State testing is over! My 6th graders took a Math and Language Arts test and my 8th graders took a Math, Language Arts, and Science test. The Science test, the subject that I teach, has questions on Earth, Physical and Life Science. Our curriculum, for better or for worse, includes Physical and Environmental Science in 6th grade, Earth Science in 7th grade, and Life Science in 8th grade. One could say that the test is a bit unfair because kids are asked to remember content they learned a year or two earlier. I don’t think so. I could actually see what students remembered or took away from their time in 6th and 7th grade Science. If the test is not high stakes then I can make some use of the data. It is, after all, data so can be used. Should it be used to determine how much money I make or whether I’m doing my job well? No. Should it determine whether my 8th graders are ready to go to high school? No. A standardized test score should just be used as one measure to see how well kids can take a test. In order to see what my kids know about the Science we learned this year, look at their work.
I wrote before about how I only spend a few periods helping kids prepare for their Science test. I spent about the same amount of time this year helping them get ready. I think it’s fair to spend only a few periods preparing for a two to three hour test that has little to do with all that has been going on in my classroom this year (or what has been going on since they were in 6th grade).
Either way we are now free. Free again to work on projects and labs. Free again to go outdoors and do real Science. As a matter of fact this week I’ll be going to Camp David, Jr. on gorgeous Lake Crescent with our entire 8th grade class for a week-long outdoor education experience we call Odyssey. There isn’t much if any cell reception there and no wifi (it’s an unconnected field trip) so I’ll be unable to check Twitter, Facebook or my RSS feeds! I’ll be disconnected all week, even away from my family, but it’s a great experience for us teachers as well as for the kids.
I hope your testing is over and that you and your students are free to enjoy the rest of your school year.
This infographic is helpful in choosing some good skills to teach our students:
So how do we foster these skills in our classrooms?
One thing that’s really cool about Twitter is that you’re allowed to be nosey. People know that anyone who follows them can read what they’re tweeting. Now that may be obvious to everyone but I tend to by shy even online. I know, it’s weird to me too. It’s way easier for me to lurk than to jump in on conversations. Last night I read a part of a conversation and I jumped in. That’s what you’re supposed to do on Twitter but I still feel like I’m butting in. Oh well, maybe I’ll get over that someday or someone will tell me to butt out and I’ll go deeper into my shyness.
What drew me into this conversation was the comments on gamification and badges. Here’s the snippet of conversation that I saw and what I added to it.
Now I’m not going to say that I feel strongly one way or the other about gamification or badges but I am trying them out with my students. I don’t have enough data yet to convince me that gamification is good or bad for kids and the same goes of badges. I’m a gamer and I know how powerfully motivating gaming is to me so I thought I’d offer that in some small way to my students.
I’ve been reflecting on grades and going gradeless since reading For the Love of Learning by Joe Bower. After reading how he went gradeless I started following and learning from other educators who were trying alternate forms of feedback and reporting grade-like information. I had been trying different forms of traditional grading for long enough that I was able to take the leap and make a huge change. I went gradeless. Report cards for my students showed only a P for Pass. The real information on how they were doing in my class came from their work samples, their blog, and conversations I would have with them or with their parents.
I tried standards-based grading. Easy Grade Pro, a grading program I’d been using for years, came out with a new version that included standards-based grading so I tried it. Both going gradeless and using standards-based grading worked very well for many students. Worked okay for others, meaning that their behaviors didn’t really change much, and didn’t work for some. As one mom told me, her daughter had figured out the system and it was working for her so they didn’t want to change it. I really don’t know of any of my families that uses the standards-based grades. For them the work their kid is doing is more important then the standards, I guess. So I haven’t had much feedback on my standards-based report cards one way or the other but I’m wondering if that’s because no one is reading them?
As satisfying as it was for me and many of my students to go gradeless I still wasn’t reaching all of them so I wanted more. I began to read about gamification and wondered if removing all extrinsic motivation wasn’t the answer for all kids. I mean, yes, I want to help and/or encourage kids to be intrinsically motivated to learn but the reality is that I teach certain topics and I teach in a setting where all my students are learning those same topics that I have selected. If I truly wanted to have intrinsically motivated kids I’d let them learn what they want, what they are passionate about. Believe me, I’ve thought of that but as with many in our profession I have a Science standardized test that all my 8th graders have to take each May and if I don’t do my part to teach them Science I put my beloved career in danger.
The truth then becomes that not all of my 135 students love or even like Science. Not all of my students are intrinsically motivated to learn Science. So by removing grades and making failure okay I’ve given some of my students an easy out. Do no work but learn something, anything, and he’s promised us that we won’t fail. I’ve lived up to that. If you’re in my class participating and learning something, you’ll get a pass. If mom and dad look at your work though, they’ll see what you’ve done and how much, or little you’re actually doing/learning. I leave it up to each family to determine how much Science their child learns. If the parents know that their child is doing very little in my class and they don’t work out a way for their child to do more, I’m pretty powerless. Sure, I can do my best to encourage the child when he’s in my classroom. I can bring in technology, cool labs, and have them create cool products to show their learning but in the end it’s up to each child how much he or she will do (and for the record, most of my students are doing fine, great even, just not all of them).
