Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Peer Feedback with Forms

Class presentations are a lot of fun, and it’s essential to give students the experience of speaking in front of others. Very early on in my teaching career, I realized it was difficult to keep presentations flowing, because in the transition time between presenters, students saw this as an opportunity to chat–and they had a tough time settling down again. Repeat this 30+ times, and we have one frustrated Ms. V.

Around the same time I decided to have students start to provide peer feedback for student presentations. They would fill out a Google Form (here’s an example or make a copy) after each presenter. Yes, after. I expect their iPads “apple up” on their desks while their peer is presenting, both as a sign of respect and to eliminate other distractions.

TAG Feedback template

Unintended results! Off-task behavior between presentations was almost nonexistent! Students had something meaningful to do between the time it took for the presenter to sit down, and then next student to get up and connect their iPad.

One of the things I’m working on with students is how to write feedback. I’m realizing that I need to provide more sentence frames to help students share what the student does well, and what they can do to improve. I’ve used TAG Feedback, and it has helped!

This peer evaluation form has been such a big hit, that now I’m tasked with creating copies for all our AVID teachers when we do presentation projects.

Below are some tricks I’ve made data analysis even easier!

Conditional Formatting
I use conditional formatting on Sheets to change the fill color for each rubric level. I can glance at the spreadsheet, and see overall how peers feel the presenter did.

Screenshot of student project feedback.

Form Values
Form Values is an incredible add-on for Forms. It creates a template spreadsheet where you can create lists that can then be imported into a Form for a multiple choice, checkbox, or dropdown question. I use this for my class lists, so I don’t have to constantly type in names into the “my name” and “presenter’s name” questions.

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Form Values add-on

RowCall is an add-on for Sheets that takes all the unique values in a column, and creates individual sheets for each value. The way I use it is to separate each student presenter into their own tab. Then, I can quickly see how each student did, without having to sort or filter the main sheet. In the past, I’ve printed each student’s tab. Lately, I’ve asked students if they’re ok if I share the whole spreadsheet view only with all students (via Google Classroom), and I have not had any objections. They like seeing their own feedback, and also learning from how their peers were evaluated too.

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RowCall add-on

I’d love to hear how you use peer feedback in your classroom! 

Classroom Strategies, Science

Bringing State Parks into our Classroom with PORTS

Parks Online Resources for Students and Teachers, or PORTS, is a phenomenal and engaging program for K-12 students and their teachers. It’s offered through the California State parks, and is open to all classrooms! Yes, even y’all outside California!

Chatting with Ranger Francesca from Crystal Cove State Park

Last year was my first opportunity to participate in PORTS. My classes talked with Ranger Jennifer at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, and learned more about weather and climate. Although her program was geared for grades 3-5, she was excited to speak with older students and have slightly different conversations.

This year, my 7th grade science students had the opportunity to video chat with Ranger Francesca from the Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, CA about habitat protection and restoration. Just like Ranger Jennifer, Ranger Francesca was delightful to work with! She was engaging, patient, and excited to share her park with our class. Students were attentive as she showed us around her park, displayed and annotated graphics, and answered their questions. At the end, we even had time to ask Ranger Francesca about her college experience and why she picked this career.

The video chat was done through Zoom, which was perfect because Ranger Francesca was able to show and annotate graphics during our presentation.

Students were super engaged while chatting with Ranger Francesca

To prepare for our video chat, I modified some of the provided lessons in the unit, and adapted them for our needs. I also let the ranger know ahead of time what we had studied so far, to make our time more efficient. For example, for habitat protection and restoration, we were already ⅔ of the way through our ecology unit, and had studied ecosystems, food webs, and resource availability.

Although it isn’t required or suggested in the program, I also asked my students to write thank you letters to our guest speakers. Many have little experience writing thank you letters, so we brainstormed sentence frames and what to include together (“Thank you for talking to our class about… “ or “Thank you for taking time to talk to us…” or “My favorite part was…”). Many students also drew pictures showing what they learned.

I highly recommend PORTS to all K-12 teachers! It’s a ton of fun, and the kids love it! They’ve been talking about it non-stop for the last 2 weeks!

