Monthly Archives: May 2015

[SBG] Re-examining Classroom Assessment

The past two years I’ve used standards based grading (SBG). Last year I did a drastic overhaul. At the end of this year (when I had time again!) I started re-reading many of the blogs that originally got me onto SBG, and I forgot how incredibly deep and helpful they are! There are so many things I liked but forgot to implement, so I’m going to post here to help me remember everything I forgot last year.

Quick overview of how I do grades

100% standards, 0% HW.  Standards are topics not skills right now. I assign HW but don’t check it: I encouraged students to keep track of that themselves and a small fraction of the class continued to do that throughout the year.

What I didn’t like

A majority of the class did not do their HW and quizzes were sub-par. I have been struggling with this idea: “Students must turn in HW (or some equivalently difficult assignment for those that felt my usual HW to be “busy work”) before they may assess.” I’ve decided against this, thanks to several bloggers. This is from Jason Buell:

Your students must trust you. The number one question I and others get is wondering if students will still do homework or other classwork if it’s not worth points. I can answer with 100% certainty the answer is yes. Yes they’ll do whatever you ask them to do, but only if your students trust you. They’re trusting that what you’re giving them will help them reach their goal. It’s not busy work. It’s not assigned out of habit. It’s meaningful and will help them get from A to B. They will do it because they believe it will help them learn. They must trust that you are helping them get there.

You must trust your students. Allow them to surprise you. Give them freedom. Allow them to fail but allow them to learn from those failures. If you don’t trust your students, they will fail. If you believe they won’t do it if you don’t make it worth points, then they won’t do it. Trust your students.

You must trust yourself. Deep in your heart, you’ve got to trust that what you’re giving them will help them learn. Everything you do is to help them learn. If you don’t believe that, they’re not going to believe it either.

So I realized that making HW required was a cop-out for me. The alternative is going back through what I give as HW and making sure every assignment will help them on the assessments I give them. I also need to go back over my assessments and make sure I’m assessing them on what I want them to learn & know (I’m doing better at this than my first several years, but there’s always room for improvement here!). To that end I’m trying “Understanding by Design” as Sam & Bowman explain it in this post.

Change the formula of the classroom

This post from Shawn Cornally explains exactly how I feel I’ve been teaching, but he is clearly much more focused and intentional in how his classroom has changed. I want that. I think it goes hand-in-hand pretty well with the Understanding by Design.

I also noticed that a big part of SBG should be allowing students to become better self-assessors. I’ve done this sporadically, but something simple I can do to greatly improve this is put something like this at the top of every quiz:

  • Before the quiz, grade yourself on how well you think you’ll do:
  • Now that you’ve taken the quiz, grade yourself on how well you think you’ll do:
  • Grade yourself using the answer key and give yourself a grade [1]:
  • Your actual grade from Mr. Newman:

Think about what your scores mean

What does a 1 mean in my class? How about a 2 or a 3 on a specific standard? Yes, I have the general vocab (“Not yet”, Proficient, and Mastery), but what does that mean for 6.1 Balancing Chemical Equations?  Jason hammers this home (and explains how much time it will take!). I wanted to start this last summer but kinda burned out [2].

One thing I’m still hesitant on his is idea of what a 4.0 means, and why he has a grade of 4. I want to encourage students to make connections, but I think that should be separate standard (something I don’t do well in math right now!).  I also like his idea of “a step above what’s expected” but I suppose that’s what my “3” is.

Summary/List of Tasks to complete over the summer

Here’s what I need to do this summer:

  • Leave Chemistry (mostly) alone.
  • Start with enduring understanding and re-vamp the Precalculus curriculum (again).
  • Embrace the fact that textbooks are not wholly un-usuable resources. I know they get a bad rap on the MTBoS, but last year I think I didn’t hand out the Precalculus textbook for a whole month or two. I need to recognize that they can be useful in skills practice, especially for students without internet access. I’m not going to start teaching straight from the book, but I won’t shun it either like it’s the anti-grail of mathematics education (Khan isn’t that either, btw).
  • Create the “real-world application starting points” for every topic [4]. Weekly, if possible. Like what Shawn Cornally did for his calculus classes back when he was in a normal school.
  • Re-examine my assessments and decide (and write out) what explicitly make “proficient/passing” and what makes “mastery”. This is what I wanted to tackle last summer but failed. Now I’ve added on 3 other steps and think I can still do this?!? Perhaps. At least now I have last year’s assessments to work with rather than starting from relative scratch.


[1] I’ll include this if I have my act together and can put out answer keys to all of the assessments I give. Here’s what I’m doing.

