Check out the link to see a list of the presenters and their topics!
I have wanted to change the way I assess students for a while. I have made changes to how and when I grade assignments, the format of tests, and how understanding is communicated during and after lab activities. But in the end, I was still grading students the same way I always had, the same way I was in school, and the same way students have for quite a while. Kid accumulated points, some assignments were weighted more than others, and students who turned in most of their work on time (regardless of quality) tended to do well. This school year, I am not doing that. I will probably fail spectacularly. Luckily I have administrators who are supporting me, knowing I am trying to do what is best for our students. I am going to try this first with my AP Biology students, since I share the Biology 1 classes with two other teachers, and hope this leads to a wider transition.
I will share what I am doing, but I need your help. After reading through my plan, send me a message or leave a comment with your feedback. What looks good? What should I change? What have you tried and can share to improve my students’ experience?
I am basing my course assessment off a document shared by AP Biology/Calculus teacher Chi Klein. The College Board shares, as part of the curriculum framework, “Essential Knowledge” statements and has recommended “Learning Objectives” from them. Ms. Klein compiled and organized those learning objectives into a document that could be shared with her students. I will be sharing a GoogleDoc with my students in the first days of class which they will use over the course of the school year.
As is the case in most standards-based and “gradeless” classes I have seen, students will be responsible for justifying their level of mastery over the content. The “Learning Objectives” document I will share with them covers 149 content standards. Students will be able to earn up to four points for each standard based on their mastery of the content, meaning we’d have 596 possible points by the end of the school year. Here is what I’m thinking for my mastery levels (category title suggestions welcomed):
Level of Mastery
Notes, Guided Readings, Discussions
Class activities, Worksheets, POGILs, Article Annotations, Quizzes
Experiments, Virtual Labs, Demonstrations, etc.
Summative Exams, Projects, etc.
I envision the initial knowledge mastery as being pretty straight-forward to demonstrate. For the successive levels, I have been torn as what threshold to use for mastery. If a student wants to use an assignment, lab, test question, etc., do I require them to have earned all possible points? I have been considering at least 90% on a given assignment/test item before a student can try to use it to justify mastery. As an example, if I have a free response item on our evolution test with 10 possible points, a student would need at least 9 points before they could use that in a grade conference. If a student only earned 6 points, they would have to revise their response and get new feedback on the item before trying to use it again during their next conference.
So students are still earning points, and the points they earn as a percentage of the overall points possible still determine their final grade. Not very earth shattering there. How they are being assessed, and what is being assessed is different than how I have ever done this before. There is a much greater burden of responsibility (and independence) placed on the student. My feedback is going to need to be both more flexible and more timely to allow students to complete any needed revisions. If not, I will be setting my students up for a very difficult experience.
The one final change is, at least for my AP Biology class, I am moving away from the traditional 90/80/70/60 scale for grades. The purpose of the AP class, to me, is to prepare students for post-secondary success and to show well on the AP Biology test. So I want the rigor of the class to match the rigor of the expectations and examination. As anyone who has taken or taught AP Biology can attest, this won’t be difficult. I also want my scoring to reflect that of an AP test. If a student has an A in my class, I want them to have an expectation to earn a 5 on the test. If they have a C in my class, they might expect to earn a 3 (which in Kansas would now get them college credit; good change KSBOE/Regents!). Going back through all the data I could find on the correlation of raw exam scores to 5-point AP Scores, here is what I am going to roll with this year:I am going into this completely aware that revisions will happen when I get AP scores back in the summer. If I have a student who earned 499 points in class, but only got a 3 on the exam, I will need to reconsider either the point range for that grade, or how I let students demonstrate mastery. Again, I am very lucky to have administrators who are willing to let me take this chance, fully aware of I will likely make mistakes.
As for pacing, I am planning on emphasizing one Big Idea each quarter. We’ll start with Big Idea 1 (evolution), which will be more teacher-centered as my students (and I) learn how to function in this new system. As the school year progresses, I hope to transition to a more student-centered model with Big Idea 4 being largely personalized by each individual. Shouts to David Knuffke and Camden Burton for the inspiration here.
