Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

© bluestocking – istockphoto.com

     The last two weeks have caused me to redefine the term busy. It has been action-packed with my graduate classes ramping up and the start of my new student teaching placement. In addition to that, I had two separate, awesome professional development experiences. I went to a workshop for science teachers that Chris blogged about here and an observation of an experienced Chemistry teacher that he blogged about here. I’m not being lazy – at least I don’t think so – by piggy-backing on his posts, but there are other things to ponder and on which I need input.

     I have been thinking a lot lately about assessment.   In my brief classroom experience, I have seen many tests with a format that seems to be standard in test generating software:  a) multiple choice, mostly vocabulary section – usually at least one-third of the total points;   b) constructed response, short answer section – again mostly vocabulary;  and then c) problems both qualitative and quantitative.     I did most of the grading in my first placement over the first five months of school and started grading tests in my new placement on Friday.     This experience is limited but I have already graded too many tests on which the students got every problem, and most of the constructed response questions correct, BUT most of the multiple choice questions wrong.   The result is that students barely pass even when they can do all the problems which is the transfer of skills section.    The students really seem to struggle with vocabulary.

     Vocabulary is an important part of science teaching and learning.  I’m not ready to throw up my hands as I am about math which I blogged about here; I think I have a reasonable expectation that math teachers will teach them arithmetic at some point prior to high school.    Science vocabulary, on the other hand, is my responsibility and important if the students are to have sufficient science knowledge to evaluate new information they encounter throughout their lives.    I need to learn how to effectively teach and encourage them to want to learn science vocabulary.   However, I am also pondering alternative assessment strategies including a) more constructed response – although sadly, in today’s testing environment, they need to learn to do multiple choice;  b) fewer test points allocated to vocabulary; and c) putting the vocabulary portion at the end so the students aren’t so frustrated and were exposed to some of it while working the problems.   The last one I’m going to try on the next quiz or test written by me.

     I would really love to take a course on assessment.   Sadly, I have no electives in this program and it isn’t on the list.   Someday.


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© Dietmar Klement - istockphoto.com

     Over the last two weeks, we’ve watched sections of a video, Minds of Our Own, which can be viewed online at http://www.learner.org/resources/series26.html  The most interesting part was interviews of recent MIT and Harvard graduates who couldn’t light a lightbulb with a battery, wire, and a bulb OR describe how a seed turned into a tree – hint the tree needs the chemical shown above and a few other things.

     There is an interesting list of the most common misconceptions at http://www.amasci.com/miscon/opphys.html   Obviously some of these apply to very young children but some continue through adulthood. As long as a person has not discovered information to challenge their view, why would they bother to modify it? It will be a major focus of my teaching to both discover my students’ misconceptions and motivate them to change their views.

     On the subject of green stuff. My garden never happened this year. I bought the seeds and started some of them but stalled before putting them in the ground due to grad school. I briefly hoped that I would plant some lettuce, chard, and kale during my brief hiatus in August – a few sheets of plastic and I could have had fresh veggies through the end of November at least and some years into January. I am fortunate that I can rely on my CSA and the farmers there who transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into food for my family.


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     The Chemistry contingent of our cohort stayed after the meeting last Thursday to meet our mentor.    She was terrific .  She answered our questions with some excellent ideas, examples, and information.   Kristin asked about Chemistry as Inquiry and she described an inquiry project she uses to challenge the students on the first day.    Anne asked about environmental science in the schools.   I was curious about lab safety and managing a chemistry lab with adolescents.   It was a great meeting – we accomplished a lot in 30 minutes and I feel fortunate to be able to learn from her.

     Since I started grad school, I have done every open-ended project on Chemistry or secondary science.  There is still so much to learn.   I’ve started picking apart and organizing the NYT Chemistry Content Standards so that I can make sense of them.    For my Teaching, Curriculum, and Change course, I started a project about the NY Regents Chemistry Exam but the scope of the paper was too big so I had to leave that portion out;  I had too much basic learning to do on assessment.   So much to learn – so little time.

     I read The Fischbowl regularly but this recent post about using podcasts in teaching HS Chemistry really got me thinking.   A Chemistry Teacher in Colorado assigns podcasts of his lectures to students for homework and then does workshops with them during class time.    I’ll be curious to follow this project through the teacher’s blog.   The same teacher modified a Wii to be an interactive Whiteboard.   There is some amazing technology out there.

     But then, there was another post on a blog by a teacher in Australia about buzzwords and technology that reminded me that teaching is really about connecting with, engaging, and motivating the kids.  

     My first class of the semester is tonight.    My kids and I will all be starting at middle school tomorrow.    It feels like the calm before the storm.

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     It was great to see the kids again today as they prepared their poster and did a dry-run of the presentation.   We were the ill-fated group who kept chasing the elusive computers on Friday so they did not get to work on their presentation during the afternoon and hadn’t seen the whole presentation put together until today.    Once again, we practiced individual sections of the presentation but not the whole thing because we were concerned about time.    We probably would have had enough time but they did fairly well presenting to the group.   We need to do another rehearsal on Friday before the big show.