[2] “Burned out” is the wrong expression because in implies that I was working really hard all summer.

[3] It’s the class I always tackle first (nearly 50% of my students are in chemistry so it makes sense…) and I should really give Precalculus & Physics a fighting chance in my planning time. Okay, I should really give Precal a fighting chance. If things stay as they are right now, I’ll only have 10 physics students next year. I guess I sure do a good job of scaring them away in Chemistry…

[4] I actually picked my textbook because in each section the author begins with explaining a real-world application of the topic. Some of them are cheap cop-outs (I’m still looking for a real-world application of trig identities & proofs), but most are something for me to start with. I’ll also dig through yummy math, Dan Meyer’s 3 acts, Robert Kaplinsky’s lessons, and many, many more.



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End of Year Survey – 2015, Part 2

Here’s part 1.

I like to ask open-ended questions on surveys to see what students are really thinking. Sure, it sometimes feels icky getting those “yore a rlly bad teacher!” comments, but often the students who don’t like your class as much offer good insights.


WHEN did you learn the most in my class?

The first question I left really open ended. Some students asked for clarification, but I was unhelpful because I wanted them to say whatever came to mind.

Here are some of their responses [1], unedited:

I learned the most when I was given equations instead of having to figure them out.. Which was not very often.

I really enjoyed the projects because we would use what we learned from the class and apply it to our work.

I would have to say during group work or hands on experiences. Working in groups helped me when i was stuck on a problem and we all helped each other out.

I learned the most near the end of the year where I had to pass the exams.

I learned the most when we did activities that involved the lesson and used it in the real world, i could apply it and it made sense. Also the whiteboards and trying to figure out equations and make graphs. Then the project of us using our knowledge and applying it. I finally see math outside of the classroom.

When we did problems in packet or on paper, but definitely not on projects or on the iPad. (Physics)

When there is a few students In class. Quite and no loud noises.

1st Semester, then the learning went downhill after that point in January.

Doing labs during the second semester.

with the student teacher

Sessions. I kind of am a quick learner but I loved helping teach standards.

I learned more when Newman allowed sessions about a topic. Getting another persons input and perspective helped a ton because it was like repetition; I got to learn the same topic twice but differently so it helped me learn it more.

How to Finally do Stoichiomety!!!! And everything else I feel like a real chemist!!

When we did labs of any sort I’m more of a hands on person so that definitely help me.

When we do the lab

I learned a lot by doing labs.

I learned the most when we would do the block lesson. even though it took me a while to connect the math the the “real world”, I was able to understand math in a whole another level. It also helped appreciate math.

I learned best when the entire class worked on something together or when you wrote stuff on the board and we kind of all worked at one pace. I don’t like the indidual packets or working in pairs because everyone always has questions and you’re only one person so it’s kind of hard to answer all these questions at one time. Then others have to wait then they sort of get distracted. Essentially, working as a class is super good and helpful.

Taking Notes.

Being in the front row

Thoughts on these before I move on. I was surprised at how many of my math students said something about “appreciating math” or “seeing math outside of the classroom”. That was a goal I’ve had for the past few years, but sometimes I forget why I’m doing 3 Act lessons or other math “adventures” in the middle of the year. It’s nice to see some students get something more out of it.

Students seemed very split on whether labs/activities vs. note-taking/teacher-centered instruction. Since I already have an opinion on this, I come biased and want to ask the question “are students in the best position to determine which of these methods work best on themselves?” Perhaps not, but their opinion certainly should count for something. It’s a good reminder that my goal shouldn’t be student-centered instruction for the sake of student-centered instruction, but because it’s a better alternative to teacher-centered instruction. Until I have that mastered, perhaps some (much?) of my class should still involve me delivering information by explaining to the entire class at once.

I can also move my Chemistry class to being more lab-centered. Yes, we do a lab every week, and the quizzes are on the same topic, but only recently (this year) have I started incorporating information from the lab directly onto the quiz/standard assessment. The more these are connected, the more connected my class will be and the more students will appreciate the labs and what they learn in them. I’m learning.


What do you think of Mr. Newman’s grading system? [2]

Honestly I thought it was pretty dumb if you’d failed one (E) quiz, then technically your failing the class. But I guess things ain’t easy and things can’t always go the way you want it to go. But other than that it’s okay.

I like his grading system because you can retake the ones you failed. Gives you back your quiz,and shows you what you did wrong.

It’s alright, some thing I am not used to

I think its a good system, I personally like it. Its simple and accurate. Thumbs up!

Terrible. I liked how you can retake quizzes but it would’ve been easier to be graded normally because more people would actually pass.

