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Feb 9 14

Adding Inquiry

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I use Carolina’s STC/MS Energy, Machines, and Motion kit (EMM) with my 6th graders. The lessons in this kit are well structured to take advantage of how people learn by making sure every lesson starts by eliciting prior knowledge of students with questions that students investigate through different labs. The procedures are laid out, step by step, in the lesson for each lab. Then each lab ends with reflection questions for students to ponder and help them figure out what they learned. Eliciting prior knowledge and reflecting on what you’ve learned is especially helpful in Science because in order to become scientifically literate you need to challenge your misconceptions with true science concepts until your misconceptions are replaced with the truth.

While following a step-by-step procedure is helpful for learning specific concepts it is also necessary to let the students design their own investigations and experiment including writing their own step-by-step instructions.

We started an inquiry on the Force of a Motor (Lesson 7 for those familiar with the kit) with the question, “How strong is your motor?” I showed the motors we would be using, pictured below.

Electric Motor

How strong is this motor?

Then I showed them the materials we would be using and I said that to be able to compare results all teams would have access to the same materials. Based on the materials shown below (not including string, a large paper clip to be used as a hook, large washers for the motor to lift, and rechargeable D-cell batteries) students brainstormed different ways they could arrange the peg board with all the materials to get the motors to lift as many washers as they can.

Peg Board Assembly

Peg Board Assembly

With 6th graders I use Inquiry Boards to help them plan the whole experiment for the lesson (Lesson 7, The Force of a Motor). That is a perfect lesson to let the students design their own investigations. When it comes time to think up different variables we could change to affect a change on the amount of washers the motor can lift each class came up with six or seven different things we could try whereas in the book they only used three (and frankly, two of the three in the book I had to share with students because they don’t usually come up with those on their own). So right from the start we get to try out different ways of arranging the equipment to see if it helps the motor lift more washers. Each table group then picked one of the variables to use as their one manipulated variable so that by the end of one or two rounds of experimenting each table presents which of their manipulated variable was the best one. With six different tables running different experiments we end up finding six different ways to optimize the lifting capacity of the motor!

So event though this EMM kit is really good at using inquiry to help students learn about energy, machines, and motion, putting the book away for one or more labs and letting students design the investigation from start to finish, with the help and guidance of the teacher and Inquiry Boards, adds another layer by having students wrestle with different ways to answer questions scientifically. It’s also great practice writing steps in a way that makes sense and can be followed by any reader.

Here’s a quick video I shot of one of my 6th grade classes testing their hypotheses out to see how many washers they can get their motors to lift depending on what their manipulated variable was:

Feb 7 14

Test Remediation

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I have question about standardized test remediation courses. I know the answer to my question but I still have a strong, almost masochistic, desire to ask it. So let me start with the answer to my question.

“You’re right, Al, and I agree with everything you say but (yes, I, Al, know there is a but – come on, you saw this coming) the REALITY is that WE HAVE TO PREPARE our students to pass (enter your number here) standardized or end of course exams in high school in order to graduate. They can have straight A’s, be in sports, participate in every club and after school activity ever imagined, have a part-time job, do community service, present an incredible senior project, have actual experience doing things that could land them a job right now, maybe even start their own company right now, BUT if they do NOT pass even one of those high school  standardized or end of course tests they WILL NOT GRADUATE.”

Did I get the answer right? And if that answer is correct do we see what’s wrong with it?!? How can WE FIX THAT????

So here’s my question:

If our goal as a middle school is to help our students become independent life-long learners who will have a growth mindset and value working hard to learn does it make sense to take away a class they enjoy to give them more of a class in which they struggle?

Shouldn’t the purpose of the remediation be to have students work on activities that will lead to a love of the subject by using high interest, relevant, rewarding tasks will that make the class more appealing, and thereby increase learning in that subject? Or should the goal of the class be to teach kids how to prepare for or pass a test? I mean, one test?? And if the goal is or should be to lead to a love of the subject by using high interest, relevant, rewarding tasks do you even need another, remediation class for that? Shouldn’t’ the original class offer that? (That’s a different subject altogether because what if the original class doesn’t offer that because the focus, or even part of the focus, is on preparing kids for a one-day-a-year test?!?)

Let’s put that one test into perspective:

Our 7th and 8th graders take three standardized tests each year, spending approximately 9 to 12 hours bubbling in some multiple choice questions and writing some short answers to questions that may or may not have anything to do with what we teach here all year long.
By contrast a student who comes to school on time every day of the school year will spend 1,080 hours engaging in activities that are more involved than just answering multiple choice and short answer questions. Out of those 1,080 hours, 720 of them are spent in core classes. That leaves 360 hours a school year to develop their love of music and art, to learn about health and to stay or get fit or learn other skills not learned in core classes (meaning language arts and social studies or humanities, math and science).

