Tag Archives: bphs

Internship Reflection Week of 2012-05-21 [39] (Final Exhibitions of the Year, SAT Prep Post-Test Data)

It was my pleasure to attend Final Exhibitions for 401s (i.e. seniors) at Highline Big Picture High School this past week.  You might recall that an exhibition functions as a checkpoint, a type of final exam, a student-led symposium detailing progress against learning plan goals.  For seniors, last week was a chance to share their stage of completion for their Senior Thesis Project (STP), Autobiography, and Post-High School Plan (PHSP).  However, they were also asked to present a cover letter to their exhibition panel/attenders on why they should be allowed to graduate.

The exhibition panel was asked to either recommend the student for graduation (congratulations!), or require some amount of additional work to be completed by June 6, or suggest a student plan on summer school or some other “contract” to complete work that is lacking.  Of the eleven senior exhibitions I attended this past week, a bit fewer than half were asked to complete additional work by June, and only one was asked to consider a summer contract.

For many exhibitions, there were some bittersweet tears, as students reflected on their high school years,the magnitude of their growth and accomplishments, and that they were moving on.

The SAT-Prep-Post-Test Data were not as dismal as we had originally thought they were going to be.  Here’s a complete breakdown of pre-test to post-test scores by student (student names hidden).


Here’s another representation of the improvement in each math question topic.


For all problem topics the percent of questions left blank went down, from pre-test to post-test, except for Geometry (flat).  That’s good, but the percentage of wrong answers went up for all topics, except for Geometry.  We are a little worried about people being more liberal in their guessing, but have warned the students to practice the “don’t guess unless you can rule out” rule more effectively on the real SAT.

I’m proud of some of the folks that made the most gains, that they have applied themselves and won some small victory over math anxiety or test anxiety.  I’m running some office hours next week for any folks that want last-minute preparation.

Internship Reflection Week of 2012-05-07 [37] (Minecraft EDU)

Some notable stuff this week.  After 3-4 weeks of waiting my student LD finally has an internship at a local GameStop store.  Like most high schoolers, he is very enthusiastic about games and although he has had other internships, he has not really clicked with any of them.  You will recall that in week 35 we filled out paperwork for him to be mentored by me on Tue and Thu, but in my post for that week I explained what is not ideal about that situation.  We are very pleased that LD has this opportunity, and he will be there on four Thu between now and the end of the year.

This week the last two sessions of the Math SAT prep course that I have been teaching were wrapped up.  Thanks to the class for the thank you card and the gift card to Barnes and Noble!  I was also able to take my last batch of data for my Action Research paper in EDU6173.  Initial look a the data seems promising.  B. was also able to come by and observe the class, and give some feedback.  Pretty cool.  It was an enjoyable class, but a lot of preparation work, collecting sample test sections, writing solutions and handling the paperwork.  I realize now that I haven’t returned the small bit of homework that a few students had given me.  Need to get on that.

Although the class followed the book, and although we did a lot of exam-type questions.  There wasn’t a lot of intensity around homework, or following up on what people were weakest on, and helping them move to new levels of proficiency.  I fear that the post-test that we will give on Monday 5/14 will not show much improvement.  Perhaps for a few, but not uniformly.  I might attribute that outcome to a lack of real differentiation of content among the students, or a mismatch in the learning activities we did and their best learning styles.  If I had to teach the course over I would engage students individually with content more suited to their needs.

This week I was able to secure a copy of MinecraftEDU for our computer lab, and was able to test it on Thu in a small group and then roll it out to my computer gaming elective on Fri.  We started in a survival mode, group cooperation game, and many of us newbies had a chance to learn from the more experienced folks at the school.  Of course, a couple of students are completely hooked, and wanted to spend a lot of their time today playing.  The work will now be involved in harnessing that interest and turning it around for educational or learning plan goals.  Here are some articles / web sites that I am reading as I prepare MInecraft lessons.


