Reflections

April 2018 No-Work Challenge

What if I told you that I made it the entire month of April without doing any work-work at home? Would you believe me? That’s right, no lesson planning, no emailing, and no grading at home for an entire month. As crazy as it sounds, it was a necessary leap.

Why I started this challenge

This past year I’ve been working toward a healthier work-life balance. I’ve written a few blog posts about my journey, including: Work Hard, Rest Hard, Work, Work, Work…What About Life (co-written with Meagan Kelly and Aubrey Yeh), and Navigating the Sea of Shoulds. I’m grateful for some excellent friends who have walked with me in this learning experience.

The no-work month challenge started on a whim, as I ended spring break and realized I had enjoyed periods of time without doing work-work or even thinking about teaching. However, I honestly doubted I could do it. I mean, I always have so much to do, and my to-do list never seems to get any shorter.

My guidelines

Very simple: All work-work had to be completed at work. Including grading, lesson planning, and checking email. Oh, and taking attendance.

I spent a lot of afternoons playing with my dog, Ollie.

There were text messages about work to friends, but nothing like serious work. Also, work-related errands (because birthdays, celebrations, science supplies) could be completed outside of work.

Tracking my progress

I kept a Google Doc journal throughout this month. I didn’t write every day, only when I thought of it and had something to say.

I’ve set the permissions to “anyone with the link can comment” and I would love it if you would add in a comment on something that resonated with you, or if you have a question.

What I learned

Aside from my reflections in my challenge journal, there are a few things I learned about myself:

  • Work is like a gas, it fills the container you put it in. If I allow myself to work all day, every day (except Sunday, because that work-limit has stayed strong), then I will have enough work to fill that space. Therefore, if I decrease the size of the container, then work will still fit.
  • Doing this challenge has forced me to put limits on what I say “yes” to. In the past, I have a hard time saying “no” because I can reason I can get things done at night or on the weekend. It just ends up being more stress. Unless I’m getting paid extra duty for these extra projects, I’m carefully considering additional commitments. This is a procedure I’ve had to put in place to safeguard my personal balance. Of course, there are exceptions for exceedingly cool things, such as working in the school garden on a Saturday morning.
  • Never do something you can have a kid do for you. I’ve always lived by this motto, but it really ramped up in the last month. Plus, my students love any opportunity to help. I need something taken to the office or another teacher? Please take this. There’s a lab to be set up? I’d like 2 volunteers who are done with their work to set up materials for tomorrow. Now the lab needs to be cleaned up? I will bribe you with chocolate if you stay for 5 minutes to help clean. Please, and thank you!
  • I have my brain back! I don’t find myself thinking about work every single second of every single day. It’s really refreshing; I’m learning to see myself as a human outside of my teacher identity. Don’t get me wrong, I love my teacher identity, but I felt like I was losing a bit of myself in the process. I’ve reclaimed something for me, and I’m much more relaxed.

Our district’s motto is “Putting Students First.” While it sounds counterproductive, I’m putting my students first by taking care of my own needs so that I can be a better teacher for them.

What’s next? I only have a month of school left, and I plan to continue this habit through the end of the school year. This summer, I will reevaluate my personal limits for next year.

Maybe this exact challenge isn’t for you. How will you ensure you set your own limits on your work-life balance?

Other

Engaging Teachers with a Teacher Leadership Book Study

This post is co-written with Amy Illingworth, and cross-posted to Amy’s blog!

One thing we (Amy Illingworth & Mari Venturino) have in common is our love of books! We both read a good mix of education, fiction, young adult, and nonfiction books. What better way to bring together teachers than with a Teacher Leadership Book Study? Our district did just that! Read on, for how we did it and what we learned, from the perspective of a teacher participant and an administrator facilitator.

Where the idea came from

Amy:

Our large, urban school district has a committee of teachers, site leaders, and district leaders, who come together to discuss how we can use our Title II funds to improve teaching and learning across the district. In the spring of 2017, as the committee reviewed the federal guidelines for Title II funds, we kept coming back to a big idea – leadership. We wanted to find ways to support teacher leadership.