If a student is struggling in a core class for 180 hours a year does it make sense to add another 90 or 45 hours to help them pass a test? Is that going to revitalize their love of that subject or galvanize their desire to work harder at learning that subject? By putting them in a remediation course their time to develop their love of music or art, learn about health, stay or get fit, and learn other skills will decrease to anywhere from 315 to 270 hours a year from the original 360 hours.

Does nine hours of testing (really three to four hours because that is how long they typically spend on one subject area) warrant 45 to 90 additional hours of test prep? Or, as research (Google Dr. Jo Boaler) shows, is it better to prepare kids to pass the test by engaging them in learning instead of teaching them how to take a test?

Feb 4 14

Let Nature Take its Course

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I’ll be the first to admit it, I don’t seem to have much of a green thumb. I have to work hard (see the growth mindset there) at successfully growing plants, especially from seeds, even though in nature they seem to grow just fine. Something about me meddling or maybe over thinking it.

I also don’t seem to be able to hatch things very well. I struggle with getting brine shrimp (aka sea monkeys) to hatch, especially this year where I tried to hatch a batch of eggs twice with not a single egg hatching. My 8th graders conducted an experiment using the brine shrimp eggs and they had the same results as I did where typically the eggs hatch so I’m concluding that I no longer have viable eggs. They are old so maybe they all died?

One of my 8th graders brought in a box of Triops. I had never heard of those but they have eggs very similar to brine shrimp eggs and their early stages of development resemble brine shrimp. Unlike brine shrimp, triops (aka tadpole shrimp) grow in fresh water and they exist pretty much as they did millions of years ago. Seemed like we had a save!

So I setup the fresh water and put half the eggs in there. Waited. Waited. Nothing. Hmm. The second time I decided to use creek water (the water they need has very specific guidelines, can’t be deionized or distilled, so I figured what’s better than actual fresh water from a creek!). I committed myself by putting all the remainder of the eggs in the creek water. I checked it everyday and checked the temperature to make sure the triops had the best chance at hatching. They need a lot of light so I put a lamp near the water so they had everything they needed.

A week passed and nothing. We checked and stared. The eggs were there but nothing hatched. I gave up on it and started thinking ahead to next year and making sure I buy fresher eggs whether I use brine shrimp or tadpole shrimp. Yesterday, I noticed the water had a bunch of dead plant matter in it so I figured it was time to dump it. I was getting ready to dump it when I saw something dart around. It looked like a tadpole shrimp!

One lone shrimp managed to hatch and survive all on its own without any help from me! I even had baby food all ready to feed the little babies and nurse them to adulthood but this little shrimp did it all on its own with just whatever was in the water from the creek. Yeah, again nature worked best when I stepped out of the way.

So here’s what a tadpole shrimp looks like after about two weeks:

And here’s what it looked like the very next day after the above video:

This little shrimp is doing fine and we are taking care of him as the lone survivor of a whole batch of about 40 to 50 eggs. Way to go little guy!

Jan 30 14

Another Problem with Standardized Testing

by Alfonso Gonzalez

standardized photo:  standardized-tests.jpgOur 6th graders are tested once a year, usually in the Spring around April or May, on Reading and Math. Our 7th graders are tested once a year on Reading, Math and Writing. Our 8th graders are tested once a year on Reading, Math and Science. We get the results of those tests usually in August. Too late to use the results to do anything with the 8th graders as they will be in High School by September. Fifth graders are testing in Reading, Math and Science so I do get a look at their Science scores before I get them as students in 6th grade.

The data I get from those one shot, some multiple choice, some short answer tests gives me some idea as to where my new students struggle and where they did well. Using that data to make tweaks on my curriculum and how I have students engage with it makes sense. To use those results to evaluate teachers or to determine whether or not a child can graduate seems excessive and makes little sense.

So let’s be 100% clear: what those one-day-a-year, one-shot, some-multiple-choice, work-in-isolation-with-no-internet, standardized-not-based-on-my-curricula tests measure is
1. how well kids felt on the day they took the test,
2. how well they take tests,
3. what mood they were in,
4. if they care about test/testing,
5. if their family is affluent,
6. if they have NO learning disabilities, and/or
7. if they can recall things they may or may not have learned.

Another things that bugs me, and the purpose of this post, is when people confuse the results of that one day a year test to classroom evaluation. I don’t feel it’s correct to compare say a student’s low standardized test score to a high grade in school. It’s like comparing two things that don’t have anything in common. Even if we were to teach to the test a class grade is based on more than just a standardized test-like assessment that is given on one day. Kids aren’t widgets. I work to provide learning opportunities for all my students and for some that does not translate into high test scores. What I could do is take those kids who score low on tests and train them to get better, high test scores. I think about my own children. I would prefer they spend their school days engaging in great learning opportunities and not practicing how to become better test takers. So for my students, I do not spend much time training them on how to take tests. I doubt too many of my are going to be professional test takers. In my professional opinion I think my students are going to be better prepared for their futures by learning how to work with others, how to think critically and deeply, how to problem solve, how to use technology to learn and solve problems and get work done efficiently and effectively, and how to share/showcase/demonstrate their learning (in other to provide evidence to back claims).