Levin, J. (2012) . Gaming teacher case studies. Retrieved May 4, 2012 from http://minecraftteacher.net/post/22352613926/gaming-teacher-case-studies

Millstone, J. (2012). Teaching with Digital Games in the Classroom. Retrieved May 4, 2012 from http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/Cooney-Center-Blog-234.html

Watterson, A. (2012) MinecraftEDU: Minecraft for the Classroom. Retrieved May 4, 2012 from http://hackeducation.com/2012/03/15/minecraftedu-minecraft-for-the-classroom/

Internship Reflection Week of 2012-04-23 [35] (Week of Two Field Trips)

This week I finished mentorship (LTI=Learning Through Internship) paperwork with a student L.D.  He is the third student that I am formally mentoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  You may recall that students at our school intern for 2 days a week, and some do their internships at school with staff there.

Part of me likes this arrangement since I can focus in on STEM topics with this group of students.  Part of me realizes this is a complete dodge of the spirit of the system which is meant to be made up of adult mentors in real jobs doing real work related to a student’s interests. 

In-House LTI has some pluses and minuses let’s catalog a few of them.

Students with undefined interests can do some work to define those interests before getting “any old LTI”  On the other hand, in-house LTI doesn’t push student out of comfort zone. plus / minus
In-House LTI doesn’t have the authenticity of a real mentorship, i.e. a real business with real profit motivation, etc. minus
In-House LTI doesn’t let the in-house mentor (BP Staff) do any capacity-building activities, or lesson planning, or helping other students that are actively seeking an internship. minus
In-House LTI often doesn’t have the richness of project or learning that a real LTI would have.  (In-House mentor could make up for this, but the effort/work required is significant, and even then is it authentic?) minus
In-House LTI is limited by the resources, facilities, and people that are at school, often much less than an LTI site. minus

Well, that was a very interesting exercise, reflecting on what I’m accomplishing on in-house LTI.  The conclusion seems to be “not much”.  I guess this goes back to the “be a fool for the kids” idea that I posted about last time.  Get students out there and get them an LTI, that’s the moral of the story, and if not then keep them working on hard/challenging stuff.  Anything less is not doing them any favor at all, because weak scaffolding is just no scaffolding.

I have been proud this year of the field trips that I have been able to organize to various companies and workplaces.  However, even that under close scrutiny could have been done way more effectively.  One optimization we have envisioned is to somehow be more intentional about the learning we hope that the students will come into contact with after visiting a location.  Here’s my thought experiment on an ideal field trip experience.

1. Students are recruited or have to compete to be on a field trip based on their learning plans, including the recommendation of the student’s advisor.

2.  Students get an extensive briefing / introduction to the site that is to be visited before going.  This can be from the point of view of any one of the Learning Goals:  Personal Qualities, Social Reasoning, Communication, Empirical Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning.  It could be tailored to the interests of the students attending.  The goal of this session is to prepare students for good questions while on the trip.  Another goal would be to put the site to be visited in a broader economic, political, social, etc. context.

3.  Students arrive dressed appropriately and ready to board transportation the morning of the field trip.  Maps and parking instructions are clearly defined for the driver(s) of such transport.  En route the students are provided tablets which have wireless connectivity and which are constrained to display the web site of the company/entity being visited.  The students are instructed to try to find the answers to their questions first on the web site before preparing to answer them at the site.  If the students don’t have questions then some will be provided for them so that they can search for them on the web site.

4.  The tour guide is met, students are paired off, tour is started, students stay close together, ask questions, and appear to be hanging on every word of their hosts and hostesses.  Every speaker is thanked (almost profusely) by the students.  Tour stays on it’s time schedule.  Pictures are taken of students on the tour and if allowed also of the things they have seen.

5.  Lunch is provided, and students are provided some more orientation to the company during the lunch.  Students meet new employees and folks in significant roles from the organization that speak to the requirements for working at that site, and what types of education and training the students would need to work at that site.

6.  After lunch activity is fairly active, and engaging so as not to allow students to get sleepy or disengaged.  Tour concludes, and a final chance for questions and answers is given.

