The Great Gradeless Experiment #1

I’ve officially been approved to go gradeless in my freshman biology classes! I want to blog my experiences (both successes and failures) for you all. In addition, if you have any experience with standards-based grading or gradeless classes, I would love to hear from you!

For my first gradeless post, I’d like to share some of the rationale behind going gradeless and what I’m planning. Below is essentially the email I sent to my principal about going gradeless, but with less district-specific jargon.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about grading practices these last couple of years. I’ve become frustrated with current grading policies and I’m looking for change. Right now, students are content with doing the required amount of work for whatever grade they’re aiming for, but don’t seem to care about actually mastering the content. Right now, grades seem like a way to measure compliance, but not learning. 

I’ve been reading about standards based grading and gradeless classrooms for 2 years now. Last summer, I didn’t feel confident enough to try a new grading system. Now that I’ve been working in-depth on Marzano and NGSS implementation, I’m feeling like this is something I could do in my classroom. I’ve been looking at the Marzano assessment scale for student work and it seems like something that would lend itself wonderfully to a gradeless classroom.

These are just some thoughts I’ve had about implementing a gradeless classroom:

  1. I would use my gradebook to keep track of the assignments students complete. For example, I would record whether an assignment was completed, partially completed, or not turned in. This score wouldn’t contribute to a student’s grade, but would be a tool to track participation and would provide more information for me, the students, and their parents. My rationale is that students master content with different amounts of practice. I don’t want a student’s grade to be hurt because they didn’t turn in a study guide for content that they know well. On the flipside, if a student is struggling to learn the content, I would have a record of how much effort a student has put into their learning.
  2. I want to use lab notebooks for students to track their learning. With each unit, I want to give students a place for them to record the unit and daily questions (the big ideas I’m trying to teach), to keep track of what activities/assignments help with learning the corresponding unit content, summaries of each unit/assessments, and for them to rate their own understanding of each unit.
  3. Instead of grading assignments for accuracy and giving students a score, I would be looking for understanding and providing students with feedback. Students would be welcome to try assignments again and to make revisions until they master the content. Instead of grades, I want to keep track of how well I think students are mastering the content, using Marzano’s 0-4 scale. My co-worker and I are developing a rubric for each unit for us to track learning progress. 
  4. At the end of each grading period for progress reports and the end of each quarter, I want to sit down with each student individually and we would decide on their letter grade together. I want students to advocate for themselves using evidence. They should show me the data they’ve kept on their learning progress in their lab notebooks, and I would have the data I’ve recorded using the rubrics we’re making. I want students to have a say in their grade and to explain to me why they deserve it. At the end of the quarter, the only grade in the gradebook that would contribute to their final grade would be the grade we decided on together. “

I’ll be attempting this with my co-worker, Peggy Porter. If you’re curious about the work we’ve done so far, check out the following link.

For a list of our units and unit questions (Shout-out to Camden Burton. We used some of the language from his curriculum document that he posted a while back!): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uKikMpItT1tv2wjEb_JxC9m8Y5NrN9l0TeHjzWYCRaY/edit?usp=sharing

For the rubric we’ll be using to assess student knowledge in each unit: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cyvfgk66KisVNe8aT-9Fk1yDgtu6HTNuv0xtef4HULU/edit?usp=sharing

(Note: Both of these documents are first drafts, and the rubric document is only a little over half-way completed. Both will be updated throughout the summer.)

Peggy and I are looking forward to this experiment! We’ll be updating throughout the semester with our findings and student data.

KU Med Summer Teacher Externship

I recently had the pleasure of attending the KU Med Summer Teacher Externship. I decided to go because I am lacking in my knowledge of medical careers. The flyer said it was for health career teachers, and I decided A+P counted. Well, after attending, I’m here to tell you that this is not just a program for health science teachers, but for any biology teacher who thinks part of their role is helping to inform and counsel students about medical careers. The 3 days were packed completely full, but I will try to give you a glimpse of my experience.

The program was a mixture of meetings with heads of admissions, libraries and tours of hospital departments and research labs.

I started to write about every place we went, but it was an overload of info. I’ll just make a list. We talked to people with the School of Nursing, School of Medicine, Health Information Management, School of Health Professions (a school which includes clinical laboratory scientists and occupational therapists), Public Health, physical therapists at the Heart Center and a medical illustrator/imaging specialist. In the hospital we toured and spoke to people in the emergency department, hospital pharmacy (with a ROBOT!), hospital labs, and radiology. In the research part of KU Med we got to tour the orthopedics research lab, REACH lab (physical therapy), the Hemingway Lab which does research with reproductive health and ovarian cancer, and the brain imaging lab where they do research on humans and mice using MRI and Magnetometer. It was awesome and exhausting!

Everyone was very nice and we were able to ask a lot of questions. They have so much passion for their work, and gave me lots of information for me to share with my students. I now feel more prepared to be an advocate for my students. I can give them much more information about health care careers, and I can help them prepare for their next step in education after high school. This was also very insightful because most of my students who want to go into a medical career think doctor, nurse, physical therapist and maybe anesthesiologist. But there is so much more! And, while not everyone can be a doctor, there is a career in healthcare for everyone. It’s also motivated me to want to learn MORE and find additional resources for them. If you’re interested, you can e-mail the coordinator Seth Nutt (snutt@kumc.edu). I feel bad leaving so much out, but I learned so much, too much for a blog post. So, you’ll just have to go next year!

This is the trama room in the ER. We learned some about the logistics of how the ER works, and about the type of people who work at such a high stress job.

This is the trama room in the ER. We learned some about the logistics of how the ER works, and about the type of people who work at such a high stress job.

