The Best Test Ever

I gave up on giving tests a long time ago. I am not saying that I hate them, just that I have not found a need in a long time to give one. On Wednesday I was wrapping up a unit and I thought I would try to make some authentic assessments. This was news to my students, and I never even really told them that the goal was assessing.

All this was because of standards based grading. I took into the class examples of work that students should be able to do having almost completed the work of our inquiry into mechanical energy. I put up the problem or the question and allowed them to try it on their own. After that they had a chance to claim their work. If they wanted to put their name on the paper and turn it in they could. If not I asked why and helped them figure out what was wrong. They can always meet the standard later.

On the next standard I asked a more conceptual problem called a ranking task, and used a strategy called pyramid testing. I asked them each to commit to an answer on their own. Then all submitted their answer and they had 10 minutes to come to a group conclusion and commit to it. Finally, I left the room and told them to put a class answer on the board. I told them that I was going to pick a random number and that person on the class list would have to explain the class decision. I

As I listed to groups talk I gained a ton of understanding about how my students were meeting the standards. Even the classes ability to convince each other of a final answer on the conceptual question gave me a lot more insight into their knowledge than I expected. The hour was lively, filled with discussion and learning and assessment. The best test ever.

Science Probes and Digital Microscopes

On Fri, Oct 1, 2010 at 8:24 AM, Reece wrote:
I'm in the process of trying to buy peripherals for teachers and students to use now that we are in the second year/phase of our one-to-one macbook program; anyone have some science probes or microscopes they can recommend for using with macbooks?  Or any other peripherals in any subject for that matter?

I recommend:
GoMotion (physics)
GoTemp (Chem, Physics, Bio)
Moticam (a camera that attaches to a regular microscope)

tech blog

On Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 11:24 AM, Jessica wrote:
Got any good ed tech blogs you can direct me to?

Yes. Obviously I do. 

The essentials.

The less frequent posters who lay golden eggs.

The one the is always great but posts so often I wonder if he is human.

Blog, forum or journal?

Today I got this email...

For this class, I have to create a website for an assignment, and am struggling with how to do this and not just be reinventing the wheel since we already do Moodle, Quia, Posterous...   I want it to be useful, and I've been wanting to do on-line journals for some time now. 

Can I pick your brains for ideas?  I'd like to do something interactive and get them writing a lot more in Spanish.   It would be my dream to have students keep on-line journals where they'd have to write 1x or 2x/week in Spanish responding to in-class topics and discussions.   It would be great if the students could decide if each entry would be private or public (but obviously I'd like to read them all).  I'm not sure if a blogger site would be the best option for this.  Do you know of any site where I could, as a teacher, manage their journals? It would be sort of a mix between a forum and a blog. I'd like for them to be able to log in and have all their journals on one page so they could see their progress, like a blog.  It would be great for me as a teacher to be able to see each student's entry to a particular discussion all on one page as well so I don't have to click on 70 different blogs to give them a grade. 

Here is my response, what would you have said?

Thanks for asking. First of all what a great idea to have a space where kids can share widely but also share with just you. I think that will allow kids who are not as confident in their voice to get started and make mistakes and eventually come out of their shell as Spanish writers and share with a wider audience. You can also share blog links with parents so they can keep up as well.

I have a couple of ideas. There is no perfect solution to your problem, just thinking off the top of my head. Posterous allows kids to have posts be private. If they would then invite you to be a contributor I think you can see the private posts as well. You can the either subscribe in Posterous and get an email whenever there is a new post, or add them to Google Reader and read them there (that is what I do with student blogs).

Everyone at school has a google apps account now. You could have them keep a journal in a google doc that they share with you. That would be completely private to the two of you. Then they could keep a separate blog (any blog software they like: we have had kids use our internal blog server, Posterous, Blogger, Shutterfly, and every student has a blog in moodle as well) where they would post pieces of the journal that they desire getting public comment on.

