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Oct 23 14

I Modified #NGSS

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Public Domain Image

Public Domain Image

At a summer institute NGSS workshop I heard the presenter say that we could modify the Next Generation Science Standards to meet the needs of our students. So I did just that!

We get to visit Mt Saint Helens as part of our 6th grade outdoor education experience to Camp Cispus. Because of that 6th graders learn about volcano types, lava types, eruption types, and then specifically learn about Mt Saint Helens. The next gen standard that most closely fits this learning experience is NGSS MS-ESS2-2 Earth’s Systems:
Students who demonstrate understanding can: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.

Clarification Statement – Emphasis is on how processes change Earth’s surface at time and spatial scales that can be large (such as slow plate motions or the uplift of large mountain ranges) or small (such as rapid landslides or microscopic geochemical reactions), and how many geoscience processes (such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and meteor impacts) usually behave gradually but are punctuated by catastrophic events. Examples of geoscience processes include surface weathering and deposition by the movements of water, ice, and wind. Emphasis is on geoscience processes that shape local geographic features, where appropriate.

Well, there are many parts of that standard that we won’t do this year. We have other things we study this year in Science so instead of using a standard that no 6th graders can show evidence that they learned, I modified it to fit what 6th graders are actually learning.

Here’s an assessment I gave along with different learning opportunities:

So I modified the standard by making the following proficiency scale to help me and students assess their understanding of the part of the standards that deals with volcanoes only:

Now kids can meet standard and we can spend weeks instead of months on this one standard.

Oct 22 14

PBIS and Rewards

by Alfonso Gonzalez

After wondering if I was being hypocritical for denouncing the use of rewards systems to encourage positive behaviors from kids yet using experience points and badges in my gamified classroom I had the following Twitter conversation helping me think through PBIS and the use of rewards.

This issue, which researchers like Alfie Kohn, make seem so simple is filled with shades of gray and such nuance that I’m just swirling with what I should do to best serve my students! I know issues such as rewards are complex, therefore, not so easy to choose either no rewards or reward every positive behavior, but really? See this post by Joe Bower.

Some of the ideas that @AngelaWillyerd shared in the Twitter discussion above are to distinguish between differentiation via incentives such as experience points and badges for completing high quality work versus bribing kids to do work by giving them prizes. At least that’s my takeaway from what she said.

Where I found a familiar thread with giving rewards as extrinsic motivators via PBIS was when she said that initially we are supposed to reward kids for positive behavior but we should move past using those external motivators as the year progresses. Wean them off the rewards, right? At least that’s the what I hear from teachers who use rewards, they plan to wean kids off them once the kids figure out what behaviors will help them be successful in a classroom. And yet we are to somehow continue to reinforce the positive behavior, without rewards I gather, while reteaching those with poor behavior. In a gamified classroom experience points and badges are earned all year as kids successfully complete learning tasks. The experience points and badges are evidence of learning accomplished. Digital badges are the equivalent of paper certificates. In my class each badge comes with a list of quests complete to have earned that badge. So the experience points and badges are not rewards to be wean kids off of but rather examples of what they did to earn them.

It was at this point in the conversation that @thomasstacho added that we need to change our vocabulary from rewards to acknowledgement. That is what I hear when I ask kids about getting rewarded for positive behavior. Over and over kids say that they want feedback, that they want to know when they are doing something right or doing well. They really crave acknowledgement. So we need to find ways to authentically praise, all kids, to acknowledge their successes while teaching and reteaching those who struggle (reminds me of lagging skills from Lost At School).

What is mostly resonating with me is to have students nominate who should get acknowledged and for what. Diana Williams called it “self-refer” in a comment on John Spencer’s blog about working in a PBIS school. (Make sure you read the comments.) I struggle with nominating kids who are doing the right thing because I can’t see everything that is going on so if I miss a kid they begin to wonder, “why bother if no one notices?” The kids see way more than I do! That brings us to the issue then of whether to acknowledge and honor everyone, and risk cheapening the acknowledgements, or only select a few, as most reward systems do, and leave out many worthy kids. In my experience leaving out worthy kids doesn’t motivate them to want to do what is being rewarded. It create dissension amongst those that get rewards and those that don’t.

I still don’t know how to proceed by at least have much to think about.

Oct 21 14

Next Episode in the Voyages of the Starship Equinox

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I am using this butcher paper poster to collect our room 410 continuing story of the Starship Equinox. I have been adding a story element to my gamified Science course and the story continues.

