I’d planned, and changed it to an assessment of MY graph. Students look through the “Skill Rubric” and underlined parts that apply to my graph. During our discussion, when I “realize” that my graph scaling was inconsistent (earning me an X despite all my hard work!!) I get angry, crumpled up my paper, and did that tongue clicking thing that high school teachers call “sucking your teeth”. Everybody laughs, and we get a chance to talk about what would be a better way for me to respond to that feedback. (No, the answer we’re looking for is not to tear up your paper and “make it rain” with the pieces!)

All in all, a nice way to review for our graphing quiz tomorrow!

##graphing ##sbar ##culture ##setbacks ##physicsfirst

Building Classroom Culture

My big realization over the weekend was that I’d been spending so much time being a hard ass about entering the room silently, not speaking with other people are speaking, not tossing things into the garbage from across the room, and so on that I neglected to make my class a fun, exciting place to spend time. This week, my goal is as much as anything to help get some endorphins flowing for at least some of the time we spend in class. I can be a hard ass also, but I’m thinking that letting up from time – at very specific times – will be crucial.

I took time out Monday to play “the balloon game”, which simply consists of trying to keep a balloon in the air with no hands, passing it to other table mates. It’s truly and simply a very easy way to have a good time. Tension and stress tends to melt away when this game is brought out, and it’s well worth taking the 5-10 minutes to do it.

Now that Monday has turned into Wednesday, I realize that I haven’t done a great job of following up on something fun every day. Should I be finding time for the balloon game every day? Probably not… But I’m convinced that everything will be easier if kids start to simply associate my room with good feelings.

What culture building can I introduce tomorrow?

##management ##fun

Lab Teamwork Rubric Check-In

I’ve been told quite a few times that my students are going to have some trouble with teamwork skills, like respectful discussion/disagreement, and making a commitment to their group during a lab activity. We needed one more day to finish collecting enough data for a proper pasta bridges graph, so I decided to use it as a chance to practice and assess “Lab Teamwork” directly. Here’s the rubric I used:

(My four “lab manager roles” were marble manager, pasta manager, cup manager, and general manager. Having go-to roles made it much easier for students to just pick up the experiment and roll with it, rather than arguing over who did what.

One class got all M’s, which was beautiful to see. Another class got mostly P’s, with one group almost deserving an X. I didn’t have the heart to give it to them because two member of the group were really trying hard, but too shy to ask for cooperation from the other two.

Interestingly, when I asked my first class to “self-assess” their lab work using the rubric, every student but one gave themselves an MM… Those MMs are rare and very special, I explained afterward. It would be quite a surprise if you were doing “inspiring science” on your first lab of the year. It takes practice!

##physicsfirst ##expdesign. ##assessment

Pasta Bridges Uncertainty

I decided to take a slightly different tack with the pasta bridges experiment this year, partly because I thought my students could benefit from a very early discussion about uncertainty, and partly because I wanted to gauge their facility with experimental work. It’s worked out well so far, and the stage is set for the actual investigation of a relationship between number of noodles and load of marbles.

First day, I showed the apparatus, and encouraged students to try building one bridge out of three noodles. They had different pasta types and separation distances, and their numbers were all over the place. We used these results to discuss our focus question – “What does it mean to be uncertain when doing science?”

If someone walked into the room and asked how many marbles a bridge would support, what would you say? “I’m not sure,” would be a good answer, but “between 7 and 90 marbles” would be better. (Notice that one of my five classes didn’t ever get to do the initial run, because they just took too long every time it was important to settle down. ##setbacks!)

Second day:
How could we try to make sure that our bridges support the same number of marbles? Try to keep everything the same… Same noodle type, same drop style, and same separation distance. We chose thin spaghetti, 10cm.

But amazingly, there’s still uncertainty! No matter what we do, we’re still unable to tell exactly how many marbles the bridges support. We can identify a smaller range now, but we’re still uncertain.

Now we actually have some motivation for discussing why multiple trials are crucial in our experimental design! This took two days all tolled, with a lot of time spent waiting for students to stop talking and get on task before we could go on.

##expdesign ##physicsfirst ##paradigmlab

Paper Scopes and Evidence

We had a shortened day for just ninth graders, so I wanted to use the time to do something fun that would establish a no-nonsense tone for the class and communicate how important it is that there can be multiple correct answers to a question.

I ended up modifying the first activity in the ##pum kinematics module (about establishing a reference frame(, and it was perfect. First I wrote “What is a claim? What is evidence?” on the board, and we discussed their experience with the terms. Then, students watched a volleyball through the rolled up paper “scope” as I held it while skateboarding across the floor (Eugenia likes rollerblades, but I only had a skateboard handy!). I asked them to describe what they had to do to the scope to keep looking at the ball, and they describe rotating their heads and bodies. THEN, I skated across with the ball again, but this time I was the one looking at the ball through the scope. Everyone agreed that I didn’t have to move my scope, even though the ball was doing exactly the same thing.

Then I pulled out the big guns. “Based on the evidence we’ve collected with the scopes, is the ball moving?”

Discussion around this question was surprisingly lively! One class (That will be my most difficult to manage, I’m predicting, but hopefully the most fun to teach?) erupted into loud argument with other students around them almost immediately. We brought the conversation back to disagreeing on claims vs agreeing on evidence, and then brought the class to a close.

##physicsfirst ##firstdays ##consensus

Day 1 Bulletin Board

I’ll keep this first post of the new year short, but I wanted to gush about how excited I am about this new job! I’m working at a charter school in Harlem this year, doing something similar to the Physics First class I taught at an elite Brooklyn private school last year. Now that I have some of the kinks worked out and I know what class I want to teach, I feel more ready to take on five sections of 130 kids.

For example, here’s my bulletin board where I’ll post the skills grades for all students, via three separate pages of individual secret codes (thanks to Paul Bianchi for the template I started with to get this system up and running!). I’ll also post rubrics for each new skill as we introduce them, so students can form more concrete goals of what they’re trying to master.

I’ve also printed copies of the “Physics Consensus Notebook” for all students. We’ll be working with them in the classroom for now, as they realize what an important resource it will be.

More on these details as they develop… For now, here’s to an exciting year of inspirational struggle!!

##consensus ##physicsfirst ##sbar

Day 1 Bulletin Board

I’ll keep this first post of the new year short, but I wanted to gush about how excited I am about this new job! I’m working at a charter school in Harlem this year, doing something similar to the Physics First class I taught at an elite Brooklyn private school last year. Now that I have some of the kinks worked out and I know what class I want to teach, I feel more ready to take on five sections of 130 kids.

For example, here’s my bulletin board where I’ll post the skills grades for all students, via three separate pages of individual secret codes (thanks to Paul Bianchi for the template I started with to get this system up and running!). I’ll also post rubrics for each new skill as we introduce them, so students can form more concrete goals of what they’re trying to master.

I’ve also printed copies of the “Physics Consensus Notebook” for all students. We’ll be working with them in the classroom for now, as they realize what an important resource it will be.

More on these details as they develop… For now, here’s to an exciting year of inspirational struggle!!

##consensus ##physicsfirst ##sbar