How to Slay the School Grading Dragon

Today I wanted to reblog a original post from John ThayerAnarchist Math Teacher blogger, Edutopia writter and author of Confessions of an Anarchist Math Teacher – that is very interesting, by having a very good and personal experience point of view on the contemporaneous grading systems applied on schools.

We’ve been always told at school by teachers and advisers that grades don’t matter. But nevertheless teachers give grades, sort of as an afterthought because society and school boards and as transcripts demand them.

But their principal forbade teachers to have a gradebook and the only grades they really gave were A’s, B’s, and F’s. Actually the F’s were “incompletes” until the student could never be brought around to fixing them. Even then, it was easy enough for them to start over again.

Classes were projects with multiple credits attached, there were no subjects either, or grade levels, no “freshman” to stuff in the garbage can. We didn’t even have seating charts or teachers’ desks, or walls.

But that was then. Now I find myself back teaching in a pretty standard, 2000+ population high school in a different state, where content, subject tracking, and grades are king. I want the other thing back in my classroom though. I want kids to focus on what they are creating and learning instead of how many points they are getting. Learning should be natural and fun, not a gnarled and twisted byproduct of subjugation and compliance. So right now the grading dragon is breathing fire and being fed and terrorizing everyone. I hate the grading dragon, always have. But now that I’ve been to a place where I’ve seen him neutralized, I’m going to do it again. Here’s how.

Step 1: Set a Trap

The grading dragon assumes he’s in control and that there is plenty of food to eat, children to terrorize, and teachers to do his bidding. He assumes he is invincible in his lair and that no one is a real threat to him. Let him think it. I am reaching back to the last time I taught in a big public high school and I used standards based grading. Back then, it was a new idea to me. Dan Meyer was writing about it in his math blog and other math teacher bloggers were joining him. It felt like a revolution and I was excited to be a part of it. You give points to kids based on concepts on targeted assessments and you track their progress on those concepts instead of assignments or unit tests. The grading dragon still loves this stuff. He sniffs around it at first and notices that it is a bit different, but he is a glutton so he takes a bite, then another, and another, until he falls asleep.

Step 2: Design a Project

There is not one formula for this except that it should be a long-term inquiry-based learning block where kids solve a real problem. Not the kind of textbook junk where you are having a party and order pizza and then new friends come by and you need to cut the pizza differently using “math.” No, I mean something that could actually happen. They should be answering a question such as, “Which cities have the best policies toward the homeless and what would happen if those policies were enacted in our city?” or, “Why do some playgrounds look like worlds with infinite possibility and other playgrounds look like cages?” They should learn the content you were hired to teach through those projects, but in a meaningful and relevant way. But this is still not enough because kids, though they will be intrigued by your project if you have set it up well, will not be able to ignore the snorting, fuming, jabberwocky ready for his next meal. They will want to know how to game your system. This brings us to the next step.

Step 3: Tasks

You will need some deliverables along the way for students to see how to make progress. Maybe some scale models, or a board game they design, or a new piece of music they write using geometric transformations. These products should include some of the standards that you are assessing them on. Tell them that if they are having trouble with the quizzes, these are new ways for them to show you what they are learning. This turns the standards based grading into performance based grading. While they are working, walk around and take some notes so you can catch them in the act of applying the standards to the project or teaching other kids. You’ll be surprised at how many kids are doing this naturally even though they are struggling on your quizzes. Keep your notes in a binder as evidence or whatever you need to do and change their grades on those concepts in your gradebook to reflect what you are seeing. Tell them when you do it so they see their grade increase. Watch them smile.

Step 4: Flatten It Out, Open It Up

Once students have seen that there are alternatives to the quizzes, tell them to start thinking of ways they can prove to you that they are learning. Ask them to create their own homework assignments, or give you quick presentations on what they are working on related to concepts they are struggling with. Tell them they need to know which concepts they need to improve so that they can create those opportunities. They will start focusing on the learning and their grades will improve to the point where they aren’t worried about them anymore. When they do something and it seems weird, give them the benefit of the doubt, assume that they are learning, try to understand them and believe in them. Give them more and more of the control.


Original Source (Anarchist Math Teacher)

PhD Lifestyle: Are Most Academics Lonely at Work?

There are clearly benefits of being part of an on-campus community. If you listen to PhD students talk, you might get the idea that poor supervision is the main problem, but survey after survey shows that PhD students everywhere think universities are doing a poor job of creating a sense of community.