This is Dr. Roby at the Hemenway lab, where we extracted RNA from cancerous ovarian cells of mice. This was my favorite tour. We learned so much about her research, including how they developed a special cell line, which we got to see! (It look just like that scene from Jurassic Park.)

This is Dr. Roby at the Hemenway Lab, where we extracted RNA from cancerous ovarian cells of mice. This was my favorite tour. We learned so much about her research, including how they developed a special cell line, which we got to see! (It look just like that DNA scene from Jurassic Park.)

We toured the hospital labs. This is the micro lab. It was so interesting to see how these run in such a large hospital. Clinical laboratory scientist is a great option for students who want to work in the medical field, like lab work, but don't want to directly work with patients.

We toured the hospital labs. This is the micro lab. It was so interesting to see how these run in such a large hospital. Clinical laboratory scientist is a great option for students who want to work in the medical field, like lab work, but don’t want to directly work with patients.

At the brain imaging center, a researcher told us about the logistics of doing brain research with mice. This is the small rodent MRI machine. She researches head trauma in old vs. young brains. It was fascinating.

At the brain imaging center, a researcher told us about the logistics of doing brain research with mice. This is the small rodent MRI machine. She researches head trauma in old vs. young brains. It was fascinating.

Dr. Billinger at the REACH lab is a physical therapist. Here she was showing us a little about stress tests. They do a lot of different research, including some research on people who have an increased risk Alzheimer’s. Notice all the posters on the walls? It was awesome to see, and gives me much more to talk about with my students when we create research posters.

Dr. Billinger at the REACH lab is a physical therapist. Here she was showing us a little about stress tests. They do a lot of different research, including some research on people who have an increased risk Alzheimer’s. Notice all the posters on the walls? They were in all the research labs. It was awesome to see, and gives me much more to talk about with my students when we create research posters.

Student Project on Genetic Research of Periodic Cicadas

What a research opportunity for my students but we need help from you, your friends and relatives!

Please ask relatives and friends in different states throughout the USA to collect cicadas for us. We ( my students and I) will ID and analyze DNA. Please post this request on Social media if you deem appropriate.

No we haven’t lost our minds. We just love research!

Collecting cicadas:
1) Grab them, they are harmless

2) Place them in an airtight container…old pill bottle, clean yogurt cup, not a drink cup…the hole for the straw allows air in. We don’t want the cicada to dehydrate. You may place several cicada in one container…just don’t overcrowd them or they damage one another as they move about.

3) Place the container of cicadas in the freezer (this kills the insect and preserves it for later study). Keep the insects frozen.

4). When you have 12-30 let me know. I will send mailing instructions.

States we are interested in: TN, OK, TX, CO, KS, NE, IA, IN, IL, MI, AR, AL, MI, MO, ID, AR, CA, OH, SC, NO, PA, ND, SD, UT, WY, MN, NM, MT, WI, NY, NJ, FL, GE

The list above includes the states we would like to know more about in terms of 17 and 13 yr cicadas. Some of the states listed have no record of emergence. If you live in additional state where cicadas are emerging we would appreciate your involvement.

Brood charts showing locations where cicadas are emerging and other interesting information about these amazing critters are located at:
http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/

Brenda Bott
Coordinator/Teacher
Shawnee Mission School District Biotechnology Signature Program
Overland Park, KS
brendabott@smsd.org

Prairie Wonders and a Plant ID Challenge

 

Flower 1

Aldo saw things that others don’t:

Every July I watch eagerly a certain country graveyard that I pass in driving to and from my farm. It is time for a prairie birthday, and in one corner of this graveyard lives a surviving celebrant of that once important event.

It is an ordinary graveyard, bordered by the usual spruces, and studded with the usual pink granite or white marble headstones, each with the usual Sunday bouquet of red or pink geraniums. It is extraordinary only in being triangular instead of square, and in harboring, within the sharp angle of its fence, a pin-point remnant of the native prairie on which the graveyard was established in the 1840’s. Heretofore unreachable by sythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or cutleaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.—Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac, excerpt from http://www.panojohnson.com/leopold-quotes.html#silphium

The abundant rain this spring postponed our KABT field trip but the upside is that the prairies are lush.  KABT members and naturalists in general should be getting out and checking on the ever changing floral display that defines our prairies.

Flower 2

It is a beautiful time of the year and it changes daily.  The weather is cool. The birds are singing, and so are the 17 year cicadas.

The only downside is that you’ve got to watch out for ticks.  However, many of the sites you can visit have wide trails that make picking up ticks less likely.  I’ve made two trips to the Konza this week only 4 days apart and I’m astounded at the change in just that short amount of time.  Biology teachers and naturalists don’t want to miss out.  Get out to your nearest prairie and see if you can’t discover the soul of the prairie.

Carol went along on the last trip.

 

Not blooming but still identifiable: Flower 3

 

There are several prairies around that can be visited.  The Konza leads the list but there is also the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.  In Lawrence you have have the KU Field station north of town and the Prairie Park on the east side of town.  Kill Creek Park in Johnson county and the Prairie Center both have excellent remnant prairies to visit.

Flower 4

It’s not hard to learn to identify many of the flowers with today’s resources.  Load up Mike Haddock’s Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses web page and you’ll likely find the answer to most of the flowers you’ll come across.  Think of the flower images in this post as a quiz to get you started.  If you choose to take up the challenge, enter your answers in the comments below or on the KABT Facebook Page.  There are 11 flowers to be identified.

The Konza is noted for its benches, defined by limestone members.  This is the Fort Riley bench.

 

This is the Fort Riley limstone with eroded cavities filled with plants—like a planter.

As Carol said in her Facebook post, this flower dominated the prairie, last week

Flower 5

 

Flower 6

 

Flower 7

 

Flower 8

 

Flower 9

 

Flower 10

 

Flower 11