On this poster I am storing all the QR codes that have appeared so far in our classroom in case students want to go back to any part of the story (it’s more fun than using the QR Reader history). :)

I incorporated the story into our recent volcano assessment!

The highest ranking member at each table, based on class level or XP as shown on their 3D GameLab account, got a top secret folder, pictured above, with a communication from Starfleet and tests for each person at their table.


Table leaders opened their top secret folders to find the following:



Then the test had a question right from the story! Students learned about different volcano types so I put a photograph of a volcano. That volcano was the one on the planet Palgren. Students were supposed to use evidence to justify which type of volcano they thought it was and tell me whether we should recommend that the Palgreni relocate to a different region or be evacuated from their planet!

Then more QR codes appeared in the classroom!

After our mission to the Taurus Reach, helping the Palgreni determine whether their active volcano was a danger to the whole planet or just a danger to the region, we got the following message from Starbase 47 in the QR code that appeared on the above poster in class.

Then this QR code appeared the day after the Bombay code. This one is the first where students get to choose what comes next. A true choose your own adventure story!

Oct 20 14

Am I a Hypocrite?

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some rights reserved by Will Lion

Some rights reserved by Will Lion

Sometimes I feel like hypocrite when I denounce extrinsic rewards. I’ve been vocal at my school about my discomfort rewarding students for things they should be doing. Things that many of them do anyways. We even abolished our monthly awards ceremonies and student of the month award ceremonies last year. But now we have become a PBIS school. Both our new principal and new counselor are leading us in rewarding students for doing the right things. We have adopted the Peace4Kids curriculum to teach kids all sorts of wonderful traits. We are teaching them about traits such as responsibility, perseverance, and cooperation and we are supposed to encourage such traits by giving students a slip of paper with the corresponding trait they are showing. There will be regular drawings of those who turn in their trait slips so they can win cool prizes such as a pizza party.

Some of the staff in my school feel that this is good and will help students learn and/or practice the traits we are teaching them. They also feel that rewarding kids will acknowledge them for having the Peace4Kids traits. I don’t know though. Reading any of Alfie Kohn’s works makes me wonder if rewarding good behavior is the right way to go. Dan Pink shows that if we offer incentives for basic, simple tasks then rewards work as they should. You get more of what you are rewarding. Are behaviors simple or complex?

Personally, rewarding kids for doing the right thing makes me very uncomfortable. It is because of that discomfort that I don’t hand out those slips of reward paper. I want to keep from embarrassing kids therefore making them think twice before doing the right thing again or making kids want or look for rewards the next time they are thinking of doing the right thing or having kids wonder why I don’t notice when they do the right thing and then feel, “why bother?” All these things happen when we reward kids. Here’s a conversation – see comments, too – at John Spencer’s blog of what to do when you don’t give rewards but your school does. It’s worth reading if you’re in the same boat or even if you’re not.

But now that I’ve been using gamification as a strategy to engage kids in their learning of Science I seem to be rewarding them for doing their work and completing assignments. I use a gamification LMS called 3D GameLab to keep track of experience points and badges that my students are earning. Before using 3D GameLab I had gone completely gradeless in an effort to remove all extrinsic rewards from my classroom and my students’ learning. It didn’t work as well as I had hoped. Our kids are too well trained. In 24 years of teaching I have found for certain that nothing I do will fit all my students all of the time so I now work towards helping and benefiting as many of my students as I can for as much of the school year as I can.

When my students get experience points it’s for completing an assignment successfully. If they do not complete it successfully they get the assignment back with written feedback from me as to what they can do to resubmit it so that it will be approved. So they get points for work they actually get done. The badges are tied to groups of assignments so I feel that those are also earned. Experience points and badges serve as evidence of work done and lessons learned. Is that any different from handing out slips of paper for seeing students show responsibility? Am I a hypocrite for denouncing the giving extrinsic rewards when I give out experience points and badges to my own students?

Oct 1 14

Behavior Self-Assessment

by Alfonso Gonzalez

After having students make three promises to help us have a safe, happy and fun classroom I made a google form so they could assess how well they’ve kept their promises on a weekly basis.

So far many students have taken the assessment two or three times since we drafted the promises. I compared their results with the data I’ve collected from Classdojo and I see that my two early morning classes are doing much better than my after lunch (technically still morning) class. Makes sense. But their self-assessment shows that my period 2 class is actually doing the best.

