MR W's TEACHING & GRADING PHILOSOPHY

I am a very strong advocate for the teaching philosophy known as “Grading for Learning”.   It is important for my students and the folks at home to understand that means that I place a great deal of emphasis on “Learning” and much less emphasis on “Doing.


The very best ways to learn and understand a new concept in science is to work with it, investigate it and explain it.  In fact, my gold standard for student learning occurs when a student can teach what they have learned.  There’s no such thing as “I know it, but I can’t explain it!


The very worst way to learn something in science is to ask someone to tell you what you are supposed to remember so you can spit that back on a test and get a good grade-- That is memorizing, doing, hoop-jumping and not learning.


SOLVE THE PROBLEM

One of our classroom rules is "Solve The Problem".


Very often a student will ask me to answer a question or a problem that comes up in the science classroom.  More often than not, my response is along the lines of "What do YOU think the answer is?", "Did you talk in your group?" or "Work to solve the problem."


Please know that I'm not being glib.... I certainly can answer the question, but that doesn't help my students learn. That means I'll always have my students discuss, debate, evaluate and otherwise chew on an issue first. If, after doing that, the group remains stuck *then* I'll be happy to offer some guidance on the problem at hand.


Science is all about method and process. Answers in science mean absolutely nothing without showing processes and methods... which can be difficult for some students, especially for those who WANT THE ANSWER NOW!!!


"I DON'T KNOW"

Along those lines, I also do NOT allow students to say "I don't know" in answer to a question, problem, or situation I've presented to the class.

I almost always have students discuss such a problem or situation within their group first and THEN I randomly call on a student to respond. For too many years too many students have found that the easiest way 'out' of being called on is to say, "I don't know".


My expectation is that a student will ALWAYS make an attempt to reply with some sort of scientifically appropriate response. If I call on a student and that student responds with "I don't know" (or any variation thereof), I'll remind the student of my class expectations in that regard and return them to their group for further discussion-- at which point, once again, they are expected to respond. As noted earlier, if the entire group is at a loss and otherwise unable to provide assistance to their colleague, I will provide guidance and/or further information and prompt the group to resume their discussions. That extra time also provides the other groups in the class with additional opportunity to discuss the issue in *their* groups, should I call upon them next.

GROUP WORK


I'm a *huge* fan of having students discuss, collaborate, argue, debate, sketch, graph, compute, assist and otherwise communicate within their group.

Throughout my 15+ years in the tech industry prior to becoming a teacher, I know the importance of developing those group-based *soft* skills found in group interactions that are key to survive and thrive in the new economy.  Through my work in community discussions in my computer science classes, I have heard time and time again from community employers of the absolute necessity for our students to work productively as part of a team.


Having said that, I NEVER give a "group grade" for a lab or project. Although I encourage my students to collaborate (especially on Lab Reports), I INSIST that students always do their own work at all times on all graded assignments.


I adhere to the educational philosophy that believes Group grading leads to all kinds of problems and is neither fair nor equitable so I just don't do it.


TESTS


I rarely (if ever) give tests that are entirely multiple choice.  I much prefer having students demonstrate understanding of the material. Towards that end, my tests almost always include short answer *AND* free response questions. A huge part of what I'm trying to teach is science literacy and the demonstrated ability to show scientific reasoning.


All students are required to finish all tests in class during the time provided unless I have written directions from their counselor.  Students are required to take online tests at the same time as their classmates just as if we were in class together. 

I am asking that students be present with their cameras and microphones turned on during that time.  If there are reasons why you are unable to do that, please let me know at the beginning of the term or as conditions warrant during the year.  Students will turn in exams via Schoology unless otherwise directed by me which may require taking digital images of free response work, so a working digital camera is required.

GRADING


I don't grade on a curve (this is subject to change for AP Physics C) and I don't give extra credit (please don't ask).


I don't grade homework or other activities that I use to help students learn (except writing assignments or projects as indicated).  Also, I don't grade formative quizzes that I use to gauge how well my classes understand the current unit.


I grade based on labs, research/writing assignments, projects, and tests (and in my computer science classes, written code and programming). Tests are tied directly to daily learning targets (found on daily lesson plans on my website) and unit learning targets, found in the "UNITS" section on my website. That means my grade book maybe a bit smaller than what some folks are used to...Or to put it more succinctly, I grade my students based on their LEARNING, and NOT on their doing.


That also means that most of a student's grade on test problems will be earned by supporting methodology, NOT the final answer. Correct answers are typically worth only 20-25% of the points available on any given question while the remaining 75-80% points are earned by showing supporting work.


LATE WORK


Generally speaking I'm just fine with taking in late written work such as projects, research and lab reports all the way up until the time I have entered a grade into the grade book and returned the assignment back to students. Allowing students to turn in such work after their colleagues have received their graded version back is just unfair to everyone involved.


