Category Archives: Baxter

Standards-Based Grading

There’s lots of talk out there, and especially in New England, about standards-based education. Whatever you think about standards-based, or proficiency-based, or competency-based education (they are all the same to me – just using some different words), the bottom line is that we teachers are now supposed to be able to certify that, regardless of any other factors beyond our control, our students are able to _________. Fill in the blank with your skill or habit of choice. This is tricky business. The tricky part is

  • not to distill learning into a checklist of discrete items that have no connection to each other.
  • to maintain a cohesive, robust curriculum with a clear scope and sequence.
  • to develop cross-curricular, integrated courses that give students rich opportunities to build those skills.
  • to build an assessment system that students, teachers, and parents have a common understanding of.

My school has put a lot of energy into creating a standards-based assessment (and reporting) system. Since we are still a new school, there is nothing to change except our own perceptions. We started out using the old 1-2-3-4 system, but ran into trouble with different interpretations of what those numbers represented and how students were able to achieve, or not. Some teachers maintained that standards in a course were global and that there was little chance for a 9th grader to demonstrate at a level higher than a 2. Other teachers defined course standards as local, so that students could earn a 3 or even a 4 on the standards within that class. Clearly, this was a problem.

The other problem is that any time grades are represented using numbers, people want to operate with them, or break them down further (using 2.3, for example). But those numbers represent discrete categories of performance or understanding. A 2.3 doesn’t make any sense if it isn’t defined. So we had to create a brand new system.

Each reporting standard – those big things like Algebra & Functions – has indicators that are connected to each level on the big scale toward graduation benchmarks. These are defined in a rubric. For any given course, we identify what the “target” knowledge & skills are, what level of the rubric we are targeting. For example, in the Modeling in Math class, the target level is Entering.

During a course, we report if a student is “below target,” “on target,” or “above target” for an assessment on particular indicator of a reporting standard. This way a student can be “on target” – meaning that the student is making solid progress and is doing what is expected in the course – but still not be at the graduation benchmark for that standard. After all, Modeling in Math is the first course that our 9th graders take. It’s unlikely that they will meet the graduation benchmark after just this one twelve-week class.

Report cards and transcripts report the big picture status toward graduation. So that 9th grader who was “on target” during the class has made progress toward graduation, but still has work to do to meet that benchmark. And that work could happen in a series of courses or through some combination of courses and portfolio, giving the student control over her education.

 

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Note from a graduate

Hey everyone! I just felt like I should email all of you to say hi, and to assure you that I haven’t forgotten Baxter, and to remind myself to stay in touch, and to tell you that [college] is great and almost everything is going really well! I’m actually kind of tearing up writing this, which surprised me since that’s not something that happens to me very often. I’ll try to remember to stop by the school if it’s in session while I’m visiting home!

Teaching is about building relationships with our students.

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2nd Annual STEM College Fair

college fair

Yesterday afternoon we hosted our second annual STEM College Fair. Last year we had representatives from five colleges and universities, mostly from Maine, come visit our school and talk with our students. This year there were sixteen reps from all over New England, large schools and small, liberal arts and technical, private and public, thanks to our amazing guidance colleagues.

The representatives had an opportunity to tour the building and eat lunch with some of our students, Baxter Ambassadors, who engaged in lively conversations about why they came to Baxter Academy and how they hope to continue their education beyond Baxter. After lunch there were some panel discussions that focused on the application process, what it’s like to study a STEM field at a liberal arts school, the benefits of attending a community college, how project-based learning connects to research, and what studying engineering at college is really about.  During the last hour of school, the fair was up and running with students in grades 9-11 (the 12th graders are pretty well set) roaming from table to table learning about what makes each program unique or special.

I’d like to think that in visiting our school, these reps learned what makes Baxter Academy unique and special.

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The Grant

So we got this grant. It’s big, for us anyway. And it’s a federal grant. We’ve tried for three years to get a federal grant and finally, we got one. We never had any start-up funds. We just jumped in and did it. What did we get this grant for? For everything that we’ve been trying to do and have to do anyway. Nice, right? It is. Really.

My part of the grant is to look at “Anytime, Anywhere” learning, streamline it, organize it, find ways to link our standards to it, and talk to the folks who are looking for ways to track it. This includes our snow day learning, Flex Friday, and alternative course work. And I get to work with a really awesome colleague to do this. Meanwhile, others will be working on dual-enrollment college courses, community service, and internships.