Here’s my 1st period class (starts at 7:45am!):

I promise be kind to everyone and be friends with everyone. Cooperate with my teammates by doing your fair share of the work and by not doing all the work.


I promise to speak when it’s my turn and try to keep it quiet. This means that I will stop, look and listen when a speaker is talking.


I promise to ask before I leave the room and walk calmly (remember to be aware of those around you to be safe).


And here’s my period 1 observations.


I promise to be respectful and kind  to everybody and to try my best. I will be respectful of people’s things, space and our classroom, which will include throwing my gum in the trash.


I promise to be quiet and when it’s okay to talk, talk quietly so the noise level is low. This includes listening when people are talking.


I promise to promise to walk slowly and remember to be aware of those around you to be safe.


My period 2 observations. Very positive!


I promise to act friendly towards each other. Be respectful and try to stop bullying if you see it.


I promise to pay attention and be on task. Politely remind those who are talking or just not listening.


I promise to walk calmly and remember to be aware of those around you to be safe.


Here are my observations. A lot more disruptions and talking when it’s least appropriate to talk.

We’ll see how this continues now that we’re back from our week-long trip to Camp Cispus.

Sep 30 14

Mt Saint Helens

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Here’s a presentation I put together for students for our Mt Saint Helens study after our fantastic trip last week to Camp Cispus (we are very fortunate to get to take our entire 6th grade class to a camp for four days every year)! I added some brief notes explaining what each slide is showing:

Sep 30 14

Sharing is a Good Thing

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I came across this post by George Couros, 4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Mind. He gives some great ideas to the reasons people give. I have to admit that I’ve heard those reasons when I tell people how wonderful blogging is to me.

In his post George shares this video I’ve seen before. It’s a great video to watch if you’re considering starting your own blog and sharing whatever is on your mind. Watch the video because you never know when your thoughts can become someone else’s inspiration.

Sep 29 14

The Story Continues…

by Alfonso Gonzalez


Here’s the presentation that started the Voyages of the Starship Equinox. The Equinox is a Starfleet Science vessel that will propel me and my students on a voyage of the imagination as we learn Science this year.

And here’s the latest installment:

Sep 26 14

Help Following Directions!

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Readers, I need your help, advice or let me know if this happens elsewhere. I recently wrote about my dilemma with either talking too much or letting students work independently to the point where they struggle.

I have this preliminary assignment to get my students blogging. Students can access the assignment with written directions using their 3D GameLab accounts. I also show them how to use their blog as a whole class instruction. Many students get it and successfully complete the assignment but many do not.

My question is how can I get more, or all, of my students to complete this assignment correctly? If I already show them myself, give then written directions in case they missed or forgot what I showed them, and include a video of me showing them what I already showed them, then what else can I do and why aren’t all students getting it??

Here’s an old video of me showing them how to set up and customize their blog plus start their first blog assignment called 7 Random Facts. On the video I start from our class Moodle and now they use 3D GameLab but it’s still pretty much the same directions.

Here are the written directions on their 3D GameLab accounts:

When you are done watching the video log in to your Class Blogmeister account. Choose your colors to make it your own then complete your 7 Random Facts blog assignment.

Choose complete when you finish this quest and put the link to your 7 Random Facts blog to show that you did it.

And here’s a shorter video (I know, my videos and instructions tend to be too long) showing students how to copy and paste the correct link on 3D GameLab to successfully complete the quest and get the XP.

So maybe I need to redo my videos so they’re more up to date. I also struggle with giving maybe too many directions at once? So how should I scaffold this? Should I give shorter instructions, let them do, then give another set of shorter instructions?

I’ve experienced this with other assignments and part of me is wondering if kids are both missing parts of the directly taught instructions and not reading the written instructions carefully. I keep reminding kids to read written instructions carefully and ask me questions if they are still confused. I don’t get many questions so I think my written directions are clear.

Someday I just might figure this out.

Sep 23 14

Tech via SAMR

by Alfonso Gonzalez

We kicked off the new school year with a tech training for the whole district. Here’s the Prezi we used for our kick-off tech training:

As we train our district staff this year to implement our new Tech Plan, we are making use of the SAMR model (resources included in the above Prezi) to help teachers use technology to transform their teaching. We also have this collaborative document I started years ago with examples of 21st Century Teaching/Learning models.

This year we are going to run a tech levy to make our plan come alive. I’m especially excited because when we pass that levy the middle school can implement our 1:1 plan! I can’t wait and I’m really excited to work with everyone to bring our district into the 21st Century.

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