7.  After the tour, students are invariably excited and eager to talk about what they have experienced.  At this point staff from the school step in to teach some lessons based on what the students have just seen.  The engagement in such material we expect would be quite high since students have just seen it.  Perhaps it would a simulation of a problem that is being worked on at the site, perhaps it is some background on the processes or procedures that the company specializes in.

8.  Finally a short quiz would be given to gauge the learning that the students have internalized from the trip.  Handouts could also be collected of students observations or worksheets that they would have had to fill in based on the things they have just seen.

9.  Students board transportation and are transported back to the school.  Students are allowed to watch YouTube or other videos approved by instructional staff that further reinforce or illustrate the businesses that they have just toured.


That would be an amazing tour!  But the impact and learning that such a tour (even if only part of the above were achieved) would be orders of magnitude beyond what is currently being achieved, as far as preparation, interaction during tour, and solidifying learning after the tour.

This past week I took my three LTI students on a tour of www.seattlebugsafari.com.  Students were admitted to the museum and then given a chance to ask questions of the owner/founder/director.  It was very interesting to see the effect large spiders can have on students that otherwise seem pretty tough and fearless.  (In fact, they have an effect on me!!).  The owner Brian is looking to sell his collection of animals, so if you know anyone who might be interested…

This week was unusual in that we had two field trips this week.  The second one was to www.flightsafety.com, to the local Flight Safety International branch near us.  Particularly impressive on both students and adults was a chance to “fly” the simulators.  One of our students had a pretty rough landing, but that was infinitely better than the near-crashes that the other two students experienced on their landings.  In a conversation with one student after the event, I was impressed that they said that it was pretty scary, namely the idea of risking life and limb, while at the same time being responsible for the safety of others, was pretty daunting.

So while I was glad momentarily that none of my students were the pilots of any recent flights I had taken, I was also glad that at least now they had a some understanding of gravity of the job of pilot.  (pun intended).  

Wiggins, G. (2010). What’s my job?–Revisited

In a prior blog post, I commented on this essay by Wiggins (2010).  As I re-read that essay here near the close of my internship year, I have the following thoughts.

Wiggins starts the essay with a startling confession that he taught for many years without being either having to prove he could teach or being evaluated more than twice.  As I read this again, I am reading it in the context of being an employee of a school district and a member of a teacher’s union.  As I read this again, I read it having spent 8 months in the whirlwind that is public education, bathed in the sometime shrill debates on value added evaluation, and standardized testing.

I still agree with Wiggins, namely that teaching is more than just activity, it is about causation of learning, interest, and confidence in students.  However, I now have perspective that this is harder than it sounds.  Treating teaching as just activity coordination without goals is hard enough, but working toward these goals, consistently and creatively is an extreme challenge.  Thus it comes as no surprise that many teachers don’t like to keep those “results focused responsibilities” in mind, to keep them as the “bottom-line goals.”

As I look back on my internship, Wiggins would prompt me to ask 3 questions.

  1. Have my students experienced successful learning?
  2. Have my students been bored, or engaged?
  3. Have my students discovered new competencies or confidence?

More specifically let’s look at a class I have been teaching since February.  The students in the class are juniors who are looking forward to taking the SAT this June.  They have not taken a formal math class since 8th grade.  Let’s see if there is any evidence in this short time of my moving the needle on those three questions.

Have my students experiences successful learning?  For this SAT prep course all the students (approx 15) took a full SAT, diagnostic, pre-test.  At the end of March they also took a single math section of a sample SAT.  Here are the results for a nearly identical set of students on a subset of questions that deal with geometry.  (More details here.)

Geometry Improvement

I would conclude that based on the improved percent of correct responses that indeed successful learning has occurred.  Or, as always might be the case, more effective test-taking skills have been developed.  That might especially be the case in that the percent of questions left blank has dropped off, and the percent of questions being answered wrongly has skyrocketed.  However, the combined percentages of wrong and blank are still less in the Sample Test than in the Pre-Test.