Our district has a number of leadership support structures in place, creating a pathway from teacher to administrator roles, if one chooses to go in that direction. However, we have many dedicated teachers who want to take on leadership roles without stepping out of their classrooms. With those specific teachers in mind, our committee came up with two ideas: A Teacher Leadership Academy and Teacher Leadership Book Studies. The Academy was designed to follow a small cohort of teachers through a year-long learning opportunity. For the book studies, we agreed that we would offer a few throughout the year, and that any teacher in the district could join any single book study anytime. We used our Title II funds to pay any participating teacher to attend the two hour book study discussion meetings and to purchase the book for any interested teacher.

Mari:

A few years back, I started a book club at my school. We alternated YA novels and an education-related books each month, but it fizzed out before the end of the school year. I was craving more formalized book chatter, but couldn’t keep up the interest and commitment from my very busy colleagues.

I received a whole-district email from Amy at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year with information about a district-hosted Teacher Leadership Book Study. Although one of my goals this year is to be careful about what I commit to, this was an easy and enthusiastic “yes!” I love chatting about books with colleagues and friends, and thought it would be a great way to have conversations with teachers across the district.

Implementation

Amy:

Trying to plan a book study that would be open to 2,000+ teachers is not easy! In September I sent out an email to all teachers in our district explaining what the Teacher Leadership Book Study would be. There was a website available for more detailed information, explaining that we would read a few books throughout the year and that any teacher was welcome to participate. I advertised our first book selection, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, with an RSVP linked to a Google Form. When I hit send on that first email, I didn’t know if I would have more than one teacher sign up to join me on this new adventure.

Small group discussions with teachers across the district.

I had 50 people sign up to read the first book! I ordered a copy of the book for every teacher who signed up. Teachers had about a month to read the book, and then they attended one book study discussion meeting (which I offered on two consecutive nights to break up the large group and for flexibility with busy schedules).

When teachers walked into our Professional Development Center for the first discussion meeting, they were immediately surprised because I had all of the chairs arranged in a large circle. I asked everyone to make a name tag so that we could get to know each other and refer to new colleagues by name throughout our discussion. We sat in the circle and I facilitated a discussion about the book. I would share a quote or a prompt from the book, and then open it up for discussion by anyone. We let the conversation go wherever it was going and had fun getting to know each other in this new setting. At some point, I had participants get up and form a pair with someone from across the circle, to encourage more dialogue and to give all participants an opportunity to speak, since some seemed intimidated trying to speak in the large circle.

Small group discussions about Shift This

At the end of the first book study, I asked for recommendations for future books and used teacher feedback to select the rest of the books for the year. With each new book, we had more teachers participate, reaching 90 for our last book! As the meeting groups grew, I had to change the structure. Instead of one large circle discussion, I had teachers sit in small table groups and facilitate their own discussion, with prompts provided by me. To get everyone up and moving after a long talk period, I had the entire room stand up and form a line based on how many years of teaching experience they had. We folded the line in half so that the newest teacher in the room was talking face-to-face with the most veteran teacher in the room. We did a few minutes of this “speed dating” style partner talk, with each teacher having the opportunity to meet a few more colleagues for a 1:1 conversation.

Mari:

I participated in all four of the book studies: Innovator’s Mindset (George Couros), Shift This (Joy Kirr), Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap (Anthony Muhammad), and Lead Like a Pirate (Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf). I thoroughly enjoyed the book discussions. There were a few people from my school who also signed up, and I saw a few friends from across the district. However, I loved meeting so many new people from my district during the discussions!

Teachers participating in the “speed dating” sharing activity.

During the conversations, Amy would put up a series of discussion questions, and we would choose the direction of our conversation. My favorite part was hearing from teachers at different schools, including middle school, high school, alternative education, and adult education–the variety of voices and experiences helped me to deeply reflect on how I am best meeting my students’ needs.

