The Process Pt. I

Writing standards is hard. Writing out clear, well-defined, broad-enough-but-not-too-broad standards that will describe an entire year of chemistry in one concise list is hard. The MN science standards for chemistry are not much help. They are definitely broad, but (in my opinion) most are neither clear nor well-defined. Not only that, but I’m trying to mesh them with the IB’s science criteria1.

I think the most difficult part is that at the moment I am trying to formulate all of these standards on my own. Having input from colleagues would make the process much less painful, but as of now I’m the only one that’s been at school working (workshop isn’t until next week, so I can’t blame them). I would love to have district-wide chemistry standards in place; last spring our district science curriculum specialist had asked for volunteers to work on it (which I gladly said I would), but it hasn’t happened yet and the word around the department is that it won’t happen until sometime during the coming year – not exactly great timing for my current preparations!

The perfectionist in me wants to have perfect standards – which I realize is not realistic. I knew this would not be an easy transition, so I just need to be optimistic and keep working at it! I think just working with what I have for the time being will allow me to get more of my daily instruction planned out, and I can adjust as I go – right? Right! (At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself).

1 Even though I don’t teach IB-specific classes, all of the classes at our school are supposed to be “IB affiliated”. The criteria are the same ones used in biology in 10th grade, so students are already familiar with them.


6 thoughts on “The Process Pt. I”

  1. Hi Jason,

    I am having similar feelings about my standards in my real analysis class. I think that they are probably (probably) good enough, but I know that they aren’t great. I guess we’ll both find out how good our standards are this semester. I suppose the only option is to try them and see what happens.

    1. It’s always that probably that gets me, but I just need to remember that they are going to change (and I should be worried if they don’t). When I was doing observations in college with a local high school teacher, he told me something that’s always stuck with me, “If I ever get to a point where I don’t change anything, it’s time to retire.”

  2. I definitely recognize this feeling — I was in your shoes 6 months ago. I think you’re exactly right about adjusting as you go. There were times when I told my students, “this isn’t worded well. What would make it clearer?” and we worked together on it. Other times, I told them that I was removing something from the list because it didn’t really belong. No one complained, as you can imagine.

    One possible starting place: Start with your current assessments (not the textbook). Why are you giving that assessment? The answer is probably a standard.

    Some guiding questions I used for choosing standards (I call them skills):
    – if a student gets this wrong, will I know what they’re having trouble with? If no, the skill might be too broad.
    – if a student gets this wrong, will they know what they need to do about it? If no, the skill might need to be more specific.

    Something I wished I had known earlier: A skill can contain several sub-items. When I started, I felt that it was unfair to assess students on anything that wasn’t explicitly listed as a skill, so I had separate skills for every possible thing I might ever want to assess. For example, “Distinguish common mode from differential gain” was separate from “distinguish open-loop from closed-loop gain,” etc. In the revised version, the skill is “use gain concepts to predict circuit output;” it has 4 bullet points underneath. Students know that they need to understand all 4; I feel justified in assessing them on any of the 4; but they all demonstrate basically the same understanding, so there’s no need to track them separately.

    Have you seen James Buckner’s blog? Not sure if this is helpful, but his full course chemistry assessment plan is posted — it’s sort of a hybrid standards-list/assessment-list.

    Other helpful resources: Jason Buell has a great series on developing standards for the first time. I suggest starting with “Topic Scales” (scroll down to the bottom for the Pro Tips — I think they’re right where you’re at).

    Good luck! I’ll stop bombarding you with extra reading now. (probably.)

    1. Keep the readings coming! After I posted this last night I was searching around for some more guidance and read through most of the stuff that you referred to from Jason – it has definitely given me a jumping-off point and after making some revisions I feel (a little) better about my standards today.

      I’m glad you mentioned breaking your skills down into sub-items, I have been working on that as well. How do you present those to your students? Do you give them a list of skills for each unit, or do you give them one skill and its sub-items for a given period of time? I think because I’ve been overwhelmed in all of the standard-formulating, I worry that students will be overwhelmed if I try to present too much information at once. I’m sure this will be a trial and error process just like the standards/skills themselves, but I would like to know your process.

  3. How I present the standards to students: the semester is broken into 5-6 topics. Each topic has 7-8 skills on a skill sheet. Last semester, the students got the skill sheet the day we started the topic, but that was because it wasn’t written until the night before. This semester I’ll hand out the skill sheets for the whole semester all at once, bundled into a 3-brad folder with some looseleaf (we use it for feedback and reassessment applications too). There’s a separate page for each topic, so anyone who doesn’t want to be overwhelmed with info just doesn’t look ahead (that’s what they do with their textbooks).

    Students who need to know why we are learning this can see the context that the skill fits into, and the performance task it leads to. On the other hand, students who are bored can see right away where we’re going, and maybe even start reading or working ahead. Having the whole skill sheet allows everyone to track their progress through the unit (there’s a bar graph on the front of the skill sheet for this).

    On the example above, you can see two mistakes I made. One was numbering the skills. That resulted in students applying for reassessment by saying “I need skill 52.” Me: what’s that? Student: “I don’t know.” Not good. Now I identify the skills only by name. Mistake #2: using skill name that have no verb. This results in students saying “I need low-pass filters.” Me: what about them? Student: “I don’t know.” The students will parrot those skill names, so it was important to make them highly descriptive and student-friendly. Now the skills are called things like “Choose a low-pass filter.” This results in conversations that start “I’m having trouble choosing a low-pass filter.” Ahhhhh. Better.

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