Because learning isn’t confined to the classroom. And learning math doesn’t have to happen in a math classroom from a math teacher. Learning how to write can happen in science class, because they are taught how to write in science class. We are working to be flexible because we are competency based. And that means that we look at evidence of what the student knows, not who the student learned from. Learning is organic and holistic.

So look for future posts about the progress of our Anytime, Anywhere learning curriculum development. It’s going to be quite a ride.

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Classroom arguing

Today and last Thursday the same group of students was arguing with each other about the math they were learning. On Thursday, they stayed about 5 minutes into lunch to finish their argument. It was fun to listen to. They were so engaged and talking math and refining their understanding. Eventually, today, they called me over to hear their arguments and clarify any misunderstandings. Here’s the beginning of the exchange:

S1: “Let me ask you this, Pam …”

S2: “No don’t ask her that, you’ll just confuse her.”

S1: “Let me ask. She’s a teacher with a lot more experience with this stuff than we have. I bet she won’t get confused.”

My students make me smile.

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3.14.16 Pi Day & Learning

Typically, I haven’t liked celebrating Pi Day. Interrupting learning just to eat pie or recite memorized digits just seems like a waste of everyone’s time. But these are the things that students and popular culture associate with Pi Day celebrations. Today is different, though. Today, I have the chance to weave learning into Pi Day.

It’s the last week of the term, so my 3D geometry students are working on final projects. I don’t feel too badly interrupting them to have them wonder a bit about the weirdness of pi. There are lots of ideas about this in James Tanton’s Weird Ways to Work with Pi, which I was happy to find. I was wondering what “pi” would look like for regular polygons like a triangle, or a square, or an octagon. Could we even talk about pi for polygons? And then I happened upon Tanton’s book. So today, I’m asking my geometry students to consider the question, “What does pi look like for regular polygons?”

I also have a class called “Social Decision Making.” It’s about voting methods, fair division, and a bit of game theory. So, in the only class where sharing a pie among 10 people is a relevant mathematical activity, we’re going to divide a pie, fairly, for all of us. Depending on the number of students in class, we might even just use parallel cuts, to make it interesting.

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Dan Meyer, Girl Scout Cookies, and a Nissan in the driveway

A couple of days ago, Dan Meyer posted this new 3-Act problem about boxes of Girl Scout cookies being packed into the back of a Nissan Rogue. It came at exactly the right time for my 3D Geometry class. We’re entering the last couple of weeks, so I’ve been posing review problems each day to help them remember all of the topics we’ve tackled. As I was considering the plan for Wednesday, one dropped right into my inbox.

We watched the Act 1 video. I asked for questions:

  • How many boxes are there?
  • How many different shapes?
  • How many cookies?
  • How much do all those boxes weigh?
  • How much would that cost?
  • Could they have fit more?
  • Could they have packed them more efficiently?

I asked for estimates, including guesses that they thought were too low and too high: The too low & too high estimates ranged from 1 to 1,000,000 and the guesses ranged from 206-3000.

I asked for the information they would need:

  • How big are the boxes?
  • What is the cargo space?
  • How much do the boxes weigh?
  • What’s the maximum payload?

I knew that Dan would provide some of this information in Act 2, measuring the roguebut my students are very inquisitive and quite resourceful. They wanted to figure these things out for themselves. And as luck would have it, our principal drives a Nissan Rogue. We also had Girl Scout cookie experts who were quick to point out that not all cookie boxes are created equally. We sent a group out to measure the cargo space while two other groups worked on the problems of cookie box sizes, cookie box weights, and Rogue payload capacity.

In researching the payload, the group found that Nissan noted that the Rogue had a cargo capacity of 32 cubic feet, not the 39.3 cubic feet noted in the video. Guess we need to work on those research skills – clearly. The payload capacity was about 1,000 lbs.

Measured cargo space came out to be about 25.8 cubic feet (or approximately 44,600 cubic inches).

The group researching the cookie boxes decided to take a sample and find some average measurements. As a result, our boxes measured 2″ x 7.2″ x 3.5″ and weighed an average of 9.3 oz (or 0.58 lbs).

Final calculations showed that the Nissan we measured could fit about 885 boxes, which would weigh a little more than 500 lbs. But that was a pure volume calculation and the students knew from previous packing problems that we had done, that the reality would be less than that, and that there would be empty space.

Finally, we watched Act 3 (this is the Nissan version). We noted that the Rogue in the video was a different model year than the one that we measured. The measuring team also noted that the Rogue in the driveway had a floor at the level of the lift gate – it didn’t have the same depth as the model in the video.

So thanks, Dan, for the great set-up and giving my students the opportunity to revisit some of the work they’d done earlier in the term.

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