I would think about using our internal blog server as well. Everyone has a blog there by default, but for this we would create new ones with you and the student as a blogging group. Then posts could be marked private to the group only or public.

I have to admit the private/public nature of your request is a little different. Most teachers want either one or the other. From reading about the process of blogging by some of the people who have opened up about their work flow I think that the Google Docs option mimics most closely what bloggers do. They write many things for themselves and a few of them show up as public pieces that they actually post. To me this model make that option very attractive, but it would require following two different places that they post.

If you get any other ideas please tell me. Thanks for asking.

Project Based Learning Resources

I had great conversation yesterday about project based learning. I think a well designed project with an authentic audience is the thing that all students need. The conversation surrounded the benefits to honors students. I followed up with this email.

Here is a blog post with some project resources. Specifically this document mentioned in that post is a document I read over before finalizing any plans for a project., in spite of the very idealistic name, is also an excellent resource. Here is a great reading list of their favorite articles on project based learning.

Two last things, both of them personal. Here is a link to my blog. Here is a link to where I keep my web bookmarks on projects. It will update as I find new interesting things.

Creativity and Homework

With permission of the author I quote an email from the National Science Teachers Association physics list. There has been quite a debate there about the value of homework. In our one to one district there is also a lot of debate about the value of homework. A laptop environment can render completely useless anything that is copyable. There is no hurdle to it at all. For a while in my physics class CAPA and WebAssign helped, and they still are great tools for kids interested in learning and collaborating, but many kids now cheat on these too. The Internet is filled with answers.

I've personally fought the battle regarding homework, and here's my ultimate conclusion:
Homework should be a creative product. Yes, it should allow students to practice concepts taught in class, allow students to do work outside of the constraints of class time, and it should NOT be copyable. In physics, this can be a challenging task, where standard problem-solving is the norm.
I'm lucky in that I teach a primarily conceptual class. Still, here are some of the things I've done...
1) Photograph (or find online) a picture of an interesting atmospheric phenomenon involving optics. I provide a rubric in which I require students to elaborate on how the electromagnetic spectrum, diffraction, refraction, reflection, dispersion, etc. Then I can display this student work in the hallways for other potential students to see!
2) Create a "story book" involving simple linear displacement, constant velocity, and constant acceleration. Students represent their story (5 or more motions) through pictures, x-t graphs, v-t graphs, a-t graphs, and dot plots (vectors). Students LOVED this assignment.
3) When it comes to doing traditional problems, I have students practice 5 questions or so (I do not grade this), and then I require them to write their own problems, or even to administer them to another student. This is great, because students must confront issues like "What is a reasonable mass or weight of an elephant?"
With all of these approaches, I've NEVER had a student cheat off of another. Students feel like the homework is worthwhile. I don't assign a lot of homework, but when I assign it, I try to make it reasonable and relevant.

I quote this email in entirety because I agree so much with what the author has to say. I will add two reflections to hers.

First, I think that teachers from all disciplines could help make these assignments for each other. In fact I think in all subject areas it requires dialog outside of your department to come up with these. People not in your area will force you to be creative with how you express yourself, and assignment making is one of the ways teachers express themselves. My first year of teaching I was grading a boring assignment in the lounge and I was exhausted by it. A veteran teacher looked over at me and said, "Boring assignments make boring grading." First I thought ouch. Then I thought true.

Second, I learned at MACUL a few year ago the 80-20 rule: 80 percent of the work on a project is the last 20 percent of the presentation. In the film industry once the actors are all filmed, the real work begins, even though 80 percent of what is seen in the movies is on film. The lesson in this for teachers was that since for the most part we are looking for the 80 percent, do not expect the 20. The content and the analysis and the creative direction are what is important to us, not that every i is dotted. My observation here is that if you ask for the 80 percent a lot of kids will give you the 20 percent for free on their own time, because they love the assignment. You can call that homework I guess, but if you require it then it will not get done as well.