Classroom Strategies

Creating and Implementing Mastery-Based Assignments

This is the third blog post in my Mastery-Based Grading series. The first post, My Journey to Mastery-Based Grading talks about the why’s and a little bit of the how’s, and the second post, Tracking Data in Mastery-Based Grading discusses how I keep track of student data.

Many have asked about example Mastery Tasks, and what this looks like in my classroom. I’ll be entirely honest that this post is a little intimidating to write, knowing I’m not the only one who does Mastery-Based Grading, and I still have a lot to learn. But, you know what, that’s the best part! I model a growth mindset for my students in that I am always learning and finding ways to improve.

Day-to-day in the Classroom

Our day-to-day doesn’t look too much different than it did before. However, I am more focused on the end product as we do lessons, labs, and activities. In my first post, I detail the overall Mastery-Based workflow in classroom instruction.

Since I don’t grade anything other than Mastery Tasks, many have asked how I hold my students accountable for their classwork and homework. For homework, that’s easy–I don’t assign homework (except on the very rare “if you don’t finish it in class, it’s homework!”). For classwork, I do a mix of stamping and checking work before students can leave. Even the prospect of being dismissed 30 seconds after their friends is enough to motivate students to get work completed correctly before the bell. Additionally, after a while, most students realize that what we do in class is directly related to our Mastery Tasks, and therefore will benefit them.

Playing “Oh Deer!” in science, in preparation for a mastery task!

If you’re thinking, “this will never work for my students/my school!” please stop for a moment to reconsider. My school is one of the lowest performing in our district, we have attendance and behavior challenges, and parent engagement is almost non-existent. But. My students work hard, because I believe in them and we have created a classroom community where they are safe and supported. I rarely have behavior challenges in class, simply because my students believe they can succeed.

Planning for Mastery Tasks

With my PLC, we start with our Next Generation Science Standards, and try to distill down exactly what my students need to know and do. The Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices guide us to the “how” of mastery. Since writing Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) paragraphs is one of our essential skills in science, many of the Mastery Tasks have students write a CER based on a lab or activity. Other Mastery Tasks are videos, lab reports (usually using Google Slides), or digital/analog creations such as comic strips or mini posters.

The rest of my 7th grade science PLC has not implemented Mastery-Based Grading…yet! They are interested, and are hoping to introduce it next school year. The 8th grade science teachers are using it, so thankfully I’m not entirely alone.

That being said, many of my Mastery Tasks are still common assessments, even though they are graded slightly differently.

Example Mastery Task

Below is a screenshot of a Mastery Task on Google Classroom. Attached to the assignment are instructions, the Doc students will edit, and sentence frames to support struggling students (provided on the day of the lesson to specific students, then added to the assignment later to help students with revisions).

Screenshot of a mastery task on Google Classroom

Students did a lab on the Law of Conservation of Mass, where they mix baking soda and vinegar in a flask with a balloon over the top. This lab was glued in students interactive notebooks, and students wrote the first draft of their CER in their notebooks.

Then, students traded notebooks with a partner, and used 3 colors to underline the claim, evidence, and reasoning. They also identified how their partner did based on the rubric. This was both an informal assessment of the partner’s CER and of the grading student’s ability to identify claim, evidence, and reasoning. When students received their notebooks back, they then went to Google Classroom and typed their CER into the Mastery Task Google Doc.

This Mastery Task came about a week after another CER on chemical reactions, where almost every student initially earned an In Progress grade. This led us to add in the additional draft, peer feedback, and finally their Mastery Task draft.

I love mixing in analog projects as well, such as One Pagers and 11×17 mini posters. While watching “The Lorax” movie, students analyzed it for how humans impact ecosystems and created a One Pager based on what they learned. You’ll notice there’s a spot in the corner for a stamp. This allows me to check the One Pager in class and stamp it. Then, students take a picture and submit it to the Mastery Task. If I see a stamp, I know it’s automatically Mastery. If there isn’t a stamp, then I know I need to check it (zoom in a bit, usually), and provide feedback either way.

The Lorax one pager, student example

Some Mastery Tasks are entirely skill-based. I have chosen to include notebook checks as Mastery Tasks because my students are working on their organization skills. They self-check their notebooks and answer a few reflection questions, then turn in pictures of both. I know some teachers may disagree with this, but it’s what works for me and my students.

