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Apr 28 15

SBAC Triples Time Testing

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

Sometimes tripling something can be good. Maybe not all that good for you, but good. Other times tripling something isn’t all that good for you and isn’t good any way you slice it. Sometimes it only benefits those in power.

That tends to be the case with the form of assessment known as standardized testing. I happen to agree with those who see that standardized testing, like many education policies, seem designed for the convenience of adults rather than the education of children. It blows my mind that the multi billion dollar industry that is standardized testing is in all actuality the cheap and easy way to “assess” students! It’s much easier AND cheaper to give all my 6th graders the same test and expect the same results on that test to determine how much they know and how well I’m teaching. Imagine what it would cost to assess students in a way that determines individual growth and individual needs! And people wonder why we ask for better funding.

A cost that I’m seeing first hand with the switch to the common core standards is the additional time my 6th graders are spending testing this year. When I administered and proctored the California Test of Basic Skills, CTBS, (when I taught in CA), then the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, ITBS, (here is WA), then the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, WASL, and finally the Measurement of Student Progress, MSP (also here in WA state) I would spend maybe one or two periods preparing kids for the test and getting them used how they were going to be tested. I had to prepare them for that type of assessment because it wasn’t the way I assessed my students. Then the students would spend about one day, or two to three hours, on a Reading test and another day, or two to three hours, on a Math test.

When I became a Science-only teacher I only helped kids prepare for the Reading and the Math tests by the reading and writing and math we did in Science. It was not direct teaching to a test rather real teaching of Science including the skills necessary to learn and do Science (reading, writing and math)! I so enjoyed that! When I taught 8th grade I spent a couple to three days preparing my 8th graders for the Science WASL and then for the Science MSP. After that practice they then spent one more day, or two to three hours, taking the Science WASL or later MSP. So when I taught 8th grade Science I spent about three class periods on test prep and then one class period on testing. That has never bothered me. I’ve written about that here and here (more of my thoughts on the matter). In the fall I can see the test scores and decide on any tweaks I can make based on that slim evidence and knowing I’ll have a batch of completely new and different, possibly very different, kids.

As a 6th grade Science-only teacher I really didn’t do any test prep practice. I just made sure my students read, wrote, and did math in Science class. Then I’d give up two periods of Science when they took their reading and math tests. That was doable!

Now I have nothing against the common core standards. Standards have always been very helpful in my lesson planning. But switching from the MSP to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has me in an internal uproar. Is that what SBAC means? I had to look it up just now because the name does not seem to be the name of an assessment for children. Look at the names of the previous tests I’ve administered. Those names either say skills or students. SBAC is a consortium of assessment. That sounds like a business name not a test name.

I was all ready to give up two periods of Science this year so that my 6th graders can take their reading, now called English Language Arts, or ELA, test and their Math test. We are learning about water pollution and water quality and salmon as we trap fish in our and count them. We are also going to test the water quality of our creek to see how it’s doing and make recommendations. We partner with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition (NOSC), a local restoration organization, to learn about restorative practices, plant trees along riparian zones, and identify benthic macros in our creek to figure out the biological integrity. Students blog and make websites along with posters to present their learning and findings at a Youth Summit event at the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center in June. This is all awesome stuff and it’s the way we end each year of 6th grade Science. So I did a double take when I saw our testing schedule for the SBAC.

I needed to help kids take two interim tests for practice. Those two interim tests took two periods each so that has amounted to four to six periods of Science lost, which is why we stopped trapping fish and haven’t been down to the creek to test the water quality yet. But that’s only April and that was only for practice. In May 6th graders will spend two days taking the ELA SBAC and two days taking the Math SBAC. (And that doesn’t include the time spent in Humanities and Math doing the performance task class discussion work necessary for the second ELA and second Math test!). So students lose another four days of Science and six days of Humanities class and six days of Math class all for SBAC!

