ICYMI: #COLchat in 15 Tweets

Rik Rowe invited us to #COLchat he co-moderated on Monday at 9. #COLchat is a twitter chat about the culture of learning (COL) in classrooms. High school juniors and seniors from Mr. Rowe’s math classes took time out of their night to hop on Twitter to talk about the classroom environment and share ideas about how to improve learning. As I tweeted, I was floored by how insightful and self-aware these students were about their learning.

For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter chats, it is a way to host a conversation. Anyone who wants to join the conversation goes online at the same time and tweets with the same hashtag, in this case, #COLchat. People like Mr. Rowe moderate these chats by introducing people and asking questions labeled Q1, Q2, etc. and people answer the questions with corresponding As.

Students of this chat were advocating for an open, interactive environment where they could make guided decisions about their own learning. The understood that learning is very much a iterative process, and collaboration is very much its catalyst. But like LeVar Burton would say, you don’t have to take my word for it, check out what they have to say for yourself:

Q1: Describe a learning environment that encourages students to remain engaged.

Q2: Why is it important to have an open classroom where students can ask questions to their peers and teachers comfortably?

Q3: How can we make all students comfortable enough to be able to be wrong?

Q4: How can we create a culture where constructive criticism (feedback) is a positive experience for teachers and students? 

Q5: Why is being interested in learning so important?

Q6: Who needs to put in more effort, the students or the teachers? Explain.

Q7: How have the topics discussed in #COLchat helped the learning process in your classroom?


Very cool stuff.


A Standards-Based Learning Chat with @WHSRowe

standards based learning

At our pizza party last month, we had the pleasure of meeting teacher named Rik Rowe who has taken standards-based grading, teaching, and learning and has run with it. Mr. Rowe teaches high school math here in Massachusetts and was kind enough to share his standards-based practices with us. He co-moderates an #SBLchat (formerly #SBGchat) Wednesday nights at 9 ET so standards-based educators, be sure to check it out!

Standards-based learning for CCSS proficiency

Standards-based Grading (SBG)  is about a paradigm shift in thinking, assessing, and encouraging students through timely and constructive feedback. SBG allows me to engage in higher-order teaching so our students can engage in higher-order learning. As stltoday.com put well, “[Standards-based grading] is a switch that seeks to move away from rewarding students merely for completing work, and instead bases grades on mastery of a subject.”

It’s not about having a perfect set of standards. It’s not about students chasing points or begging for extra credit. It’s also not about “gotchas” when teachers attach meaningless deadlines to learning or deducting points when students finally achieve proficiency but are told it’s ‘too late’. Our students appreciate that our learning is ongoing, fluid, and rich in connections. Even though our class as a whole may ‘move on’, students are encouraged to practice, get feedback, and reassess each standard until proficiency is reached.

This is my 14th year as a high school mathematics teacher, but my first year using SBG. I have learned so much this year about SBG and how it, combined with a genuine and inspirational Culture of Learning (COL), can create an engaging learning experience for students and teachers.  With SBG, our learning is focused on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and spiraling, or reviewing, the concepts until all students have the opportunity to achieve their highest level of proficiency. By creating a curriculum that weaves the CCSS together in a spiraled fashion, I can help students reinforce their proficiency through standards interdependence.

Formative assessments before summative assessments

With Standards-based Grading, I string together Formative Assessments (FAs) of 1-3 Common Core State Standards and encourage students to practice, receive feedback, assess, and optionally reassess after more practice until they become proficient.

I ‘suggest’ practice (HW), but do not assign it. I find that students who need the practice and want the ungraded feedback do the suggested practice and students who don’t need the practice are not penalized with pointless busy work. Zero percent of their grade is allocated to HW.

Students who pass in their practice for feedback are entitled to reassess until they become proficient.  Reassessing in our class is to have another opportunity to prove proficiency. The reassessment usually takes a different form, focused on where their original errors were. Students who choose not to do the practice are only allowed to reassess after doing some required practice and submitting it for feedback.

I’ve saved a considerable amount of time this school year, in comparison to prior years, by not collecting and reviewing everyones HW on a daily basis. This year, I’m reviewing significantly fewer HW submissions, but providing more useful feedback to students. Students who understood the material and did not believe that needed any additional practice are freed up to spend their time in a more productive way.

At the same time, I’m focused on identifying the areas needing correction from those students who submitted their practice. I believe I am bringing more clarification to our next class discussion based on the needs of the students who may have struggled through their practice. I noticed students are not only more engaged in our class discussions, but interacting more with me through Twitter (@WHSRowe) to ask questions when outside of class.