So why are students reporting a lack of community? Some element is clearly missing – but what?

‘Community’ is defined in two ways: the first as a ‘being together’ in the same physical place, and the second as ‘feeling together’ – a sense of belonging that comes with working with people of like mind and heart.

Community is not just about being in the same place or having the same events to go to – it’s about that ‘feeling of fellowship’ that comes with sharing common interests and goals. The quickest way to achieve a sense of belonging, aside from perhaps religion, is shared work.

If you think about it, the structure of academic work does not give us many opportunities to work together on shared goals. Being an academic is nothing like my previous careers where I worked in large teams. On my research days at home it’s common for me not to speak to a soul.

Last week at a dinner party, someone said that being an academic is a bit like owning your own small business. This struck me as being very true. Being an academic is like managing a small shop that doesn’t get many customers each day. You set the performance targets. You decide if your ‘product lines’ (research, teaching) are profitable enough. You might have a few people in to help you during the busy times, but essentially you open and close the shop most days.

In fact, if I think too much about it, often my working life feels this way. No wonder many academics report feeling intensely lonely at times. Kate Bowles wrote beautifully about how academic work can make us feel estranged from the rest of the world. For many, the loneliness starts with the PhD itself. I’ve written before about how weird it feels that no one seems to care as much as you.

So what can we do about it?
Here are a few ideas on how to make the experience more communal:
1) Book Club Model: Simply make a regular meet up time for your group or department to have coffee, discuss the course content together and your reactions to it. The course content will launch on a Wednesday because I think this a good, midweek catch up day.

2) Blended Classroom Model: If you are a supervisor or researcher developer, consider using the course as part of your own workshop series and convene discussion sessions around it – either for students or supervisors. If I were doing this, I would take the opportunity to build my own content or activities around the course.

3) Virtual and Local Communities: Create your own Facebook group to connect people online to discuss themes and organise meetups, either as a ‘virtual community of interest’ (such as for people in African studies as an example) or a ‘local community of practice’ (for people in your location, meetups, etc.). A virtual community of interest would help you connect scholars in your discipline, the local community of practice could help you connect with and meet people in in your physical location.

4) Get Social on social networks with national and international peers.

Literature, Ethics, Physics: All In Video Games At This School

Two years before the school opened in 2010, principal Lin Holvik was mandated to build a school for the future, and she focused on creating both the physical and curricular space for teachers to experiment with video games.

Video Games at Norwegian SchoolWe have a sociocultural view of learning,” explained Holvik, “and believe in sharing and constructing knowledge together. We also strongly encourage innovation and believe that freedom to fail should be much more emphasized.” And so fittingly, video games have been used to help foster collaboration and an appreciation for the art of failure.

“We have been well aware of and interested in the potential of games in school for a long time,” Holvik added, describing how video games were part of the school’s DNA.

Original Source: MindShift – How we will learn

5 Tips for Classroom Management with Mobile Devices

Indiana Jen

This is reblogged from the original post at Edudemic and is the premise of presentation I will be leading in November at Miami Device.

When adopting technology in the classroom, one of the key concerns for teachers and administrators is classroom management. I am often asked if there is a way to “lock down an iPad screen” or “ensure students cannot go to inappropriate websites” (e.g. Social Media). In other words, how do we keep students on task and ensure that they are not distracted by the novelty of gadgets or communicating with friends via texting or social media? Often, teachers will take up devices (such as mobile phones) to avoid the issue of students texting or checking Facebook on their phones (eliminating access to a powerful, pocket computer in the process).

Classroom management is a challenging skill which I consistently strive to improve on a regular basis…

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How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success

Singapore Maths Tuition

Recently, Professor Jo Boaler released her new book What’s Math Got to Do with It?: How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success.

The minute it came out, it became an instant best seller on Amazon. Currently, there are some issues on Math education in the United States, due to the very controversial syllabus called Common Core. Professor Jo Boaler attempts to address these controversies and give suggestions and advice to parents.

I totally agree with Professor Jo’s viewpoint that the first step to engage students in math learning is via practical means and showing them how mathematics is useful and relevant to their lives. Next is to always adopt a “growth mindset”, that no matter how weak or strong a child is in math, it is always possible to improve. Just having this mindset makes a huge difference. I took Prof. Jo Boaler’s online…

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