I went from losing two days or two periods of Science in the spring (pretty nice weather here in the Pacific NW for doing environmental Science BTW) to losing about eight periods! And the testing schedule makes it difficult to do the type of outdoor Science required of our spring project so we are so behind preparing for this year’s Youth Summit!!

I’m so livid! I can’t stand this and I can’t sit by and see my kids sit and type on a computer screen for hours on end when we could be down at the creek or at least graphing and analyzing our creek’s water quality and fish count data!

Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

Apr 8 15

My #GBL & #Gamification #NCCE2015 Notes

by Alfonso Gonzalez

115638541_a7be518950I took my Twitter Storify notes from NCCE 2015 and put together all the notes from the gamification and game-based learning sessions I attended.

– Kids who dropout in HS actually became disengaged in middle school! (It’s our job to stop that from happening so the question becomes, how do we keep our middle school kids engaged in their education?)

– Games match level of challenge to level of skill!

– All games share: “a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.”

– “What is truly fascinating about games is that they occur in virtually every culture around the globe.” Even animals!

– What if all course where created like a game? Students decide their own path through the curriculum.

– Not really related to gaming but does relate in a way: Equity in STEM access for girls & underrepresented populations. Are we facilitating equity? Collaboration increases capacity for girls in STEM.

– Multiplayer games are PVP (Player vs Player) & PVE (Player vs Environment). PVE = Collaborative.

– “According to census data, even most poverty level families, have at least one gaming console.”

– Gaming provides immediate assessment data for the learner.

– In video gaming the scaffold of your peer network is important. Real life skills!

– Teamwork skills Leader/Recorder/Reporter/etc is wrong! Instead identify roles, then fill them based on task! (I got to work on a team developing games for education. It was a startup weekend and teams there were formed only when they had an educator, a business person (for marketing and selling), a software developer to program the app, and a designer to make the artwork for the app. We formed teams by filling the roles.)

– Differentiation: Create a single task with multiple “difficulty levels” aka “prompts.” Harder difficulty=easier grading. Blended learning means differentiated instruction. Not ALL kids move at the same pace or come from the same place. Repetition and volume increase does not constitute differentiated instruction.

– Text complexity had gone down in grades 2-12 yet has gone up in colleges in the last 50 years. Lots of text on WoW game screen, very busy! It’s qualitative factors like those that #ccss acknowledges. WoW in game text has a lexile of 890, whereas WoW Wiki has a lexile of 1260. Minecraft game guides and gamepedia range in lexile from 1160 to 1260. WoW, for example, also uses many tier 2 and 3, high utility, vocabulary words and has varied text structures. Whether you use lexiles or not the point is that playing a MMORPG game often includes text that is complex. And while kids skim a lot there does come a time where they will need to read closely either to get out of a level or beat a strong boss.

– When it comes to writing these games provide real life opportunities in game chats. Game chats require brief messaging, digital conferencing, note-making skills!

Games provide a lot of great opportunity for engaging our students in learning. Gamification also provides excellent ways to change the way we teach our curricula so that learners can be engaged, move at their own pace, and choose their own pathway through the curricula. More than that gamification offers solutions to the problems inherent in traditional grading.

Apr 6 15

Discussion Forums in Science

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Learn2EarnPostI wrote a post for the Learn 2 Earn blog called How to Use Discussion Forums to Engage Every Student and it’s live! I share some tools that I have used with my Science students in grades 6, 7 and 8 over the years. Having a discussion forum for a face-to-face classroom allows for a wonderfully blended classroom where even the quietest of students get a voice! Check out my post (you can click on the above image to access it as well).

Apr 6 15

My 1:1 #NCCE2015 Notes

by Alfonso Gonzalez

6660001925_2a62581136I took my Twitter Storify notes from NCCE 2015 and put together all the notes from the 1:1 implementation sessions I attended. I attended as many of those sessions as I could to best help my building prepare for our 1:1 initiative for the 2016-17 school year. Next year, 2015-16, will be our planning year as we run a tech levy to pay for our 1:1 plan.

