Sunday, February 26, 2017


It's been a few years since I have posted, and lots has changed, including the name of this blog.  The title of the blog used to be {Teaching} ∩ {Physical Science}, but physical science is not currently my primary teaching focus.  I don't know where my professional journey will take me in the future, but I know that changes along the way will be inevitable.

If you had asked me a year and a half ago if I'd be doing something significantly different in the future than continuing to teach in the district I'd been in for 10 years, I would have said it would be unlikely.  But because of a life-changing phone call from my friend Gina who at the time was a former colleague, I now work in a middle school digital fab lab and get to teach students how to use 2D and 3D design software to produce products on vinyl cutters, laser cutters, and 3D printers. 

It's a fabulous position.  I have already learned lots about how to (and how not to) teach a class like this well.  I have been planning on sharing this journey on the blog here eventually, but the impetus to actually do something about it sooner came from George Couros's The Innovator's Mindset massively online open course.

I am looking forward to writing about starting a digital fab lab program and participating in #IMMOOC - let the changes begin!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Culture of Learning, Part 2

If you haven't read my post from yesterday, please check that out.

I took the entire class period yesterday and today really trying to combat student apathy.  Oddly enough, Garnet Hillman wrote an interesting piece on student apathy the same day, but tackling the idea with Danny Hill's ICU / Brick House model (I need to read his books!).

Today, I (mostly) followed the plan I wrote about yesterday:

I told the students that my goal was to remain out of the conversation as much as possible, and that I would only interject if I felt that it was really necessary

We have a seven period day at our school.  I have my duty during 1st period and my prep during 2nd period.

3rd period is my advanced 9th grade physical science class.  The students completely got out of the readings what I had hoped they would.  They discussed the need for hard work, leadership, humility, choosing difficult classes instead of easy classes in HS and college.  They decided spontaneously to do quiet finger snapping applause when someone said something they thought was really deep - that was kind of fun!  The discussion was great and I couldn't have been more pleased.

4th period was pretty much a disaster.  While I asked the students yesterday to slowly and carefully read the entire article, I think a large number of these students stopped thinking after the first sentence which says in part that, ". . . Google had determined that 'G.P.A.'s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless.' "  Well, that led many groups to come to a consensus that they shouldn't go to college and grades don't matter at all.  Ugh.  Not what I was going for.  I had to do a lot of damage control that period, and I anticipate that I'll need to do some more in the coming days.  Sigh.

5th period went well.  I prefaced my instructions with a short bit of guidance, letting the students know that if all they got out of the reading was that they shouldn't go to college and that grades don't matter, they missed the point, and that I was not interested having them take that approach to their conversation.  Their discussion went well, although they weren't quite as willing to have a back-and-forth in the large group setting.

6th period was amazing.  While presenting, one of the students said something about "when we get out into the real world", which tripped my trigger, so I raised my hand to interject.  I strongly believe that students are in their own "real world" and that their K-12 education is just part of their real-world journey, so that's what I said.  That opened a giant can of worms.  Many students felt like they are more in the real world than others due to family circumstances, lack of parental support, or needing to work already.  Some students were surprisingly willing to talk about education and work-related struggles of family members.  A big disagreement was centered around motivation and who motivates or is responsible for motivating the students.  One young lady wrapped up the conversation nicely, and I paraphrase here: "Even though we all may have different viewpoints on this, at the end of the day, no matter who has tried to motivate us - teachers, parents, or anyone else - we students have to make the decision whether or not we're going to work hard every day."  She received some deserved applause.

7th period also went well, but I have a few students who tend to attempt to dominate conversations on a regular basis, which also happened a bit today.  I need to figure out how to channel that energy better.  One group brought up the idea of grit, and a good conversation was had on that topic by the students.

At the end of each hour, I asked for feedback from the students.  I handed out a half sheet of paper with these questions:

Tomorrow, I'll post representative samples or perhaps just a summary of the feedback I receive.

All said and done, today was a good day.  Back to ionic bonding tomorrow!  :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Culture of Learning

I switched things up in class today.  No science content at all. 

Yesterday, we returned to school after a four day break.  I anticipated that my 9th grade physical science students would need a little bit of a refresher before we discussed a computer simulation they had completed exploring ionic bonding.  So we backed up a few steps and reviewed the prerequisite knowledge for understanding why and how atoms form ions.  I felt, though, that the students weren't very engaged and that I was doing heavier mental lifting than they were.  By the end of the day, I was frustrated.

Over dinner, I relayed my frustration to my wife, and she said, "well, do something about it."  I said, "what do you mean?  I tried to do something about it and it didn't work!"  She replied, "you're creative - do something different."  Obviously, she doesn't understand my problems.

Later in the evening, I attended the #COLchat (Culture of Learning) meeting on Twitter from 8-9pm CST.  I just learned about the hashtag and meeting last week, so this was my first time attending (I mostly read).  Lots of great questions and answers were scrolling on my Tweetdeck.  It was hard to keep up, but very inspiring!  Afterward I was thinking, "yeah! Culture of learning!  I'm going to change the world!"  But I hadn't come up with any solutions for my classroom.  I decided to forge ahead with curriculum the next day.