This will be my 11th year in the classroom, and 5th teaching AP Biology, and I am finally to a point where I am comfortable enough with my knowledge and abilities to make some changes. I hope this will be a better and more accurate way of assessing student knowledge and mastery, providing more meaning to the grade students earn in my class. But what do you think? What feedback can you give me? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, social media (@ItsIsing), or you can email me (drewising@gmail).
Here goes nothing…
–Documents of Note and Muses–
Syllabus: Ising APBio2017
Student Learning Objectives: GoogleDoc
Camden’s BioBlog Post: http://www.kabt.org/2015/02/23/my-biology-objectives/
Kelly’s Gradeless Classroom: http://www.kabt.org/2015/06/26/the-great-gradeless-experiment-1/
Bob Kuhn’s 52-Week Gradeless Blog: https://medium.com/@mszczepanik/52-weeks-of-grade-less-week-1-the-journey-begins-da3e03739a7e
David Knuffke’s Published Thoughts on SBG: http://www.knuffke.com/search?q=standards
Any teacher with a year or two of experience has had one of those conversations. You have six things to get done before you leave for the evening and you’re hustling to catch someone before they’ve left too. You pass a colleague in the hallway and they make a comment that catches you just right. You pause and give a remark from your own experience that seems to resonate with them too. In no time flat you’re both an hour into a conversation that is reshaping your practice. It happens to everyone, and often they are the most disruptive and creative milestones in a career.
Those discussions never seem to happen during a scheduled workshop. A basic think-pair-share-move on doesn’t produce that kind of dialogue. Deadlines get missed… dinner gets postponed… but that time is so remarkably valuable and satisfying that it never seems like anyone is willing to walk away from them when they’re happening. Let’s get more of that.
I launched a podcast recently (Two Pint PLC) and Woodruff and I have been talking about how to get more folks engaged. We’ve had multiple people give some excellent perspectives on some of our discussions and I have been really sad that those contributions aren’t available for everyone. KABTers have done meetups periodically, so what do you all think about trying to find a way to create a forum to continue those conversations as they happen organically. We’ve got the Facebook page, but that page has so much other stuff going on that I don’t know it’s the best place for lengthier (I hope) dialogue. This blog hasn’t engendered that level of casual back and forth… So ideas? How might we get something more akin to a forum going to discuss research?
Friends, Members, and Colleagues,
The Kansas Association of Biology Teachers would like to encourage you to submit a session proposal for our upcoming fall conference. We are being hosted by the Sternberg Museum (Fort Hays State University, Hays, KS) Saturday, September 9th (more information to follow soon). Whether you are a seasoned presenter or a first-timer, an individual or a group, we’d love to have everyone share something with us. Our strength is in the innovation and openness of our classrooms, and we can’t wait to see what amazing stuff is going on across our state.
Proposals will be accepted from 21 July-8 August. Presenters will be notified of proposal status no later than 11 August.
If you have any questions regarding the conference, proposals, Shark Week, etc, contact Drew (andrewising@gmail) or Sara (sarahettenbach@gmail).
My students built their own aquaponics systems this spring.
First, I introduced a driving question to drive the project with a video. Next, the students broke into groups and explored three different types of aquapoincs units nutrient film, deep water culture, and media bed units. Then they shared what they had learned about these units in a jigsaw. After everyone had looked at the different types of units I asked each student which type they were most interested in making. They then were able to look at designs and make drawings of their own unit. Their homework was to bring this design to the next class. To begin the designs are unpolished
That night I made student groups based on the type of unit they were interested in making. I also chose groups so that I could pair kids with others who they could get along with. It is important and challenging to get student group dynamics right. Personally, I feel that an educator doesn’t need to follow some formula for this they should intuit based on their knowledge of students. The next day students got into the group I assigned to them and shared the diagram they had made. Students then used technology to make a single design as a group.
I critiqued each groups design then sent them to the greenhouse to collect their supplies. Each group was given a 10 gallon aquarium, clay pellets, a $10 aquarium pump, air supply, and a chemical test kit. Other materials/tools that are necessary are a drill, string, silicon caulk, PVC, guttering, compound miner saws, plastic containers, and tubing. Supplying electricity is a serious safety concern. It is very helpful to be friends with the shop teacher.
