Schoology – Requiring Assessment Mastery Before Moving on

In Sal Khan’s phenomenal TED Talk Let’s Teach for Mastery – Not Test Scores, he illustrates the lack of focus on mastery in most classrooms with this metaphor:

To appreciate how absurd [teaching based on a pacing guide, not mastery] is, imagine if we did other things in our life that way. Say, home-building.

So we bring in the contractor and say, “We were told we have two weeks to build a foundation. Do what you can.”

So they do what they can. Maybe it rains. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up. And two weeks later, the inspector comes, looks around, says, “OK, the concrete is still wet right over there, that part’s not quite up to code … I’ll give it an 80 percent.”

You say, “Great! That’s a C. Let’s build the first floor.”

He continues with this great metaphor, but I’ll stop there because the point is clear: it’s silly to have students move to the next topic or skill before they’ve mastered the one they’re on.  With technology, we have tons of ways to ensure this mastery.

In Schoology, you can require students exceed a minimum assessment score prior to moving on to the upcoming content.  And, if they don’t do well enough?  Have them learn from their mistakes, get better, re-take the assessment and then move on.

Here’s how to do it, first in GIF form and then in step-by-step form.

Requiring Test Mastery in Schoology Animation

  1. Go to the Materials Page for your course.
  2. Click Add Materials > Assessment.
  3. Create your Assessment.
  4. Include in the instructions a note about the minimum score and their ability to retake the assessment.
  5. Go to “Settings” inside of the assessment.
  6. Change the Attempt Limit to Unlimited (or some other greater than 1 option)
  7. Decide how you’d like it to be graded.  I go with “highest score.”
  8. Turn on Submissions (if you’re ready)
  9. Go back to your materials page.
  10. Click on Options > Student Completion.
  11. Set up Student Completion for your pages and assignments.
  12. For the Assessment, Select “Member must score at least” and enter the minimum score you’d like students to obtain.

We can’t take offense to them ignoring it before if they hear it NOW!

In a past school year, a colleague and I were trying hard to sell the teachers in our building on a certain technology tool.  The name of the tool doesn’t really matter.  All that mattered is, we considered it a top priority – a tool that could really benefit students.  So, we shared about it in emails, in team meetings, in staff meetings, in more casual conversations, anywhere that we could get an audience for it.

Later, one of the teachers attended a technology conference.  They came back and were super-excited about a fantastic, exciting, new technology tool.  They planned to use it the next day and couldn’t be prouder to have discovered it.

Yup, you guessed it: it was the same tool that we had been beating the drum for all year long.

My colleague was mad.

Colleague: “We’ve shared about this tool so many times and [this teacher] ignored us each time . . . and now she sees thinks she discovered it!?”

Me: “Who cares.

Colleague: “What!? How does this not make you mad?  You recorded videos, you wrote emails, you presented about it in meetings . . . “

Me: “But . . . what was our goal?”

Colleague: “To get teachers to use it.”

Me: “Then we’ve met our goal and the students will benefit.”

The truth is, it’s hard not to be frustrated and offended in this situation.  You pour yourself into your role as a tech coach (whether it’s official or unofficial) and work your tail off to try to expose teachers to the ideas that you believe in.  And when they ignore it, it hurts.  And when they discover it elsewhere and don’t even recall you sharing it, it hurts more.

But . . . it doesn’t matter.  As long as the improvement happens, as long as the students benefit, as long as they hear the message from someone – even if it’s not you – you’ve met your goal.  Take a deep breath and offer to support them in implementing that new tool!

We can’t take offense to them ignoring it before if they hear it NOW!

How Many Hot Dog Topping Combinations?

It was 6:12 PM EST.  We were eating dinner on our deck.  My sister messaged me.  She had a very important question.  Her and her colleagues were in a heated debate.  Just how many topping combinations were there at Cleveland’s fun hot dog restaurants Happy Dog?  I know, right?  This is a big deal.  Could I swoop in and save the day?  Yes.  Er, well, with the help of my trusty sidekick Google Sheets I could.  (Excel would have worked, but what if I need to access the calculations on the go?  or share them?  Yup, I made the right choice.  gSuite’s trusted cloud-based spreadsheet is the way to go here.)

