Another Rubric Update


I think I may be on to something with this newest rubric. What it says:

What I did with it (in pictures):

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How it goes in my gradebook (SocraticBrain):

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#phonespockets First attempt: quick reflections



So I am jumping on the #phonespockets bandwagon. I just hit record on the voice recording app on my phone, stuck it in my pocket, and then went about teaching. That was yesterday. Today, I listened to the recording (~10 minutes). Here are a few quick noticings:

1.) I was a little self conscious at first, but after a few minutes I forgot I was recording. I set a timer to remind me when 10 minutes was up so I could stop recording. It didn’t interfere with the class in the way that video recording sometimes does.

2.)  Background noise was not as bad as I thought it would be. I constantly worry that the room is too loud, making it hard to concentrate. But I want kids talking to each other (learning is social and all) so I have to resist the urge to quiet everyone down. Listening to the recording, the room doesn’t seem too loud really. I can clearly hear not only my own voice but also the voice of the student I’m talking to at the time. It’ll be interesting to see if this holds for other classes as well, in particular my big class later today.

3.) I only talked to 4  kids the whole 10 minutes. This is something I’ve also been thinking a lot about; how do I make sure to have authentic, useful conversations with students but also be fair about getting to everyone? Talking to 4 kids in 10 minutes means I averaged 2.5 min/kid. So in a class of 27, I would need 68 minutes to get to everyone. Some days that’s doable (I’ve got 90 minute blocks), but I suppose I don’t need to reach every kid every day. But in that case, I need to think more about tracking these convos so that I don’t always end up helping the same students and ignoring others.

4.) I am pretty good about using wait time after asking a question, but I could stand to add a few seconds to my usual wait time. I also need to utilize follow up questions better. For situations like this:

Me: “What are you going to do next?”

S: “I don’t know”

Me: <makes a suggestion>



Updated SBG Rubric – Physics


I am writing this post mostly as an update to this one now that I have been playing with my SBG rubric for a while. To start with, check this out:


This is one of my “Challenge Problems”. It is a chance for students to show me evidence of their mastery of any or all of the learning targets for a unit. Notice the rubric in there? I put a check next to a target if I see solid evidence of that skill (very minor mistakes only). Then I give feedback in the blanks. So far I like the small blanks, they encourage me to keep it short and sweet. If I need to say more to a student than that, I probably need to talk to them in person anyway.

This is the final part of the rubric for the unit. To earn the previous two levels for each learning target:

Level 1: Complete some class activities. Show them to the teacher for feedback (or to level up and move on). When possible, Level 1 can also be earned through a multiple choice scenario. In either case, Level 1 is about showing some basic knowledge of the topic or skill.

Level 2: Ace a multiple choice quiz. These are short and only one topic at a time, although a student could take as many different quizzes as they want in a single sitting. There is a 12 hr wait time for re-takes. All questions are randomly generated, either from a bank of possible questions or the same questions with different numbers. Level 2 is all about applying the skill in a problem solving situation (but still in isolation).

Level 3: Demonstrate evidence of the skill in coordination with the other skills in the unit. Students know ahead of time what the Challenge Problem will look like because Level 3 is about knowing what good evidence looks like. This is why my rubric in the example above doesn’t have info for the students. Part of this task is figuring out what “Level 3” looks like for each skill. It’s not totally up to them to figure this out though. We have activities built into the unit where we explicitly talk about what Level 3 looks like for each one. Plus they can attempt the challenge problem multiple times, getting feedback each time.

Level 4: Ah, level 4, you continue to prove elusive. I’ve got a place for this level in my gradebook, but so far have not really used it. I’ve talked about using some sort of super-ultra-mega-challenge problems, or a short student directed project (my fav idea) but so far haven’t followed through😦.

Here’s an example of how my gradebook looks now:

Project Rubrics Part 1


I want my engineering class to be project based. So I’m currently reading Setting the Standard for PBL. 


