Assessing assessed assessors as assessments

We’ve made it.

Finals week.

The week many students have been anticipating with equal parts glee and dread. Happy that it’ll soon be over; terrified that it will consume them whole before it passes.

As I grade my students unit 5 exams regarding Latin America, I can’t help but wonder what other ways I can assess my students besides the exam format. Ideally, unit 5 would’ve been a project-based assessment but time constraints and some personal stuff prevented this.

But more to the point, I realize that I am biased in what skills I value. Reading, writing, and analyzing. More than a few of my freshman students really struggle with writing in particular and not just typical convention/spelling errors. Nor is it just IEP/504/ELL students either, because honestly, I don’t have many of those in particular. Yet, having experienced the so-called “real world”, I recognize that writing skills are extremely important. Especially as the robits come for any job that doesn’t require a human touch.

robotblog
Photo Credit: CDC

A slightly smaller gripe is that the format of my tests so far takes a lot of time. Which I get, writing is hard. I love me so multiple-choice, matching, and true or false questions as much as the next teacher but those can only ask or measure so much. I use them but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t weigh or value the writing portions of my exams more.

So what is a newbie teacher to do? I know that I can integrate more project/problem-based stuff into my classes but at the same time, it makes me worried that many, if not most, of the students, won’t learn/retain the most important information from a unit. And I’m not talking fine-detail, nuanced stuff here. I’m talking big-picture, “this is why the world is this way” type of material.

I want to have faith that most will make me feel silly for worrying.

But faith is scary.

And fear is the path to the dark side.

Fear leads to anger.

Anger leads to hate.

And hate leads to suffering.

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Photo Credit: 2005 Myspace profiles and other internet forums

In all seriousness, it’s a struggle. Just have to be willing to try and (probably) fail.

The honeymoon is over.

Wednesday the 31st of October (yesterday, as of this writing) was amazing. My global studies class is on unit 4 of 5 which is Russia. We’re already a day behind because  freshman students are very slow at taking tests. But that’s a small gripe in the grand scheme of things.

Of the three classes I teach, the first two are good-great. My last class, however really like to talk. They have their moments though, and yesterday was one of them. I put together an awesome lesson on a real-life mystery deep in the Ural mountains. Every class was super into it and it was really fun to see them try and figure it how it ended.

I went home yesterday feeling fulfilled and eager to do more of them in the future. Today was back to some direct instruction. Like I said, we’re behind schedule. I realize that lectures aren’t always the most exciting things for students. But I try to build breaks into my slideshows (which I spend a lot of time on and take pride in their quality) so students eyes don’t begin to glaze over. I try my best to inject humor and drama and speak to them in terms they understand.

So as we moved on from the Tsars of Russia and onto the Soviet Union, what was supposed to be a fun speech using my limited Russian vocab. while wearing an Ushanka, complete with Soviet Pin and USSR anthem in accompaniment. But it’s hard to have that enthusiasm when students don’t have it. But I guess that comes with the territory.

I do worry though about how exhausting this term has been at some points. But I imagine that as I get better with planning and iterating on my current lessons this stressful time won’t feel as stressful. Here is to year 3. 2 more to beat the odds.

Feedback.

What constitutes good feedback?

I know that I have to work hard on not taking criticism so personally. Yet, like scaling Mt. Everest, a task easier said than dunn (RIP Prodigy, if you want some good grading music (not at school) then try some Mobb Deep).

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Prodigy, rapper, and originator of the Dunn language. (Photo Credit: CNN)

So as I sat grading students first real test on my couch as I watched Penn State execute easily one of the worst 4th down play calls I’ve ever seen, I wondered what is good feedback. (The juxtaposition of those sentences and its irony is not lost on me).

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Run the dang ball coach! (Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated)

“Great Job!” or “Excellent!” just don’t seem to cut it. I know as a student I engage with feedback probably on an unhealthy level. Not much keeps me up at night, I can fall asleep just about anywhere in under five minutes but if I’m obsessing over an evaluation the minutes can turn into hours. These students are kids, so I don’t want to overwhelm them with so much feedback they can’t process it fully yet I really want to avoid cookie-cutter statements of praise or not-praise (for lack of a better word).