Students quickly run into the realization that their model is very hard to achieve. Some models are even impossible. The first time I ran this activity I had students revise their models many times but this consumed lots of available work time. Now, I let them simply change their units with no revision to the model. These sorts of revisions can actually be really frustrating for students. Once they see water pumping and have some vision that the system will work the groups get collective energy to get work completed. Now I just have a quick discussion about how well the models work and why they’re useful. I originally had this idea of students revising their models several times, but I feel I had to let that go in order to have time for actually building the real units.
Projects like this take days to work through. In order to grade students I actually have them grade themselves using a simple yet effective self assessment tool.
Each student has a column and must describe how they helped contribute to their group. If one student does more work than other students in the group it is possible that that student receives their points. If the student group does suggest that one student did not carry their load I am the judge of this decision. I base the decision on evidence of work done and conferences with student groups. If a student is gone for the day I ask them to come in during study hall and contribute the same amount that their partners did on the project. The tool is very powerful because it forces students to negotiate fair and appropriate workloads for one another. This is a huge part of what I am facilitating throughout the project. The first several days I will stop the groups every 15 minutes and ask them to write down what each group member did. Once they get the hang of it they write down tasks they have performed on their own. It may sound very simplistic but I have found it very helpful and with 120 students working this system I only had 5 times this year where I held group conferences. This proactive approach is much better for me than dealing with emails about how one student did “all the work in the group” then retroactively trying to negotiate things. I strongly suggest this as a method for helping to manage student groups on projects.
The students do eventually get to the point where their system filters water through. It is amazing to see a system that really works. I have had several students decide that they want to go into designing aquaponics systems for a career. It is so cool to see how much pride they have in their systems.
Jeff & Pam Meyer, the owners of CalAnn farms a working hydroponics farm in Basehor generously showed us their facility. By tying in this real-world experience it helped direct students further up the road. It also gave us new ideas about ways to run more productive systems in our school.
We hope you will join us June 16-18th as the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers will be hosting members and nonmembers for our annual spring field trip. This year, we will be exploring Clinton Reservoir State Park, the Baker Wetlands, and the Kansas River. Camping will take place Friday and Saturday evening at Clinton Lake (Elm Group campsite is reserved, Bloomington East Camping Grounds). There are some roads closed on the way out to the camping grounds. The easiest access will be to come from the north off of K-10. Detailed directions are posted in the Facebook Group.
Last-minute changes to the agenda will almost certainly occur. Please check our Facebook Group for updates. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us via email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org), social media (Facebook or Twitter), or in the comments below.
17:00-19:30 Set up camp, eat dinner, socialize
20:00-TBD Insect Biodiversity Survey with area entomologists
09:00-12:00 Explore the Baker Wetlands– Bird Watching, Wetland macroinvertebrates (1365 N 1250 Rd, Lawrence, KS 66046)
PICNIC LUNCH at Baker Wetlands Discovery Center
13:00-16:00 Guided Hikes of the KUFS Trails, Fitch Biology Trail, Roth Trailhead (Meet at Roth Trailhead
17:00 Dinner in Lawrence (TBD)
19:00-dark “Road Cruising” for herps and other neat wildlife, canoeing in the reservoir
Break camp in the AM.
TBA-12:00 Bird watching and bioblitz
Clinton State Park is accessible from US-56 or K-10 highways, and Clinton Parkway. K-10 is conveniently connected to I-70, US-59, and I-435/I-35.
Clinton Reservoir State Park: 798 N 1415 Rd, Lawrence, KS 66049
Eleven months ago I wrote a letter to my AP Biology students about stumbling in my efforts to include more learners in my AP Biology program. I was deeply conflicted in deciding how to proceed from our scores; student morale was as good as it had ever been and enrollment was up but their scores were the lowest of my career.
This was my last year teaching AP Biology and the changes in my methods continued. Enrollment this year tripled last year’s and early numbers showed them on the rise again next year (had I remained to teach again). Since my commitment to inclusiveness over scores two and a half years ago, I have lost ZERO students to the scythe of early year panic drops. I had groups of students approaching me, a remarkable number of which were future enrollees whom I had yet to even teach, looking for lab placements and enrichment experiences to get more involved in science. Students believed they could biology. I am happy to say I built the environment I sought for my AP program.
