Summer Update

To anyone who says that teachers have it easy because they get their summers “off”:

You’re full of crap.

Other than taking 3 grad classes (one of which was with Diana Laufenberg!), taking care of my 8-months-pregnant wife and trying to get ready for a baby that will be here in a month or so, I’ve been trying to work on a few projects to get ready for next school year:

 1. Preparing for year 2 with SBG

Last spring, our district chem teachers finally got our act together and created our standards, based around our state standards being put into more student-/parent-friendly language. This summer, we’ve been working on creating a rubric for each standard that could be used on any general assessment fitting that standard. I’m getting pretty good at rubrics.

I’ve also been looking at the interplay between standards and learning targets within my own class, and how each one is assessed. In particular, re-examining my learning targets and not creating a rubric for each one (because I did that part of last year and it sucked), but doing more of a binary scoring that students keep track of and are given feedback by me. Still trying to figure out how the learning target assessments will translate into the gradebook…

2. Reading/working through Understanding by Design

At my school we are encouraged to use backwards design, which is used throughout our IB program (even though I don’t teach any IB classes). Other than an hour or so introduction to BD when I started 2 years ago, we haven’t gotten much guidance to really use it effectively and on an ongoing basis. Also, we are the only IB high school in our district, so getting other teachers on board with using IB stuff is often difficult. I’m still working my way through it, but I have been enjoying reading about the philosophical aspects of understanding and how that plays out in designing curriculum. Since we’re getting new textbooks this year for our lower chemistry classes across the district, I figured now was as good of a time as any to start figuring it out and trying to get some collaboration with it.

3. Reading about modeling chem

I only taught one section of general (traditional) chemistry last year, and I was not very happy with it. I wasn’t involved much in the planning of it because I was more focused on the lower chem classes that I alone was teaching. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to make it better for me and for the students. I would love to attend a modeling chem workshop; maybe next summer?

4. Reading blogs

I feel like my Google Reader feed is never empty, and I always have at least one browser window open with a bunch of things I want to read. Oy vey!

5. Reading books

I’ve got a pile of them, physically and digitally. I also have a couple more book review drafts that I would like to finish, so hopefully I’ll find some time to finish those and get them posted here (finally).

6. Trying to have a life?

Ha! Maybe someday…


Developing Standards for SBG II

As I mentioned in my last post, all of the chemistry teachers in our district recently got together to flesh out our standards as we move forward in our implementation of standards-based grading. Before we get to the goods, I want to clarify the specific terminology that we’ve been using, as defined by the district. Each class basically breaks down into three levels, starting with big ideas and narrowing down to more specific ideas.


Reporting Standards

Reporting standards will appear in the gradebooks, and reflect a combination of priority standards (big picture). We based these on the MN state standards.

Priority Standards

Priority standards are “absolutely essential for student success”. These are a bit more specific, but still general enough that they can be assessed in a variety of ways, and will cover a variety of learning objectives. I’m thinking I may put these into my gradebook as well (or at least have some method of tracking them/having students track them).

Learning Objectives

Specific nuggets of information, tailored to individual or sets of lessons. These are set by each individual teacher (although each level should have similar ones) so they were not included in our work, even though they are expected to be used to further clarify the priority standards.

Now that we’ve got that aired out, here’s what we came up with for our standards. These will be continuous for all levels of chemistry (conceptual, general, and HP/AP), with the thought that higher levels may add extras or go more in depth.


The first reporting standard (Nature of Science) will be a continuous thread throughout the entire year, and the others will be only in certain trimesters that we cover that particular standard (probably at least two others per tri). The district would also like us to map out exactly which standards (both reporting and priority) are being covered each trimester, so that theoretically a student could transfer from one HS to another within the district and be in basically the same area of the course… still not sure about that idea.


Any thoughts, comments, suggestions, critiques, etc. are more than welcome!

Developing Standards for SBG

One of the most difficult things that I’ve had to deal with this year is trying to figure out a set of standards to use for chemistry. As I was preparing last summer, I wrestled with our state standards (which, at the time, seemed too “big”) and the-slightly-less-daunting learning targets for each (series of) lessons that would be taught.

I spent quite a bit of time reading through lots of SBG tips and ideas, but I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around how it would look for my class. I tried grouping targets by topic (such as “atomic structure”, or “chemical reactions”) and used a lot of Jason Buell’s structure for designing rubrics (or topic scales, as he calls them) and set up checklists similar to what Mylene had done.  When all was said and done, I went about 3 weeks into the year before realizing that the grouping I had done and all of the rubrics I had created were not working the way I wanted them to – so I scrapped them and started over1.

My intentions were to fully use SBG this year, but the initial setback (without much time to gather the pieces) made it difficult to move forward. I have been utilizing learning goals (targets) for each section/unit and making the targets clear and assessments based on those targets. However, the big ideas (standards?2) are being loosely strung along while we plod through the year and not as clearly tied to the targets as I would like them to be. I’m hoping that by the start of our 3rd trimester in a few weeks, I will be able to have a bit more structure to end the year on a high note.

As our district moves forward with our SBG implementation plan, we are meeting with all of the other chemistry teachers tomorrow to finish developing our standards for next year. I’m hoping that this collaboration will give me a better sense of the “big idea”-“learning target” connection and make it a much easier transition to full SBG next year, and I will have a later post that details what we come up with.


[1] Although at first I felt as though I had wasted a ton of time by doing this, I’ve come to realize that I learned a lot about how to design useful rubrics through this process – even though I didn’t use the rubrics I created.

[2]  I haven’t settled on the preferred verbiage just yet (standards? targets? objectives? blah?) but I usually think of standards as being the “big ideas”.

The Process Pt. III

Ok, so here’s what’s up – I’ve regrouped my thoughts and laid out all of the “standards” that we cover for the year. I then grouped them into topics, and now I am working on flushing out the specific learning goals for each topic. The first one I started with is “water purification,” where we take a look at water contaminants, laboratory purification methods, and then large-scale purification methods (municipal and natural). So far, here’s the tracking sheet that I’ve come up with:

Water Purification Tracking Sheet

Any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated! I am particularly curious about the overall topic scale (1-4, first page) and the tracking of each specific learning goal. As it is now, I only have a tracking graph for the topic as a whole, but I’m wondering if it may be beneficial to have a graph for each learning goal – especially with the circular curriculum. In this particular case, the book talks about the lab purification methods first and then contaminants and last is the large-scale treatments (with a bunch of other topics sprinkled in between), so can I give them score on the topic as a whole when there is so much time in between learning goals? Perhaps I need to modify the scale, with 1.0 as knowing the lab methods, 2.0 as methods + contaminants, and 3.0 as all 3? Does that make sense? Sorry, I’m rambling a bit. I’ll just leave it to the comments to continue the discussion.