Imaginary Student – Teacher Dialogs About Standards Based Grading

It is going to take a little time to train people that every question on an assessment now could have multiple standards, the average across those standards is the grade on the assessment but the grade in the course is an average across the scores on all the standards.

Students can’t take their scores on all the assessments and average to get their final score. That’s the old world.

Students need to demonstrate proficiency on all standards at an appropriate level to pass.

This will force conversations like
Student: "How can I raise my grade?"
Teacher: "Show proficiency on all the standards."
S: "My grade on last assessment has wrecked my grade."
T: "What standard did you have the most trouble on?"
S: "I had trouble on question 3. Can I re-do question 3?"
T: "On question 3 you were to demonstrate standards A, B and C."
S: "I had trouble with standard C. Can I re-do standard C?
T: "I can give you a prompt that should elicit statements or behaviors from your that align with evidence statements for standard C."
S: "Huh? Will that raise my grade?"
[If we are honest here T: "Let’s give it a try."]
T: "Every time you improve your demonstration of a skill in the standard, you grade will improve. Your real question is ‘will getting better at demonstrating standard C raise my grade enough?’"

S: "If I demonstrate standard C in a re-take will I be passing?"
T: "Your grade in this course is an average of your scores on standards A, B, C, D, E, F. That assessment involved standards A, B, C. If you ‘fix" standard C, and then don’t demonstrate standard D, E, F, your grade will still be bad."

The conversations we really want to have
Student: "I’d like another chance to demonstrate standards A and C."
Teacher: "What do you propose?"
S: "When I look at the evidence statements, I think my initial understanding was X, but it needs to include Y and Z."
T: "That seems like a fair critique of how your proficiency needs to develop. Give me a situation where standards A and C apply and your evidence includes X, Y and Z"
S: "How about …"
T: "That is X and Z, but I don’t see Y, here’s what I mean … Would you like to try again?"
S: "How about this …"
T: "Now find me something on the internet, unrelated to this class or anything you have heard from me about … Have you generalized the learning? This class has been like we go to a zoo to the section on big animals and there is an exhibit that says ‘elephants’. If you turn to me an say that is an elephant. I say how do you know. If you say because we are at a zoo, and we are in the section with big animals and the sign says ‘elephant’. Have you really learned what an elephant is?"
S: "What if I find a counter-example? A situation that does not involve standards A and C nor evidence statements X, Y and Z?"
T: "Wait…Who are you and what have you done with my student!! 😉"

Wrassling with Standards

A "beginning of the year" email assigned to us teachers some work of mapping course content standards to units and trimesters.

The full extent of that task also involved differentiating between "essential" and "supporting" standards, defining student friendly statements, and for each having an assessment and/or evidence statement for measuring proficiency.

At this point I wanted to insert a lengthy comparison between teaching and automobile repair. As if our mechanics take some time each fall to review what "fixed" means, how they will know something is "fixed" and when during a repair they will measure "fixed". But, I thought better of that since cars do change every year, and best practices around repair and maintenance are changing.

Of course, the biggest problem with the analogy is teaching is so much more than "fixing" something mechanically, despite those reductionists who want to make that comparison.

Let me instead say that standards are the bareminimum​ of what a class should be doing and a rich presentation of topics related to those standards, leading to those standards, and proceeding from those standards could and should be touched upon.

Every standard we teach should be hung on an experience or a memorable discussion or activity conjures up the deeper understanding of the world, our lives, and the whole of human experience that IS learning.

Finally, how to document that thinking that creative activity which is finding experiences which reinforce learning. That is the teacher’s craft. Why not start this year and really catalog what standards you are teaching and what experiences, projects, activities you use to reinforce those standards. And may I make a suggestion? When you do that work, use a technology that can help you cross-reference your labors and put that labor to work and into practice more efficiently? Please don’t use Microsoft Word or some abstract table-producing application. Use a real table-tool, akin to some sort of database which can be cross-referenced, sorted, and filtered effectively for your administrators? I’m going to use Excel. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Using Nimble.Com CRM

This past week I did a presentation for the AESD ( on how I was going to try using CRM software this year.

The presentation (as PDF) is here:

I realized as I was digging into the topic, that a first step you might consider is using email tracking software a.k.a. email marketing within your district and outside your district. I am going to try that in 21-22 as well.

I will let you know how it goes!

So far, I have uploaded all my students to my address book, they are coded with the tag 21-22-T1-1 (for 1st period of my trimester 1 classes) and 21-22-T1-2 (for 2nd period of my trimester 1 classes) etc. I also just uploaded all the parent and guardian information for my students. All the parents for my 1st period class are tagged with 21-22-T1-1-PG (PG stands for Parent-Guardian).

This way, I will be able to easily send trackable emails to just my students, just the parents/guardians, or both at once.

I’m looking forward to getting data on what emails are opened, what links are clicked and when I will need to use other methods to get in touch with my PGs.

