Category: SBG

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.

Electronic Portfolio “Final”

In the spirit of the Standards Based Grading (SBG) I’m using this year I didn’t give my chemistry or physics classes a written final exam this week.  Instead I stole a Frank Noschase idea and offered an optional “Reassessment Buffet” featuring paper and pencil quiz problems for all of the goals we had covered this semester.  This obviously allowed students an opportunity to master goals they had not yet mastered.  It worked pretty well.  I had about 60% participation of the students that should have take advantage of the opportunity.  For those that did it helped, and they were able to raise their end of the semester single letter grade.  This is something I will defiantly do again.

However, the point of this post and main “final” I gave my students this semester was an electronic portfolio that showcased how they met ALL of the goals in class.  First off I wanted this project to be electronic so that students couldn’t lose, destroy, deface, etc a paper portfolio when it was completed.  The site they created on Google Sites will be there for a while, and they will always know where to find it and can continue to add to it this semester.

I had this idea when I fully dedicated myself to SBG this year.  I liked the thought of students showcasing work and having something to show for it rather than just another scored assessment paper.  I just didn’t know where to start.  However, thanks to Twitter around the end of November I saw some people discussing their portfolio plans.  I came across a tweet form Sam Evens where he shared his portfolio template,  I liked this setup and with Sam’s permission I used his template and turned it into mine. and

Portfolio Home Page

From there each student created their own Google Site using these templates.  All of units and goals were already entered so all they needed to do was add in artifacts for each goal and write a little about each one.  I also had each student write a reflection on each unit.  Here are some links to some of the best work submitted:

Overall I really like this as a final and am planning to do it again next semester.  One issue I had is that I gave my students this project to work on the last couple of weeks of the semester and some scrambled to get the work done, which turned into me allowing more class time for project then I would have liked.  I did like how this forced the students to do and end of semester review of all the material, which is the point of a final.  However, I didn’t like the amount of class time needed get everyone “caught up” with all of the semester work.  I think now that each student has the portfolio all set up and ready to go this semester I will be emphasizing working on it throughout the semester instead of just at the end.

Technologically speaking Google Sites is quite easy and intuitive to use.  The major hurdle we needed to overcome was getting the pictures students were taking on their device to the computer.  One of the most popular ways was to upload their pictures onto the Google Drive app, and then when they were editing in Sites they choose Insert>Drive>Images.  This worked well as each image didn’t need to be individually uploaded to Sites.  However, when this is done this way Sites links the image to the person’s Drive.  In order for the image to actually show up on the website the picture needs to be “viewable to anyone with a link” or “public.” These are not the default settings so that is one additional step that needs to be taken.  Otherwise Google Sites was a great option to have students work with.

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.”

Labs with SBG

How to handle labs and lab assessment always seems to be an issue with teachers who use standards based grading (SBG).  Wednesday (9/11/2013) night during the Global Physics Department meeting about SBG this was a topic of conversation.  Like with most issues that arise with SBG there is as many different answers as there are teachers that utilizes the grading practice.  In this post I intend to share with you my practices and ideas.  As with most things I do in my classroom, these ideas and practices are always subject to change.

Importance of Labs
As a modeler, labs are EVERYTHING.  This is where knowledge and understanding of the subject is gained by the students.  Units usually begin with a model building lab and everything else goes from there.  I need my students not only to perform controlled lab experiments, but understand exactly what the data obtained is telling them.  I’ve come to realize that after about the 2nd or 3rd lab students “get that” and they are motivated to participate and complete labs correctly, including whiteboard discussions and model building.

For all of my years, except the first, but who counts the first year teaching anyways?  I try to block those memories of awful teaching out of my head.  Anyway, for all of my years prior to SBG I utilized a Lab Notebook in my chemistry and physics classes.  Students would be provided a “Lab Notebook Criteria” in the beginning of the year, and I expected all labs to be set up and written in a uniform format.  This included; heading, problem, equipment, procedure, data, analysis of data, and conclusion sections.