So, I got the details.  There are 50 toppings possible.  No limits (you can do all 50, as my oldest son might choose) or minimums (0 toppings, as my youngest son prefers them, counts too).  Variations on the dog (veggie?  black bean!?) or bun (bleck, wheat?) were to be ignored.

I set right to it.  I picked a trusty Google Sheets formula – Combin – and got to work.  That formula deals with a common mathematics formula that finds the number of combinations of something.  You need only know two things – how many possible things and how many are to be chosen (i.e., 50 toppings choose 1, 50 toppings choose 2, etc.).  Now, don’t get this mixed up with permutations where order matters, because no one cares if you go peanut butter, sriracha, alien relish or alien relish, peanut butter, sriracha or … well … you get it.

COMBIN(nk) where n is the size of the pool of objects to choose from and k is the number of objects to choose.

The rest is history.  Check it out in the GIF below.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you the answer: 1,125,899,906,842,620 – one quadrillion, one hundred twenty-five trillion, eight hundred ninety-nine billion, nine hundred six million, eight hundred forty-two thousand, six hundred twenty combinations.

Side note to math teachers: I love how the numbers are symmetrical (i.e., there are 1,225 different 2-topping dogs and 1,225 different 48-topping dogs).  Could be a great discussion with math students.

Now, here’s how I did it:

Happy Dog Combinations Animations

Screencasts in Math Class

Years ago, as a middle school math teacher, I had a dilemma.  My 51 minute math classes had been shortened to 43 minutes.  As any teacher knows, this is a big deal.  After wrestling with a lot of ideas for how to handle here’s what I landed on:

Each day, during my planning period, I pressed record in a screencasting program called Jing, stepped up to the SmartBoard and went over the day’s homework as if my class was there.  (I’m sure I looked like I had lost my marbles to any passerby) I did it quickly, forcing myself to keep it under 5 minutes.  Any longer would mean 2 things: my assignment was too long and I was using to much class time to explain content that my students had already done.

The next day, I would play that video while taking attendance, checking to see who did their homework and meeting with any students who had been absent.  This allowed me to combine two sets of things that I had previously done–going over the homework and doing the beginning of class teacher stuff–at once.  It made up for those 8 lost minutes, and then some.

Nowadays, my philosophies about homework and classrooms where all students are doing the same thing at the same time has changed, so I wouldn’t repeat this format.  However, I think these recordings would still be valuable in a blended learning setting.  When students finish certain assignments, they could view the videos to self-assess and learn more.  Learning Management Systems and websites really open up the possibilities on this.

Here’s a sample of one of these videos:

The Problem with Fidget Spinners . . .

The Problem with Fidget Spinners . . . is not the distractions.  It’s not the noise.  It’s not even the obsessive collecting.  It ain’t the disruptions to classmates.  It’s not the who’s-got-the-best-spinner drama either.  It’s definitely not that they annoy some teachers.  And it’s not that they may cost parents a lot of money.

It’s that kids need them.  It’s that our youth – and our society in general – see school as an experience that is so mind-numbingly, torturously boring that we assume that kids need something to fidget with during it.  It’s that learning, in many classrooms, is seen as a passive behavior and that students need something active to do with their hands while it happens.

Make learning experiences that make your students want to put their spinners away.

Mimic Movement in Scratch by changing “costumes”

Scratch is a great tool for students to tell stories, prove comprehension, practice language skills and . . . well, be creative.  Here’s an important skill to master:

Figuring out how to make things move is pretty easy.  Often, though, they look like they’re sliding or gliding. How do you make them seem animated? Most sprites in Scratch have costumes. By using the “next costume” block with a “repeat” block, you can make them appear to be running, jumping, walking, heck, even dabbing.

Scratch - Change Costumes Animation

Important Tip: if you don’t put a “wait” block in there, the costume will change repeatedly without you (or your viewer) seeing it.  To Scratch, it’s changing over and over instantly – to us, it’s just the same costume the whole time.

