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>



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?

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.

Marshmallows and Buggys and Wild Ideas!


First week down and one of my goals for this year is to blog at least once a week, so here I go!

In physics, we did marshmallow towers and then Buggy Lab. I loved the way we did marshmallow towers this year because we did them twice. The first time was at the freshmen orientation, so it was a great activity to do with the new kiddos, meet a bunch of them and have some fun. Most towers failed.


Pixel face here looks like he’s enjoying it nonetheless.

But that’s the point. They try out these amazing tall designs and realize too late that they aren’t sturdy enough to hold a marshmallow. Last year, that was the end of it. We just discussed what I wanted them to take away from the activity. But this year, they got to experience the takeaway. The second time we did the challenge, students were armed with a few new tricks:

1.) they knew of at least 3 designs that wouldn’t work because they all took pictures of their first fails

2.) they knew that the secret was to place the marshmallow on top first and build up from there

Almost every group had a successful tower the second time around. What a powerful visual to promote a growth mindset! A bunch of failed towers one day, a bunch of awesome sturdy structures the next! BAM!

IMG_1212 IMG_1216

We also did our buggy lab this week and I think I’ve got the setup for this one down. But I’m never sure how much to feed the students about the structure. This year, I gave away a little more than usual. I told them to make sure to include a graph, equation, sentence, and motion map, and I helped them out with creating all of them as needed. Some might say “well, um, isn’t that your job?”. Yeah, but it still feels a little weird, like I’m robbing them of a good learning experience. But in the end I think I did the right thing here. My science dept’s big goal is improving scientific investigation skills. And one of the things I’ve been doing wrong is not providing enough scaffolding early on in the year. Here’s the handout we used:

And here’s a board ready to go into the discussion next class:


Ok, so that’s it for marshmallows and buggys, what about the Wild Ideas I promised?! Well, in my Intro to Engineering and Design class (awesome right?!), we did a challenge where they had to get a HotWheels car to travel between two tables on a fishing line. One of the materials they had to accomplish this task was a balloon. So one group had the idea to put their car inside the balloon and then blow it up and tape a paper clip to it to attach to the line. It totally worked! Sorry no pictures, but take my word for it, it was awesome!

And that’s one of our first lessons for the class. Don’t throw out any wild ideas, sometimes they’re the best ones. Also, sometimes they suck and the boring-est idea turns out to be the best. But the ability to tell the difference and pick the winner makes for a good engineer. I’ll take pictures next time. 🙂