1:1 Suggestions/Recommendations

Planning for 1:1

– Implementation of anything is only as successful as the leader in the building!

– Have you asked students how they might learn differently if they had their own device?

– Adequate bandwidth (You can never have too much bandwidth so get a bid for more than you think you’ll need!), digital training, & a plan for replacing damaged devices.

– Get more cable than you think you’ll need! Access point in EVERY classroom. Plan ahead!

– Take into account the number of devices NOT just users! Some kids will have 2 or 3 devices.

– Repair plan, vouchers for students who damage their iPad. Students pay to replace & still school’s property. One school offered parents a school insurance plan. Parents could pay the school $35 and if their child’s iPad broke, the school would fix it. (In order to do this the school needs a place they can take their iPads to and have them fixed.)

– Training for teachers! School has to have goals as they plan to integrate tech, especially going to a 1:1, so they know what PD is needed. Powerful 4 teachers to see other practitioners integrating tech. School visitations so they learn that they can do it too. Understand why resistors are reticent to adopt tech do you can work with them. How do we empower teachers to integrate tech instead of shaming their lack of tech skills at tech trainings?

– Same software for whole district helps. Have a standard for teacher websites. (How do we find balance between standard, our district uses 365 online only, vs giving autonomy & choice?)

– When implementing 1:1 make sure you measure the right things to show growth & that isn’t necessarily standardized test scores.

– How to measure success of tech implementation: device vs instructional practice, not about any one platform, PD relational and not about one and done. Outcomes, students AND staff, celebrate/share, build capacity, self efficacy, effective PLC’s.

– Used Meraki to monitor proper use of iPads. Internet can be turned off if inappropriate use.

– Teach kids digital citizenship because some may be new to being online & digital. Digital Citizenship is key because it’s not plausible to filter offsite. Here’s a digital citizenship resource:

– When planning to go 1:1 a group of HS kids, called iClub, got iPads first to test them out. They learned how to use them to learn and do their work. Once the whole school went 1:1 the iClub kids provided support to students and teachers!

– HS kids from iClub shared that digital note taking has made their classes more interesting!

– When moving to a 1:1, “Get ready to embrace discomfort by modeling that struggle and failure lead to learning, redefining how you teach.”

A lot to think about. Our first step is to get that Tech Levy passed. Then we can begin planning! (And only two years behind schedule.) :)

Apr 2 15

Science and Engineering Resource

by Alfonso Gonzalez

TeachEngineeringI was looking for water pollution images to make a Kahoot quiz to check my students’ understanding as they research to make public service announcements. I found an awesome image. It was so awesome that I had to check the website it came from. It is a copyright image and the website had a lesson that would really enhance my water pollution unit: An Underground River.

The site, Teach Engineering, has tons of Science lessons that include engineering Next Gen Science standards, activities and skills. Great Science lessons, well, at least the few that I checked while exploring the one I found, and they include design/engineering. What a gold mine! It’s so cool I just had to share. :)

Mar 26 15

Do Not Tie Test Scores to Teacher Evaluation

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Here’s a copy of a letter I just wrote and emailed to my legislators regarding their upcoming vote on ESSB 5748, which would tie our student’s standardized test scores to our teacher evaluation.

We can hold students accountable and track and report their learning without standardized testing. We can graduate students from high school without standardized testing. We need to trust teachers as the caring, capable professionals they are. Teachers know how to assess their students. Teachers can record student learning and help students assess their own learning by using formative assessments and portfolios.


Schools have students lead their own conferences so they take responsibility for their learning. In student-led conferences the student shares work that he or she chose to show the growth made that year. In order to do that kids need to self assess their collected works and draw conclusions about their learning. Often their education is personalized to motivate and engage them. People are more motivated to learn when doing work that is meaningful and better yet if it’s work they are passionate about.