I like the grading system at times but also dislike it when a single 1 can cause my report card to have a incomplete.

I like but the thing to make me love it is get rid one the thing where if you get one 1 on a quiz you fail the course? To me that’s just dumb and border line blah blah

I like the way the grading system is because it helped me to do better in the class and know that the next time I did a quiz retake I could understand it more.

I love it, it helped me keep up and stay on track, and made me work harder, which helps when college comes around

Risky and hard I get afraid to retake test. I feared that I woud mess previous ones. I have a hard time remembering all formulas and rules.

I don’t really like the grading system because it doesn’t really give me an accurate percent of what my grade actually is.

I understand the system but I don’t agree with it

Very simple and easy, especially how the students can re-take quizzes to improve.

Newmans grading is cool. It’s not that stressful as having a regular grading system because I think it keeps you on top of your grades.

I like it. The fact that we can re-take and bring our grades up is wonderful.

Keep the same grading system for the next year students. Better than receiving a letter grade and failing the class more easily than giving us a chance to better improve the skills needed to master the quizzes.

I like it it’s makes class challenging

I like it in the way that i have the opportunity to try again….however i hate that it is just one two or three. I feel that it does not really give a good feel to see if the student knows the standards. like if a problem only has three problems on it, that does not really give a good sence of if the student knows the materials……because as in many of my cases i worked hard, understand the materials but i could just not get the problems correct.

I like it but it’s tough/frustrating not able to see your letter grade until the grades are finalized. [3]

I don’t like that if you get a 1 on one esentual standard you fail the class

It works for this class but it is a little bit to broad in the fact that there seems to be a big difference between two and three grade wise but not in terms of how many questions you answered correctly on the quiz. (i.e. getting one wrong is an automatic 2)

Great at first then I started hating it because if you miss 2 then you fail which is not fair at sometimes.

It’s AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have mixed feelings about it. I really like how you can always retake tests and stuff but when we don’t understand one topic or we don’t do good on the quiz, we fail the whole class.

I absolutely hate it. I hate active grade and would like to see my grades where the rest of them are.

The numbers are simple but I like knowing the letter grade, however i like the many chances to fix it because the pressure of not getting a good grade and thats it is gone, it challenged me as a student to take responsibility for my grades and improve then.

Amazing. I think it’s the best. It is more based on knowledge than work

It’s stupid

I love it!

Thoughts. It always surprises me how polarizing a grading system can be. Most students either hate it or really like it. Many of the students focus on the “fail one standard and you’re failing” but perhaps that’s what’s wrong with our “normal” grading system: you can do well enough on some topics that they act as a “buffer” and you’d don’t really need to know certain information in a class in order to pass the class. I like the philosophy of this approach better, even if it translates as being “picky” to students.

Students seemed to focus on the re-taking part, and they all appreciated that. If it means that they’re learning the material then I appreciate that they appreciate it.

I’m surprised at how many students got the idea of “taking responsibility for your grades”. It’s not that they can’t do that in a traditional grading system, it’s just that SBG shoves it in their face and says “do something about this!” I hope this translates to them realizing they can take control of their grades in other classes, too.

Lastly, I’m also struggling with this balance: make quizzes shorter so I can grade them quickly and get them back quickly vs. make quizzes longer so they cover all the material on a given standard. This goes along with the question from the last post “was it clear what you had to do to get a 1, 2, or 3?” I think I’m going to have all quizzes have 3 questions (some might have 1.a, 1.b, etc), and roughly getting 1 right is a 1, 2 is a 2, 3 is a 3. I say roughly because I still want to consider work shown and right ideas vs. mistakes made. I think the answer is not to make longer assessments, but make sure I reassess standards later and often, with the sum of the assessments making sure to cover the standard. I’m also considering a change in my grading program: their grade would either be the mode (doable when all the grades are a 1, 2, or 3) or the latest grade, whichever is higher. This rewards repeated success (students who have really learned and remembered the material over time) but also doesn’t bury a student under a “this is now un-achievable for you” system (too many 1’s and the student would have to re-demonstrate an impossible number of times).

Wow, that was a long ramble. Last question.

Next year I’m thinking of requiring students to turn in HW before they’re allowed to take a quiz. Reactions & thoughts?

Yes, you should do that because most of us this year don’t even do our homework. I think if they do there homework they will do better on there quiz.

It’s a great idea because then students will be able to have their homework turned in on time. And can take the quiz knowing somewhat a majority of the quiz.

I don’t know. It might work but it might hurt a lot of students. The end result might be really good and help students take time to study.