If there are extenuating circumstances, let me know SOON and I may provide an extension or an alternative assignment.

RETAKES/REDOs


I'm a very big fan of retakes (except in AP Physics C). Sometimes we just don't do as well on a test or project as we should have the first time. However, I'll never provide the same test twice. The retake will test for the same type of learning, just not in the exact same way.

There are no limits to the number of times a student can retake a test. Having said that, I'll add that only on two occasions in the last 12 years has *any* student taken a test more than twice.

There are also no requirements, forms, or other hoops for a student to jump through to retake a test. However, I do STRONGLY recommend that the student drop by (or Zoom in!) during my office hours and review the material with me until we are both sure they are ready for a retake. I have office hours most days until 3:00 and also during the day. I encourage students to make an appointment first.

Also, I don't put an exact deadline on the number of days or weeks after the initial test that a retake be completed. I used to do that, but it turned out to be impractical. I can say the longer a student waits, the less likely I am to grant a retake. I rarely grant a retake more than 6 weeks after the original date and virtually NEVER during the week leading up to finals.


Also, there are times when I am unsatisfied with the level of work turned in by a student on a written lab report, project, or something similar. In those instances, I may return it to the student and ask the student to refine their work or to do that work again. If a student is dissatisfied with their performance on such work, I'm usually agreeable to partial or complete rewrites AFTER a conference with me first.


DROPPING LOWEST GRADE


Although I do expect my students to perform at a high level throughout the course, I'm certainly aware that we all have bad days and we sometimes botch a test -- it happens.   I drop each students' worst performing score at the end of the semester to account for a bad test day. (Please Note: There is a feature in our software that I use to drop scores. No grade is actually, physically removed from the grade book though, it is simply not included in the final calculation of the student's grade. Also, I have no control over which score is dropped, it is purely automatic)

PLAGIARISM


Simply put I am a *beast* on this topic.

I have zero tolerance when a student (or students) turn in work that they have copied from ANY other source without proper attribution OR students who provide their work to a colleague for that purpose.


Beginning in Fall 2020 I will have students submit their written work through Schoology. I will NOT engage the feature that shows students the % of their work that is "not original" or questionable. If a student writes in their own voice using their own original ideas and cites outside work appropriately, there won't be a problem.


If I find a student has plagiarized their writing, I will enter a score of ZERO in the grade book for that assignment, call the student's parents/guardians and request they join me and the student in question for a very difficult conversation in my classroom or Zoom Room after school.


Claiming ignorance will only make things worse for the student and is very definitely NOT advised.
This VERY DEFINITELY applies to lab reports. Yes, I request/require/demand students collaborate. But we all speak and write in our "own voice" and I insist that students use their own writing for all parts of their lab reports.


A note to students: If you give your lab report in ANY FORM to another student "to help them", "to just give them the data", "because they were absent" or any other such non-sense, you are inviting your lab partner to copy your work. Don't do it! More importantly, I have no way of knowing which person copied from whom NOR will I try to make that determination. You are equally guilty of plagiarism for giving up your work. I will emphasize this over and over and over in class.


Occasionally a student will miss a lab or lose data. In that case, I'm fine with you exchanging ONLY the data and only if you notify me first.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE F-BOMB


I never give a student a score less than 50% on any assignment (Unless I bust someone for cheating or plagiarism).
50% is an F, if a student fails an assignment or fails to turn in an assignment, I enter 50% of whatever points are available in the grade book. Rest assured I haven't given my student anything other than an F. What I haven't done is drastically fire-bombed a student's grade by giving that student a score of less than F.


For example:
Let's say a student aces an exam worth 100 pts and scores an "A" on that test.  Now let's say the same student has a bad week and fails to turn in a project worth 100 points and receives a score of "F" for that project.


We all know that the average of an "A" and an "F" is a "C" (assuming of course the point scores are the same for each assignment)


Now let's say we use an electronic grade book and we score the same exact results using straight points:  100 pts on the first test, 0 points on the project.  Bad news-- the average of those scores is 50 points which is an "F", which is clearly inaccurate.


In those cases where a student’s fails to turn in an assignment or fails an assignment outright, I enter 50% of whatever points are available. In the example above I would enter 100 pts on the first test and 50 points on the failed project. The resulting average is a 75 which is what earns a "C" as expected.


NOTES for 2019-2020 and beyond: The district added features to our grade book allowing for a code of "NE" (No Evidence) and "IE" (Incomplete Evidence) to help further indicate where students have failed to turn in an assignment or have only partially completed an assignment. I will continue to support the district initiative by using those codes in my grade book. At the end of the semester, however, I will convert NE grades into 50% (an "F") rather than the 40% used by the district because that imposes a 10% grade penalty on my students, and I'm not comfortable with that.