Practice: Confession

From: Annan.K.2016.Slow Kingdom Coming.InterVarsity Press

  1. Confess Your Mixed Motives: “God and neighbor, I confess my mixed motives. Help the fruit of my efforts to be beautiful and just.”
  2. Confess Your Desire to Feel Good When You Help: “God and neighbor, I confess that I’m tempted to contribute in ways that make me feel best, not that help most. Help me to slow down to serve my neighbor in the best way possible.
  3. Confess Your Public Gestures: “God and neighbor, I confess I want to be seen as good. Free me to do what is good.”
  4. Confess Your Hero Complex: “God and neighbor, I confess that I claim too much credit. Grow my humility and show me how to rightly give credit to others.”
  5. Confess Your Compassion Fatigue: “God and neighbor, I confess I’m sometimes empty of compassion. Renew me in the deep gladness of the call to work for justice.”
  6. Confess Your Privilege: “God and neighbor, I confess the privileges that benefit me. Help me to give them away again and again.
  7. Confess Your Pain Caused and Received: “God and neighbor, I confess that I have caused pain of, and am hurt by, injustice. Help me to participate in healing for others and myself.
  8. Confess Your Longing for Change: “God and neighbor, I confess my hope is in you and in this kingdom coming.

2021 marks 10 years since I left Microsoft to become a teacher. I confess mixed motives in doing that. I say it was to help students see the potential and possibility of jobs in technology, but sometimes I see it as a way to be honored and respected for that decision. Instead the beautiful and just outcome is helping students experience physics and get information and skills for technology careers.

I confess my desire to see students succeed and know that it was my efforts that helped bring it about. Instead I should take pride in good teaching and in helping all my students see physics or see technology in a new way. Even if none of my students ever get hired by Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc. I will still have value, my efforts will not have been wasted.

I confess my desire to be known as the teacher that ________ (is cool, knows technology, worked outside of teaching, etc. etc.). When people don’t know of me or haven’t heard about me I am slightly wounded. Real goodness is doing what needs to be done when no one is around to see.

I confess my desire to be the hero. I see patterns in my electronic communications or activities where I want to be the clutch-player who had the best idea at the best time which caused real change. True humility would persist in doing the right thing and never calculate on how it is being perceived or how many “likes” your statement got.

I confess my compassion fatigue. Teaching is hard work, in many ways it consumes me more than any work I ever did at Microsoft. That said, when I feel like I am not appreciated, I want to pull back and stop giving. This also shows up when I am tense or short with students that don’t ever deserve that treatment. I confess that it is compassion fatigue that forces me to resentful emotions when I am not appreciated.

I confess that I am a WASP with so much privilege that I have the privilege of not having to calculate or ever reckon with a lack of privilege. I would like to give that privilege away, to employ it in ways that benefit others, but even that desire is fraught with condescensions or patronizing attitudes. So I will re-read Kent Annan’s declaration more often in the coming years, and subscribe to it more confidently.

From Kent Annan, (C) 2016.

I confess that in trying to guide my students to a career in still-mostly-misogynistic physics, or no-way-friendly-to-POC technology jobs, I may be doing more harm than good. I confess that every time I wax nostalgic about science that has been a tool of oppression (race, class, gender) or how great college was (when it cost much less) and the stakes were lower, I am not respecting student wishes to live creative and good lives which they themselves are free to define, free from my criteria. I confess that when I am blind to my privilege or resort to attitudes of the oppressor and owner in subtle but real ways I am causing pain and the not the healing I most fervently desire.

So finally, I confess my longing for change. For a just society that does not overvalue economic gain, I pine. For a job market, education system, research industry, that seeks to be as diverse in the ownership and direction of the means of production as the people that it serves. I long to be replaced by a teacher of color, of another gender, of authority that speaks more to students about what is possible for them based on actual experience rather than theoretical probabilities. And, in that hope I will wait.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

Time will tell…

I wanted to do a blog post celebrating the forgiveness of my student loans, which happened in the past couple of weeks. It took a little while (6 years) and a little extra funds, but they should be behind me now.

And then this picture showed up again and has me reflecting on the whole purpose of this venture.

Ben, when I worked at Microsoft, you could take your kids to work and get a badge for them.

The reason I left Microsoft was to perhaps inspire our enable other kids to be future employees at Microsoft. However, in so doing, I may have made it harder for you to ever work in a technology job such as that.

That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that you are also part of the mission to reach and inspire other kids who aren’t blessed to have one or two parents at Microsoft. To help them see that they could work there is not something they might have imagined without us going to them.

It was a sacrifice to leave Bellevue, for us all. It continues to be. But I know you will do great things.

Watts.D.J.2017.Should social science be more solution-oriented.Nature: Human Behavior.

Abstract: Over the past 100 years, social science has generated a tremendous number of theories on the topics of individual and collective human behaviour. However, it has been much less successful at reconciling the innumerable inconsistencies and contradictions among these competing explanations, a situation that has not been resolved by recent advances in ‘computational social science’. In this Perspective, I argue that this ‘incoherency problem’ has been perpetuated by an historical emphasis in social science on the advancement of theories over the solution of practical problems. I argue that one way for social science to make progress is to adopt a more solution-oriented approach, starting first with a practical problem and then asking what theories (and methods) must be brought to bear to solve it. Finally, I conclude with a few suggestions regarding the sort of problems on which progress might be made and how we might organize ourselves to solve them.

Watts.2017.Social Science More Solution Oriented.s41562-016-0015.pdf

Some day…

TIPERS defined

Creating Interactive Physics Simulations Using the Power of Geogebra

Another type of simulation / coding I should try in class.

Making Experts of Physics (Instead of Just Equation Jockeys)

I’m finishing my second year of modeling instruction in 2016-2017.

I’m frustrated by the order of the topics, and wondering if there is a better way.

Then I read this paper:

A couple things I really like about it:

  1. returning to an overview of concepts in physics (i.e. models that may apply to any problem)
  2. putting work back on the students
  3. sharing feedback with students on how the course is going
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