Category: General

A Unit Review Day Activity that Works!

One feature of my Standards Based Grading model is that at the end of each unit of study is a summative (yet formative) “End-of-the-Unit Assessment.”  This comes after several formative quizzes given during the unit of study.  For years (really since I began teaching) I’ve always struggled with the dreaded “Review Day” before an test/exam/assessment/whatever  you call it.  Yesterday I had one of those AH-HA moments and think I might be on to something!

Two days before the scheduled Unit Assessment I gave my students a self-assessment sheet for the  unit that looks like this:
Self Assessment

Link to the pdf here: Self Assessment

As you can see the format of the Self Assessment is that the specific Learning Goal is listed along with a sample question that relates to that goal.  Students were then to score their own confidence and explain why they scored themselves the way they did for each goal.  I collected these sheets  from the students and used them to setup review groups for the next day’s class.

Based on the students confidence level for each goal I split the class into groups.  I essentially placed the student in the group that would focus on the goal they were least confident with.  It worked out that we had pretty even groups of 3-5 in each, which was nice.  In class the day before the assessment I had two review questions printed for each goal.  I placed each group of students on a whiteboard with a large sheet printed with the two questions on.  They spent 10-15 minutes discussing and answering the questions in front of them.  I told the groups I would not come to help them until they had something relevant written on their board.  After about 10 minutes I walked around group to group and guided them if they needed it, but most were good.  I found that most groups had a nice mix of students that knew at least something about the problem, and others that needed more guidance.  This got them talking with each other.

2014-10-30 09.35.39 2014-10-30 10.47.56 2014-10-30 10.55.31-2

After each group completed their board we did a Whiteboard Gallery walk where the groups rotated from board to board to see what questions were asked and what answers were given.  If there were questions I made myself available to discuss things with small groups.  With the time we had left in class I gave out a traditional practice “review” sheet for students to do on their own if they chose to.

I liked the way the activity gave structure to the review day that wasn’t just me talking and going over stuff.  It was also individualized for each student based on their own confidence levels, not just random grouping where they might be working on problems they already know.  It also is so much better than giving them a “free day” to be productive and review on their own, because we all know how that turns out.

Mid-Year SBG Student Survey Results

I understand this is purely anecdotal, but it gives me a “snapshot” of the culture Standards Based Grading (or Learning Goals Grading as I term it to students) has created in my classroom.

At the end of the semester I asked my students to voluntarily participate in an anonymous survey about their thoughts and feelings towards SBG in my chemistry and physics classes.  I ended up with 34 responses to the survey.  About 55% participation.  Would have I liked more? Sure, but what was I going to do take points off?  He is what my students are telling me.

Midyear survey 2013 #1

I really like the fact the students understand the system.  It is something totally new to them.  No body else in my school uses this…yet.  So, at least I’ve done a good job being clear in my expectations and what how they are being assessed and evaluated.

Midyear survey 2013 #2

This is HUGE.  Obviously, the point of SBG is to help students LEARN.  I also realize that the students in my classes don’t have any other chemistry or physics classes to compare their learning to, just what they have experienced in other traditional grading classes.  Maybe it’s just the amazing teacher at work! 🙂

Midyear survey 2013 #3

I’ve implemented a color system for assessment feedback to avoid using a number based system at all.  I like it, the students seem to like/understand it, and again, they feel it helps them.  One comment I got about this revolves around having a more quantitative way to separate simple vs. more complex mistakes.  Since the only thing that really counts is if you get a green (mastery) or not, I’m going to be a little more liberal in giving our reds this semester to distinguish levels of misunderstanding.

Midyear survey 2013 #4

I think the results speak for themselves.  Of course you are going to have a couple of students that don’t like anything I do, but when the vast majority of results are coming back neutral or positive I can’t complain.  It also tells me that even if the system isn’t “working” to perfection and creating a perfect learning environment, it isn’t hurting anything.  I don’t see any reason to change what I’m doing, just a few minor tweaks here and there.

The last two questions were open ended, as you can see.  Google doesn’t display these results in a real user friendly format, but you can look through the comments if you wish.

Midyear survey 2013 #5

The overall themes I get from the strengths question has to do with the ability for the students to know exactly where the stand on particular goals, and what they need to focus on improving on. Along those same lines many students appreciate the continued opportunities to show improvement and ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND the subject.  Not just do enough to get by and move on.  That sounds like a win to me!