1. Do the life cycle whenever you want before the end of the year.
2. Due by the exam for juniors. For pinhole here are ways to meet the three pillars you are concerned about:
  1. Math: draw a ray diagram of how a pinhole camera works or keep track of a graph of sunshine vs exposure time.
  2. Get people outside of class to comment on your photos. Extra credit to people not in you family or other students. Another idea would be to use people or places outside of school in a photo. For example, statues are a common subject of pinhole photographs. If you could find a cool statue to take a photograph of that would be an outside resource.
  3. Asking and answering a new question is usually done during the special effects stage. For example: What would it look like if I had three pinholes? Answer: Make a pinhole campera with three pinholes. Take some pictures.

On Wed, May 19, 2010 at 8:53 PM, Laura wrote:
Okay I have 2 quick questions. The first one is on the life cycle analysis and when it is due. Can we just do it whenever by the end of the year? Also, with my pinhole camera project I was looking at the moodle site and thinking about the 5 pillars and I don't really have anything using math, and outside source, and asking a new question and coming up with a product-I don't really know how to incorporate any of these in it. Is there a specific due date that these projects have to be in by because I don't have enough pictures yet but I feel that you never really told us when they are do and everything has to be done by.

Ideas for Administrators

Here are blogs I recommend for administrators.

Here are specific posts that will lead administrators to all sorts of new resources to expand their horizon.

Finally a list of specific posts to emphasize the importance of technology using administrators.

Any additions?

Journal Of Awesome Things #234

Journal Of Awesome Things #234

November 25th, 2009 by Dan Meyer

#234: Generations of Edubloggers

This is my third year blogging about teaching. A profoundly cool byproduct of edublogging is that on occasion you get to be the dealer who hooks someone up with her first hit of online expression. Someone reads something you wrote and her response is visceral enough to overcome her online inhibition and comment. And she lives for awhile in various comment boxes around the blogosphere until those confines cramp her too much and she gets a Blogger or Wordpress blog of her own.

I haven't given enough thought to this but, among the blogs I read and wander past, there seems to be a generational effect at work and it freaks me out. I'm not presuming an exact genetic link, where I gave "birth" to blogs that came after mine. I'm referring to timing.

Chris Lehmann's Practical Theory, for instance, was the first edublog I read. His blog motivated me to turn a private blog public. Jackie Ballarini was one of my earliest commenters who eventually set out to do her own thing. A year after Jackie Ballarini you had Kate Nowak, one of Jackie's readers, now submitting fine work at f(t). A year after Kate Nowak you have Elissa Miller writing up the new teacher experience at Miss Calculate.

No doubt, all of our decisions to hang out our own shingles were motivated by more than just one graybeard blogger. I have no idea, for instance, where Ian Garrovillas, Sam Shah, and Sean Sweeney fit into in this timeline nor do I have any idea if Twitter accelerates or decelerates this process. But the general effect is clear: people take their education into their own hands which provokes other people later on to do the same thing.


I just sent this note to my favorite new math teacher.

I am not sure if you are a blog reader or even if you are aware of the power it can be for a teacher. Here is a blog post by my favorite math teacher blogger. He links in the post to several other math and just teacher blogs. If you do have a Google Reader, add them for a while and follow. If you do not, then google, "Google Reader" and find out how to keep track of things. Then later start your own blog. The comments are awesome too, click the link to see them.


The barge will have to displace the same weight of water as the truck weighs. You can calculate the volume of the water and use the fact that you know its density is 1000 kg/m^3 to find the mass of the water displaced which is equal to the mass of the truck.
On Jan 26, 2009, at 6:25 PM, Chrissy wrote:

 > Hey Mr. Peterson,
> It's Chrissy & I was hoping you could post a Skitch on the Loading a > Truck on a Barge Problem b/c I am a little stuck.
> A rectangular shape ferry boat is 4.07 m wide and 5.97 m long. When > a large loaded truck pulls onto it, it sinks 4.45 cm deeper into the > water. What is the weight of the truck?
> Thanks,
> Chrissy