Each 18 week semester comes down to about 20 Mastery Tasks. It’s not always one per week. Some weeks have none, while others have two.

Advice for getting started

Don’t be afraid to jump in and try! Use an assessment you already have, add a mastery rubric, ask students to complete the assignment, provide feedback, and allow them unlimited opportunities to revise and resubmit their work. Take it one step further by asking students for feedback on how to improve the assignment, and what lessons or activities were helpful in preparing them for the mastery task.

As I said in my first post, one of my next big steps is using One-Point Rubrics, simplifying the feedback process, and allowing me to give more targeted and individualized feedback. I love that I can grow as a teacher as my kids grow as students!

What was do you use to assess mastery in your classroom?

Classroom Strategies

Tracking Data in Mastery-Based Grading

I recently blogged about how I’ve implemented Mastery-Based Grading in my 7th grade science classroom. There have been a lot of questions and words of encouragement, and I’m loving this discussions.

All that has led me to write a few follow-up posts. This one is more of the nitty-gritty how-to’s that have worked for me. I hope I can help some of you keep better track of your students’ grades for Mastery-Based Grading!

I use Google Classroom + Jupiter Grades (fairly traditional gradebook) + this spreadsheet to keep track of my students’ progress and grades. I know that’s a triplicate of each grade, but each place serves its purpose within the resources available at my school. So, I don’t mind a couple seconds of extra work if it benefits my students.

In this post, I’ll break down how each is used in my workflow.

Google Classroom

All Mastery Tasks are posted in a Google Classroom that all 3 of my classes are enrolled in. It’s personal preference–for me, it makes it a bit faster to grade all my students at once, rather than separate classes. As I said in my original Mastery-Based Grading post, I also have separate Classroom for each class, where I post announcements and classwork (all ungraded).

Mastery Tasks class on Google Classroom

Each assignment is assigned a topic based on unit, and I try to put in as much of the instructions into the assignment as possible–this helps absent students or students doing their revisions.

On this particular assignment, I also attached sentence frames (thanks for making them, Amy!) after the original assignment. During class, we passed out sentence frames to students who needed the writing scaffold. I attached them after the first submissions for students who earned an In Progress grade, and needed to revise and resubmit.

Mastery Task assignment on Google Classroom.

I change the point value on each assignment to be out of 1. I provide feedback on the assignment in private comments and/or within the assignment (if in Docs or Slides), then enter the corresponding numerical value. A 1 = Mastery (M), a 0 = In Progress (IP) — this is a binary on/off signal, not a point value.

After I’ve graded an assignment, I return it to the students. If they earn Mastery, they don’t need to do anything. If they earn In Progress, they need to read my comments, revise, and resubmit. Sometimes this takes many cycles of feedback before a student earns Mastery!

Jupiter Grades

Jupiter Grades is an online gradebook that our district pays for, and all teachers at my school use. (This is a loaded sentence. We have Infinite Campus for grade reporting, but I find the gradebook difficult to navigate. I only use it to post progress & final grades. We also have Canvas as an LMS, which has its own gradebook. So many options…)

I post M and IP grades in Jupiter because this is where students and parents check their grades.

Google Sheet

Here’s where my nerd shines through. I have a massive “Mastery Student Data” spreadsheet where I track my students Mastery and In Progress. Generally students don’t see this spreadsheet, unless I call them up to show them their row.

Screenshot of my example “Mastery Student Data” spreadsheet.

I love the quick visual of how a class is doing, who is missing multiple assignments, and the total number of masteries per class. All this gives me quick data on which students need more help and attention, and which students are ready to move on.

It’s super easy to customize data for what I need to know about my students. For example, I can create additional columns where I add student tags, such as EL or IEP or GATE. Then, I can use filters to check on how subgroups are doing. Or, I can create graphs for how a specific class is doing on an assignment, unit, or overall–then, I can copy & paste this into our daily Slides for some whole-class data analysis.

My Sheet also calculates students’ current grade based on how many Mastery (green) vs. In Progress (yellow) + missing (gray).

All it took was a little conditional formatting and a lot of formula-ing to make this magic happen.