I like this setup for my labs.  It keeps students organized, and forces them to take some responsibility for their own lab write-ups.  However, giving points for the notebooks was always an issue.  Because I never wanted to collect 50 or so notebooks after every lab; I didn’t.  I would wait until the end of the quarter and collect all the notebooks then.  From there I would flip through each notebook looking at all of the labs we completed from that quarter.  I would “grade” each lab on completeness by using a checklist type rubric.  Basically the only way students lost points is if they didn’t do something, like forgot a heading, or didn’t attache the graph, or didn’t answer the conclusion questions.  (I didn’t even read answers, just checked to see that something was written down.)  This process usually made for a couple of hours sitting at school on a Saturday or Sunday to “grade” each notebook.

This process troubled me for several reasons.  By the time I scored a lab we might be 5-6 weeks past talking about it in class.  Getting points for the notebook was just a “game.”  If you wrote something for each section you got your points.  This never really showed me what a student learned in the lab (granted I assessed for that in different ways throughout the quarter.)  It didn’t hold them accountable, or give them the constant feedback they need.  Plus those couple of weekends a year really sucked when I was at school just flipping notebook pages.

SBG Labs 1.0
Last school year (2012-13) was when I started SBG, but only in physics classes, so the following only pertains to that class.  Chemistry followed the procedure above.  When I was planning for SBG I relied heavily on Frank Noschese and Kelly O’Shea.  By reading their blogs and stealing files I saw they had a nice set of lab goals, so decided to create a set of 5 Lab Goals myself.  They were this:

LAB.1(C) – I can design a reliable experiment that tests the hypothesis, investigates the phenomenon, or solves the problem

LAB.2(C) – I can record and represent data in a meaningful way.

LAB.3(I) – I can analyze data appropriately, by representing data graphically, and by using the graph to make predictions.

LAB.4(I) – I can identify a pattern in the data, and represent the pattern mathematically.  I can give physical meaning to the slope and y-intercept of a graph.

LAB.5(A) – By using the results of an experiment I can propose an appropriate model for the situation.

These five goals seem to be the essence of what students should be able to do by participating in lab activities.  The problem I ran into was how and when to assess these goals.  The idea of SBG is that I want to see students accomplish these goals by the end of the semester or year.  These goals would be constantly reassessed throughout the year, and only what you have shown at the end counts..  What I decided to do then was not use lab notebooks, but try to find ways to include items on quizzes that would address these goals.  (Except I found the first two to be difficult to assess that way.)  Instead of lab notebooks I included lab forms in my unit handouts along with practice sets and other activities.  This caused the problem of never being able to conveniently collect the labs, because I wanted to students to have their packet for practice throughout the units.  Overall, this system worked out alright, but some students figured out there weren’t really being held accountable to actually write anything down during labs.  I saw this as an issue.

SBG Labs 2.0
The following describes a work in progress.  I’m working with a lot of theory here, hoping some changes will address some issues.

Overall I liked the idea of having general lab goals so I’m keeping that.  I did make a couple of adjustments though.  This summer I consulted with Terry Schwaller, an awesome modeler from Shiocton, WI, to help develop Modeling Chemistry Goals.  His ideas merged with mine and I settled on the following six lab goals:

LAB.1(C) – I can recognize the precision of a measuring instrument, and record data in an appropriate, organized manner.

LAB.2(C) – I can design and/or follow an experimental procedure that tests a hypothesis, investigates a phenomenon, or solves a problem.

LAB.3(I) – I can analyze data appropriately, representing data graphically when necessary, and use it to make predictions.

LAB.4(I) – I can relate the results to the purpose of the experiment, and include appropriate analysis (slope, y-intercept, % error, % yield, etc.) when necessary to show if the purpose was met.

LAB.5(A) – By using the results of an experiment I can propose an appropriate model for the situation.

LAB.6(A) – I can connect experimental outcomes to the content of the course.

I’m using these goals with both my chemistry and physics classes, so I needed to keep them a little flexible in their interpretations.