Scores are not out yet, but I did another overhaul of my assessment system which I think is worth sharing. When I was brute-forcing my student success I used textbook question banks and regular weekend quizzes to ensure my handful of students did A LOT of testing and their AP scores were very strong. I transitioned last year to only assess by asking students to write what they know and we focused their analysis on what they could add over multiple attempts. Every student knew something about photosynthesis and every student could know something more than what they did each time. Nobody felt useless or stumped, because even if they knew they “weren’t there yet” they could work from what they did know and focus on filling their gaps and fixing their misconceptions.
The shortcoming in this system was the lack of an anchor for the students in evaluating what they know against what the College Board asks them to know. My students were surprised in May because I had told them they had mastered a topic, but my judgement was imperfect and being able to talk about what they know is meaningfully different from solving problems set within a schema… or more often at an intersection between multiple large networks of ideas. I must give my students practice working from what they know while they experience problem solving in ways I had failed to maintain during my transition last year.
So this year I changed my assessment perspective. I still need to hook students on our culture of knowing things, and you must know things to solve problems. For those reasons my first semester changed very little. I made a re-commitment to inquiry and lab experience, but my knowledge assessment suite was only sharpened and refined.
Second semester, however, we were ready to be dangerous. We knew about the world of molecular biology, so from day one we worked to address problems. In January I said, “Muscular dystrophy… what’s the deal with that?” We actually had about half an hour of productive discussion regarding what we did know (I got yet another reminder that students are not blank slates!), but then I handed them our first formal assessment. It had a full page of background information pulled from expert sources and a deceptively simple prompt. They said we don’t know this…
Great! What do you need to know to be able to solve this problem? We made a list. Our work was filling the gaps they needed to address the problem. Once the list was all crossed off, we attempted the problem. After several attempts, they were ready for more. “AIDS resistance… how’s that possible?” Away we went again.
The top level of work changed each time they attempted the assessment, but usually only in small ways that ensured they focused on the ideas rather than the test itself. Every student could still know something, but now there was a much more concrete framework for their trajectory of development. It was challenging to writing milestone assessments that appropriately built student understanding in ways that actually conferred success on the summative assessments… but I think I hit the mark more often than not. In January students needed 3+ attempts per assessment to finally bank all levels, but by April I did have students banking things first try.
Logistically, I provided students with the concepts level and the background reading at the start. The synthesis was brand new each of the first several attempts, but as a class they found it more comfortable to only attempt concepts the first time around so they could have more time to write and revise without the time crunch of getting both things done while both phases were unfamiliar. If students banked all levels of the knowledge assessments/driving problems, they were automatically awarded credit for all formative milestones (but not visa versa). This took a lot of pressure off students who wanted to focus on growth during the unit to be ready to crush at the end, and eliminated the redundancy of going back to do in part something they’d already demonstrated they could do in full. I was surprised to see an even divide of the class, some preferred to bank every chapter first and some wanted to just work the big problems.
I don’t think these assessments are perfect, and I’m posting them warts and all. What matters is that old concepts continue to be explicitly assessed in later topics (see biochem stuff in like… every single assessment). Here they are. Many need copy editing and revision from how they were delivered this year because they were new. Take, modify, use and share in good health.
Students need opportunities to show what they know. Deficit grading will disenfranchise too many students, especially in AP classes. To remain successful we have to find ways to provide layered assessments that are accessible to students at many points on the learning trajectory while still building toward the robust understanding expected by AP exams. Philosophically, I am really liking the path I’ve been on. Perhaps some of you will walk this same direction and push even further down the road.
I’ll update this post in July when the scores are released.
DNA day, the third Friday of April, has been established to recognize and celebrate the advancements in the understanding of this amazing biological molecule. This is the second year KU has celebrated by organizing an outreach program where industry and academic scientists are sent to high school classrooms to present various topics.
Feeling adventurous, I decided to try something new this year and signed up my freshman general biology class and my four senior molecular biology classes to accept these speakers. During the process, I was prompted to choose what modules would be presented. The menu included Model Organisms, Pharmacogenomics (Personalized Medicine), Genomic Inheritance, Immunology, and Phylogeography.