As a classroom teacher I provide information about my students’ progress either by providing a letter grade or a standards-based report on their understanding of the standards (I actually do both). Letter grades typically come loaded with all sorts of data including work completion, perceived effort, and maybe even practice. Standards-based reports include my perception of a student’s understanding, which may include a student’s own reporting on his or her understanding as well as evidence I see from the work turned in or discussions I have with the student.

If I give a student a passing grade, maybe an A, B or C letter grade, or a 2 (Basic Understanding), 3 (Shows Understanding) or 4 (Exceptional Understanding), it is based on the work I do with that student. It includes our conversations, the feedback I’ve given that student, completed work and sometimes even work in progress, formative assessments, summative assessments, group work, project work including the process to complete that work, and this all happens over time.

Now which evaluation or assessment do you think is more accurate?

Is it the process-oriented, teacher/student generated grade or standard-based report that happened over time with a relationship component that includes the teacher getting to know the person he or she is working with (for maybe 180 days a year, sometimes even for a second year when I get my old students back in 8th grade)?

Or is it the one-day-a-year, someone-else-we-don’t-know generated, some multiple-choice, some short answer question test that students cannot use the Internet, cannot consult their peers, and cannot ask me for much clarification test?

Without a doubt I place more weight or value on my test every time. Either way what I don’t do is compare my assessment score(s) to that score I get in August on a test that has very little if anything to do with all that goes on my classroom! They are not based on the same things. A student can easily score high on the standardized test and get low grades in class, just as easily as he or she can score low on the standardized test and high on their class grades. That’s the nature of standardized testing and classroom assessment and one does not necessarily equate with performance on the other.

Parting thought/question: In a world where one 8th grade boy is barely 4ft tall standing next to another 8th grade boy who is 6ft 1in why do we think it’s okay to standardize their academics/learning? Wouldn’t it be nice if all 8th grade boys reached the standard of 5ft by age 14?

Jan 29 14

Dry Spell?

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Cross-posted on Inquire Within.

Dry Spell

Dry Spell

I wrote my first post for Inquire Within on Nov 29, 2010 and my last post was on Dec 5, 2011. I’ve gone two whole years without writing a post! Last school year, after many months of not writing a post for this blog, I asked Edna to keep me on as a contributor. I thought I was just going through a dry spell and an inquiry topic would brew in my head and bam! I’d write a post.

It never happened. A whole school year went by and I just wasn’t thinking inquiry. Even on my personal blog none of my topics were inquiry related and I was writing posts for my blog so it wasn’t like I wasn’t able to write. So far we are half way through this school year and still no inquiry posts are coming to me. I thought I was through. I told Edna to just remove me as a contributor because I just wasn’t contributing. She emailed me back and said that she wasn’t going to remove me, she would just wait until I was ready to post.

I am grateful to Edna for keeping me on and I told her that I didn’t know if I wasn’t thinking inquiry because I haven’t been doing any inquiry with my students or because inquiry is so well integrated that I just don’t think about it. So that’s the topic of my first post on Inquire Within after two years of not posting.

Personally, I’d like to think that the answer to my question is that I’m integrating inquiry so seamlessly into my Science classes that I just don’t think about it. But I’m not sure. One thing I’ve gotten better in my career is not answering my student’s questions right away. It’s not an easy thing! It’s especially difficult when I know we’ll be investigating their questions later, or way later, and I don’t want them to lose their curiosity. At the same time I also don’t want them to lose interest by having to wait. So I often say, “great question, we will be investigating that later.” I know that answering a question causes the questioner to stop thinking about the topic. In their mind they are satisfied that they got an answer so they don’t have to think upon it any further. By not answering a question the questioner is forced to continue thinking about the question and maybe even driven to seek their own answers. That’s what I want my students to do.

So why do I think that maybe I’m not doing inquiry and that’s why I haven’t thought of writing any inquiry-related blog posts? Because not all my students are asking questions. I’m not getting as much question asking as I would have expected. I get what looks like traditional schooling where I propose a topic of study and students undertake the activities, project, lab, or lesson pretty much as I introduce it. No questions asked, no push back, no offering of a follow-up topic or a different course. Well, I won’t say none of the aforementioned, just very little. Maybe one student here and there. It makes me wonder if I could be or should be doing something different to encourage or inspire my students to question more, to push back on topic ideas or on ways to show their learning, to offer follow-up topic ideas, or to offer different courses of study to learn.