I also realized this week that I missed a couple of important goals for chemistry so I added them:

LAB.S(C) – I can follow accepted laboratory safety procedures.

LAB.E(C) – I can recognize and properly name commonly used laboratory equipment.

The main reason for this addition is that I like to have a “Safety Quiz” on file that shows me, and administrators, that the students know basic safety procedures and equipment.

What I’m going to try to do this year is not do labs in a lab notebook OR in the unit packets.  My thought is that I will provide students with lab handouts for each lab.  Some labs will have written procedures from me (chemistry) and some will be more “design you own” where students need to write about their procedures (physics).  The general lab handout form is here: General Lab Handout.

As of right now my thoughts are that I will be able to easily collect these when I feel it is appropriate without worrying about hauling a ton of notebooks around, and at the same time not “stealing” other valuable stuff from students in packets.  I’m also going to only assess a few things at a time.  Maybe for the first 2 or 3 labs I’m only going to assess students on goals 1 and 2.  By lab 3 or 4 I might look at graphs (goal 3).  By the end of the semester I will be able to assess on all the items contained in the lab.  I could also use this form as a guide for students to turn in a more formal lab report.  Something I’ve never done before.  I also will also still be able to add assessment items on weekly quizzes or unit assessments.  Especially items that assess goals 5 and 6.

Like I said, this is all very fresh in my mind and hasn’t been classroom tested yet.  If you have any thoughts or ideas I would love to hear them.  Comment below or tweet @MrBWysocki

Calculating a Letter Grade with SBG

Overall I’m very pleased with the way my 1st quarter of Standards Based Grading has gone.  This last week has been the first time all year that I’ve now been getting some questions and having some problems with SBG, both with students and parents.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that this week is when 1st quarter grades were due.  Students and parents have been so trained to focus on one simple letter to summarize an entire 9 weeks of learning.  Looking at multiple pieces of data and really analyzing where and why they are “getting it” or “struggling” is going to be a tough battle.

I thought about getting away with not assigning a letter grade at all, but I knew if I did that all heck would break loose.  So I went to my original formula I had come up with before the school year.  That formula looked something like this:

My idea here was that my “Core” goals would be worth 60%, “Intermediate” goals worth 30%, and “Advanced” goals 10%.  This would basically mean that in order to pass physics you would need to master AT LEAST all of the core goals.  Seems reasonable right?  The problem I ran into as I started looking at all the data is that some of the core goals were actually tougher to master than my intermediate goals.  I might have to do some reconsidering of each goals level, or something.  Not sure about that yet.  As I calculated letter grades based on this scale I had students with Fs and Ds that had not yet mastered some of the core goals, but did have success with some of the Intermediate and Advanced.

Anyways, what I started to consider was the argument about how an F on a traditional scale is disproportionate with the rest of the grade levels.  So I made the following adjustments to my formula:

The way this works is the even if you don’t master a single goal in my class you will have a 50% on a percentage scale which is obviously still an F.  I still wanted to put more weight on the core goals and less on the advanced.  So this seemed to have solved the problem.  As I analyzed the percentages based on this formula it seemed to me to pass the “eye test.”  What I mean by that is that if I was able to subjectively give letter grades this formula better matched letters grades to what I thought students should have earned.

I’m sure this isn’t the perfect system, and ideally we could avoid the dreaded letter grades all together, but I just don’t see a way around that right now.  I wanted to have a system that could be backed up by the data, and some way I could justify a student’s grade.  For now this seems to have done the trick, however parents haven’t received Report Cards in the mail yet.  I might have to edit this post next week…

My SBG Story

My journey towards Standards Based Grading started about a year ago (Fall 2011).  It just so happens that is when I discovered the Physics Education Blog world.  As I have stated in previous posts I give a lot of credit to Frank Noschese and Kelly O’Shea for many things I’ve picked up in the last year.  In terms of SBG I give these two ALL the credit!  I started reading their blog posts and ideas about what SBG is, how it works, and most importantly how to implement it.