One particular activity I loved was “speed dating” from Lead Like a Pirate. Amy facilitated it with a group of about 30 teachers. We first lined up by number of years taught, then folded the line in half. Amy gave us a couple minutes to answer a question together. Then we waved goodbye to our partner, one line rotated 3 spots down, and we repeated the process.

Perspective from Amy, district leader

It’s always scary to try to implement something new. This was especially true for me, as I was still relatively new to my position and new to this large district. You never know what the turn out will be or how the initiative will be received. I was especially aware of the fact that I was an administrator attempting to lead conversations with large groups of teachers. While I always consider myself a teacher first, then a coach, and finally a leader, it has still been many years since I was last in my own classroom, doing the hard work of teaching every day.

My biggest takeaway from this experience was how open and excited teachers were to have the opportunity to talk to peers from across the district about their reading and professional experiences. In the final survey I sent out to get feedback on the book studies, I read a version of this quote over and over again when I asked what teachers most appreciated, “Being able to openly discuss ideas and concerns about our classrooms and teaching methods with others who read the book.”

Perspective from Mari, teacher

My biggest takeaway from the Teacher Leadership Book Studies was being given the time and space to talk with teachers from our district. Being in a very large district with 1500+ teachers, sometimes I feel like other schools are lightyears away. The Teacher Leadership Book Study made me feel closer to my colleagues at other schools. I appreciated the opportunity to learn together, meet new friends, and continue these connections on Twitter. I realized it didn’t matter how much I liked the book, but rather the little nuggets I gained from our conversations together.

Lead Like a Pirate

We are lucky to have Amy as a leader in our district! While she may be at the administrator level, she is approachable and frequently at schools and in classrooms. Amy’s facilitation style is respectful, she is a patient listener, and her presence allows us to have honest conversations without fear of repercussions.

The books were the vehicle, Amy was our Google Maps, and we were the adventurers.

Here is just a sampling of some of the feedback from our many participants:

  • “I appreciated the theories about mindset and being a teacher that can propel change.”
  • “I really appreciate everyone’s genuineness. Every individual shared some really valuable insight, opinions, etc. and it was so helpful to hear other reactions to the ideas in the books.”
  • “I enjoyed it a lot. It helped inspire and motivate me during the year when I was starting to drag or feel overwhelmed by the job. Thank you!”

 

Classroom Strategies, Science

Get Moving with Learning Stations

I have a little bit of jealousy for my elementary school teacher friends, mainly for two things: their beautiful and updated bulletin boards, and learning centers. I’ve given up on my bulletin boards (going to put some kids in charge soon) and I’m always trying to figure out how to use the learning center model in middle school science. So, I use stations!

I first started using stations in my classroom during my first year of teaching. I learned it from one of my very old-fashioned colleagues (imagine 3-inch 3-ring binders for each topic, with sheet protectors filled with zillions of worksheets), and fell in love with changing up the routine, getting kids up and moving, and providing some variety.

The Setup

Over the past six years, I have run stations in a variety of formats: 8 stations x 5-8 minutes, 4 stations x 12-15 minutes, 30 stations x 1-2 minutes, etc. The overall theme is that it usually takes about an hour. I typically use my lab counters so all students are standing around the perimeter of the classroom, and I can see their backs as they work. Occasionally, I’ll need an extra station space, so I’ll use a table group or outside. Students work in pairs or groups of 4.

Lately, I’ve been running 4 x 12-15 minute stations. I’ll have 2 of each set up, with 2 separate rotations–groups 1-4 rotate on one half of the room, and groups 5-8 rotate on the other half. On average, I use stations every couple weeks.

I create all my stations handouts on Google Slides (File > Page Setup > Custom > 11 x 8.5), print, then put in sheet protectors. I notice my students focus more quickly with paper instructions.

For the timer, I project the Google timer: search for “15 minute timer” (or desired length) and it’ll start right away.

The Content

Stations can fill multiple purposes, such as introducing new content, practicing skills, or reviewing old content. When practicing skills or reviewing, I usually use more and shorter stations, with one task or question per station. Sometimes these are problems to solve, other times it is charts or diagrams to interpret.