I teach three 6th grade Science classes and two 8th grade Science classes. I deliver the curriculum using 3D GameLab, which can be described as a gamification learning management system (LMS), in a 1:1 environment where students have access to iMacs, netbooks, iPads, or their own devices. I have all the tools in place for a high-inquiry, exploration-driven, very-personalized classroom. Have my students been so well trained in traditional schooling that it’s hard to break the habit and go hog wild in my classroom? Is anyone out there experiencing similar lack of questioning in their classes?

Photo Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Tjololo Photo
Jan 28 14

Days 10, 11, 12, 13 WoW in Science #gbl

by Alfonso Gonzalez

wow_logo_velke-1After having my 8th graders play World of Warcraft (WoW) during class for nine periods to level up their characters and live their stories, we spent another four periods in the computer lab bringing all our characters together to split into teams. Small groups of WoW characters had to get together and run to different regions to explore the flora and fauna they come across. It took more time than I thought to get everyone in one place all together. My 2nd period class, Horde, were going to meet in Ogrimmar, and my 4th period class, Alliance, were going to meet in Stormwind. A few characters were more difficult to get out of their starting zones. The Pandarans and the Worgen have to finish their starting quests before they can leave their zones. Same is true of Goblins but no one was playing them. The other races are free to leave their starting zones anytime they want so even if a student didn’t reach a high enough level we were still able to get them to the meeting places. Some learned how fun, meaning difficult, it is when your character tries to run through an area that is three levels or more higher than you. Basically, you die a lot before you get through. Fun!

Once students got to the meeting places I tried to get a video of them. Then they grouped up, highest level students in the class were team leaders, and headed to their assigned regions to start drawing trees, plants, flowers, animals and other creatures. By the third day in the lab a few discovered that you can just take screenshots of anything you see in your screen. Oh well, there went my drawing idea! So we ended up collecting screenshots taken in the computer lab. They went a little wild with it, next time I will request that students take their screenshots carefully and not spam the screenshot key! They got almost 1160 shots with a lot of useless ones and repeats. Still, we had what we needed, pictures of different living things.

Here is what students are tasked with on this activity:

  • Draw all the living things you come across (or take screenshots).
  • Take the best pictures of flora (plants) and fauna (animals) from the ones you drew or the screenshots and
    • Decide how to organize the flora and fauna.
    • Come up with rules or reasons for your organizations.
    • Show Mr. G your organized sets of living things.
  • Then research how scientists classify living things on Earth.

Answer the following questions:

  1. How did you organize the living things you found?
  2. What did the living things in your different groups have in common?
  3. How do scientists classify living things in the real world?
  4. What did your classification have in common with scientists’ classification?
  5. How did your classification differ from scientists’ classification?
  6. How did you come up with names for living things that didn’t have names?
  7. How do scientists name living things in the real world?

Include a story about your avatar. The story should tell your character’s background and the work your character did classifying living things. (Some students really liked the story part.)

The above video shows how students spent the last four class periods in the WoW world. The question that comes to mind is if it was worth spending 13 periods playing WoW for the learning that is going to be taking place? That’s a complicated question with many levels to it. On the one hand we can say that 13 periods playing a game just to learn that Scientists classify living things into organized groups called, Life, Domains, Kingdoms, Phyla, Classes, Orders, Families, Genuses, and Species is too long. Kids could have learned that in a lot less time without the game. On the other hand, one could say just by viewing the above video that for those 13 class periods I had 100% of my 8th graders in both classes fully engaged in something where they were thinking, deciding, collaborating, choosing, and enjoying themselves. The room was quiet with concentration yet full of conversation as kids called on each other for help, asked each other questions, and helped each other complete their tasks. In 22 years teaching I have found very little that can do all of that. I honestly can’t think of anything, even the coolest labs, that engages 100% of my students so fully.

The brain is fully active and so much is going on when students are playing a video game that I am fully convinced of its worth in education. Especially in light of the research that shows that games aren’t as bad as people are led to believe and have incredible value in learning. Playing a game, even a game like WoW, has its benefits for learning and being engaged and enjoying learning. So in the end does it matter that kids will only learn a little bit of Science? I say not because if you take all the class periods that we spent NOT playing WoW, I have very different results for Science learning. Some kids have been doing a lot of learning while many have been doing less learning. That may not change but for those 13 days everyone was engaged and having fun doing it.

So will I do this again next year? Maybe. I have to tweak it but there’s a lot of good here that I want to replicate. My next post will report on what students learned and created. We’ll see what came out of all this play time.

