“I blame the education system that can graduate someone into adulthood who cannot tell the difference between what is and is not true about this world”

Neil Degrasse Tyson explaining why flat earthers are still a thing.  Seems a little harsh, but it does inspire me to provide better professional development to science teachers, and help to explain that some ideas are very well supported by data… even if you don’t understand it.

What Did My Students Think of this Year?

For the second year running, I gave my students an end-year survey about my class (in the style of Larry Ferlazzo) with the promise that their responses would be anonymous and publicly shared here.  You can see the survey here, and read last year’s post here.

types of feedback
The 4 Types of Feedback
Overall, I loved to read what my students wrote about our class.  We spent some time during the year talking about the four kinds of feedback, and came to the understanding that negative specific feedback is the type that helps us improve the most.  Their responses showed that they see the value of this sort of feedback.

Here are my five biggest take-aways from the survey results:

  1. My students loved the class.  When I asked them to grade me as a teacher, 98% gave me an A or a B.  When asked to explain their marks, they responded with answers like “because overall he was a fun teacher and cool teacher and serious when he had to be” or “because I can tell he really made an effort.”
    What grade would you give Mr. C?
  2. Student say that they value good grades over being with their friends.  When asked whether they would rather earn a B and be in a class with their friends over get an A and not be in the same class as their friends, almost 90% chose the higher grade.  I don’t know if I actually believe that they would make this choice, but it is telling that they want me to think that they would.Friends_over_grades
  3. These students view grades as feedback about their learning.  This is the best sign that my students have learned the “big picture” lessons that I consider so important.   As often as I talk about feedback and the purpose of grades with them, it’s probably impossible for them to feel any other way.  But I still feel gratified that my work with them made a difference.
    What is the purpose of grades?
  4. My students are split about how they would like to receive feedback about learning.  When asked how they would prefer to receive grades on their report card, about one-fifth want the current system that compiles mastery and behavior into one grade, while another fifth would prefer a face-to-face meeting to discuss their strengths and weaknesses.  Another one-fifth of them would prefer the system that I prefer, separating work habits and content mastery.  Most surprising to me (and actionable to some extent), is that almost 40% of respondents would like a paragraph that explains their strengths and weaknesses.  That is something that I can (and will) do in the near future.
    What form should your “grade” take?
  5. Surprisingly, my students would rather do well on the End-of-Grade standardized test than have more hands-on activities in class.  Despite the fact that they seem to see the value of meaningful and relevant instruction, my students have been conditioned to think that standardized tests are super important.  They want to succeed on them more than they want to learn the skills necessary to be responsible citizens.  And that is very frustrating.
    More EOG review or more hands-on activities?
    What do these data make you think?  What would you change?  Let me know in the comments.

Getting Phones Out Of Schools


Three Forces That Will Get Phones Out of School

I can’t say that there is any part of me that agrees with this article (or the original that it references).  To keep modern smartphones out of the classroom is to ignore the role that mobile computing will play in the future lives of our children.  If we don’t teach them how to use these devices properly, how can we expect them to use them constructively and responsibly for the rest of their lives?

photo credit: Do not use cell phone. via photopin (license)

“Morgan Stanley told its staff on Thursday that it was overhauling how employees are assessed in several ways, including by discarding the number scale in favor of lists of up to five adjectives.”

From a New York Time article about Morgan Stanley’s new policy.  So much for the “real world” being obsessed with grades, right?

Rethinking Grades: A Primer

It’s become clear to me lately that the grading reform discussions that took place almost ten years ago, and led to many positive changes across the country, need to be revisited.  In my own school district, policies were drafted and implemented that proclaimed “The purpose of a grading system is to appropriately and consistently measure and communicate an individual student’s level of mastery of defined learning objectives.” and “Grading practices are not to be punitive in nature.”

Yet, so many educators cling to the idea that grades need to prepare students for the real world and motivate them to do better, despite the fact that the absence of grades in the “real world” would seem to indicate that student need other motivators.  I have forced myself to step away from some of these discussions lately in order to take a deep breath and collect some resources to share.  To that end, here are some starting points for discussions in your school or with your professional learning team about what grades are and what they need to be.

People to Follow

  • Dr. Justin Tarte (@justintarte and justintarte.com): Justin does a LOT of writing about grading.  His website and twitter feed are full of useful resources and quotable nuggets.
  • Grant Wiggins (grantwiggins.wordpress.com): It’s difficult to express how much Grant’s death earlier this year affected me.  His writing has guided a lot of my thinking over the years. Just before he left us, he published a series on his blog with answers to common grading questions.

Short Reads


Creativity Comes From Mental Chaos

415NIR1--sL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading “Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective” by Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman, and I think it’s big idea can be summarized with the quote,

“We assume that any worth social accomplishment is best achieved by first setting it as an objective and then pursuing it together with conviction.  It makes you wonder, is there  such a thing as accomplishment without objectives?”

The authors address the negative impact that high stakes goals have on fields like education and their conclusions, which are based on artificial intelligence research, show how important non-directed thinking is on creativity.

Definitely worth the read.

Why I Get Frustrated With The Public in One Graph

This year’s political fiasco has driven many right-minded individuals to question the wisdom of the masses.  It seems that there is a quiet majority of people in this country who make big decisions based on little or no factual information.  This is especially frustrating for those who read and watch the news regularly and seek out unbiased information, because we can’t understand how so many members of the public can be so misinformed.

When I have conversations with my friends about this topic, I inevitably bring up the fact that this problem has been affecting scientific knowledge for decades.  When it comes to the empirical unbiased understanding that we have about the world around us, there are a remarkable number of people who choose to put their heads in the sand and ignore the facts.  This idea was made concrete to me when I recently found the results of a Pew Research Center survey comparing the views of scientists to the views of the general public Side Note: The word “opinions” in this study bothers me because so many of these issues are already settled by research data.  The scientists’ “opinions” are actually facts, while the public “opinions” are frequently based on misinformation.  They should not be treated equally.



As you can see, the biggest gaps between what scientists believe and what the public believes are on the hot-button political issues of the day (anthropogenic climate change, genetically modified foods, etc.).  In many cases, political organizations have staged massive propaganda campaigns to convince the public to believe things that are simply not true.

So, go ahead and wring your hands over the Trump Problem.  At least you get to wake up after Election Day and enjoy the return of sanity.  Those of us who are responsible for making the public more scientifically literate will be fighting for a long time to come.