Midyear survey 2013 #6

I took one big theme away from these comments.  Students don’t like the fact they don’t have a single letter grade at any given moment.  This doesn’t surprise me in the least.  Our district has trained our students and parents to continuously monitor Skyward.  When they don’t see a grade it freaks them out.  The do all know they can go to ActiveGrade at anytime and see their color graph, but it’s just one place for them to go and there still isn’t a single letter.  This is and will continue to be a difficult culture to break.  I always say, “if you see yellow you can do better.”  That doesn’t satisfy them, because they want to know what they can do to make sure they have a A, B, C, etc.  Not just, “you can do better.”  I don’t want to “give in” to always having a letter grade available to them, I feel that defeats the purpose of SBG.

Granted, at the end of the quarter or semester I do have to turn all the assessment data I collected throughout the grading term into a single letter grade.  I do have a system to do this and have been pleased with how the letter grades get calculated.  I haven’t had to “justify” any grades just yet, but when I do I will be able to look at ActiveGrade and easily cite reasons for any particular grade based on WHAT THE STUDENT UNDERSTANDS ABOUT THE SUBJECT, not “he didn’t do his homework.”

New Year, New Project

It’s been a while since I’ve actually written on here.  I had a lot of intentions of doing so at the end of last year but I always found excuses not too.  I’m going to try a bit harder with the new school year.  We’ll see how it goes.  My plan is that I will continue to use this blog to share ideas with other teachers.  My focuses are on ASU’s Modeling Chemistry and Physics curricula and Standards Based Grading.

As the new school year begins so do the new ideas flowing through my head.  My biggest idea I would like to share with you is my new 180 Blog.  I know 180 Blogs are not new, but my own personal one is new to me.  My plan is to use my 180 blog as most do, to allow a look into my classroom each and every day of the school year, all 180 days of it.  The goal of this 180 blog will be to use it as tool for my students, with them as the audience.  When students are gone from my class for whatever reason I would like them to use this site a place for information as to what was missed.  Because of the nature of modeling it’s not always easy to have things prepared for students prior to a days class, it is much easier, and I think more important, to review what happens rather than try to predict it.  So please add to your follow list and please let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions for me.

My Way to Make Measurement Make Sense

To me measurement is one of those topics that doesn’t seem like is should be a challenge.  BUT every year and every teacher I talk to finds that measurement is a HUGE PROBLEM with students.  I’ll let you form your own theories as to why this is the case.  This post is to describe the process I use to “reteach” students how to measure correctly, with the emphasis being on using a system of 10 divisions.

Nerd Rulers

I personally treat this activity as a lab, but it can be done any number of ways.  Here is the handout I use: How Many Nerds Lab.  The lab begins with me giving each student a ruler that looks like this:
They are asked, what do you notice about this ruler?  Things such as “no markings,” “a 0 and a 10,” “10 inches,” and many other things come up.  First thing I tell them is that this is NOT 10 inches or any other unit of measurement they have ever used.  So I have given the units a name: NERDS!  I tell them that since I’m kind of nerdy I wanted a unit of my own.

In reality the credit for this name and the rulers goes to Mr. Ryan Peterson of Brillion High School.  Any unit name you see fit can work.

From there I ask: “What is this ruler good for.”  The usual response is “not much.”  I usually have to hold something up and say “really, you can’t tell me anything about the length of this object?”  Someone usually realizes they can tell the object it either shorter or longer than 10 nerds.  “Ok, so what should I do to report the length of the object?”  “Guess” seems to be a popular response, but I quickly say guessing is random, like how many Jelly Beans are in a Jar.  Someone will finally say “Estimate.”

“Ok, now go and measure 8 things around the room.  Try to get at least 2 or 3 things that are longer than 10 nerds.”

I give them about 5 minutes to make their 8 measurements.  Then I hand out this ruler:
After a very brief discussion revolving around the fact that this ruler has the whole numbers marked, and that in science WE DO NOT USE FRACTIONS, I send students to remeasure the same 8 objects.

Finally comes the gold ruler:

They are off to remeasure the same 8 objects they have already measured.

Before I explain my discussion, here is how these rulers were created.  Again credit for the original Excel file goes to Ryan Peterson.

Nerds Rulers.  This Excel file contains 3 tabs, each containing 6 rulers on each tab.  Print from each tab.  I then copied enough sheets to make a class set of ruler on colored paper.  Finally I sent the pages through the laminater and cut out each ruler.  The set I made 5 years ago is still going strong.  The only real issue I’ve had is kids fold the blue ruler in half.

Back to the lab.

Once all measurements are made the students see a pattern of increased precision with each ruler (they don’t call it precision, but that’s what it is).  We quickly discuss things such as which ruler is best for measuring different objects, what makes a measurement “correct,” and how to handle measurements that we right on a marking.  The next thing is to have small groups discuss and whiteboard a rule or rules for using a ruler.