     We had an opportunity to do some individual assessment to check that the students had the concepts down.    One of the scholars who had not really seemed to engage much snapped the Xplorer and probes together and gave a great practice demonstration to another member of our team so he is set for the poster presentation.    We checked with them on the concept map, the conclusions, and other aspects of each of their presentations.   I wish there was a way, in a week, to instill the self-confidence they need to feel comfortable in large group discussions, let alone presenting to their peers.   I think it’s hard in general for middle school kids to stand up in front of people.   They think it’s all about them even when it isn’t; standing up in front of a group, when it really is about them, is difficult.

      We had hoped to have them do their presentation together on Friday and are struggling with adding a conclusion slide with a picture (or pictures) of them but hate the feeling that we would be doing their homework.   We’ll probably do it anyway – it isn’t their fault that they didn’t get to work on the presentation Friday afternoon.    They put the pictures on the poster today so it’s almost like they included it.   One conclusion slide with pictures of our scientists would be a good thing. 

     We gave them each a note about how much we liked working with them and pointing out some or their strengths and accomplishments over the past week.   We also included some pictures of them being scientists at the beach and other miscellaneous pictures from camp.   They seemed to really like them.     

     One way or another, I think we’ll do OK and possibly well on Friday.

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Kids and Data

     It definitely helps my energy level when we have a great day of camp.    We made good progress today on graphing, data analysis, and conclusions although the groups worked at very different rates.   Each group gave a presentation to the leaders from their school and seemed confident about their data.   We need to do some more work on the nature of science and models tomorrow to make sure that we have achieved our objectives on those concepts.    There are a few kids in need of an individual assessment and that may come as each mini-group presents their data to each other and we ask that person to present the data.    Most of the kids are brimming with enthusiasm and contributions but there is one student who is very quiet and others who talk a fair amount but don’t appear to be thinking very deeply about the data or the project.

     Our last day on campus is tomorrow and we have a lot to get done.  I’m very impressed by many of my classmates and the way they have made things fun with the technology.   I think we could have done a little better with that but the whole scheduling of computers has been a bit of a problem.   We’re headed over to a computer lab tomorrow and hopefully we can incorporate some of these good ideas – finding their house on Google Earth or viewing the beach or… – because we will finally have enough computers for everybody to use one concurrently.      We are hoping that each of them will do a blog post tomorrow and comment on somebody else’s blog.    We need to renegotiate the blog theme with them because our current theme, picked by the students, does not list the author and we want them to be able to take ownership of their posts.

     I’m becoming quite attached to these kids.   They are a fun group and it has been a great getting to know them.   I will miss them very much when this is over.   We have had some interesting conversations about many things including one this morning about race.    They told me they are not proud of the people on the street corners who make their race look bad;   I told them I was not proud of the people who make my race look bad by assuming that they are like the people on the street corners.    It is hard to listen to some of the stuff that happens in their lives and realize that there are things I can’t help them with.   I CAN focus on what I CAN do which is being open, positive, supportive, and not judging anybody based on anything other than direct interactions and even then, giving them multiple chances because everybody occasionally has a bad day.

     I’m excited about going to Harambe in the morning and riding the bus with them to campus.     I really like the positive energy of the morning gathering and it will be a nice way to end the week.

Pluses and Arrows:

+  Scholars mostly engaged with the project and seem to be having fun.

+  A good day for data analysis and much of it is already in Keynote so we are on our way to finalizing our presentation.

+  Good energy among students, leaders, and the entire group.   Go Team Thunder!

->   More individual hands-on computer time tomorrow including some fun.

->   Individual assessment needed for a few of the kids to ensure they understand the overall project and understand the nature of science.

->   Keep the energy level up.

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Our Team with the Kids

(Picture by Joe H.)


     Yesterday, our class went back to the school to do Concept Interviews with the kids we will be working with at Science Camp.     Our team – Andrea, Thomas, and I – worked with the scholars to assess what they know about water ecosystems.    In this picture, they are brainstorming Around, About, and In  water and we are trying to capture all the things they mentioned.

     The kids were generally very enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and had no trouble figuring out that we were writing living things in green marker and non-living things or characteristics in brown marker.    We passed out cards to have them describe an interaction between two of the things from the list and write a question about what they wanted to learn at camp – this part was less successful but it was more of a time problem than a concept problem.

     One of the biggest pluses was getting to work directly with the kids and learning their names AND the pronunciation of their names as we went around the circle introducing ourselves and saying one thing about ourselves.    It was difficult to hear with all the excitement and energy in that room but it was all good.    The kids were great at coming up with things to say about water ecosystems although the energy waned a bit towards the end of the hour and we all got a bit tired.   

     It was interesting to note the effect of previous stations.   Only one group had previously gone through the water quality station – done by Anne, Lisa, and Suzanne;  they were very much focused on the About part of the chart and whether the water was good or bad, clean or dirty, polluted or not, etc.   We had to prompt them to get them to come up with fish or anything else that was not a quality characteristic;   I’m glad that station was immediately adjacent to ours so that only one group had experienced it prior to our discussion.   The kids came to us right after their work with Chris, Debbie, and Sean;   they were very excited about the Doritos evaluation and subsequent snacking that were part of that group’s station and wanted to know if we had food too.

    It was a great experience.  I’m really looking forward to working with the kids again at camp!



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