Jan 27 14

1st Semester Assessment

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Peer and self assessment are both strategies used in Assessment for Learning (AfL). When it comes to assessment time, midterms and end of semester I survey all my students to get some insight into how they are learning, what they are learning, and if they need anything different from me. One thing I’ve learned over the years from surveying students is that no one thing works for everyone. And no matter how great I think something is, I can’t guarantee that everyone will like it.

I have built-in assignments asking students to read each other’s work and give each other feedback. This practice of peer assessment happens at different times for different students throughout the year. Self assessment happens mostly at midterms and end of terms as students answer questions I put together for them using Google Forms.

Here is some of the data that I’ve collected as the 1st semester came to an end. I wanted to see how many of my students were into Science and I also wanted to get them thinking about assessment and how they want to be assessed.

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This is what I’m working with this year. Out of 122 students, 47 took the survey that generated the above data. Of the 47 who took the survey 24% consider themselves Science geeks (chose either an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10) while 38% do NOT consider themselves Science geeks (chose either a 1, 2, 0r 3 out of 10). Of the 47, 26% chose a five out of 10 for Science geekiness. Luckily, 69% of students rated their learning of Science this year at a 6 or above out of 10. And for the majority of students Science is going well this year. So using 3D GameLab, gamifying my courses, having a 1:1 technology environment, having students blog and use discussion forums in addition to regular Science activities and labs has not been working for everyone all the time. A few students have mentioned that they prefer a more structured class experience and a few have even requested to read Science out of a textbook instead of searching for and reading websites and watching Youtube videos. Here are some responses to questions about Science learning and their experience:

How is Science going for you this year?
It is fun, and not overly challenging. I’m ahead of every one and I’m where I’m suppose to be :) Well it’s great because most of its independent but some of the work is hard but I get help and it gets finishedI don’t like doing all my work on the Internet Im trying to catchup but i don’t know how to do some of the stuff i missed back awhile ago.its kinda funI am just having troublebecause it is fun and i learn everything is not that funIt’s been going well with some difficulties. Because there are some quest’s that get and are fun but there are others that are very confusing and i just do not get it.

How you’ve been learning in Science.
I have previously taken 8th grade life science, just not this exact class. I said a nine because Im still trying to understand more on how different life cycles work I think it’s a 9 because I learned a lot because I learn usually learn something new a day. I don’t like it. Mr. Gonzalez is a great teacher and has some great points and what i have learned i learned easy and fast. not really learnng My group isn’t very helpful. because i like to learn. cuz we are playing games. I’ve worked hard and accomplished everything i’ve wanted to despite difficulty. Because sometimes i feel like i’m learning things.

What has been happening in Science that is helping you learn?
Mostly WoW. My teammates because they help me if I need help we do group work together and it’s nice because there in my team. We have been working with Microscopes and seeing little bug things and we have and We learned about living and nonliving and tissues and vocabulary about it, biomes. My friends World of Warcraft has been helping me. my ea is helping me. Asking a lot more questions. listening and doing my work. idk. I think that the quests have been helping me learn more than something like textbook has let me. my table because when i miss something i ask them and they tell me and that helps me.

What else could Mr. G do to help you learn Science?
go into more advanced topics. Have me stay in my group and help me with some questions. I’ll have and you do bolth so you amazing. Well nothing I can think of. Nothing anything that 8th grade has coming at me. go around and help people. Have more people actually work instead of them playing on there phones. explain things a bit more. idk. Nothing much, maybe faster loading on 3D Gamelab but that’s just a minor thing that wouldn’t make it that difficult. nothing. Telling me what to do in science today. A web site called 3d game lab. Not much, if there could more time in a class period that would be nice.

Here are some more data that I collected specifically on assessment to get my students thinking about how they are assessed:
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8th graders were pretty much equally divided over how to show their understanding and growth in Science (students were able to choose one, two or all three). They can show growth by the class levels/ranks and experience points (XP), by how they understand the standards and learning targets or by the work they’ve done as evidenced in their blogs, discussion forum replies, responses on 3D GameLab, and/or notebook work. A few did choose other and added things such as behavior.

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6th grader leaned more towards class levels/ranks and XP slightly over the other two choices.

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8th graders prefer to have their behavior(s) included in how they are assessed. 38% of my 53 8th graders chose to be assessed on what they learn instead of how they behave.

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6th graders, on the other hand, had 56% out of 122 choose to be assessed on what they learn instead of how they behave.

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Strangely enough even though only 38% of 8th graders chose to be assessed on what they learn instead of how they behave 69% of them chose to have a grade based on their understanding of the topics and learning targets alone (instead of things like work completion and behavior).

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A majority of 6th graders want their grades based only on their understanding of the topics and learning targets. They don’t want their grades to be based on whether or not they do homework or get all their work completed on time. Sounds like standards-based grading to me.