Number grades

Our grade book simply lists standards for each student. I record the most recent evidence of proficiency from each student, regardless of whether it is higher or lower than their prior evidence for that standard. Only on rare occasions is it lower. Proficiency is recorded on the 4-point scale as in:

4 – Mastery (consistent proficient)

3 – Proficient (usually proficient)

2 – Proficient with Assistance (sometime proficient, but often with help)

1 – Emerging (seldom proficient)

Once 80-90% of our students have reached proficiency on several standards, we have a Summative Assessment (SA) or a unit test. This encapsulates several related standards on which I already know they’ve achieved proficiency individually. The few students who are Not Yet Proficient (NYP) on the FAs, can delay their SA until they are ready. Of course, students can reassess our SAs only after more practice, feedback, and a conversation with me about their latest revelations.

At the end of the day

In conclusion, I’ve found Standards-based grading provides more focus on the actual learning and assessing process. Regular Formative Assessments, combined with useful and timely feedback and appropriate tweaks to our next class discussions helps to keep us on track to learn and retain the concepts woven into our CCSS. I noticed less “grade grubbing” and more students wanting to actually learn the material. Students have shared with me that they’re less anxious before and during our in-class assessments since they know they’re able to reassess and prove the level of proficiency.

I’ve heard criticism surrounding our reassessments as not being tied to the real world. I try to reassure disbelievers that learners can have second or third chances on initially failed driver’s license tests, a lawyer’s bar exam and pilot’s flight tests. Since these opportunities certainly deserve second chances, our students do as well since it’s the learning I’m after, regardless of how long it takes. It’s important to me that they learn it, not when they learn it.

For those of you seeking tools to take standards-based learning to the next level, check us out. Standards-based grading is one of the things Gradeable was designed to help teachers do! 


Friday Bulletin Board: The Post Pizza Party Edition



So last night was our pizza party. It was the first real event that we Gradeable girls put on together and we had an inordinate amount of fun coordinating logistics, reaching out to teachers, moving furniture, and everything in between.

In addition, we met some great teachers to remind us why Gradeable exists in the first place. It’s the teachers making time on a Thursday night to come into Boston during finals season who make this ed-tech startup business worth while. So thank you to the teachers, supporters, contributors, and providers of delicious food who made last night possible.

Common Core and high-stakes testing

Red and Yellow Apple are ready to discuss the Core.

Red and Yellow Apple are ready to discuss the Core.

Before I got to the party last night, I responded to a Tony Wagner article that said the problem with the Common Core was all the high-stakes testing. While I agreed that over-emphasis on high-stakes testing detracts from the educational process for students, teachers, and administrators alike, I did not agree with Wagner equating the Common Core with the high-profile testing. When I was about done writing, Sheri sent me an article written by Brett Peiser, the CEO of Uncommon Schools, who shared the story of his students who embraced this raised bar, discomfort, and challenge of the Common Core. The students were inspired by the story of Michael Jordan’s struggles at the beginning of his career and even wore Jordan’s jersey on test days.

Couple CCSS lesson planning resources

Kattie Lam doin' her thang!

Kattie Lam doin’ her thang!

Last night, Kattie, our Teacher Evangelist, absolutely knocked my socks off with her presentation skills. She spoke to a roomful people on ways that ed-tech is helping with the Common Core. While I was putting my socks back on, I realized that she introduced some pretty concrete tools for educators to conquer the Common Core. They are BetterLesson and LearnZillion. BetterLesson is a lot like a Personal Learning Network where teacher share their successful lesson plans, organized by standard. LearnZillion is a place to find thousands of lesson plans for the Common Core. Thanks, Kattie!

Teachers on Twitter

Rik (@WHSRowe) talks to Parul

Rik (@WHSRowe) talks to Parul

Toward the end of the evening, I had the pleasure of talking to a high school math teacher who has dedicated himself to “lighting a fire” under students. Metaphorically, of course. He and I talked at length about the benefits, connectivity, and engagement that Twitter offers. @WHSRowe told me how students will Tweet him when they’re stuck on a problem and he’ll Tweet them back with hints or a video to get them through what they don’t understand. “How cool is that?” he kept saying. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Twitter. I love how accessible the world becomes with it. But to use social media to engage students in math? Can’t beat it.

Alright everyone, now go have yourselves a great weekend!

Gradeable wine labels courtesy of the talented Mikaila

Gradeable wine labels courtesy of the talented Mikaila


Friday Bulletin Board


Here’s to a relaxing weekend

Project-based learning 
This link talks about the difference between projects and project-based learning. Put simply: “Projects are about the product, while project-based learning is about the process.” Project-based learning is a concept in which students dig deeper into concepts, engage in feedback loops, and establish how all the small pieces relate to the overarching project. I appreciate this approach because it introduces the simultaneous, multi-dimensional tasks that drive successful projects in real life.

BYOD apps across platforms
One challenge of Bring Your Own Device classrooms is that activities planned around applications must accommodate operating systems across devices. Luckily, the techies out there put together this chart of comparable applications whether you’re using an Apple device, an Android, online tools, or software.

Flipped classrooms explained through the art of infographic
This graphic better articulates what I tried to say the other day about flipped classrooms. For those who are unfamiliar, flipped classrooms are when students introduce themselves to new material at home and do exercises, what was traditionally homework, in class. This graphic illustrates the stats, support, and benefits of doing, rather than just straight listening, in class.

