Philosophically, I appreciate the debate over grading in schools. I even agree with parts of Alphie Kohn's case against grading. All that being said, in a few weeks I go back to school. To my classroom. To a vocation I LOVE. To a career that provides for my family. And grades are a reality. They are required. They aren't going away.
Keeping this in mind, it does me no good as an educator to engage in debates around the efficacy of grading. I simply want to serve my students the best I can. And, in some ways, I don't think grades should be terminated. Perhaps it is up to us, as educators, to develop new, and thoughtful "hacks" to our current system.
To maximize the A-F system in our favor. In a way that serves our students. Builds metacognition. Limits apathy. Motivates. etc., etc., etc. I believe this is possible. And, here's the clincher: IT IS MORE POSSIBLE THAN WAKING UP TOMORROW AND GRADES BEING ELIMINATED. SO, IT'S ON ME TO BE BETTER FOR MY STUDENTS.
So...in the spirit of sharing super tangible, grassroots techniques, below is what I'm going to try next semester. Disclaimer: It involves some "old school" moves, such as transitioning to a teacher paper and pen gradebook, but please know, it is all in the spirit of pedagogy. In the spirit of my Ed Tech Mission statement if you will.
This revised system will provide students with the ability to constantly know their "grade" in our class, while simultaneously developing enhanced student awareness of their own performance and build student agency over the grading process.
I have written in the past (click here and here) about my transition from formal lab reporting to the use of Google Slides as a student form of reporting lab work.
Today I sat down to begin the arduous process of finalizing all fall semester grades for my sophomore chemistry class and the benefit of using Google Slides their lab reporting format was clearly evident!
My final "stack of papers" to grade was a shared folder full with our final lab practical reports: a group experiment where students determined the optimal H2-O2 ratio to fill a 2L bottle fo for maximum product upon ignition.
Not only was I able to grade each project directly from my phone, but embedded video of procedures, screenshots of calculations, and clear images of laboratory procedures made for a meaningful assessment process.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, the process of student creation and curation of their work using a Google Slide template (click here for the one used in this activity), was fluid, easy, and put the learning, rather than the reporting, at the forefront.
Below is an embed of one group's "report".
Recently I stumbled upon a series of videos called "5 Levels of Difficulty". In each video an expert explains a difficult concept in 5 levels of increasing complexity:
I was inspired by this video series for a few reasons. First, it reminded me how explaining a difficult concept to a novice and expert audience simultaneously requires deep conceptual knowledge and how listening to such an explanation helps to build simultaneous conceptual and mechanical knowledge of a concept. Second, it motivated me to reimagine how I assess my students.
Keeping the above in mind, for our unit on Cellular Respiration in my freshman Biology course, rather than assign a traditional topic exam, I decide to create a variation of the 5 Levels of of Difficulty videos shown above that will serve as the assessment for this topic. In short, students will create similar videos explaining Cellular Respiration at 3 rather than 5 levels of difficulty.
I have embedded a document below that explains the intricacies of the assignment. Click here to view the spreadsheet where student "3 Levels of Difficulty" scripts and videos will be collected.
Before every major assessment I like to facilitate review activities in class. That being said, I can only handle the Kahoot theme song so much, play so many games of "Chemistry Jeopardy", or figure out another variation of Periodic Table Battleship to satisfy review of the whatever skills we are learning that topic.
Not that there is anything wrong with the above games, or the myriad of variations. Indeed, if I played Kahoot everyday my students would be STOKED!
However, the above review games, in my mind, always fall short in one area: student creation/invention.
This is where Google Forms is a powerful tool! During the past unit on Formula Analysis, distributed a different problem to each team of students.
I then asked each of students to input their solution AND a Youtube video of them solving their problem on a whiteboard into a Google Form.
I then made the output spreadsheet public, and students spent time solving one another's problems, and watching one another's solutions when they were stuck.
Although not as superficially engaging as Kahoot, watching students invent videos to explain their problems, and negotiate not only the problem, but also how to teach it, was incredibly inspiring, and IMO, much more engaging from an outside perspective.
Although this post is represents an extremely simple application of Google Forms, one I'm sure many of you have already done before or experimented with in the past, the power of immediately sharing the output formula with students, containing live links to the videos THEY created, was worth sharing.
Click here for the Google Form and here for the output spreadsheet. See screenshots below as well.
I normally only post nerdy ideas regarding chemistry teaching, tech hacks, and a myriad of other random things related to STEM education. However, after reading the recent debates regarding the efficacy and appropriattness of homework online this past week, I feel a need to comment. Before I begin, I'm just going to out myself directly and say I DO assign homework. I assign homework after every class period. I enjoy incorporating homework into my practice and find it meaningful, for my practice. With that said, this post is meant to be a response to the superlative and polarizing conversation I am observing regarding homework. More importantly, the oversimplification of a very nuanced pedagogical strategy. Below are my thoughts regarding the major arguments against homework I have read.
Argument 1: Equity at home.
Argument 2: Use of classroom time.
Argument 3: Students stress.
Argument 4: Student passion. Student play.
For me, homework is a complex and controversial aspect of our vocation because of the reasons (and many more) stated above. With that said, I also firmly believe, that well intentioned, growing, and passionate teachers, understand their discipline, environmental context and most importantly, students, well enough to see the homework debate as a spectrum, one that has some good points to make, and one that does not. For me, I am not a fan of anything that uses superlative statement in a career that is so nuanced. Students aren't electrons or plants. Neither are teachers. That's what makes the social sciences so great! We can plan, and research, and grow, but in the end, our relationships with our students will guide the decisions we make. Teaching is an art. I alluded to assessment above, and I think that is one feature of teaching that should be incorporated into all conversations about homework. Keeping that in mind, and the knowledge that I AM JUST ONE TEACHER among millions, I want to share my homework strategy, because this is my blog, where I share ideas :).
As a chemistry teacher, I assign a problem set from our book for homework over the course of one learning cycle (usually about two weeks).. Usually about 30 problems. We use our time in class for negotiating lab phenomena, asking and answering conceptual questions. We also use our class time for negotiating and working together on VERY difficult problems. When a two week "learning cycle" is over, students take a quiz. The quiz looks very similar to the problems from the practice set and the phenomena discussed in class. I DO NOT GRADE HOMEWORK. However, the students work through it because it helps them prepare for the assessment. I give traditional assessment because I believe in the skills it builds in students, and for that reason, all of our questions are short answer, and ask students to think critically through situations. This is true for my AP AND non-AP sections.
When that is all said and done, students write a blog post where they reflect on the homework problems, those they understand and didn't, the labs in class, and the quiz. Click here to see my students's blogs. In addition to the quiz, this blog is the only other thing I grade. I care about their reflection, not checking off their "reps". This process, I feel, models what we want from our students. We want them to develop a Growth Mindset. We want them to reflect. We want them to publish their work and be strong digital citizens. All of these things can't be reserved forthe 50 minutes that I have them in class. Homework is a simple term, for a complex phenomena, and is just one facet of the vocation. I challenge all of my colleagues to respect the art of teaching, as deep attention to that, will create a culture of meaningful work, some which will naturally seep outside of the regularly scheduled classroom time. That's just MY opinion. Thanks for reading :).