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And even though 69% of 8th graders want their grades to be based on their learning only, 79% said they should be assessed on how hard they work. Students want recognition for hard work. This is why rewards, awards, and certificates are so popular in schools. Kids like being acknowledged.

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A majority of 6th graders, 75%, also agree that hard work should be taken into account when assessing them. I admitted to all my students that determining how hard an individual works isn’t all that easy or clear cut. Just because someone turns in all his or her work doesn’t mean he or she is working hard. And just because someone doesn’t get much work turned in doesn’t mean he or she isn’t working hard.

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I wanted to know what 8th graders thought about what kinds of things should be included in a final grade (and to show them that we are putting way too much information into one letter or one percentage). See the next question.

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Here’s what 6th graders chose with the same question as above.

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And here’s what 8th graders chose to be included in a grade (they were able to choose as many or as few as they wanted). Very few chose to have none of these things included in their grade. So if we were using standards-based grading maybe a few extra categories, not standards based, such as effort and participation would satisfy this need. I was surprised to see so many kids choose attendance. They want credit for everything they do (we’ve trained them well). As for effort and participation, the top choices, I strongly believe those need to be self-assessed. I don’t see the whole picture and students need to learn how to honestly assess themselves.

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Slight differences for 6th graders with effort and participation still highly chosen.

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I threw this one in there out of curiosity and to tell kids that I don’t believe formative assessment should be part of a grade, nor do I believe practice should part of a grade. A majority of 8th graders agreed they should be assessed after learning something.

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A majority of 6th graders also agreed that they should be assessed after learning something.

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8th grade – I asked this question to show students how this varies from individual. In a results-only learning environment students can progress at their own pace but some of my students are bothered by that. They say they aren’t working as much as they would in a class where everyone moves through the curriculum at the same pace. I feel for them but students who work quickly should be able to keep learning more just as much as students who process slowly need more time to learn. I want to provide my students with what they need and I can do that with a 1:1 tech to student ratio and using 3D GameLab.

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6th grader results.

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8th grade – I included this expecting a majority to want to choose what they are assessed on. I’m not sure how to do this in my class. I wonder how we can do this?

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6th graders had more students wanting to choose what they are assessed on.

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I put this question in there to see how many students in 8th grade had met the minimum required guidelines for beating the game of 8th grace Science for the 1st semester. In a gamified classroom, just as in a game, there are XP required to level up and to win. 44% of 8th graders did not have the required XP to win and another 23% were close but still not there yet. I really expected many more students to reach the minimum of 950XP by the 1st semester. Thirteen of my 53 8th graders have over 1,000XP, three of whom have over 1,300XP. That tells me that the minimum of 950 is possible for more, many more.

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6th graders are doing better than the 8th graders overall. 28% did not have the required XP to win with another 35% close but still not at the 850XP needed to beat the class. Twenty-three out of my 122 6th graders have over 900XP and 10 have over 1,200XP with five of those having over 1,500XP and two of them having almost 2,000XP! Again, that tells me that the 850XP minimum is very doable.

I also asked students to tell me what letter grade they want and to explain why they want it and include what evidence they have to justify it. I had some discussions with many students, especially those whose self assessment did not match my observations nor did they have the evidence to justify their decision. I also asked students how they feel they understand the learning targets and which ones they feel they know the best so I will also have standards-based progress reports for them. I have found over the years that with a simple, letter grade to reduce the semester very few families look at the standards-based report. Luckily, our principal is having us pilot a fully standards-based reporting. Three of us, myself included, will be visiting a middle school that has been using standards-based reporting for a few years now so we can try it out next year. Then the rest of our school will switch to standards-based reporting. Since our primary and elementary schools use standards-based report cards it should be a good switch for the middle school. I’m looking forward to it.

Jan 13 14

Sunshine Award Blogging Meme

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I’ve caught glimpses of this thing going on in the blogosphere. I’ve seen other bloggers get tagged and have to write a post answering a bunch of questions, asking a bunch of questions and selecting others to tag to do the same thing. I’ve been enjoying just watching from the outside while secretly hoping I’d get chosen. Frankly I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it or not. Now that I got tagged or chosen I’m actually happy to do it. I hope I can do this because there seem to be a lot of questions to both answer and ask! So thanks Adele Stanfield for choosing me! Adele is a 5th grade teacher who blogs here and tweets here.

These are the rules of the Sunshine Awards:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger. See above.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

 11 Random Facts about Me:

  1. I have a wonderful, awesome, lovely wife and two awesomely great kids!
  2. I always start the school year by having my students’ first blog post be a 7 Random Facts blog post just like this one (minus the chain letter thing)!
  3. I’m Cuban-American (I was born in Miami, FL, while both my parents are Cuban born).
  4. I love pork dishes.
  5. I’m a huge chocoholic, yeah, major sugar addict.
  6. I’ve maintained my recent 45lb weight loss for 27 weeks and counting!
  7. I started my teaching career in South Central Los Angeles (go Main Street Elementary).
  8. I’m a gamer playing mostly World of Warcraft.
  9. I still have action figures (and I think they are so cool!).
  10. I am a major superhero fanatic (go Marvel – yes, I like DC, go Flash, but Marvel has better heroes overall).
  11. I wish I was a better cook.