One of the first challenges for me is to make sure that students are learning the stuff I want them to learn. It seems to me that it’s all about documentation. I want them to be able to show me what they’ve learned at different points in the project. In Setting the Standard, the authors describe “checkpoints” in projects. At each of these checkpoints, student work can be critiqued for quality and then revised. The critiques should come from other students, teachers, and (when possible) experts in the field. I think if I design a good rubric, it could be used for these critiques, but also to document key knowledge and understandings based on standards. Here’s the plan:

First, a rubric that includes knowledge/skills/understandings. That way the person filling it out knows what to look for. But I am thinking it should be an all or nothing score (no numbers or other indicators). Either the artifact shows evidence of the skill or it doesn’t. If you’re not sure, then it doesn’t. All sides know ahead of time that this won’t affect the group’s grade on the project, it’s just for documentation.

Next, a feedback section on the rubric. This includes what products should have been created (different for each group, so they probly have to create this part). Here, there is only a description of the perceived quality of the product and some suggestions for improvements. This part is all about getting the group to focus on craftsmanship and quality. Again, both sides know this doesn’t affect the grade.

With these two parts of the rubric completed, each student will have a clear picture of what they’ve learned as well as what revisions to make to their product to improve quality.

So what do they turn in?

  • Each student turns in a project checkpoint. This includes all products their group has created for the project as well as several two part rubrics. The method of submitting will be determined by the nature of the project.
  • Each student turns in the rubrics that they have completed for another group.

So what goes in the gradebook?

Right now I am thinking that none of the info from the rubric needs to go in the gradebook. The students will get credit for two things:

  1. Turning in a project checkpoint. The grade is not based on the quality or quantity of products included, just that it’s turned in. The rubrics need to be included, but the score is not based on what the rubrics say (just that they are included). Documentation is the key!
  2. Turning in the rubric and critique they did of another group’s checkpoint entry.

Because students tend to value what they get grades for, this signals to them that what I value is documentation of the process and critique and revision, not initial quality of their products.

What I still need to think through:

What do I do when a student turns in a project checkpoint that does not show evidence of revision based on previous critiques? Do they lose points or is it enough to have turned something in? Will I even need to worry about this once the right culture is established?

What does the feedback section of the rubric look like? Does it need to be different for each project or group? Or can it be standardized?

Learning by doing, and other things that happened today


So I was really pumped up today in our weekly PD time for two reasons:

  1. We had choices about what to work on and whom to work with.
  2. The task was open ended. No product was required and no methods were prescribed. 

The choices we had were all dispositions that we are looking for in students. The one I chose to work on was “inventive”. As in we want our students to be inventive, how do we make it happen? 

There were three of us that chose this topic and we all seemed to be on the same page about a few things:

  • The problems have to be real. One teacher said “we don’t want their work to go up on the fridge, we want them to make the fridge”.
  • They need an authentic audience. As in not the teacher and rest of the class.
  • The problems have to be important to the individual student. 
  • Grades get in the way. We may not be able to get rid of them, but if we want kids taking risks, we have to get the grades out of the way.
  • Project based learning is the way to get kids inventing. And the less we prescribe, the better. Open ended projects will get us the most creative results. 

What struck me as I started to think about this short list is that these are the exact same reasons why I was pumped up about the work we did today. Chosen by us, no prescribed product, authentic audience, real (and important) problems. 

Learning by doing, I see what you did there. 

Also, this happened today: 



A kid made these after I told the class we needed something better than tape to hold these doors in the unlocked position. A few notes:

  • Not a graded assignment 
  • Kid chose to work on it
  • Audience = the facilities manager and maintenance workers

Our facilities manager liked them a lot. And he brought us another project: 

Apparently these are absurdly expensive if you only need one or two. So we’re gonna make one. Getting the font right and the raised Braille lettering correct will be the hard parts here I think. 

This reminds me, I’ve been meaning to ask, do you have something that’s broken and could maybe be fixed with some inventiveness and 3D printing skills? Bring it on, Lion Design Team can handle it. Will you be our authentic audience? We’ll do a Google Hangout and you can show us if it worked!

Thoughts on Teaching Engineering Practices


I am teaching Engineering this year. In this class, I really do feel like a mentor in the room, a partner in learning. I think the big difference is that the class really is project based. I haven’t quite figured out how to assess appropriately just yet, but I am sticking to the “here’s a problem, GO!” mentality. Our most recent one looks like this:

And here are some students working on it:

(note: Not staged. And I assigned no roles, just the problem.)

The kid on the left is modeling a plastic holder for a magnet that will have a name embossed on the side. He’s learning and practicing  skills in Autodesk Inventor (our 3D CAD software). He chose this role in the group as he is passionate about 3D modeling and printing.

