Saturday, July 15, 2017

Standard based grading: the how (the policies)

What I'm thinking is that 80% of each student's grade will depend on standards. The other 20% will be homework, participation, projects, etc... To determine that 80%, each week I will be assessing two to six standards. Each question will be graded using a rubric I stole/adapted/edited from Dane Elhert.

Here's what it looks like:

(You can find a link to the document here.) As the rubric states, I will always take the highest grade and exempt students from future questions on a standard if they have scored two nines or higher. I will have students record their scores for each standard in their interactive notebook so they have a record of their progress. 

If a student wants to reassess a standard, I want to make time either during my planning period (their PE period) or after school so they have a second (or third or fourth) chance to show their understanding.  Here's the form they will need to fill out:

So, if a student has scored a 5, a 7, a 6, and finally a 9 on a standard, I will give them a 9 in the gradebook --- they have improved and I want to reward that.

What if scores go down instead of up? When I used this system on the collegiate level, I did adjust scores downward to reflect that a student was doing worse. However, doing that involves a more complicated policy that I believe would be more difficult for sixth graders to understand.

But you're not assessing retention of information! Yes, that's true. I would rather emphasize a growth mindset (if I improve, my grade clearly shows it) than a more punitive approach. There will be other instruments (for example, state testing) that will be a better measure of skills retention.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Standard based grading: the why

Every summer for the past two years or so, I've said to myself "I really need to start using standard based grading". Well, this summer I have started working on actually implementing a SBG system in my sixth grade classroom. (I used SBG for a semester or two when I taught college and liked the approach.)

If you are not familiar with SBG, the absolute best place to get a detailed approach is Robert J. Marzano's book. But, if you want a quick introduction, the websites I found most helpful were

In a nutshell, SBG means you grade students primarily or exclusively on their performance on standards --- not on participation, not on homework, not on projects, not even on amorphous quizzes or exams. Your gradebook consists of a list of standards, and the student's grade depends on how she or he did on each standard. Practically every system I've seen involves multiple assessments of each standard with the opportunity for a student to request a reassessment.

So, why am I doing this?

I want my grading system to be transparent. My sixth graders can have little to no idea why they have the grade they do (especially when I give different weights to different assignments). Moreover, if they are struggling, my best suggestions have been to go back and turn in missed homework (which often results in little meaningful effort) or prepare better for the next exam (which may have no connection to the previous exam). I want to be able to tell students and parents that (for example) "You have that C because you have not mastered decimal multiplication and ordering rational numbers", not "You have that C because you did poorly on the last two exams".

I want my students to take on more responsibility for their learning. This is actually my main reason for the change; it's just that it's hard for students to take responsibility for their grade if they don't understand what their grade means. So, transparency is the first step. The second step is giving the students options to reassess a standard to improve their grade. Each standard should be assessed two of three times (and I will probably take the highest score), but if a student is still doing poorly, I want him or her to be able to take the initiative to try again.

I get some automatic differentiation. I hadn't expected this benefit, but as I started writing up problems for each standard (more on that later), I realized I was creating easy, medium, and hard problems. My advanced kids will probably never see the easy problems. My lowest kids may see only the easy problems. 

There are some negatives that I foresee. The biggest is that this approach doesn't really have room for projects or more open-ended assessments. That's something I will be grappling with during the first few months. But, I think I'm willing to trade projects for more transparency and responsibility.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Small steps into the interactive notebook world

Okay, I like to use Pinterest for foldable ideas, but I was thinking about a foldable for ordering integers and this idea came to me:

What I like about this foldable is the six different ways to write one inequality --- I want my students to understand how we can think about every inequality as both less than and greater than, I want them to understand the inequality spatially, and I want a strong connection between the symbol and the words.

If you want a copy, this is a Google drawing available here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Desmos card sort and ordering rational numbers

So, I am continuing to be fascinated with the Desmos activity builder, and I am playing around more and more with the card sort feature. (See my initial blog entry on the card sort for an introduction to the feature.) I realized last night that I could do some simple rational number ordering with the card sort and throw in a different way for the students to think about the numbers.