When introducing content, students will do some work in their interactive notebook and some work on their iPads. For notes, I use Pear Deck on student paced mode or I create a short screencast; students are able to work at their own pace, pause, and rewind as needed. There is always an output activity to go with the input (notes). For the tech-heavy stations, I enjoy using games, simulations, or videos.

Example stations: 4 stations x 15 minutes
Station 1 – Notes (in interactive notebook)
Station 2 – Left-side page, draw & label a diagram (in interactive notebook)
Station 3 – Quizizz game (on iPad)
Station 4 – Phet simulation with 2-3 questions on Google Forms (on iPad)

The Successes

While students are working in stations, I am free to call over individual students for quick conferences. When I walk around the classroom to check in on students and groups, I can answer questions or go deeper into content.

We have taken stations entirely outdoors as a scavenger hunt! Add a school map with coordinates, and directions to get to the next station on the bottom of the instructions, and you’re all set.

And, true teacher confession, if my students are working well and don’t have many questions, I can often work on some grading.

The Challenges

It is essential to work together to create expectations when working in stations. Some of ours include: read the directions first, don’t wander away to another group, stay on task, and turn and look at Ms. V when the timer goes off.

Students who are prone to distraction sometimes struggle with staying focused. However, the tradeoff is that they are able to move around, and lessons are broken down into manageable chunks.

The Next Steps

I’d like to try having students create their own stations. Since I have 8 table groups, each group would create 1 x 5 minute station.

There are tons of ways to use stations in all grade levels. I’d love to hear how you all do it!

GSuite, Science, Technology

Slide into Science Fun

A while back I blogged about my newfound love for Google Slides. Slides has been such a versatile tool–it is very easy for my students to edit and insert photos/screenshots on their iPads, and simple for me to walk around and see we’re all on the same page (literally).

Getting our heart rate up during the Heart Rate Lab!

I’m slowly transitioning our labs to Slides. I push out everything with Google Classroom, and I love that I can pop in and see students’ progress as they are working (or not working…).

As you read more about the following three examples, I encourage you to not get hung up on the specifics of the content, but instead focus on how Slides can work in your classroom to build skills and assess mastery.

Insert pictures and selfies

Our first lab of the school year is the Paper Airplane Lab, where we review measurement and the engineering design process by building and testing paper airplanes. This lab also helped us teach and reinforce key skills with Slides, such as how to add text in a text box (already created, in this case) and inserting images.

Ms. V photobomb on design selfies!

One of my favorite parts of this lab is Step 4, where students had to insert a selfie with their chosen design. With permission, some used Snapchat on their phone to jazz up their selfies. Others earned themselves a Ms. V photobomb!

Analyze data and create graphs

Another lab we love is the Heart Rate Lab! My favorite part about these Slides is the averages graph. The bars are already created, and students just had to drag the bars up to the right size. We also used this lab to reinforce average. If we were solid on calculating average, I would use this version to teach students how to analyze data in Sheets. There are benefits to both versions, it just depends on what skills we’re working on.

Heart Rate Lab Data
Heart Rate Lab Graph

 

 

 

 

 

Screenshots of learning evidence

Our Math 7 team has been using Slides for each CPM lesson. One idea I’ve borrowed from them is inserting a screenshot or picture of work at various stages of learning. We use Phet Simulations to teach or reinforce different concepts, such as in the Atom Builder Lab. Students explore the Phet simulation, and insert screenshots of the atoms they create as learning evidence.

Extend the learning

I’d love to see examples of how you use Slides in your classroom! What are some of your favorite tips & tricks?

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Mad Libs get Googley

Growing up one of my favorite games to play was Mad Libs, I would play with my friends during recess, or with my family on car trips. I still have a giant stack of half-used Mad Libs books in my classroom waiting for some more love. I can’t remember a time I laughed harder than when playing Mad Libs.

I love using Mad Libs with my students. When playing with my class, it can be tough to keep all students engaged because only one person contributes for each part of speech. I started using Google Forms so each student can play: each student fills out the Form and receives their copy via email. Then, a few volunteers read their examples out loud. It’s a great activity as part of a lesson, as a review, or just for fun at the end of the day.