You may ask given the above evidence, sure, based on a score on a standardized test, but are my students bored or are they engaged.  Here’s a moment of engagement, check for yourself.

[We are discussing the following slide, and the transcript of the video is in the comments]


And finally, have my students discovered new competency or confidence?  Well, I asked them that myself, or maybe not in so many words via a SMS/Text poll.  Here’s what some of them said in reply


Now that is not a scientific poll, and I have some ideas to do some Action Research on things I can do in this class to improve perception of self-efficacy.  However, I am hopeful that at least 2 out of 3, if not 3 of Wiggins’ criteria for what true teachers should be doing in the classroom are being addressed.  But most of all, I am grateful to be at a school which enables some of the flexibility and personalization that Wiggins thinks is essential.


Wiggins, G. (2010). What’s my job? Defining the role of the classroom teacher. In R. J. Marzano (Ed.), On Excellence in Teaching. (10th ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Internship Reflection Week of 2012-04-02 [32] (the week before Spring Break)

My Monday SAT Prep class had some very interesting discussion.  Since I taped that session, I am able to go over the discussion which we had in class again, in greater detail.  I would like to reflect on the whole class, but highlight that discussion.

I was just wrapping up the following slide on proportions…


When the question was asked by KJ:  “With proportions, is cross-multiplication and division the only way to simplify?”  My answer:  “No,” and some elaboration led to a bunch of student voice stemming from some mass confusion.

As I look back on the slide, the step where I multiply both sides by 12 could have been elaborated upon, or taken a little more slowly.  It is interesting to wonder if that was the root of the ensuing 20 minute discussion.

A few students were confused about what it means to “multiply both sides by 12”, and one student, AO, asked about where we were multiplying 12 in the numerator or in the denominator.

Another student was confused that we didn’t just compute (doughnuts/package) and then multiply by 5.  At which point I realized that students were not confident that I could take the inverse of both sides of the equation, i.e. to have doughnuts/package on both sides, and thus get the same answer for x.


When one student (F.R.) pointed out that this method would work when the numbers weren’t so neat and tidy, I thought we were making headway, but just then… a student asked “But why does it have to be that difficult?  Why can’t you just say 12 divided by 2 times 5.  Why is that so hard?”

And another student chimes in:  “I get what SL just said!”

“Maybe this question wouldn’t have been so hard if the numbers hadn’t been so easy,” said another student.

“Why do we have to be taught the more complex way?” says SL.

After about 8 minutes of students taking positions on cross-multiplication-and-division, or the algebraic method, we get at one root of the matter.

“When you write something over another number, it just looks so much more confusing than it has to be,” says SL.  We conclude that fractions are scary.  And that you have to work on them until they aren’t so scary.

“Fractions are, like, my worst enemy,” says SL.  And a couple of other students agree.

I have to say this animosity towards mathematics is very interesting, and a little dismaying.  No other subject seems to be determined to make the learner feel stupid.  No other subject seems to offer simplicity and then once a student is lulled into thinking they understand, there is a sudden change in difficulty.

Overall, I think the first half of the class was very valuable.  I think many students had chances to voice their frustrations or challenges with the content.  I need to keep those students in mind when I prepare a lesson.  I need to brainstorm other ways to connect the math to those students so that it feels authentic and non-threatening.  I am really thinking that a Mighton-esque approach where the numbers are easier at first and then the problems only get minutely harder as the student progresses.

The second part of the class (slightly better camera angle) was a little silly, but folks seemed attentive.  The break seems to be very helpful, and students seemed refreshed and ready to go after the break.  After I gave out the homework handout many people interpreted that as the end of class, that wasn’t so helpful, but it was used by some to get some work done.

This was the first class where I tried both a handout in class, and giving out the homework and letting some class time be used on it.  I don’t think I will get any better return or completion rate on the homework by doing this, so I may not do it again.  I was able to collect quite a few worksheets that were done in the first half of the class.

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