Still being new to grading and giving written feedback I know that I’ve probably spent way too much time going through these short-answer questions and but I left them pretty open-ended which means that students had a variety of ways to skin these six question-cats.

Perhaps that’s the lesson to take away from this; narrow focus on facts. What an awful lesson.

Now I get to find out which of my students will turn on me after they see their grades on the test. How many of my students will stay up late tonight wondering why I graded them the way I did? Who will brush it off and not care? Can’t wait to find out.

 

Inquiry-Based (God) Learning

Perhaps contrary to our personal experiences with students, they actually want to learn and have burning questions about the world around them. Not all of them are appropriate for school, nor do they often come at appropriate times (if you’ve ever taught in a middle school you know exactly what I’m talking about). Yet, all too often we, as teachers, don’t take advantage of this innate curiosity. It isn’t entirely all our fault though, we have standards to teach; a curriculum to follow handed to us from our department or school. And if I’m being honest, it can be really hard to develop student-led learning activities. (Fun fact: Yesterday I tried to implement a scavenger hunt for my students to learn how to navigate. It did not go well. Back to the drawing board).

The deck can potentially be stacked against us before we even begin. However, when we create or more specifically, let students create their own learning opportunities we can see a great buy-in to the material that textbooks and Powerpoint slides can never replicate. Social Studies (along with science) are so primed for students to create their own questions. It can work with almost any subject in social studies. The scenarios and counterfactuals that our long, sordid, complex history of humanity contain are almost endless. Perhaps your class is very interested in the Romans and their conquest. Students can develop questions for their success, their eventual failure or what other empires could’ve done to defend themselves.

Perhaps the American Revolution has them enamored. Naturally, they are going to have questions about why the founding fathers made the choices they did. Our students may wonder how they would react if they were creating a constitution? What factors or issues would they value or find most important? How would they govern? This semi-guided example is just one of many that any US history teacher could implement.

A truly open-ended inquiry is also possible but a little more difficult. Problems and scenarios exist for this to thrive (in the right classroom) as well though. A world history or global studies class can allow it’s students to examine a conflict or disagreement between countries and start problem-solving. This could be something long-standing and a little controversial (Israel-Palestine) or long resolved (Russia-Japan). They can also look to the future and predict what issues they might encounter when they are adults. What will countries look like? Borders? The economy? These are all problems that directly or will directly affect them. And if it directly impacts them, there is a higher likelihood that they will not only care about the issue but actively work towards solving them.

Below is my Wonder Day Question project in full but first my TL;DR version.

I love space. If I could somehow cryogenically freeze myself so that I could live 500 years into the future and see (hopefully) fully developed space travel, I don’t think I couldn’t choose that. That’s how much I love the idea of traveling in space. Imagining what could be out there and what awaits us as a species is humbling and awesome. And I mean awesome in the way where it leaves you in awe. Stunned at the sheer magnitude of what you are witnessing.

Alas, I will never know that feeling. While that undoubtedly bums me out, it also means that I must support the small stepping stones to eventually reach that point. Sure there are some interesting colonialism ties to my field of teaching and exploration is a large part of social studies but the science-y parts are what really motivate and propel my interest in space. There is always something to wonder about our universe. What is Dark Matter and Energy? Can we ever travel at FTL speeds? Could we ever make a warm hole? Will we ever find non-human intelligent life forms? And if so, could we ever possibly hope to communicate with them? Or would it be like us trying to communicate with a fish? (can human beings and fish co-exist peacefully!?)

Needless to say, there will never be questions about the universe that don’t need answering and until I turn back into the space dust I once was. It will endlessly fascinate me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Wonder Day Question:

 

I wonder how long it will be until there is a manned mission to Mars?

-What systems and/or technology need to be in place for a mission to take place?

-How feasible is the mission?

-What are the risks involved with such an undertaking?

-What is there to be gained from traveling to Mars?

 

Research:

 

Finding information about humanity’s latest and next big step in space exploration is easy and plentiful, which is great if you’re a big space fan like me. However, as with all things dealing with science, there is an abundant amount of inaccurate or misleading information.

