Monthly Archives: September 2013

SBG Progress: Creativity at Work

Here’s an awesome graph that a student of mine created when I gave them the open-ended “Show me that you know how to manipulate functions and you know several different types of functions.” Thanks to SBG, I can now give this student an excellent grade, even though she may be the only one to turn in this assignment.

A cute function cat!

I hope to do more of this in the future: reward thoughtful creativity.


Edit: I showed the students this picture today in class, explained how it had the potential to impact their grade, and the other faces started to flow in! Here’s my website with other student work on this assignment.

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What Does THAT Have to Do With Math?

The other day, the Spanish teacher at our school showed me this video:

So, being the wise-guy that I am, I decided to throw it into an ACT-style warm-up (see question #2).

Screenshot from 2013-09-12 14:19:31

The purpose of that question was that “some questions we don’t know the answer to, we can only eliminate guesses, and (on the ACT) we should always guess”. Shamelessly teaching how to take a test, but yeah, I do that every now and then.

Anyway, by the next day, only a few students seemed to have watched the video, so we watched it together. I pointed out the interesting trend of how many people have seen it: 14 million when I saw it in the morning, 15 million that afternoon, and 16 million (roughly) that evening. I asked them  for questions, followed by high and low guesses for how many views there’d be after the video has been out 1 month (yeah, delayed gratification–not the best, I know). And thus started an impromptu 3-Act lesson.

Fortunately Youtube not only gives the number of views, but it even has a few graphs over time for the number of watches of a video. This led to a short discussion of “What should the graph of views look like over time?” and we were able to rule out quite a few.

We stopped when we realized that, even if we had the points, we haven’t learned how to fit functions yet, so we decided to go learn that and put the question on hold.  We’ll see how well this lesson runs when it’s returned to like stale bread: hopefully it won’t be too long and hopefully it doesn’t go stale as fast as French bread (it tastes so good, but it’s like a rock 3 days later!).


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To Grade Blindly or Not?

When I first started teaching, I would make a little extra effort to only look at the name on an assessment after I had graded to avoid bias.  Now that I’m using an SBG system where I give students a score of 1, 2, 3, or 4, based on how well I think they understand each topic, there is more of an opportunity for grading bias: “Oh I know student X knows this stuff, so I’ll let it slide.”

However, our Special Ed staff recently pointed out to the rest of us teachers that students who are special ed actually graduate with an asterisk, and we need to do everything we can to ensure that they pass their classes as long as they are trying.  Because of that I should, at the very least, check whether I am grading one of these students and judge their work and understanding with their situation in mind.[1]

But should I not look at other students and give them appropriate grades based on their circumstances? Should I give a 3 to the student who is struggling so hard, and yet I know they have reached the limit of their abilities in this topic?[2] Or should I not give a 4 (“Mastery Level”) to a student who did much better than his/her peers on an assignment, and yet who I know could do better if they just put a little more effort into it?

I guess what I’m asking is whether teachers who also use SBG strive to simply record on a scale of “absolute” understanding, or do you make the scale relative for different students and for different situations?

This topic reminds me of an activity that I’ve never tried, but considered doing. A teacher wanted absolute control over grading and discipline practices in a classroom, so she handed out a different injury or disease to each student in the class: everything from broken bones and scratches to life-threatening cancer and serious diseases like Malaria. Then, she proceeded to pull out a box of band-aids and handed one to each student. When she asked “Is everyone okay?”, the students shouted back that they all needed different treatments. The point was then driven home that, similarly, every single student has different learning needs. So if she gives HW to some students and not to others, it’s her job to recognize who needs what just like it’s a doctor’s job to recognize how to treat each patient that enters the office.

Though I’ve never done that activity, apparently the teacher never had a complaint all year about how she treated each student differently, down to giving different assessments.[3]

For now I’m grading the students who always seem to do well a little tougher–to give them something to reach for.  I’m going a little easier on those students who seem to struggle so much more–to give them something to hold on to.

[1] Or should these grades remain the same and I should just edit what gets put on the report card? A challenging question, perhaps, for another time.

[2] Is it possible to know when someone has done that: reached their full potential in a given topic or standard?

[3] I just wanted to point out that I mean “treating students differently” in a professional way: being able to maintain unfair biases or prejudices are not the intention of this activity.


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