First, let’s play!

Fill out this Form then check your email to see your Mad Libs.

Next, let’s build!

  1. Create a Google Doc with your story. This works great with short fables, primary source documents, or informational texts.
  2. Replace parts of speech with the tags. For example, “Replace <<plural noun>> of speech with the tags.” For duplicates, use <<plural noun 1>> then <<plural noun 2>>.
  3. Create a Google Form with short answer questions for each tag. Remember to also ask for email address.
  4. Create your Sheet, and install the Formule add-on.
  5. Watch this video for how to set up Formule.

If your student don’t have email set up, but do have Google Drive, then use Autocrat instead. You will still need a question for email/Google account. It will use the Form and a Doc, then share the merged Doc with the student. Watch this video where I show how to use Autocrat.

Also, Formule does limit to 100 emails per day. If you have 100+ students, either spread the fun over a couple days, or use Autocrat.

Last, let’s teach!

Send out the Form to your students and get ready to laugh!

We’d love to see your examples. Create one and share it below in the comments. 

Classroom Strategies, GSuite

Student-Created Games with Quizizz

Quizizz is quickly becoming one of our favorite class games. My students enjoy the memes between questions and appreciate that they can work at their own speed while still being competitive. They’re always asking, “can I play again?” Of course!

As a teacher, I like that I can make a Quizizz “homework” — I don’t actually assign it for homework, but rather make it asynchronous and push it out through Google Classroom.

One of the best parts about Quizizz is that I can use it during stations work or for early finishers.

I’ve had students create Kahoot and Quizizz games in the past, but I’ve found it a bit cumbersome when they’re working in groups. Inevitably, one person does the majority of the work creating the game, while everyone else sits around doing nothing.

I have a solution for you!

Did you know you can upload a spreadsheet of questions and answers to Quizizz? This makes the process 100x easier for all of us! And, I’m making it 1000x easier for you by creating handy templates.

Creating Crowd-sourced Quizizz Games:
It’s fast and simple to have students create their own collaborative Quizizz games. As a teacher, you can either upload their questions or have them do it.

  1. Make a copy of this Google Form (view here).
  2. Send the Form out to collect questions for your Quizizz.
  3. Delete the timestamp and name questions. Download as an xls file.
  4. Create a new quiz on Quizizz and import in the spreadsheet.
  5. Play!

To make it even easier for you, here’s a walkthrough video!

Content Review
No matter your stance on testing and grading practices, inevitably your students will have to review content at some time. Have students create their own review questions. (Best tip from student teaching: never do something you can have a kid do for you!) Divide students into groups by topic, and assign individuals or groups to create a 1-2 review questions. Early classwork finishers? Ask them to preview an upcoming topic and create a pre-assessment quiz for the class!

2 Truths and a Lie
If you’re looking for a fun getting-to-know you activity? Create a class game of 2 Truths & a Lie with this template. (Change “name” to “question” on the spreadsheet before you download, or you’ll get an error message.) The best part is you can play along with your students, but no peeking at the response sheet too early.

→ Make this content focused by creating 2 truths & a lie questions about famous people, book characters, math operations, or even organelles!

Big thanks to Meagan, Katie, Casey, Joanne, Carlos, Carrie, Aubrey, and Nick for playing along and filling out the original template form! (Want to play this game? Go to join.quizizz.com → game code: 858171 → open until April 12, 2018!)

Classroom Strategies

Restorative Practices Starts with Empathy

“Kids do well if they can.” -Dr. Stuart Ablon

I recently watched the TED Talk “Rethinking Challenging Kids-Where There’s a Skill There’s a Way” by Dr. J. Stuart Albon. His phenomenal message helps us shift they way we approach behavior challenges, by empowering students with the skills to do well. We can teach these three skills: flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving.

It’s incredible to watch a student shift from being a tuned-out behavior challenge to one who turns in their work and asks questions! When I approach a student with empathy, work on skills, and set them up for small successes, it’s amazing what happens!