The kid in the middle is measuring the magnets with a dial caliper. He is learning about precision in measurements and asked some excellent questions about significant digits.

The kid on the right is documenting the process in her engineering notebook. She has assigned herself this role because she is thorough and has a good eye for detail. She also keeps the group on track by doing this.

All three of them are learning and practicing communication and collaboration skills to solve this problem. They had to clearly define the problem and then brainstorm solutions before getting to this point. And now that they’ve arrived at their potential solution, they are working together to develop it.

So, I think they are hitting NGSS Practices 6 and 8 in particular:

6. Designing solutions in engineering

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

But do I want a “Teamwork” section on my rubric? If so, what exactly makes a high score in “Teamwork”? Clearly, these three kids are rocking it. But what about another team that has a different dynamic? It’ll be hard to judge, but does mean I can’t? Not sure.

So here’s my rubric for now. My plan is to have the teams assess themselves with this rubric and then turn it in as part of their project portfolio.

Why are we doing this?


I feel the need to come back to the question again. The other day, my school had its first all faculty PD in which we discussed the new school wide goal. The admin team did a great job coming up with the goal. They got ideas from each department, tried to look for commonalities, and then came up with:

What does it mean to “do your best work”?

artwork via: (a former Lusher student)

I think it’s a bit vague (maybe that’s the point?) and I feel like I already have a possible answer:

You do your best work when you really care about the end result.

(implied -> “…not just a grade”)

For example, I am writing this blog with certain readers in mind: Twitter folks Dan, Anna, and Alex. We chatted about this earlier and I wanted to get some ideas out there, so I am writing this blog post. I care about what I’m writing here because I really don’t want to waste their time (or anyone else’s who might read this). It might be different if this was a class assignment, “Write a blog post about what it means to do your best work” for instance. (Side note, if this was that assignment how would it affect my writing to have a specific grading rubric attached to it?)

So I’m not writing this to “check a box” as Dan alludes to here (in reference to some required observation form):

Ok, so then my goal should be to create tasks for students that have this quality to them. They’re doing the task for some reason other than to check off a box (where in their case, they check the box because if they don’t then their grade might go down).

Hmmm, so I’m a little stumped on this one for my Physics class at the moment. Maybe connect my tasks to something from pop culture so it’s interesting? A Martian themed problem?

Or would that just be “dressing up the material”? Dunno. But I think one thing I have been doing that helps is to disconnect the grade from the process. As students move through the unit, they are learning certain skills in order to solve one big challenge problem. Here’s an example:


In the gradebook, they only get one grade for the unit. And it’s never 100% clear how their progress towards solving the challenge problem translates into this grade. Of course, their progress is tracked on the various skills as they go; they can see where they need to put in more work. So, I haven’t totally eliminated the “what do I need for a B?” questions, but I think I’ve started to shift away from it.

Anyway, I think I’ve had more success this year in my engineering class.  I have made up a few design challenges for them to work on. The first one was this:

And I didn’t have to do much else besides show them this page to get them working on it.

They were learning the design process and collaboration skills in addition to basic circuits and conductivity of materials. They were practicing their sketching skills and documenting everything they thought up and tried out.


I’m not gonna pretend that every kid was engaged the whole time OR that none of the kids were doing these things just to get a good grade. But I can say that I didn’t receive the usual “what do we do next?” or “how are you grading us on this?” or “what do I need for a B?” questions. I’d say that’s progress!

How do we get a culture shift away from grades and towards learning?

So I think this is what I have so far:

  1. The problem and/or purpose must be meaningful and/or real. I still don’t know how I would do this in Algebra 1, although I did try a story based class last year in which they were solving problems to save an alien race from extinction.
  2. The grading can’t be a focus when presenting a project. For example, I have a rubric for the project they are working on now, but they haven’t seen it yet. They’re just mini engineers trying to solve a real problem. Now that I think about it, even when they do see the rubric, it’s not clear from seeing it what their grade might be. It looks like it might be out of 24 “points”, but that doesn’t mean 23/24 is a 96%. I will have to stick a grade on it at some point (begrudgingly), but where the grade came from is not totally clear (similar to my physics unit grades). There’s a little bit of “magic black box” in there between completing the task and getting the grade. Maybe I’m on to something with this “magic black box”? Thoughts?