That is not the best thing because people wouldn’t have their homework to turn in. Actually there are a lot of people who don’t necassarily do the homework and still understand what you are teaching. It would be a Waste of time to assign homework to those who already understand it, they would become bored and uninterested in your class. Maybe offer the homework to be turned in before a quiz for extra credit points.

nope. nope. nope.either use homework as credit or don’t. i think this system would get students caught up with tests that need to be taken.

Cool cool cool

I think it will be good to know they’re ready for the quiz and that they’re not guessing. And they’ll know if they’re ready or not also. But if that’s why you do it then the homework needs to be more similar in difficulty as the quizzes so they don’t come to the quiz and have no idea what to do.

I think that homework should just be included in studying. Some people may need to study for every quiz others might not need to study at all. In other words everyone has different study requirements and requires a certain amount of studying seems unfair to those who need to study less.

I’m not sure. Homework is a really good idea because doing it has so many benefits, so I think that you can assign homework but not collect it because it gives people the responsibility to do it on their own, if they fail its on them because they have the resources to know the material.

No, I found option homework to be beneficial because it allowed me to focus on what I needed to learn, not what was required.

No, its better if they just take it and learn from the most common mistakes taken of the quiz for the next upcoming quiz; just wing it, learning the mistake and continuing off of what went wrong. Better help the class is to give different alternations of the problem, like a rubix cube, the students need to see different variations of the problem before tackling it. (Ex. Equations – Give them the normal style, then a reversed, then a completely overhauled equation, etc.) A lot of us better understood the subjects, only by seeing it another way, then another, then another.

Homework would be good because I know homework helps me with math .

I would love to have had that this year. It would have given me motivation to do homework and actually study. And I think it would help you to see what the student would need to work on and what they don’t. It would help everyone as a whole.

I don’t think you should make them turn in HW for every quiz. Maybe only the hard lessons. My reasons being is sometimes you just get the stuff really fast and it’s easy for you. Some days you might get a lot of HW but don’t get around to finishing the chem HW to take the test. So I think that might cause some anger/stress even.

Good for you! Good job!

It’s a good idea because when you gave us homework I did not feel like I had to do it because it wasn’t going to count against me.

This will be a lot better for me because it will prepare me before my tests & refresh my mind!

It sounds like a good idea because then homework would actually be required. Now it sort of isn’t and it isn’t graded meaning students don’t really have to work for a grade but in the long run it really does help them with quizzes. Making homework count for something would really help with quizzes and overall grades.

No don’t you dare think of doing that.

as i am a senior i do not really care….however i do think that that is just putting more work on you and if the student really cares about doing well in the class they will try…you can’t push everyone to excellence if they do not want it. so in conclusion to that i don’t really think that is a good idea. [4]

There’s no need for that because their already studying to pass the quiz, and homework may help them study but it would further complicate things for most students

I say let the students choose to do the homework or not. It is their study plan. I don’t turning homework should be required

That isn’t cool. There are students who do just fine without the homework. I know for me, I would never take any quizzes

Thoughts. I agree with and am wary about the “busy work” problem. I don’t want students doing busy work if they quickly grasp the material. Then it’s on me to create opportunities for them to go above and beyond (and make these opportunities attractive) with the material instead of busy work. However, I also believe that this is a particularly small percentage of the class and will not be a big a problem as it may seem at first glance.

I’m also wary of doing this because I believe students need to see HW for what it is: practice and studying. This is what is going to prepare students for future classes, not requiring HW prior to taking assessments. However, looking back, I “feel” like 5-10% of my students learn this fact while I’m teaching them (the rest either already know this or, more likely, didn’t learn it). In contrast, only 5-20% of my students even do their HW on time, so if I require it, that’ll jump and students will be more ready for the assessments as a class.

Unfortunately the one thing the class agreed on was the statement “most of us did not do the HW because it was not required”. Which means despite those few wonderful, beautiful students who “got it” with SBG this year, most students did not connect doing their HW with doing better on quizzes. Part of that may be that my HW didn’t look the same as the quizzes. That’ll be up to me to fix for next year, especially if I choose not to require HW prior to taking assessments.


I did have one more question: “Anything else you would like to tell Mr. Newman?” I like to give students a chance to express themselves to me. I do enjoy many of these comments so perhaps this is a selfish question, but sometimes their answers are enlightening.


[1] These are for both chemistry, precalculus, and physics, all mixed together since the survey was anonymous. I could sort them out, and probably should do that, but for now I’m just looking for overall themes. I do teach those three classes in three very different ways.

[2] I use a variation of Kelly O’Shea’s Conjunctive Standards-Based Grading. All students must pass essential standards (roughly half of the standards) and the rest of their grade is based on how well they do on the remaining standards.