I give groups about 10 minutes to discuss some things and come up with what they think we should consider as “rules.”  Most groups come up with things like:

  • Start at zero
  • Measure the same object
  • Measure twice

I tell them that those are good and true and all, but how do make sure we are using a ruler correctly?  I sometimes have to give them the hint about what they did with the 3 different color rulers.  Most of the time that helps them realize that they ESTIMATED something in the answer.  Ultimately, after all groups have shared their rules I want the class to agree that we should:


This usually makes sense to the class, and they agree this the #1 rule.  PERFECT!

I extend the discussion with what that estimated number means.  I show them how the number they estimated is really reporting a range of numbers.  So for example a measurement of 3 is likes saying somewhere between 2 and 4.  A measurement of 3.6 is the range of 3.5 to 3.7.  Reporting 3.65 is something like 3.64 to 3.66 (this range might be a bit larger depending on the ruler).  Something I don’t stress at this point.

Metric Rulers

The next step is to introduce our more typical units of measurement: METERS!  Students know it is coming but they grumble and complain, and raise a fit over why we can’t just do it the “easy” way (inches, feet, etc.)  I then proceed to ask them something like; “so what increment comes after 7/32?”  Someone says 8/32.  “Ok, but I’m not going to find a wrench marked that.”   4/16, 2/8. oh 1/4.  “Congrats that just took you 1 minute to figure out.”  “What wrench comes after 7 mm?”  8mm.  “1 second, nice job, now which way is easier?”  I will then of course have the discussion about english vs. metric.

I usually like to get on my soapbox a little bit and complain about how “the US is the greatest country in the world, and by gosh we aren’t going to change our ways for anybody.”  I play that angle up a little bit, and we get to the point that metric is easier to work with, just not as common for us in America, but they hopefully see the point.

I now show the class a dowel that is marked as 1 meter long, but that is it.  Kind of like the blue ruler from above.  I then discuss and demonstrate how you can split a meter into 10 equal sections called decimeters, show them a ruler with only dm marks.  Each decimeter into 10 centimeters, show a cm ruler, and finally centimeters into 10 millimeters, show a typical meter stick with mm markings.

My lab hand out is here:  How Many Meters

Basically, I have a set of different metric rulers, and whatever the smallest markings are on the ruler is the “type” of ruler it is.  So a standard metric ruler is a mm ruler even though the numbers are cm.  This is just another complication in the process we have to deal with.  I have each student measure the same stuff with the same type of ruler so that we can compare results.

This is all for practice, and the whiteboard discussion is pretty minimal.  I usually focus on the different prefixes used in the SI system.  Why it is called SI and why it is important we have a standard unit of measurement for scientists.

Uncertainty of Measurement Activity

The questions I usually get about all this emphasis on measuring is “Why is this important?”  To me this activity nails it and relates why estimating measurements is so important as well as demonstrating exactly why significant figures work the way they do.

Uncertainty in Measurement

I distribute a index card and blue ruler to each student.   (something smaller than 10 nerds is a must, otherwise the uncertainty becomes too great.)  Each student measure the length and width of the card.  They then calculate the area, and I instruct them to write down exactly what the calculator says.

They remeasure with the pink ruler and again calculate and record area exactly as is displayed.  Finally they measure a third time with the gold ruler.

After all measurements and calculations are made I have each student list their calculated areas on the board.  One column for each ruler.  I forgot to take a picture of the entire set of class data, but it was something like this:

Notice how sweet this data is!  The discussion revolves around where the uncertainty in each calculation shows up.  For the Blue ruler it is in the tens place.  The Pink ruler the ones place, and the Gold ruler is in the tenths place.  Coincidence?!  I don’t think so.

Because of our “rule for using a ruler” the significant figure in each measurement comes out to be where our uncertainty shows up in our calculations!  Amazing!

Bottom line is the blue ruler gives us calculations that are uncertain plus or minus 10, thus we can only report an answer that is rounded in the tens place, which just so happens to coincide with 1 sig fig!

The pink ruler is uncertain plus or minus 1, thus rounded to the 1s place; 2 sig figs!

The gold ruler is uncertain plus or minus 0.1, thus rounded to the tenths place; 3 sig figs!

I think it is really cool how nicely the data comes out for students to “see” significant figures really work out.  In all actuality I not huge on make significant figures a huge issue as the year goes on, but I tell students, you better never ask me: “Where do I round?”  That is one of the biggest pet peeves I have and when the do I’m going to tell them to look at sig figs.