My answers to Adele’s 11 questions:

  1. What genre of music do you listen to? Hard Rock, Dance Music, and Heavy Metal.
  2. Name one thing you do as an educator of which you’re super proud. I will do whatever I find to be in the best interest of my students and helps them learn.
  3. What is your favourite game to play? World of Warcraft
  4. Dogs or cats? I have both but I have to go with cats (don’t tell my dogs!).
  5. Which educator has had the biggest impact on you? Taejoon Lee.
  6. What are your favourite Twitter chats? Edchat, SBGChat
  7. Are socks and sandals a thing? Yes! I wear them all Fall, Winter, and Spring long!
  8. Who is the funniest person you know? David DiPrete (the other Science teacher at my school).
  9. Do you get more out of blogging or reading others’ blogs? Oh now that’s tough! I guess I’ll go with read others’ blogs by a hair.
  10. What is one habit you wish you could break? My sugar habit.
  11. Tablet or laptop? Ooh, that’s a tough one. I’ll have to say laptop because I can’t do screencasting on my iPad nor can I play World of Warcraft on my iPad.

My nominations (I hope I don’t choose someone who’s already done this!):

  1. Maren Johnson on Big Rock Blog or Stories from School
  2. Todd Miller on QuilBilly
  3. Lucas Gillespie on EduRealms
  4. Peggy Sheehy on WoWinSchool
  5. Kae Novak on Center for EduPunk
  6. Jake Duncan on Duncan Bilingual
  7. Chris Wejr on The Wejr Board
  8. David Kapuler on Technology Tidbits
  9. Mark Barnes on Brilliant or Insane
  10. Joe Bower on For the Love of Learning
  11. Paul Ladley on Game-Based-Learning and g-Learning Blog

My 11 questions:

  1. Where are you from originally?
  2. If you were stuck on a deserted island and a plane dropped a box of food what would you want it to be?
  3. What’s your favorite animal?
  4. What is your favorite part about being a teacher/educator/administrator?
  5. What is the most pressing issue facing education right now?
  6. What do you do for fun that is not related to education?
  7. What book(s) would you recommend?
  8. What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?
  9. Do you like this sunshine award meme thing?
  10. Do you like to sing?
  11. Is there a question I should have asked that I didn’t?

Now I’m thinking of how I can work this in with my students. They’ve all already completed a 7 Random Facts blog assignment at the beginning of the year but using the chain letter approach with an assignment might be fun.

Dec 19 13

Days 7, 8, 9 WoW in Science #gbl

by Alfonso Gonzalez

wow_logo_velke-1This week we spent our last three days just playing WoW to level up. Almost every 8th grader had a blast. Two 8th graders complained about having to play WoW at first but then I never heard from anything negative from them again. Another 8th grader pretty much let me know everyday that she didn’t enjoy playing at all. So one out of 51 is pretty good. Honestly, I expected 100% but I’ll take 98%! :)

The last three days went pretty much the same as days four, five and six with my afternoon class still needing more of my assistance than my morning class. A few kids in the afternoon class even got themselves into some major binds such as getting so stuck, such as in a mountainous area, that they thought of starting a whole new character! I have to admit that many times I forgot to tell them to just use their Hearth Stone (an item everyone gets to take you right back to where you started if you are really lost or stuck). Then one student threw away her Hearth Stone and I forgot that when you die there is a way you can resurrect your body right at a grave instead of having to go all the way back to your dead body. Those were two MAJOR EPIC FAILS on my part! Man, I felt do dumb (in gaming language I would be called a Noob for that – or a beginning or new player who lacks experience). The worst part of it was letting those kids down. The bright side was letting them problem solve and struggle on their own, which in retrospect is a great thing. And other students had the chance to be the heroes and save the day.

Overall though I was able to play and get my horde character, the undead priest, to level 10, and my alliance character, my human priest, to level 10 as well. I really enjoyed being there and playing with my 8th graders. I mean, how often do we as teachers get to just play with our students?

One decision I made was to change the passwords because we will be off for winter break after tomorrow and I think it’s too tempting to play the Science accounts at home. Kids have also been playing WoW when they go to the computer lab with other classes. I don’t want WoW to cause any troubles and cause friction with other teachers so I don’t know quite how to handle this. My expectations were that we only use the Science accounts during Science WoW playing days and I told kids NOT to use the class accounts at home and definitely NOT to access the Battle.net site with the class accounts. By changing the passwords, a long and tedious ordeal, I remove the temptation in case anyone tries it. I just hope I remember to change them back before we visit the computer lab again!