DISCIPLINE


I *strongly* believe that grades should be used neither as a punishment or a reward. Towards that end I treat discipline and grading as two completely separate and distinct issues. My three basic classroom rules "Show Respect", "Make Good Decisions" and "Solve the Problem" are essential to the wellbeing of everyone in my class. That means I have high expectations of my students to live up to those rules, and they should have every expectation that I will live up to those rules too.


Towards that end, if I'm having difficulty with a student (or they are having difficulty with me), I'll often ask that student to step out in the hall and then join them momentarily. Generally speaking, that gives us *both* an opportunity to cool down.

Additionally, I sometimes ask a student to drop by after school for an additional conversation.  Since we are working remotely that means that I may “mute” a disruptive student or turn off their video (especially if the student is being disruptive). 

In extreme cases where a student is bullying, harassing, or otherwise providing a major impediment to learning in my online class, I may have to remove the student from our Zoom Room entirely.  In such cases I will contact the parent/guardian as soon as possible after class.


Should difficulties continue or for more serious issues, I will usually call home and check in with the student's parent/guardian. Quite often I'll suggest an after-school conference WITH the student and their parent/guardian. It's important during those conversations for the student to understand that their parent/guardian is there as their advocate to provide moral support for them (the student) while the student and I work to solve our difficulties.


If that conversation between myself and the student proves difficult or non-productive, I'll usually talk directly to the parent/guardian and seek some help and guidance and then we will work together to resolve the issue with the student.


I'll frequently consult with my colleagues, counselors, and administrators if a student and I are struggling to resolve our issues. I've found that quite often a colleague will provide insight or guidance that can be most helpful in such matters.


As per our student handbook: Phones, Smart Phones, Cell Phones, Head Phones and other electronic gizmos (except Chromebooks and/or Laptops for educational purposes) are NOT permitted

in my classroom at any time for any reason unless provided for in writing by the student's counselor; or we need to take photos during a lab or in some classroom activity as directed by ME.


This is a MAJOR bone of contention with students. I will remind them a few times but eventually when I get exasperated enough I'll have the student walk their phone down the hall and give it to the nice folks at the front desk to guard for the rest of the day (I'm not even going to TOUCH a $1000 phone!). I don't write up a student for the first (or even second) offense unless the student gets belligerent-- which happens more often than I'd like.

After that I'll write up the student and refer them to the appropriate administrator.  Also, a favorite student refrain when I bust them with their phone is "BUT I'M TALKING WITH MY MOM!", which, oddly enough never works.  Yes, I’m quite aware that this will be terribly difficult to enforce in the online/virtual classroom.  Nonetheless I’m asking students to avoid their phones during my virtual classes.

NETIQUETTE


I’m going to make a double-extra-effort to be patient this year; and I’m asking my students to do the same as we transition into online learning.  My basic classroom rules will always apply whether we are together in my classroom or learning remotely:  Show Respect, Make Good Decisions, Solve The Problem.


I hope it is obvious that means that students should work, study, dress, prepare and otherwise act the same online as they would in my physical classroom.  In regard to discussion groups, here are a few pointers that I have copied from the online website CatlinTucker.com that many of my colleagues have also adopted:

  • Use each other’s names. Using a person’s name when you respond to his/her postings creates a friendly online tone.
  • Read questions and conversational postings carefully to avoid unnecessary confusion.
  • Compliment your peers when they post strong responses or contribute original ideas to the conversation.
  • Ask questions. If anything is unclear or you want further information or insight on a topic, just ask. If you have a question, there are probably other members of the group who are confused and need further clarification as well.
  • Be considerate. Remember that your peers cannot see your body language or hear your tone of voice, so you need to keep your language direct and respectful.
  • Avoid slang, jargon, and sarcasm.
  • Listen to all the ideas presented. Remember there is no right or wrong in a discussion. A variety of perspectives add depth.
  • Stay open-minded.
  • Respond instead of reacting. Do not write a response if you are angry or upset. Instead, wait until you have had time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
  • Really read your peers responses. Avoid skimming. Respect the time your peers have spent articulating their thoughts by reading carefully and thoughtfully.
  • Reread your messages before sending them to ensure that your ideas are clearly communicated and supported.
  • Critique the content, not the person.
  • Do not present your personal opinions as fact. Back up your ideas with information to strengthen your statements.
  • Courteously answer all questions addressed directly to you.
  • Make “I” statements when respectfully disagreeing. Sharing an opposing opinion or idea is an important part of discussion, but it needs to be presented in constructive manner that encourages further discussion.
  • Do not use all caps when writing. It is interpreted as yelling.
  • Avoid emotional punctuation, like exclamation points, unless you are complimenting an idea shared.