Trials and tribulations of edtech: Introducing tech coaches
Technology is an expensive thing, and some schools are finding money for it when they don’t have money to take care of their teachers. One school in Wisconsin has moved $550,000 from their technology fund to pay team of people to coach teachers on how to use the iPads and SmartBoards in their classrooms. The decision had divided to school: While it’s good to ensure the effective use of technology in place, some teachers  haven’t gotten raises in years. What do you think? Is it commendable that the school is making use of technology funds already allocated instead of asking for more money? Should the school focus more on compensating their teachers? (62 of whom have resigned so far this year)?

Everyone, meet @EDTECHHULK. Like all Hulk parody accounts, you can expect Tweets in caps and missing articles. Enjoy 🙂

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Friday Bulletin Board

Another great week at Gradeable in the books :)

Another great week at Gradeable in the books 🙂

Chirp your links
Nobody in their right mind wants to type out a URL. With Chirp share links to all the iPad in your classroom through sound (I imagine a unique frequency). By downloading this app to all your devices, you can send links out to your students even in a noisy classroom. Has anyone ever used this in their classroom? Does it work? Do you like it? What is the deal??

10 things disappearing from elementary schools
Raise your hand if you remember the struggles of learning cursive before recess… or a time of hand crank pencil sharpeners that were always mounted too close to the wall… and watching teachers laboriously spin that purple-inked copy machine. Classrooms like that are a thing of the past. If any of the things I mentioned jolted you with nostalgia, check out this article to see what else is no longer a staple in the classroom. Oh dear, what about staples?

Should I teach my students to be better test takers?
An anti-standardized testing teacher questions if her personal beliefs should affect the way she teaches. Standardized tests are a tough sell: the pressure it puts on students, the pressure it puts on teachers, and the way it affects a teacher’s job based on a single snapshot of a student’s performance. However, it’s part of the very slow changing, not exactly intuitive system. So even if you (teachers) don’t agree, should you still take time to guide your students to do well in the system?

WordPress 101 for Teachers
Are you ready to join the blogosphere? Almost there but kind of nervous? Curious about the new ways to engage your students on the interwebs? If you want to blog, a solid choice is WordPress, which powers 19% of the web, including this blog. I can’t say enough about people sharing their (thoughtful) insights. For me, when teachers get enthusiastic and dorky, it motivates me to keep up with them. Anyway, here is the case for WordPress as told by an articulate man with a British accent.

Why I became a connected educator
One French teacher’s spine surgery recovery time gave him the opportunity to explore what cyberspace had to offer for educators. He started out on Twitter to find that he “had been missing out on so many terrific resources.” On Twitter, he found he could engage in conversations via hashtags and interacting with thousands of people in the language learning community. From there he went on to find everything from Google+ to Pinterest. By embracing the internet, he understood his students better and had a World Wide Web of resources to better connect and engage them with the Francophone community. 

Some terms mentioned in this blog that I had to Google:

edutopia — A Star-Wars-backed education foundation 😉
mission statement: http://www.edutopia.org/mission-vision

PLN —  Personal Learning Network, an community (usually online) based on the common ground of education and learning
one blogger explains: http://onceateacher.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/pln-your-personal-learning-network-made-easy/

PBL for WL — Problem Based Learning for World Languages

Speaking of Twitter, we had an important Tweet this week:

Serious question, Teachers: our team wants to know how long it is socially acceptable to drink your morning coffee. We think 2pm- thoughts?

— Gradeable (@gradeable) October 31, 2013

 Have a great weekend, everyone. 


Friday Bulletin Board

The Uncomfortable Truth About Technology in the Classroom

Robots in the classroom will CTRL-ALT-DELETE my job! Well did you know Socrates thought the invention books and the practice of writing would hinder the learning process because he thought students wouldn’t have to use their own memories? Or that people thought text books would render teachers obsolete? Technology is here to stay, so join the conversation for finding a balance of technology and traditional learning that’s right for your classroom.


#So #many #hashtags. And who could blame the Twitterverse? The world-wide, real-life conversation is right there at the swipe of a timeline. With this comprehensive dictionary of educational hashtags, find out what people are talking, about whether it’s homeschooling or human rights. For your techies out there, check out these five hashtags related to educational iPad apps to keep you iUpdated.

14 Google Tools You Never Knew Existed

Ever wonder how popular cocaine was back in Victorian times? Well with Google’s Ngram viewer, you can search how keywords have trended in books in the past 500 years. So go forth and Google how your topic has evolved through the years.

How to Use Instagram in the Classroom

Think of 2013’s beautifully filtered version of “I Spy.” Teaching shapes in geometry? Have students post pictures of trapezoids or parallel lines through their travels.

8 Tools for Creating a Website for Your Class

Gone will be the excuse of “Oh I lost my syllabus so I didn’t know that was due.” Don’t be nervous, these intuitive, user-friendly tools will help you become an online mogul before the bell rings.

Have a great weekend!