Here are some stats I’m looking at to see how productive our nine class periods of playing turned out:

In the morning Horde class we had -
10 Blood Elves
9 Pandarans
5 Trolls
1 Tauren
1 Undead

Lots of hunters, with some rogues and warriors and only one mage and one warlock and one paladin. No one chose priest or shaman or druid.

Out of the above character races we got -
1 at level 3
1 at level 4
3 at level 5
2 at level 6
2 at level 7
4 at level 8
5 at level 9
3 at level 10
1 at level 11
2 at level 12
1 at level 14
1 at level 16!

The top five will be our squad leaders for the classification project.

From my afternoon Alliance class we had -
4 Worgen
5 Dwarves
6 Gnomes
4 Draenei
3 Night Elves
2 Pandarans

In this class we had a lot of hunters, a couple of warriors, a few warlocks, a couple of rogues, and one mage and one druid. No priests, paladins or shamans.

Here are the levels reached -
3 at level 4
3 at level 5
3 at level 6
6 at level 7
3 at level 8
1 at level 10
4 at level 12
1 at level 13

The level 12 and 13 characters will be our classification project squad leaders.

I’ve assembled WoW maps I found online on this WoW Maps webpage (some clickable parts of the Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms maps) to organize our squads and work towards getting everyone together after winter break.

I’m really excited to see where this goes and how much learning kids will get beyond the problem solving aspects of playing such a game. I’m after Science knowledge gain and hoping to see some great ideas and products of learning to share. In looking ahead to next year I’m a little concerned about using WoW because, as with any multiplayer online game, people who are playing at the same time as we are playing are not always behaving appropriately. We had some issues with an Alliance town that we will be making sure to avoid. The town is in the forest where all my afternoon class characters are going to be congregating so I showed them on the map the place we will be avoiding. So if anyone knows of other games that we can use for free (I would love to use Guild Wars 2, do they have a free option like WoW?) let me know so I can see if they have strange flora and fauna for us to study while also being exciting and fun. Choosing another game may not solve the problem, I think it’s just bad luck that at the time we’re playing, on the server we’re playing on, people are getting together to hang out and behave inappropriately. It just sucks for this project but it’s a reality of online games. My goal with something like this is to educate and discuss it with my students. They are 8th graders after all and their reactions to what some of them stumbled upon were quite appropriate and they made good choices and represented our school well. I’m proud of them.

Depending on how much students learn, and if I decide to use WoW again next year, maybe we don’t need a full nine days in the computer lab playing. I thought we’d be done with the whole project by now and very few students, 15 out of 51 or 29%, actually got to level 10 or above. Of those who leveled up easily some were experienced players but not all so the game is easy to learn and play. Only Pandarans need to get to level 10 so they can leave their island because their final quest is where they get to choose Alliance or Horde, the other races can move around and all meet in one location no matter what level they are. It’s just easier when you are level 10 or above. So Maybe six days or so will be enough. I don’t know. Anyone have some insight into this?

Either way I think the classifying part will go quickly because the first stage is to draw every plant and animal they see in the zones we assign each team. Once they have them drawn and labeled, then can actually work on organizing and classifying them back in class. Once they have their classifications done then they will research how scientists classify living things here for comparison.

Stay tuned to see how it turns out!

Dec 18 13

Plant Humor

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I thought this was funny. Eighth graders are learning how to use microscopes to learn about cells. We started with some basic lessons on how to use the fine and coarse focus, field of view, and focal plane. Then students began their exploration of the microscopic view of living things by looking a elodea leaves. At 400x magnification you can really see the individual plant cells and we were hoping to find evidence that plants are truly living things so I told kids to watch for movement within the cells. It’s called cytoplasmic streaming as the chloroplasts move in the cytoplasm within each cell.

Here’s a video I showed the kids when our elodea plants showed no sign of cytoplasmic streaming:

Obviously there was disappointed that our elodea didn’t do that. So kids asked why ours wasn’t showing any movement within the cells. I figured it had something to do with how I stored the plants in class, maybe the fact that I used tap water instead of pond water or even non-chlorinated water, or maybe that it’s quite warm in our classroom. I told them that maybe I killed them. Here’s a paraphrase of one particular dialogue with one 8th grader:

8th grader: You killed them?!
Me: Yeah, I think I did because none of them are showing any cytoplasmic streaming.
8th grader: Then you need to go to plant jail!

Later as the 8th graders were leaving the room to go to their next class.
Me to the 8th grader who said I should go to plant jail: You’re right, I do need to go to plant jail. I need to be put in a plant cell. :)

Okay, I was highly amused myself.

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