 

Answering the overall question is a somewhat known quantity because technology will always improve and given enough time, humanity will solve the big problems with prolonged space travel and perhaps even colonization of other planets and moons. But to find out if it can happen in my lifetime is the more pressing question.

 

-What systems and/or technology need to be in place for a mission to take place?

According to NASA’s website, they’ve been developing a new Space Launch System (SLS) and new spacecraft named Orion for “deep space exploration”. Along with a Solar Electric Propulsion system to transport needed to transport cargo to Mars for manned missions. (Daines, 2017)

 

-What are the risks involved with such an undertaking?

There are numerous dangers involved in space travel for humans. Turns out, space is very inhospitable to life. Aside from the ever present risk of death from exposure to the cold vacuum of space. Astronauts will have to deal with the harsh environment of Mars with large sandstorms and little atmosphere to block harmful radiation. Long term space travel also affects the body of astronauts as the gravity or lack thereof has adverse effects on bone density, metabolic rates, and cardiovascular systems. (Whiting, 2018)

 

-How feasible is the mission?

Cost is a massive issue that is currently holding up major progress in launching a manned mission. NASA’s budget has remained “essentially flat for the past decade”. (Whitwam, 2017)

 

The private sector has picked up some of the slack but launching rockets into space is a costly and difficult endeavor. SpaceX has had success with Falcon 9 reusable rockets tests on Earth but landing on Mars is much more difficult with its lack of atmosphere and extreme weather. (Whitwam 2017)

 

-What is there to be gained from traveling to Mars?

The knowledge alone of our celestial neighbors would be reward enough to many but the sheer access to resources and development of new, better technologies should be enough to entice most people. The sheer amount of technological innovations that have improved daily life and were founded due to NASA programs is vast. From LED lights to improved tires and fire-resistant materials, the technological impact has been extraordinary. (Spinoff, 2018)

 

Sources Cited:

 

Daines, G. (2017, August 6). NASA’s Journey to Mars.

Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-journey-to-mars

 

Whiting, M., Abadie, L. (2018, September 10). 5 Hazards of Human Spaceflight

Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/5-hazards-of-human-spaceflight

 

Whitwam, R. (2017, July, 17) NASA Now Says Unmanned Mars Mission in 2030s Is Unlikely.

Retrieved from https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/252461-nasa-now-says-manned-mars-mission-2030s-unlikely

 

NASA Technologies Benefit Our Lives. (2008. Para 1, 7, 10)

Retrieved from https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2008/tech_benefits.html

 

Hello

My students today will take their pre-assessment in Global Studies. They are freshman (with few exceptions) and the material they’re covering really makes me understand how little they know in the grand scheme of things. It has been so long since I have gone over this material as a student that I forget how much of it is just “common knowledge”.

This fact is a great reminder that everyone is coming in with different understandings and background information. It is incredible easy for me to forget that many of these kids haven’t had exposure to some of the concepts we’ll be covering. But more than that it gives me ideas for different projects and assignments that I might be able to come up with. Of course, the big caveat is that I need to collaborate with the other global teachers and new things always seem to meet some resistance.

Still, I can’t imagine how boring a modern 14-year-old would find a latitude/longitude lecture. That is not to mention the awful geography concepts video that this department insists on showing. It is from the 80’s and it has terrible audio and outdated presentation. I don’t think it’s quite the “badge of honor” that the department thinks it is. Traditions are funny like that. To the outsider, they seem strange but to the participant, normal.

Having been a substitute for so long before having my own class, I normally used my prep periods to enjoy a good book or catch up on twitter and even a few times play some Zelda. While I’m certain I will catch up on tasks eventually, I know that for the foreseeable future I’ll be busy every prep.

Today I get to plot coordinates around the school for students to use to map locations. But we can’t go outside, at least not in the broader sense. I remember doing something similar to this when I was in school and we walked around with a GPS (which was brand-spanking new back then) to navigate to designated places. It was fun and we felt like we learned something. Some creative problem solving is going to be needed to solve this problem as we’ll be lucky to get a change of a couple of seconds, much less minutes. It doesn’t seem that long ago but the change has come rapidly and there is no going back. Only forward. The past is definitively over.