[3] The students can’t see it easily. I did share the “formula” with them this year, but students didn’t feel like doing the work to calculate their grade. They want to click one button and see one letter that somehow represents all of their knowledge on a topic.

[4] THIS is why I must do something drastic. I still (perhaps naively?) believe you can push everyone to excellence.

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End of Year Surveys – 2015

Each year I give students a survey[1] to improve my teaching. Each year I’m also tweaking what questions are in the survey. Here are students’ responses.

If you use Google Forms it will automatically give you cool charts and graphs from the data.

2015 Survey Analysis (1)

Similar to last year, most students fell in the “a little too fast” to “just right” range, which is what I want.  Ideally students are pushed and stretched just outside of their comfort zone so perhaps I’d like a few more in the “a little too fast” category, but I can’t complain.

2015 Student Survey (2)

I also wanted to know how to best help students study. The above question was “checkboxes” so students could pick more than one. I’m impressed that every option (even textbook) had at least 12 students selecting it. It also helps me focus on the parts that most students find most helpful.

2015 Student Survey (3)

One focus I wanted to have for next year was for students to know how to get a 1, 2, or 3. I thought I did a terrible job of this (I would have given myself a “not very clear” at the best), but apparently students had a fairly good idea of what was necessary to get a 3.

Next post will include the open-ended questions.

[1] Previous reflections: here, here, and here.

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Post-Quiz Discussion

Every Friday I give a quiz [1]. I know some teachers are against that, but it helps establish a routine, students expect it (no more “what, there’s a quiz today?!?”), and it gets my class into a rhythm so I know I need to cut out unnecessary fluff if we’re working too long on one topic[2].

Anyway, I’ve always struggled with what to do after a quiz. Last week I tried something new that I think I’m going to do more often next year. After they turned in their papers, I gave students the quiz on Google Classroom [3]. But this time the whole class is sharing the same quiz. So students who did well on the quiz can jump on and start answer the questions. Students who didn’t do so well can jump on and ask questions (or just watch to see what the answers are… including work shown.) The whole class does a collaborative effort (ideally).

Students seemed to like the idea. I don’t know if it’s the novelty for most of them, but several definitely liked the immediate feedback this offered. Of course we could just go over the quiz, but this is so much more interactive (and immediate). Also, I can keep an eye out for misconceptions that the whole class has on certain topics.

There was some distraction, but fortunately in Google Classroom I can see all edits, so I warned students not to put anything on there that they would be ashamed to show their parents.

2nd Period Chemistry:

4th Period Chemistry:

What do you do in your post-quiz time when students finish at different rates?

[1] Right now this is only in Chemistry, but I’m hoping to do at least some sort of adaptive checkup in Precal and Physics next year.

[2] Some topics take longer, but I hope that the flexibility in adjusting labs allows me to be adaptive and yet rigid at the same time.

[3] If you don’t have Google classroom, you can still share the quiz with students by collecting their e-mail addresses and sharing the document with everyone in the class.


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Conway’s Ropes

“This is going on my fridge.” -Student [1]

It’s the end of the year and seniors have senioritis bad. So what do you do to combat that? Use Fawn’s stuff, of course!

Here’s a cool activity that she shared about twisting ropes. My seniors spent 3 class days on it. At first, they were bored. [2] But by the third day, they were really into it!! (see quote above)

Favorite line from the second video: “This is cool!”

Other notes

  • We spent 2 days just moving with the ropes and writing stuff down.
  • I had to explain what “Rotate” means to the on the third day (I won’t spill the beans here!) because they hadn’t figured it out yet, and probably wouldn’t on their own. [3]
  • I’m also doing this with the Juniors in Precal, who are supposedly 1 year “ahead” in math, so we’ll see how this goes with them. [4]
  • Even after explaining what “Rotate” means, there was some good math for them to do.  I somewhat anticipated this but wasn’t copmletely sure about because I hadn’t done the math on my own (oops)!
  • Jump-ropes stolen borrowed from the PE class work great for this, so you don’t have to buy your own ropes!
  • I was missing nearly half my class due to AP testing, so many missed out on the final product.

[1] Talking about his work, which didn’t even receive a grade.

[2] It was 1st period, on a Monday, on their last week of school. And it was raining outside.

[3] Fawn didn’t have to share it with her Geometry students, yet my Precalculus students needed it! I think it has to do with curiosity and how seniors have, unfortunately lost a lot of their creativity & curiosity.

[4] I can already see that they (the Juniors) are more curious. Probably cause they’ve been told that they’re good at math for a long time.

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