WOW!  That is a lot of information in one post.  Please use it for your benefit, and as always, if you have any questions or comments please leave them below.


Chemistry Safety Posters

To deal with the boredom of Chemistry safety rules I allow my students some time to be creative and artistic with them.

The other day I presented my classes with my safety expectations.  Because of PBIS being an initiative in my school we were asked to fit our rules into an matrix that includes; Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Safe…it’s the Blackhawk Way.  So I did.  It took me a little time to alter the wording of some the rules, but in the end it wasn’t actually that bad to fit into Respectful, Responsible, and Safe.  Here is my safety document:

Safety in the Chem Lab

The assignment I give students is to take a rule (or two or three) and create a Poster that depicts that particular rule.  I do allow students to work together as a group, but however many people they choose in their group is the number of rules they need to show on their poster.  I allow each group/person to choose whatever rule they want, so I do get some that are doubled up, but I’m okay with that.  I don’t like assigning rules to each person, because some of them are pretty tough to create a poster with.

After each group presents their posters we hang them around the room to serve as a reminder for the remainder of the year.  Here is a couple examples of what was hung around my room today:

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My Modeling Story

When I finished my undergraduate studies in 2004 I had no knowledge of Modeling instruction.  I began teaching my science classes in an interactive, but very traditional way.  It didn’t take me long to realize there must be a better way.  As with most of us, I consider year one as a mulligan, I survived, and that is about it.  During that time I was employed at Brillion High School in East Central Wisconsin.  My assignment was mainly Freshmen Physical Science.  During that first year, a colleague of mine, Ryan Peterson, invited me to the local Physics/Physical Science share group meeting where I meet Scott Hertting, Dale Basler, Greg Franzen, Jeff Elmer, and many others who were talking about this Modeling thing.

My interest was sparked!  Those guys had so many awesome ideas and seemed so passionate about the way they taught, it was contagious.  I continued to struggle through year one, and finally it was over.  The next school year I was given the responsibility to teach physics along with physical science.  Scott Hertting was gracious enough to meet with before  school started that year and shared almost all of his materials with me, and explained even more about Modeling.  After blindly learning as I went I could see the effectiveness of Modeling, despite my own short comings.

It was in the spring of 2007 when I received my first formal Modeling training when I took a class at UW-Oshkosh with professor Mark Lattery.  One summer later (2008) UW-Oshkosh began its MSE C&I program in physics.  For the next three summers I studied the “ins and outs” of the Modeling Method from some of the best teachers around.  Included in the Masters program was an Action Research project.  Two other teachers and I studied the effects of “Grading Discussions in a Modeling Physics Classroom.”  In 2010 I earned my Masters of C&I in Physics.

During the summer of 2008, in between my Masters studies, my career took me to a new school with a new teaching assignment.  Bloomer High School hired me as their new Chemistry and Physics teacher.  It was at that time when I began to explore the Modeling Chemistry curriculum, and have never looked back since.  My current class schedule consists of Chemistry I and II, and Physics I and II.  All 4 classes I have designed to use Modeling Instruction.

Future posts will describe each of my classes and how Modeling fits into each.

Welcome to iModel iBlog

My name is Brad Wysocki and I’m a high school Chemistry and Physics teacher at Bloomer High School in Northwest Wisconsin.  This school year is my 9th overall teaching  and 5th in Bloomer.  The students I work with everyday are the reason I continue to do what I do.  I enjoy getting to know my students on a personally level, challenging them, and seeing them succeed in my classroom.  I’m always looking for new and innovative ways to help my students learn and understand science better.

Outside of school my time is spent mostly with my family, my wife of 7 years, and two boys (ages 3 and 5).  I also enjoy all sorts or athletics,  especially baseball, golf, and football.  But all of that is not what this blog is about.

During in-service before school I decided I would make the jump into the blog world.  Thanks to the influence of science teaching bloggers such as Frank Noschese (Action-Reaction and Noschese 180), Kelly O’Shea (Physics! Blog!), Rhett Allain (Dot Physics), and Ms. Bethea (TEACHING Chemistry) I’m going to give it a try myself.  I’ve benefited greatly by reading all of the above blogs plus many others.  Each has influenced my own teaching practices in many ways such as activities I use, how I model, and even how I grade.  So if any of you find your way to this blog I must say THANK YOU!

I plan to use this blog to share thoughts, ideas, strategies, and pose questions about physics and chemistry Modeling Instruction as well as my newest experiment, Standards Based Grading.  Ideally I make a post at least once a week, but you never know if it will happen more or less, we’ll see.

Thanks for visiting.  Please feel free to leave a comment about