2011-12 School Year
By about November last year I was convinced.  This is the way I needed to go.  The problem was of course changing “in-year.”  However, I am lucky because I just so happen to teach a Physics 2 class which is only 2nd semester.  My roster for this class was entirely seniors.  So I decided to experiment.  I presented the grading system to my 13 students as just that, and experiment.  My principal supported my idea without needing much convincing.  He just warned that I had a well documented plan to have on file.  Their wasn’t really any initial backlash from students or parents, so I considered that a victory.

I did run into some initial struggles, but nothing too major.  Our school has really pushed student and parent involvement through monitoring grades online,  so when I didn’t have a good way for that to happen I had some issues.  I ended up printing paper copies for each student ever couple of weeks.  I used ActiveGrade from the beginning to monitor and track students progress for myself, but I never explored it enough to figure out all the details (like how to allow students to login).  This is something that I have since resolved.

The other problem I had was creating well worded and good standards for units on Light and Waves.  I found plenty of good examples for mechanics, but not these.  I ended up relying mostly on the “Unit Goals” from the Modeling curriculum.  I did this in-semester rather than planning ahead, and that proved to be a challenge.  This will be much better this year, as I have my goals written going in.

Overall, my 13 seniors liked the idea of NO HOMEWORK and a weekly quiz for me to see where they were at.  They realized the quizzes were low pressure, but still worked to do well and get mastery scores.  I didn’t do official “reassessment requests” each week, but a couple of time during the semester I gave the class larger assessments, where all the problems were optional.  Students opted to complete only the questions that were relevant to the goals they hadn’t mastered yet.  I also did a reassessment assignment that included students video taping themselves working through a problem.  Only a few took me up on this offer, but those that did did a nice job of explaining what they knew.  I was able to tell if the truly “get it” or exactly where their conceptual breakdown occurred.

By the end of the semester students saw my grading system in a positive light, and I never had to defend it once to an enraged parent!

2012-13 School Year
This fall I have expanded my use of SBG to my Physics 1 class.  This class is a year long and consists entirely of Modeling Mechanics.  A lot of work has been done by other already to establish a system and standards for the Modeling Mechanics material, so naturally I relied heavily on that.  Below I have links to my Student/Parent Handout as well as my Goals for each mechanics unit.

If all goes well this school year I am planning to make the total change over to SBG next year, expanding to Chemistry as well.  I plan to continue to post idea, questions, and thoughts as they come up this year.

Learning Goals Based Grading

Physics 1 Learning Goals

2013-14 School Year 
I have again expanded my use of SBG to my Chemistry 1 classes in addition to Physics 1 and 2.  I’m really excited about using SBG in chemistry this year as well.  I saw how much it helped and focused my physics students last year, so to see that extend to chemistry will be good. 

The one big change I’ve made in my system is that I’m going to a 3 point scale for feedback purposes as opposed to using a 2 point scale.  The scale is defined as:

3 (Green) = Mastery has been demonstrated

2 (Yellow) = Developing Mastery – This indicates you are missing a minor piece of conceptual understanding, and/or that you have made a minor error in your reasoning process.

1 (Red) = Minimal Mastery – This indicated you are missing a major piece of conceptual understanding and/or you have made a major error in your reasoning process.

0 (Black) = No Data/Attempt

I’m going to use the colors on students quizzes and other assessments to try to get away from the “points-system” altogether.  The point values will simply be for ease in entering scores into ActiveGrade.  Although the scale changes students will still need to reach the “green” level for me to count the goal as mastered.  The yellow and red levels will better help me provide feedback for my students.  Giving them a more quantitative measurement of if they are close or far away from mastering the goal.  Last year I used the Yes/No scale and No was everything from minor mistakes or thinking to complete lack of understanding.  I wanted a better way to help students know exactly where they stand.  We’ll see how it goes.

I’m also attaching my revised document explaining Learning Goals Based Grading to my students and parents, and my Goals for Chemistry 1.

Chemisrty I Learning Goals

Learning Goals Based Grading – Explained