Thursday, March 8, 2012

Something new

This post will hopefully kill two birds with one stone: I want to get down some thoughts that have been percolating so I can go back and check them out before next school year and I thought that they might be of interest to some of y'all, so here goes nothing.

Lately I've been thinking about something called Standards-Based Grading (SBG). The idea is that rather than evaluating students' performance on a given set of assessments, you give them opportunities to demonstrate what they know. They're scored on whether or not they master certain skills, and they can try multiple times to master each skill. Lots of people have been discussing SBG lately, I would recommend reading through the links below if you're interested (I also borrowed most of the images from links these people provided).
Think Thank Thunk



MeTA musings

Physics! Blog!

Student Perspective

I really like the idea of SBG, but I don't think that integrating it into a Regents course is as easy as snapping your fingers. I think it has to be done carefully and intentionally (and possibly with student input). I envision a grading breakdown that is a combination of traditional scoring and SBG. It might look something like this:

Class Participation 20%
Homework 25%
Labs 25%
Quizzes 5%
Tests 25%

Class Participation 20%
Labs 25%
Assessments 10%
Performance 45%

By assessments I mean timed problem-solving sessions. I don't like teaching to the test, but I feel that there is a necessity for students to be able to perform under pressure (to a degree) and since the majority are going to be sitting for the NYS Regents Exam in Physics in June, I feel that this element is necessary. It shouldn't be the over-riding factor in their grade, but I think it should play a role. What do you think? Bueller?

I've considered doing away with the separate lab grade... maybe someday. If I were given blocked-ish periods with the same students in class and then lab (or vice-versa) then I could do this more easily. In fact, I would lean toward eliminating the lab report requirement of my class because I would finally have enough time for students to put together meaningful representations of what they're learned. Maybe this last bit is just a fib and I should can it right now... I'll have to think about that. I'm interested to see how Shawn Cornally's collaboration experiment goes:

Emma back when she was a puppy
An idea I had on my morning walk with dog Emma was to let the students determine the breakdown on the first day of class. There would be stipulations: the lab percentage is set in stone, and all of the others have to make an appearance with at least 10%. All of the different sections would have to agree on a common breakdown as well- no willy-nilly bickering about how section placement determined their grade in the course. Maybe this isn't a good tone to set for the year and shows that I'm not in control. Or maybe it's genius in disguise because it shows that by relinquishing control initially, I get students to buy into the system because they made the decisions, thereby gaining more control in the end. And then I will conquer the world! J/K... or am I?

Stay tuned for updates, and if you have an opinion about any of this stuff, leave a comment below!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Learning Curve

Lately I've been spending what little free time I have working on research and also preparing some presentations for Argentina. Part of my role in this program is visiting local schools and also helping with professional development for teachers. To this end, other Fulbright DAT alums have suggested that I prepare several presentations that I can give at the drop of a hat rather than have to throw something together at the last minute. I have taken this sage advice to heart, and am slowly but surely putting things together.

As a favor to my less-than-stalwart readers, I should warn you that the following might be a shade on the dry side. However, if you're looking for a better mousetrap, keep reading.

Now, for those of you that know me well, this won't come as a surprise, but I've decided to make this a learning opportunity and make this as challenging as possible. Over the past few years I've grown more and more frustrated with a popular set of software that is nearly ubiquitous on PC's. Embedding images in a program that rhymes with bird was the first straw- lengthy documents simply refused to save midway through a long editing process. The second stage was working with equations, which is ok, but issues begin to surface with formatting and moving between different programs of the same suite. Bulleting, lists, and auto formatting nearly broke the camel's back. So I've been staging my own silent rebellion for a little while- I started with OpenOffice, but it seems like a slightly clunkier version of the same basic concept. That doesn't mean that I don't use it and don't recommend it (especially to students- it's free!), but it's not the silver bullet I'm looking for. At this point I should include a disclaimer: I love spreadsheets (and the program that is commonly used to create them, it rhymes with mix-hell) am not trying to replace them, it's the document side of the coin that is failing me.

Around this time I started using Linux (Ubuntu) with my schools Cosmic Ray Muon Detector as part of the QuarkNet Project. This was an interesting process- it engaged me and challenged me in a way that I hadn't experienced in a while. I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert user, but I can get by. It's been great for running analysis of our data files. Anyway, I digress. I was at an International Conference on Cosmic Rays (Thanks QuarkNet!) and noticed that nearly all of the other presenters were doing something funny when working on their presentations- they would type a bit in a text window, and then press a button and switch to a different window, where their presentation was. I asked my co-presenter what they were doing and he explained that they were using LaTeX. After returning from the conference I looked into LaTeX (after figured out how to spell and pronounce it properly), but it was a bit intimidating to jump into, especially in the middle of the school year. I eventually stumbled across Lyx, which I would describe as LaTeX lite. I used it to create a packet of notes for my AP class. It took a little while to pick up, but I got the hang of it. In the end I had trouble getting the images to be the correct size and in the right spot, so I didn't use it much more.

Last fall I put together a SMARTboard presentation on teaching physics for a regional staff development day. I was looking for something Lyx-like to use and I found a Lyx-based template for a program called Beamer. I basically just used a template someone else had created and filled in the blanks, but I was pleased with the result. Unfortunately, the attendance wasn't overwhelming (physics teachers aren't exactly a dime a dozen around here), but at least I learned something new.

Cut to present day: I have a lot of presentations to make and a report to write at the end of the program. I want to be as professional as possible, and using Powerpoint is a death sentence for so many kittens. Lyx seems a bit silly when I could just get at the root of things by using LaTeX itself. In conjunction with a good editor (I've been using Texmaker), I've found the process to be pretty smooth. I'm well on my way and have had great help from folks over at stack overflow when I get stuck.

Examples: Raw code and Output

If you're interested in this process (which my brother-in-law fondly referred to as "sufficiently obscure"), I would recommend starting with the links above. You can also check out for details about using LaTex on Windows machines.

Hopefully everyone is asleep by now. I apologize for the nerdy rant and promise that my next post will be more lively. Until then, good luck Red Storm Hockey!