 

Examples of Strong Sentence Starters:
Rebecca’s comment made me think about….
Although Zach made a strong point that__________, I think….
I had not thought about Leigh’s point that….
I respectfully disagree with Lawrence’s assertion….
I really appreciate Deborah’s insight into….
Thank you, Manuel, for sharing….
Great point, Angela! Have you considered…?
Even though Katie’s point is valid, I tend to….
Building on Dustin’s statement that….
In contrast to Michelle’s point….
Brady highlighted some key ideas when he said…
Caitlin, can you clarify your statement that…?
Carmen, your posting reminded me of….

OFFICE HOURS


I will be available online for regularly scheduled office hours M-T-Th-F at 11:15 - 12:20 & 2:00 - 3:00PM and on Wednesday’s from 2:00 – 3:00. 


Students:  Just click on the Zoom link on my calendar and it will take you right in.  Please keep in mind that there is a good chance I’ll be talking with multiple students at once.  If you need to talk to me privately, please shoot me an email and I’ll reserve a spot for you on my calendar.


Parents:  Please try to check with me first before “dropping in” to office hours in Zoom.  As I noted above, there is a good chance other students will be present, and parent-type conversations need to be private.  So please shoot me an email and I’ll put you on the calendar for a private conversation.


WELLNESS


High School can be a tough time for many of our students. Unfortunately, we often expect our students to somehow come to class with a whole bunch of tools to deal with stress... and yet we never teach those tools. Mental and emotional strain on our students is well documented and finding ways to (gently) talk about that stress and ways to cope with it are an increasingly helpful benefit to them.


At the beginning of the year, I take some time to introduce my students to the science behind Mindfulness Meditation. We review a Scientific American cover story ("Mind of the Meditator") that talks about changes in the brain that often occur when a person practices meditation and look at a UCLA Neurology study that discusses those changes.


Assured (hopefully) of the scientific basis for the benefits of meditating, we take the occasion to learn how to do that. Students are in no way required to participate in meditating, however I DO require them to sit quietly for 5 minutes regardless. In our hectic world, I see no downside whatsoever in taking a short, quiet break every now and then.


Several years ago, I began to give my students the option to ask for a "Take 5" (usually during the second half of the class). This usually takes the form of a student calling out "Hey, Mr W, can we take 5?" at an appropriate time. If time permits (and it usually does), the class takes five minutes of quiet time to meditate or sit quietly.


I also talk about the importance of sleep as well as new research that shows the really interesting neurological activity that occurs when we sleep and the profound impact that activity has on learning.
The Wellness section of my website along with the topics that we may be discussing is easily found on the "Parents" page of my website and I STRONGLY hope and encourage all parents, guardians and other folks-at-home to take a look.

UNITS


SEMESTER #1 - Mechanics

SEMESTER #2 - Waves/Optics/Electricity

► UNIT #0: Introduction to Physics: Significant Figures (Sig Figs!) & Unit Conversions (railroad tracks

► UNIT #5: Gravity & Orbital Motion

► UNIT #1: Motion (kinematics)

► UNIT #6: Waves - Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Ocean Waves & Earthquake Waves

► UNIT #2: Forces (dynamics)

► UNIT #7: Waves (Sound & Light)

► UNIT #3: Momentum, Impulse & Collisions

► UNIT #8: Optics

► UNIT #4: Work & Energy

► UNIT #9: Intro to Electricity

Detailed unit learning targets are found on the “UNITS” section in Schoology or on my website.
Daily lesson plans with specific daily learning targets are found on the “CALENDAR” and Month section of Schoology or on my website.


SUPPLIES

    • A district issued laptop or similar computer with access to word processing software, spreadsheet software, presentation software, digital imaging/photography software and a current Internet Browser.

    • A calculator that can handle scientific notation and basic trig.  That does NOT mean students need a “Scientific Calculator” like a TI-81, TI-83 or similar (they are kinda spendy).  A TI-30X works just fine and can be found at Office Depot and other stores for about $12.00.  I have a number of TI-30X that I have purchased for my classroom.  Let me know if you need one and I’ll arrange it.

    • A plastic protractor for measuring angles (or a protractor app downloaded onto a smart phone works well too… I’ll have suggestions on apps when we get there)

    • Pencils are required on tests.  I FORBID students from using pens on tests… it pretty much always leads to scratching out answers, sloppy work, bad workflow and much headaches for me in grading.  Please keep that in mind.

    • A digital camera.  Students will most likely submit free response questions via digital image.  Please keep in mind that District issued laptops have built-in cameras.

     

     

     

There Once Was a Lady Named *BRIGHT*

Who Travelled FAR FASTER than LIGHT

She Set Out One Day

(In a Relative Way)

And Came Back the Previous Night