What is Restorative Practices?

Restorative Practices is an approach to discipline where there is a high level of control and a high level of support. Individuals are encouraged to uphold community expectations, and when they don’t, they are held accountable for their choices. We “restore” an individual to the community after a trust-breaking incident through forgiveness and making different choices.

I highly recommend these two of the books: Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians, and Administrators and Restorative Circles in Schools: Building Community and Enhancing Learning. I’ve been using these ideas consistently, both dealing with minor incidents in the classroom and larger issues between students.

It is about our mindset, rather than rigid practices. We build a community of empathy, every single day–my kids know I’ve got their back, even when they make poor choices. Far more frequently after a 1:1 conversation with a student, it ends with a “would you like a hug?” rather than consequences.

Here are some of the strategies I use as I’ve implemented Restorative Practices in my classroom:

Daily Check-in Form

Every day I check in with my students through their daily check-in and warm-up questions (read more here). This gives me an excellent read on the class at the very beginning, and I can prioritize students’ needs.

When I notice a trend with a student, such as things are overall a “1” for more than a single day, I will find a ways to loop back to that student multiple times during class, making casual conversation, complimenting them, or asking general questions. If a student tells me something in the “anything else I need to know” question, I will speak with them privately about what they shared.

This has allowed me to make quick personal connections with each student in the first 5 minutes of class.

Student Behavior Log Reflection

When minor incidents happen in class, I use progressive consequences to address them: warning, behavior log, change seat, referral. Rarely do we get past a behavior log! Although, for larger or more serious issues where a student is interfering with our safety or productively, we will skip to a referral.

After a student receives a warning, the next step is a behavior log. Students fill out this Form (Make a copy) at one of the computers in our room, then sit back down. The majority of behavior log entries are for a forgotten or dead iPad (no warnings, automatic behavior log) or off-task behavior, especially chatting.

When students take responsibility for reflecting on how their choices impact our wider community, they usually make immediate changes. Occasionally I’ll have a quick follow-up conversation with the student, either during class or just after. This gives me an opportunity to listen to their thought process, and how they will take ownership of their actions.

Restorative Circles

Our favorite part of Restorative Practices is the use of circles! My students and I use community-building proactive circles for check-ins and to share the positives in their lives. At the beginning of the year, we do circles almost every Friday. As the school year progresses and we get busier, they seem to get pushed to the side and happen every couple weeks. Students have grown accustomed to our talking piece, a small stuffed penguin–it signals to all to listen and be respectful to the speaker (some do need a reminder, or two!).

We ask a variety of questions in circles, some I come up with and others are student suggestions. Here are some examples:

  • If you could have any superpower, what would you have and what would you do with it?
  • What qualities make a good friend?
  • What was the best part of your week?
  • What is one goal you have for next (week, semester, year, etc.)?

Many of my quietest students feel confident enough to contribute in the circle, especially towards the end of first semester. If a student wants to pass their turn, they are allowed to; although their neighbors usually encourage them to share something.

Other times, we need to use circles for restorative conversations. In these circles, something major has happened that we need to process together then figure out a plan for moving forward.

We go through the following restorative questions together:

  • What happened?
  • Who was affected by this?
  • What needs to happen to fix the harm caused?

This year, two of my classes made poor choices with subs, both in my class and in our other teamed classes. I took the majority of a block period to have students write their answers to the restorative circle questions, followed by a lengthy circle discussion. Many students talked about how some students’ behavior was disruptive or disrespectful, and they felt embarrassed that our subs had a difficult time keeping the class under control. The students who were responsible for more outright acts of defiance listened, contributed on a surface-level, but I could see the gears working as they heard their peers talking about behavior. That is powerful! Since this specific circle in early February, I’ve had fewer sub behavior incidents–they’re not perfect, but they’re more aware of their actions.

I love that my classroom is a community where all are welcome! How have you implemented Restorative Practices in your classroom?

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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 1.29.21 PM.png
Form Values add-on

RowCall
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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 1.30.31 PM.png
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?