Early this morning, I found the newest Marshall Memo in my inbox.  I popped it open and read through the first article summary, which led me to read the entire article on the NYT website.  But more importantly, it led my to read Thomas Friedman's latest op-ed piece How to get a Job at Google, Part 2.  I then read Part 1.  In a nutshell, the articles describe what Google is looking for in new employees, which is pretty much exactly what I'm wanting my students to do.  This is what I needed!

Before class started, I copied and pasted both articles into a document with a defined 2-inch margin on the right side:

and then typed up the following assignment:

As students walked into class, the article and assignment were hot off the press.  I gave them some of the back story I have just written about and then explained what I wanted them to do.  Almost every student really dug in and worked hard.  One of them worked past the bell for about a minute and then said, "Mr. Weiger, this is going to be an entire diary by the time I get done with it today!" as she walked out the door with a smile on her face.  That was fun to hear.

Tomorrow, here's what I plan to do:
  • Give students time to skim the article again and read their notes written on the article and their writing inside their science notebook.
  • Get students into groups of four
    • take a minute each to share their overall comments, thoughts and questions in their small groups
    • as a small group, 
      • come to a consensus and whiteboard the two most important take-aways from each article
      • prepare to discuss their ideas with the large group
  • in a large group setting, each group will present their ideas to the rest of the class, using our class discussion guidelines

Looking forward, I'm really excited to see what tomorrow holds.  I haven't done anything exactly like this before, and I wonder how much the students really took the assignment to heart today.  If you have suggestions or comments, I would love to hear them either in the comment section below, or on Twitter. @boydweiger

Also, I should probably listen to my wife's suggestions more carefully.  Thanks Steph!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Whiteboarding and Classroom Climate

I have been using modeling in my 9th grade introductory physics class for a few years now, with whiteboarding being an integral part of the class.  One of the byproducts of whiteboarding, if done well, can be a classroom climate that feels very safe to students.

During my first year of modeling, I was searching for additional question stems to help students politely ask questions of each other (even though they all love "Have you considered . . ."  !).  I found this document at Edutopia, which was a help.

Last summer, I read An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger, and got some more ideas from that book for making a better document which I give to my students.  Berger discusses his methods of critique, which parallel whiteboarding techniques, on p.92-95.

You can download my document (it's in science notebook foldable format) but here are the contents:

I don't let students slide on politeness.  They all know that I will not hesitate to halt the conversation and direct the question-asker to page 12 of his or her science notebook so he or she can find a more polite way to ask the question!

I have a quite powerful story about this from class last year.   A new student (let's call him Joe) arrived in my classroom towards the end of the first semester.  A few days after Joe arrived, we did a whiteboard session on an assignment.  As Joe was working with another student on their whiteboard, I gave him a quick run-down of how whiteboard sessions work.  Unfortunately, I left out the polite questioning techniques.  Half-way through the whiteboarding session, Joe raised his hand after the presenters asked if anyone had a question.  Joe then made an unkind comment about their whiteboard instead of asking a polite question.  The effect on the other students in my class was immediate and obvious.  Jaws dropped and brows furrowed as they whipped their heads to first stare at Joe and then at me.  Class mores had been violated and the students were obviously wondering what would happen.  I politely said, "Hey Joe, we try to ask questions politely when we're whiteboarding.  Could you rephrase what you said to be a little more polite?"  Joe complied, and we moved on.  I kept him after class, gave him a copy of our discussion guidelines document, and a had a short non-confrontational pep talk about what the expectations are during whiteboarding.  Our conversation went well.

The very next day, when we were finishing up the whiteboard session from the previous day, Joe made the same sort of snarky comment that he had made the day before.  The other students appeared incredulous that he would go down the exact same road as the day before.  I asked Joe to step out in the hallway and asked the other students to continue the whiteboard session (which they're absolutely able to do).  I had a stern, yet calm conversation with Joe about what our class expects student interactions to look like.  After we were both on the same page, we went back into class, and continued on.

The next time Joe participated during class, I could see the other students tense up before he spoke.  After he politely spoke, I watched the tension in the room visibly dissipate.  We had no problems from there on out for the rest of the year.

You, as a classroom teacher, absolutely impact your classroom climate by the expectations you set.  These expectations may the become the expectations of your students as well.

Friday, April 5, 2013

SBG Part 6 - What about assignments?

Once of the nice features of SBG it that it really lends itself to the backwards design process.  Using state standards to write learning goals, using learning goals to write assessments, and then designing instruction to support the assessments.

Because my academic standards assessments are 100% of a student's grade, if I expect that my students will do their assigned work, it had better be high quality and completely aligned with the learning goals.  I have to convince the students that if they don't do assigned work, their grade will suffer.

I truly believe that homework should be used for students to practice skills that they are in the process of learning, and that if they make mistakes while they are practicing, they should not be penalized.  Sports analogies are particularly apt:  mistakes on the practice field are fine - it's performance in the game that counts.