Here’s how I wrap my brain around this. I know exercise is good for me. I got as heavy as 215lbs. That put me in the obese BMI. My blood pressure was high as well as my cholesterol. Heart attack was in my future. But did I exercise? No. And just like when we make the mistake of asking kids why they aren’t working I couldn’t tell you why I wasn’t exercising. I mean, not really. When my back goes out or when my knees go out, I have an excuse. But they’d heal. And I’d still sit on my butt. So I tried the Wii Biggest Loser. I dropped 15lbs and was working out! I pushed myself a bit too hard and my back went out again. My chiropractor worked with me and it took me a couple of months to heal. That was all the excuse I needed. I didn’t workout again for almost two years. But at least I kept my weight around 200lbs, give or take, and I didn’t balloon back up to 215. At my height 200lbs still put me in the overweight BMI, real close to obese.
Then I found the Zombies, Run app, which is like a game and I tried it. I was up and about again. Combining that with my UP band I can track calories burned and consumed each day and with that I dropped another 18lbs. I’m now at 181.7lbs and I can’t remember that last time I was that low. I found something that worked for me and it was an extrinsic motivation. Gaming. Something about the story, and having to run away from Zombies, makes me want to get up and get on my treadmill and makes me want to get out and walk. Soon, I plan to be jogging. I’m even signing up for a 5K run (yes, it’s a 5K with zombies). My goal is to be able to run the whole 5K by the time it comes to Seattle in August.
I’ve never been intrinsically motivated to exercise even though my life depends on it. My goal is to continue exercising and keep my weight down, even if I injure myself again, and I have the tools to do it. So why wouldn’t I offer similar tools to help those students who aren’t, and may never, be intrinsically motivated to learn Science? If gamifying my curriculum and offering badges gets more of my students learning and doing Science, then I’m going to continue using it.
So I’m not entirely convinced that gamification is worse than or even as harmful as traditional grading. There’s a lot I like about it. And I wasn’t happy with it when I first started. I added points on a project my 6th graders are working on now to see if it helps me keep track of their learning. I’ve had badges available but some kids don’t get them and I don’t push it. Those that do put the badges on their blog are free to do so to show which standards they’ve showed that they understand. It’s a form of standards-based grading. So the point I was making in the Twitter conversation I butted into was that I will try different forms of grading, non-grading, standards-based grading, portfolio, giving feedback, gamification, and even badges if it will help a kid learn and do Science.
If there’s anything I’ve learned for sure is that there is no one golden bullet in education. Or at least I have not found one way that will help all my students learn. Even going grade-less hasn’t worked. But then again, I haven’t tried letting kids learn what they are passionate about. And I don’t quite know how to do that. (I have read about schools that have a passion day and I did put that bug into the teachers’ ears at my school so we’ll see.)
This isn’t Science or Edtech or Edreform but it’s darn cool! I just couldn’t pass it up.
That seems to be a matter of opinion. Personal preference also plays a part in this. It also depends on what you need to accomplish. This is a subject of great debate so I wrote a post on my district’s tech blog, which I am cross posting here:
I have discovered in my career that to best prepare our students for their futures a 1:1 environment of student to computer or device is the best way to go. I’ve come to this conclusion from having students work in a lab, in my classroom with 10 computers, and in my classroom with one computer or device per student. I wrote about that evolution here:
Evolution of 1:1
I came across this post by a teacher who has found that having different devices, as opposed to every kid with an iPod or an iPad, works better for him.
Why Mish-Mash is Better Than 1:1
I tend to agree. iPads have some definite benefits, as do other tablets, but they cannot replace a laptop. Yet. I do believe that tablets will continue to improve to the point where maybe they, or something like them, will replace our need for laptops and desktop computers. But we are not there yet.
The comments in the above Mish-Mash post were very interesting. One commenter in particular referenced a post he wrote showing how iPads are not what schools should be purchasing for students:
Just Say NO to iPads for Education, Part 2: iPads Do NOT Meet Today’s Educational Needs
The article is a good read and definitely good for conversations we need to have as we decide what technology we plan to place in our kids hands. Personally, I do not agree with the author. I think that just because computers, specifically PC’s, are the main device being used out in the “read world” now doesn’t necessarily mean it will be when our primary, elementary, or even middle school kids graduate high school.
So even though I want us to discuss and share our thoughts about which device or devices we want to put into our children’s hands, I am not against having a 1:1 iPad program. If possible, I would prefer having a 1:1 iPad and maybe Chromebook or Macbook program but I do believe we can do a good job of preparing our students to be successful with iPads.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.