Here's a screenshot of my activity:

And in case it's hard to see, here's a blowup of that number line. (Note that students can get a bigger view themselves by tapping on the graph in the activity.)
The idea is that students take the three numbers and match them up with the cards for "Lowest number", "Middle number", and "Highest number". That's fine and interactive, but what I love, love, love is using a number line to represent one of the numbers. I not only hit visual learning styles, but I get the students to think about where the other numbers would go on that image.

The only issue I see is the labels --- this works fine for three numbers (and I have a challenge screen with five numbers), but I don't want the students to get lost with the labels if I had four or seven numbers. As far as I can tell, Desmos does not distinguish between the order of card in a card sort (which would make this a bit easier). But this is a great way to emphasize different ways of viewing rational numbers.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Changing middle school student passwords in GAFE

Our school (not our district) has GAFE accounts, and I and another teacher do the administration of about 800 accounts. This year, I am trying to streamline some of the work and use some of my new JavaScript knowledge. To start, I wanted to create a form that teachers could fill out whenever a student needs their password reset. (Since we have middle schoolers, some of the possible ways an account password could be reset --- e.g., a text message to a phone --- aren't possible.)

First step, I wrote a form to collect information from the teacher about the student:
Next, I enabled the Email Notification for Forms add-on, so that I'm emailed every time a teacher fills out the form.  The step of changing the password I am planning to do manually based on the information in the Google Sheet. But finally, I changed the script in this tutorial (showing how to send email based off a Google Sheet) so that when I run it, the teachers are informed of the student's new password.

I'm glad some of the steps are automated and that I understand the JavaScript well enough to make meaningful edits. However, if there is an easier way to do this, I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Making more of the Mathematical Practice standards

I try to hit the mathematical practice standards in Common Core, but they tend to fall by the wayside when the crunch to hit content hits. I have put up some kid friendly versions in my classroom and try to reference them often (with heavy emphasis on my favorite: "I can show my work in many ways.")

I did some PD this year where we went through the MP standards in depth, and my biggest takeaway was the type of questions I could ask during class to emphasize each of the standards. There's a nice reference on the Louisiana Believes website, but it still has a lot of verbiage for each standard. I decided to try and distill down two questions per standard that I could see myself asking 6th graders.

I used the color and the font not just to add variety, but to color code the pair of questions that goes with each standard. I'm putting this over my teacher desk so I can always take a quick look and find a question. If you want a copy of this, you can find the Google drawing here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Quizlet, Desmos Card Sort, and matching in math class

Last year, I used Quizlet about five times in class. Even though the intended purpose of Quizlet is learning and reviewing vocabulary, I think it works well for a lot of pre-algebra. For example, the below is a screenshot from an iPad where students need to tap on two squares that represent equivalent expressions (using the distributive property):

My students, for the most part, really liked the Scatter game on Quizlet --- I could walk around and see how students were doing and announce the fastest time within a section and among all my sections. If you put enough options in the Quizlet set, students won't necessarily see the same questions every time, so they really need to pay attention. The only negative I saw was that some students would just tap on squares as fast as possible to get right answers by accident. (If you want, you can see my Quizlet sets at

It turns out Desmos has a relatively new feature called card sort that carries out some of the same functionality. You don't need to have one to one matching, so I tested the feature by creating an activity that assesses whether students can classify a number as an integer or a rational number. Here's the screenshot:
Unlike the iPad version of Quizlet, you drag the boxes together to form groups. You can specify an answer key and see which card were mis-sorted most often (that's a really nice feature!). I'd rather do this on a Venn diagram somehow, but this is a very good second choice. (You can find my activity here.)

I think I could use Desmos card sort for most of the material in 6th grade that Quizlet works for and (as shown above) maybe a bit more. A really good use would be to create cards that show the different ways ratios can be expressed (e.g., rate table, equation, graph, and words.) I'll have to work on that!