I expect students to have their assignments done to the best of their ability when they walk in the door of my classroom.  If they have trouble with a question, I expect them to reason through as much of it as they can and write down as much as they could figure out along with a note about their confusion.

I check assignments for completion at the beginning of the class period.  I enter assignments into the online gradebook as either 'T' for turned in, or 'M' for missing.  Students can fill out a small form to get the grade status changed from 'M' to 'T', although I make a comment that the assignment was late in the gradebook.  Assignments are all in a 0% weight category.  I enter this information mostly so parents can see their student's trend in assignment completion.

Students quickly find out as the school year starts that even though assignments are not directly part of their grade, they cannot attain high levels of achievement without doing the assignments in my class.

Cheating becomes a non-issue.  Students usually copy assignments in other classes to get points for the assignment.  In my classes, the only way for students to earn points is to learn from assignments and then show me what they know during an assessment.

As far as extra credit assignments go, there are none.  What can you do to get your grade up?  Study and reassess a standard.  No word-finds in this class!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

SBG Part 5 - Reassessing

If you put any stock in what Carol Dweck wrote about in Mindset, then encouraging students to have a growth mindset while implementing a traditional grading system often sets them up for failure.  

Let's say a student does poorly on the "Unit 3" test.  If you as a teacher are unwilling to allow them some way to reassess after they upgrade their level of knowledge, I don't see how that promotes a growth mindset.  What that says to the student is that even if they are willing to put in work to improve their level of knowledge, you as a teacher do not value that effort.  I think that send the wrong message.

Here's what I tell students that they must do in order to reassess a learning goal:

New information showing additional learning will replace old information.  You may reassess provided that you have:
  • fully completed ALL assignments related to that standard (standard codes are listed at the top of every assignment)
  • checked your answers for all assignments related to that standard using the key in Mr. Weiger's notebook
  • documented an effort to engage in additional learning (e.g. tutoring, additional practice, test corrections, studying, etc.)
You must fill out an online reassessment request two workdays in advance of any reassessment.  You may only reassess one standard per day.  You must reassess before or after school.  The deadline for any reassessment is the last day before the final week of the semester.  No reassessments will be allowed  during the final week of the semester.  Any grade changes due to reassessments made after Q1/Q3 ends will be reflected in your S1/S2 grade.

I post my before/after school availability on a google calendar on my class website.

Here's what the reassessment form look like.  Some good meta-cognitive questions are included - click the link to check it out.

The new score is entered over the old score in the gradebook after the student reassesses - even if if goes down.  This ensures students take reassessment seriously.

I put a comment in the gradebook that says for example, "original score:1, reassess:4"

A nice aspect of this system is that it puts most of the responsibility for the reassessing process on the student.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

SBG Part 4 - The written assessment process

I have gone through many iterations of how to do assessment, but I think I've hit on something pretty good this year.  Here's how it goes:
  • I assess more frequently on fewer learning goals.  This allows me to conference with every (usually) student  immediately after each assessment.
  • My tests are printed in a specific format:
    • they have a cover page containing only the student's name, period, and any relevant given information (formulas, constants, etc.)
    • the questions are sectioned by learning goal
    • at the beginning of each section, the learning goal code and description are listed along with a score box
  • The first student who is done with the test comes up directly to me and I grade his/her test.  This has several benefits:
    • I get to have a individual conversation with each student.  I always greet the student by name and then take the time to briefly connect with them in some way besides the test we're about to grade.
    • If a student has written an answer that I am unclear about as I read it, I can ask the student right then and there to clarify their answer.  I can take that into account when score the test.
    • I can give the student immediate feedback.  Not the next week.  Not in two days.  Not tomorrow.  Immediately.  This is a big deal.
    • I can give specific ideas for them to remediate if necessary.
  • The second student done with the test stands in the "on-deck" circle near my desk.
  • The third student who is done puts their test in a wire bin, sits back down at their desk and works on whatever I have assigned students to do after the test.
    • Pointing into the wire bin is an old video camera that I have permanently checked out from our media center.  It serves as a DIY document cam.
    • The video camera is hooked up to the video port on my digital projector.
    • Since the cover page of the of the test does not contain any test questions/answers - no problem.
  • Other students who finish, put their test on the bottom of the stack in the wire bin.
  • When I am done conferencing with the first student, he/she goes into the lab area to update his/her notebook:
    • enters scores on unit score tracker in science notebook
    • color codes scores on tracker with a colored pencil:
      • 4 - green
      • 3 or 2 - yellow
      • 1 or 0 - red
    • puts assessment into his/her personal manila folder containing all written assessments
    • puts manila folder in a different wire bin
    • sits down at desk, calculates new science grade using notebook grade tracker page, and then works on assignment
  • When the first student leaves, the student in the on-deck circle comes up to get their test graded
  • The student whose name is being projected on the board gets their test out of the bin and waits in the on-deck circle.
  • The process continues until I'm done grading all the tests or the bell rings.
  • If I don't get to conference with all the students, I grade those tests after school and pass them back the next day.  Since I typically don't have many to grade, I have more time to leave detailed written feedback.