As we personalize learning experiences for our children and have them assess their progress by collecting samples that demonstrate learning and skills how can we continue to standardize testing? It makes little sense. Taking time away from meaningful learning experiences and projects and group work to have kids take tests that don’t resemble anything they will have to do after they graduate high school or college is a true waste of time. The skills employers rank the highest in their new employees do not include, “testing well.”


What is also incomprehensible is tying the results of one shot, one time, standardized test scores to teacher evaluation. Evaluate us on how well we plan learning experiences, on how well we motivate our students, on how well we prepare our students, and on how well we connect with our students to make their education experience relevant and effective. I teach science to 6th graders in a middle school. I should not be evaluated by how well they score on a math test or an English test. They don’t even have a science test until they are in 8th grade! And that doesn’t even take into account the obvious problems with one shot tests, such as lack of sleep, lack of food, having a bad day, doesn’t test well, can’t speak English, has an IEP, and the list goes on.


Anyway you look at it turning standardized tests into high stakes instruments for students and teachers causes instruction to be narrow and focus on the test, takes the joy out of learning and teaching, and does a disservice to our children and our future. Do not vote to tie test scores to teacher evaluation.

Mar 26 15

Game-Based Learning #gbl

by Alfonso Gonzalez

The above video shows an example of how my 6th graders are playing World of Warcraft during the WoWinSchools course I am teaching this year.

Slowly, especially in light of much research being done on the subject, people are starting to see that video games are not bad. They do not make kids violent and they are not a waste of time (well, anything done to excess can have negative consequences but when played in balance with other activities games are not a waste of time). Games can lead some kids to exciting career choices but even for those who play games just for fun there are many benefits. A lot of learning goes on when people play video games and the brain is very active during game play compared to a more passive activity such as watching television.

Many games are being designed specifically for education. That type of Game-Based Learning (GBL) is obvious. The less obvious type of GBL is using Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) games, such as World of Warcraft or Minecraft. COTS games were designed to sell, make money, and engage people in the game so they play and play and play. An added benefit of such games is their use in schools. COTS games are often more fun and exciting, and also better designed, than many educational games. Therefore, COTS games are very motivating for kids to play.

The level of focus, persistence, and engagement of kids playing COTS games is amazing and that is something teachers and parents want to see of our kids in school. For me to be able to bring a game that is so widely played and enjoyed to my school has been a positive experience. I have seen the two classes of 6th graders who have been participating in my WoWinSchools course thus far show exihilaration and exuberance at being able play such as game in school. They’ve been so excited that none of them have balked or complained at the work they’ve been required to do in order to play the game. It has been quite delightful and more than refreshing. Even kids who do not consider themselves gamers have enjoyed playing World of Warcraft and have rated the course quite highly. I am gathering data on my second class currently.

Being able to offer kids a chance to engage in GBL is wonderful and a worthwhile way to engage our kids in learning at school. Check out my Diigo Collection on GBL for more information and links to educational games.

Mar 25 15

WoW Dancing #gbl

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Once in a while we take a break from questing in World of Warcraft, from questing in 3D GameLab, and from practicing our keyboarding skills and we just meet up in a big, virtual city to get together and dance. :)

These are some of my 1st WoWinSchools class 6th graders meeting up in Stormwind to take a screencast of our group dancing.

Mar 23 15

My #NCCE2015 Notes

by Alfonso Gonzalez

This year I was tweeting so much of what I was learning at NCCE 2015 (#NCCE2015) that I just used Twitter as my note-taking format! Here are my tweets (I’ll be writing more about what I learned later):

Mar 7 15

Video Games in the Classroom #gbl

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I got an email from a student asking me if she could interview me for an essay she was writing for her English 102 class about video games in the classroom. After answering her questions I asked her if I could share my responses here and she said yes. Here’s what I wrote for her interview (this is why I love blogging, being able to connect with people and maybe even help out!):

Hi Rachel,

I don’t mind doing this interview over email. It’s easier for me to do it this way and I get to think about my answers. :)

Do you think that video games can teach students better than a traditional classroom? why?