I selected the basic genomic inheritance module for my general biology students, and the pharmacogenomics module for my molecular biology students. Our expectations are shaped by our experiences, so I assumed I would get one presenter repeating the presentations over two block days of classes. Instead, each molecular biology class was assigned a different volunteer. One of the volunteers covered both a molecular biology class and my general bio class.
The genomic inheritance module presented to my freshmen was a lecture over the central dogma of biology, a dash of cloning, and a saliva DNA extraction. In the pharmacogenomics module, PTC tasting strips and the varying responses of a classroom population to those strips were used to model the consequences of varying receptor morphology, and explain why any specific drug may have wide variance in its effectivity and side effects in the general population.
So. Was it worth it?
In a nutshell, yes.
The students enjoyed the contextualization of the biology we have been studying. They benefit from seeing that someone with a Ph.D. in biology, biochemistry, or chemistry is a regular person, not unlike them. The diversity of science as a global discipline was strongly illustrated, as the distributions of origins and ethnicities of the volunteers were large. Student schema development of these biological concepts was enriched by approaching the topics from different directions.
Though all the Pharmacogenomics presentations were given from the same PowerPoint slide show, each presenter had a unique research history. This informed the presentations, as each gave different anecdotes and supporting details. I took notes, and now have a much wider array of anecdotes at my disposal.
I recommend participating in KU’s DNA Day outreach program, but with caution.
First, I do not recommend the general Genomic Inheritance module. This module was a general summary of the central dogma, but nothing in this module is something that we don’t already address in our classrooms as part of the NGSS. The 5-step cookbook DNA extraction (spit, soap, salt, ethanol, stir) showed them the stringy white boogers that are chromosomes, all without leaving their seats. My freshmen biology students have not taken chemistry, and I have not devoted my biology class to laying the groundwork necessary to understand the extraction process. Students must accept that the floating gunk is DNA because we tell them it is. I do not recommend this module, and I will not be doing it again next year.
Second, executing science investigations and teaching are two different skills. A person can devote themselves to developing multiple skills, but do not expect to receive a presenter who is a high school teacher. To make these visits successful, you must be active. These doctors of philosophy of science are calibrated to addressing graduate students. They move at the speed of a 17th grade classroom. You will need to interrupt, as you would a video, and ask your students to summarize, or identify the relationships between concepts, or seek clarification. Though all my students came away with new connections between concepts, the presentation alone would not have done it.
Too long, didn’t read?
KU’s DNA Day is great. You should do it (learn more here), but avoid the genomic inheritance module. It is nothing you haven’t already done, and you don’t need a Ph.D. to read the steps of a cookbook extraction to your students. You’ll also need to be active to support your students during any of the presentations.
I have a student-teacher this semester, and he asked to teach our evolution unit as his “portfolio” unit. He is, at this point, mostly being left on his own to plan, assess, and manage the classroom. Our students were all on board for the Geologic Time Scale and natural selection (and it’s accompanying demonstrations and labs).
However, as we started talking phylogenies and focusing on ancestry, a handful of students started asking why people thought we evolved from monkeys, and why monkeys weren’t evolving into humans. I knew as a more experienced teacher (who had made many mistakes already while teaching students), that this kind of questioning is preventable with some different organization of your unit. But I was interested in how he would confront this in his classroom because it would tell me a lot about his progress and readiness to handle his own classes. As a cooperating instructor, I was interested in how he would respond to this. As a fellow biology teacher, I could sympathize with how he was probably feeling; even if you do everything perfectly, address every misconception, incorporate the nature of science into every lesson, this type of question is always going to get asked by somebody. So what did he do? He impressed me.
I have used “tree-thinking” quizzes and other resources available from Understanding Evolution but have never used any of their video clips. My student teacher had some productive discussions about making conclusions from evidence, why scientific explanations have to be falsifiable, and what it means to have a “common ancestor”. He followed all of that up with this video:
I had never seen this before, but our students really responded well to it. It is definitely something that I will be using in the future!
More Understanding Evolution and National Evolutionary Synthesis Center videos can be found here.
And perhaps it is time to remove my padawan’s braid.