As much as grading is a tedious and sometimes frustrating process (like those assignments when only 8/86 students earned Mastery…yeah, that has happened…last week!), looking at this nerdy spreadsheet brightens my day.

How do you keep track of mastery data in your classroom?

PS. Stay tuned! Next week’s blog post will talk about creating and implementing Mastery Tasks, and feature examples!

Classroom Strategies

My Journey to Mastery-Based Grading

There are many grading methodologies out there, and I’m sharing what is working for myself and my group of students. Remember, we are all working to do what is best for our students!

The problem:

A few years ago, I switched from a traditional points-based grading scale to standards-based grading. Our district had recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and a couple of us realized we needed to adapt our grading practices to better meet our students’ learning needs. Standards-based grading went just fine because students were accustomed to the 4-3-2-1 grading scale from elementary school. What was factored into their final grades was only standards-aligned assessments.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with standards-based grading. Our online gradebook worked off a traditional platform, and I still needed to report a letter grade on progress reports and report cards.

An even greater issue was that my students would turn in anything in order to make their missing assignments disappear. They would turn in half-finished work just to get their parents and teachers off their backs for the red “missing” next to an assignment. (Honestly, the parents were conditioned to coerce their student to do anything to get rid of “missing assignments” too!)

Science 7 students building molecules and writing chemical formulas as part of a Mastery Task.

With standards-based grading, I’d give my students thorough feedback, ask them to resubmit their work, and even provided time in class for revisions. But, hardly any students took advantage of this! They saw a grade, and stopped there.

I knew I had to make a change.

Trying out Mastery-Based Grading:

I got hooked on the idea of mastery-based grading after playing around with Badge List, and online badging platform that allows me to issue microcredentials for mastery of a subject or skill. I decided to try it out with my students last year. At first there was some confusion for how to submit work, but students quickly got over that, and learned to read through their feedback, then resubmit.

This year, I ultimately decided to switch to Google Classroom to stay consistent with other teachers at my school.

Benefits to my students:

Almost immediately, I noticed a fundamental shift in how my students approached both classwork and “Mastery Tasks.” When students didn’t earn a “Mastery” grade on a Mastery Task, they willingly went back to work to make revisions and resubmit their work.

They adopted a growth mindset without much external encouragement!

And, I saw some of my struggling students working even harder, knowing that it wasn’t too late to prove that they had mastered our science content. By the end of the semester, I saw my students believing in themselves and their academic abilities!

Additionally, I found it much easier to make accommodations for students. It was easy to hand a student some extra sentence frames or a cloze paragraph template or allow students to pick a different way to show mastery. Some of my students with IEPs rose to the top because finally they were being assessed against their current abilities, rather than one set standard for the whole class.

As for the students who would submit anything just to have that “missing” disappear. They quickly learned that an “In Progress” grade showed up in red too!

About 2/3 of the way through the spring 2017 semester, I received multiple emails from an angry parent wondering why her son was not passing science. “He turned in all his work!” she kept saying–it took both myself and our Community Relations Facilitator to show her that her son was turning in work far below his ability level, receiving detailed feedback (each time with the date of feedback), and making only minimal changes with each revision. Suddenly, her son began turning in work at his ability level, and I didn’t hear any more from her!

How Mastery-Based Grading is implemented in my classroom:

I use Google Classroom to push out Mastery Tasks to my students. They are all enrolled in the “Mastery Tasks” class and then each class period is in their own “Science 7” class. The only thing posted in the Mastery Tasks class is Mastery Tasks. The Science 7 class is used for announcements, period-specific assignments, and classwork.

Science 7 students working on a lab in preparation to write a CER on chemical reactions for their Mastery Task.

Just as with standards-based grading, each Mastery Task addresses one standard. Some larger standards are separated into multiple assessments.

Additionally, we have a heavy focus on skills (Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) writing, analyzing graphs, and organization)

The general workflow is as follows:

  1. Classwork, including direct instruction, station work, activities, and labs.
  2. Students work on and submit their Mastery Task in class. Mastery-Tasks can include CER paragraphs, videos, pictures of work in their interactive notebook, Socratic Seminar discussions, Slides presentations, etc.
  3. I review students’ work and provide detailed feedback. On Google Classroom, a Mastery = 1 point, and an In Progress = 0 points. Please note, this is not a point value, but rather a binary on/off for mastery.
    1. If students earn a “Mastery (M)” grade, they don’t need to do anything else.
    2. If students earn an “In Progress (IP)” grade, they use the feedback to revise and resubmit their work. Sometimes this takes multiple cycles before they finally achieve mastery.