I think video games can be used as one way of teaching. Video games are superior to the type of learning that goes on in a regular classroom in many ways even though video games should not replace all classroom learning. I just wanted to be clear about that. Video gaming in the classroom should be one more tool for learning, not the only tool. :) First of all, video games create the perfect balance between challenging a player without frustrating the player to the point where he or she wants to quit. The way games do that is by learning from how the player plays the game. First of all video games include in-game tutorials often so that any player can learn how to play the game from level 1 without having to read a manual. Even when you play a board game you need to read the rules, in a video game you learn the rules by playing! If you can’t attack friendly troops you won’t be able to no matter how hard you try. As the player learns and levels up, every level becomes harder but not so hard that the player can’t figure out a way to beat it or that game won’t sell. Games also provide instant feedback that is near impossible for one teacher with 24 to 30 students. Students as players are constantly being informed as to how they are doing, what is working and what isn’t. Finally, games have built in rewards to keep players playing and interested in learning more and more to “beat” the game. For the reasons mentioned above video games are every engaging and motivating explaining why people of all ages will play games for hours and hours, day after day. I would love to see that kind of engagement and motivation in my classes! That being said, there aren’t enough high quality games for all the things kids need to learn in school. And even if there were, there are many things that kids need learn that should not involve computers and games.

How do video games help you to teach your students, and do you think they allow you to teach better lessons compared to a non-gaming classroom?

Here’s where I will make a distinction between playing video games to learn, Game-Based Learning vs using gaming techniques to make learning more like a game, Gamification. I am using both ways to motivate my students in different classes. So although there are video games that help my students learn different things a teacher can gamify his or her classroom and make it game-like without actually bringing in any games for kids to play. For those classes where teachers do bring in video games, the video games do all the things I mentioned above such as giving the students immediate and constant feedback, teaches the player how to play the game, increases the challenge so the game doesn’t get too easy while not being so difficult that the player gets frustrated and quits, provides incentives to either explore or level up either by experience points, badges, achievements, or better weapons and gear, and provides enough enjoyment that the player is motivated to play over and over again. Considering all those ways that games teach, they do allow a teacher to have better lessons that will work with all their students. Learning history, for example, from a history book isn’t as engaging as watching a movie. But even watching a movie isn’t as engaging as playing Civilization IV. Reading a book doesn’t really help kids understand what it was like during that time period or in that country. Watching a movie does a much better job of showing what it might have been like during a different time period and in different countries. Playing a game such as Civilization IV can help students think like people had to think during a different time period and see the consequences of their decisions. Total War also does that by allowing players to command troops during different battles throughout history.

What kind of games do you use to teach, and what lessons can be taught using those games?

Personally I have taught using gamification more than using games. So my class runs like a video game with experience points, leveling up, and earning badges for learning different concepts. In Science I have had students play the Simple Physics game to practice building different structures and testing them. I tried using Spore to teach evolution, which was a great game for that but it took too long to play and get the creature to evolve so I stopped using it. This year I have gotten to use World of Warcraft to have students learn about the journey of a hero. Using World of Warcraft in school takes the place of reading a book, although the course does include reading The Hobbit, to have students improve their reading and writing skills by analyzing their character, his or her journey, and writing about that journey. It’s a highly engaging course and kids love it. They don’t feel like they are doing school yet they are all learning and gaining practice in many skills such as connecting, collaborating, communicating, reading, writing, discussing, and blogging. The kids get completely immersed in a virtual world just as if we were reading a book but instead of reading what happens to the hero they are in charge of choosing what happens to the hero.

Feel free to ask me any follow up questions if they come up.

Mr. Gonzalez

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