Another Tip: if your sprite doesn’t have a second costume that makes it appear to move . . . make one!  Duplicate the 1st costume and edit it to make a 2nd one!

 

Comparing & Contrasting College Admissions and the NFL Draft

Every April, executives and coaches from the 32 NFL Teams prepare to select the college football players that they will add to their roster. For months leading up to this event, their scouts pour over every morsel of information that they can find on the hundreds of players available for the picking.  And talking heads at ESPN and other sports media outlets talk about all of it.  Anyhow…. how does this relate to school? Continue reading Comparing & Contrasting College Admissions and the NFL Draft

Scratch as a Content Area Tool

Scratch, developed by a group at MIT, has a tremendous reputation as a computer science learning & creation tool.  But, I believe it is under-appreciated as a tool for the content areas.

It is a great way for students to show their mastery of content standards, while honing their computer science skills and practicing the 4 C’s.  It’s also a great way for educators to create content for their students to interact with.

This summer, I hope to make some examples of how Scratch can be used in content areas.  For now, here’s a little taste:

Scratch in Edu Animation

“Kids These Days . . . “

Adults these days start sentences with “Kids these days . . . “ way too often.  And here’s the thing that I want to point out about that phrase:

Any sentence starting with “Kids these days” is not an excuse.  It is an observation (it’s also a loosey-goosey generalization, but we’ll save that for another post).  However, adults often use it as an excuse.

So?  Isn’t “excuse vs. observation” just syntax?  Well, you may think it is until you see an educator who’s struggling to lead his/her students to mastery shrug their shoulders and say something like “Kids these days want to play on their phones and video games instead of studying.”

Why is it important to draw the line in the sand between excuse and observation on this statement?

Excuse – “Sure, my students aren’t achieving mastery, but it’s not my fault – kids these days would rather play on their phones and video games than study.”

Observation – “Kids these days would rather play on their phones and video games than study . . . ”

What’s up with the “. . .” in that observation?

Any good educator uses observations (a.k.a., informal formative assessments) to make decisions about how to best lead their students to deeper learning.  It’s what you put after the dot dot dot that is what makes a good teacher a great teacher.

Kids these days would rather play on their phones and video games than study . . . so I’ll try using gamification in my course.

Kids these days would rather play on their phones and video games than study . . . so I’ll start integrating more technology into my teaching.

Kids these days would rather play on their phones and video games than study . . . so I’ll look for an app that they can interact with on their mobile devices to continue their learning.

Kids these days would rather play on their phones and video games than study . . . so I’ll learn about the apps, games and sites that they’re using to see what I can learn to support my instruction.”

The most important thing about this . . . 

If you’ve made it this far in this post, and I hope you have, then you get to hear what I consider to be the most important thing about “kids these days”:

We are teachers these days.
It is our responsibility to teach kids these days.
We can’t change them, nor should we want to.
Kids from “back in my day” are gone.
Learn to understand kids these days.
Strive to inspire kids these days.

I was a Coward

I knew it as it was happening, too.  A little voice in my head was yelling, “Don’t be a wimp!  You’re missing an opportunity!”  But I didn’t listen.

I had been frustrated with a quality educator whose mindset was blocking her from buying into a new initiative that was good for our learners.  I knew that the right conversations and experiences could ease her out of this mindset and help her move forward.

I had been thinking about it as I walked to the staff lounge to get my lunch. I was looking forward to grabbing my lunch and heading back to my desk to watch a few videos from my YouTube “Watch Later” list.  And then . . . there she was.  In the lounge.  Eating alone.  It was like fate.  A perfect opportunity to have a friendly trust-building conversation and ease into working on that mindset.

But that didn’t sound enjoyable.  So, I walked away.  I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but sitting there sounded uncomfortable.  Awkward.  I was a coward.

If your goal is to be a leader or a coach, a catalyst or a bus mover, you’ve got to have the uncomfortable, unenjoyable conversations.  You’ve got to take the first awkward steps at building rapport and trust.  Those awkward steps are uncomfortable.

The steps you take when walking away?  Comfortable.  Not awkward at all.  But they’re missed opportunities.

I missed an opportunity that day.  It won’t happen again.