Mastery Workflow
My Mastery-Based Grading workflow.

In the gradebook, I report M for Mastery, IP for In Progress, and / for Missing. These are set to “info only” rather than point values.

Students are able to calculate their current grade with the following formula: A = 0 In Progress or missing | B = 1 In Progress or missing | C = 2 In Progress or missing | F = 3+ In Progress or missing.

As the semester goes on and we end up with 18-20 Mastery Tasks, I expand the B and C ranges to be 2-3 and 4-5 respectively.

Next steps:

As a teacher, I’m always learning! My students recognize this, and respond back with loads of empathy as I try new things. They readily give me feedback to help us improve our class.

As I grow with Mastery-Based Grading, here are two of my goals:

  1. Use more effective and regular student self-feedback and peer feedback before students turn in a Mastery Task. (Got an example? I’d love to see it!)
  2. Try out Single-Point Rubrics. I’ve used 4-3-2-1 to be consistent with department and district rubrics, and switched over other assignments to a simple Mastery/In Progress rubric. Single-Point Rubrics seem to be everything I am trying to do. Thanks Ben Kovacs for the nudge!

How do your grading practices seek out the best in your students? I’d love to get some new ideas to push me further!

Love this post, here’s how I track data & create Mastery-Tasks (coming soon!).

Classroom Strategies

How I Use Social Media in My Classroom

**This post is cross-posted to the Kid Discover blog “How I Use Social Media in My Classroom” posted on January 29, 2018.

Social media is a big part of many young people’s lives. Instead of fighting against social media in our classrooms and schools, we can come alongside our students and join them on social media! When we bring the learning into their court, we make school more engaging and relevant.

How I use social media in my classroom:

In my 7th grade science class, I use Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to share what we are learning with my students and their parents. This is an optional and extracurricular activity for my students; in order to participate, a student’s parent must sign our classroom social media contract to give their student permission to participate.

At the beginning of the year, we discuss appropriate posting and interactions on social media, the purpose, and the benefits of using this in our classroom. My students generally love having their work and activities highlighted, especially on Snapchat and Instagram. When posting photos or videos, I am careful not to post individual student faces or names (unless I ask the student for permission first).

As we are doing labs, I will frequently bring my iPad to students to have them take a picture of their work, caption it, allow me to check it, then post the picture to Instagram. Other times, I’ll take a video of students working, then ask a student to write a caption for our Snapchat story. (Bonus: I’ll allow my students to pick a school-appropriate Bitmoji for the Snap, too!)

Sometimes when I travel for conferences or for fun, and I go to a museum or notable location, I will share a picture with my students. They enjoy learning about the world, just like I do!

Last year, we had the opportunity to interact with some experts on Twitter via the class account. After doing a whole-class read aloud of We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (learn more about the read-aloud here), we tweeted to the author to ask her questions about the book and about her writing process.

I handed my iPad to a student, they took the picture and captioned it.

Getting started:

Personally, I think Instagram is the easiest entry point if you are new with social media. Many students and parents use it;it is easy to keep a private account (users must “request” to follow you), and it’s user-friendly. You simply post and caption pictures.

Before you establish a class account, it is essential to check with an administrator to see what your school or district policies are on social media. Many schools and districts have their own accounts that you can connect with, too, if you’re looking for guidance.

You can also use my simple social media contract to alert parents, invite families to participate, and collect student’ usernames. Once students request to follow you, you can verify who they are and if they have permission before accepting their request.

Creating a positive “digital tattoo”:

When considering whether or not to integrate social media into your classroom, it is also important to consider digital citizenship. One of my favorite resources when it comes to digital citizenship is the Common Sense Media digital citizenship curriculum. I use the lessons in my class and at my school to help our student see that what they post online will follow them for the rest of their lives.

Student posing with their work in the computer lab.

While many call this a digital footprint, I prefer to call it a digital tattoo because it is extremely hard to erase something once it goes online — you never know who took a screenshot or saved the image! However, not all tattoos are negative! A tattoo can tell a positive story and have an uplifting message.

As I use social media in my classroom, I reinforce the idea that we need to create positive digital tattoos for ourselves as we post online. My students’ future colleges and employers will Google their name and examine their digital tattoo as a routine part of the acceptance process.

Social media is one of the fun parts of my day! I highly recommend that you create a classroom account and share your classroom highlights!


Digital Citizenship for All!

Digital citizenship is a hot topic, and there are a lot of high quality resources out there. I knew I wanted to do more with my students, but I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed into inaction because of how awesome others were doing in their schools and classrooms. (I definitely was should-ing myself.)

I wasn’t even sure where to start. I checked out the Common Sense Media lessons, and decided to give it a shot. Since then, it’s a constant growing and learning process.

Becoming a Common Sense Media Certified Educator

In the 2015-2016 school year, I taught my way to becoming a Common Sense Media Certified Educator. I implemented Common Sense Media lessons in my AVID 7 classes, had discussions in my Science 7 classes, and ran a few parent engagement opportunities (including a presentation from our School Resource Officer, sent home CSM Family Tip Sheets, and posted resources on the school website).

Now, the process is much more streamlined and simplified. Teachers must complete 2 hours of learning (digital citizenship + digital teaching), 2 hours of teaching, and write a reflection. Plus, they ask that you join the Common Sense Educators group on Facebook–this is a phenomenal community of dedicated and inquisitive teachers.

Screenshot of one of the Common Sense Media lessons via Pear Deck – 7th grade science

For the past 2 years, I’ve upped my game, and extended my certification to become a Common Sense Ambassador. I love the access to extra professional development, resources, and encouragement to share digital citizenship with my PLN.

Journey to Becoming a Common Sense Media Certified School

This school year, I finally got everything together to get us ready to become a Common Sense Media Certified School! As of right now (February 2018), we are in the process of completing our certification requirements.

The requirements are similar to that of the certified educator program, just on a school-wide basis. We are teaching 5+ lessons across 2 grade levels, engaging parents/families in at least 3 ways, and I am providing PD to all our teachers. All 4 core content classes (math, English, science, history) plus PE are teaching lessons. Our elective teachers are teaching lessons if they choose to.

I presented at our district’s Middle School Instructional Showcase on how we’re implementing digital citizenship lessons at our school.

It is essential to note here that we have two self-contained special education classes. And, these classes are participating too. I am teaching four lessons from the K-2 curriculum to each class. It’s developmentally and academically appropriate for these students, and the teachers and I are differentiating as needed. Many of our students in moderate-severe will have cell phones in the future and regularly use tablets and computers. Our students in the moderate class frequently play video games online (including PS4, XBox, etc) and many already have cell phones.

Each department and grade level is responsible for one 45 minute lesson. I used the Common Sense Media lessons and turned them into Pear Deck presentations (read more about how Pear Deck engages students!) that incorporate some content too. The reason I did all the leg work here is to build buy-in from my teachers; the majority are more likely to implement these lessons if they can just project and go. As I shared these lessons with each individual department during our weekly PLC meeting, I saw faces perk up, both for the content and Pear Deck.

I am also using our poster printer to print Common Sense Media posters for any interested teachers. I created a Google Form for teachers to put in their requests, and I will print and deliver the posters in the next couple weeks.

Similarly to when I completed my CSM Certified Educator certification, we are engaging families with a presentation from the School Resource Officer, sending home digital & paper copies of the Family Tip Sheets, and hosting Parent Tech Breakfasts to talk about digital citizenship.

Cyberbullying and digital citizenship are issues on our campus, and I am confident our students will benefit.

Next Steps

  • We are going to have our certification complete before the end of the school year. I set a goal to have all lessons taught before spring break, and I will complete the certification application after spring break.
  • I am packaging up the lessons I created on Pear Deck and compiling some additional resources so the rest of the middle schools in my district can implement what we are already doing.
  • In the next few years, we’re going to become a Common Sense Media Certified District!


How do you address and implement digital citizenship in your classroom and school?