Thursday, November 5, 2015

Do This and the Bunny Dies

The four newest ones are on top ...

Seriously? Nix The Tricks, Dammit!

I'm trying to hold it together, people ...

We've both had enough of that fraction mistake.

That's not even reasonable ....

One for the younger ones ...

Can't remember where I saw this first. I cleaned up the original images a bit and tried to keep it sensible, but between the kids' and my evil senses of humor ... this project has grown out of control.

We might as well just enjoy it.

Save the Rabbit!

Poor Kitten ... this happens all the time.

Such a shame how often that poor puppy gets it ...

Damn you, TI !

Because we all know a Fawn ...

Pandas are endangered, people. Cut that out!

Poor, poor Grumpy Cat.

Don't make him cry, people!

You heartless bastards.

I have nothing left to say.

Do You REALLY want him to win?

There's more!

Look at how sad he is ...

Don't you want friends ....

Poor bastard ...

SO very disappointed ...

It's just mean for you to do this ...

This just makes me sad ...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Incorrect Data isn't Useful

The other day I went to the Health Center for a followup checkup. I had been in previously and had gotten some anti-biotics for an insect bite that got infected. Simple, right? As part of the visit, the nurses are instructed to take routine weight and blood pressure measurements.

I know my blood pressure, so I was surprised that her diastolic reading was 20 points lower than it normally is. I remarked on that. Her reply was "Lower score is good, right?" in the tone of voice that conveyed clearly that I shouldn't be questioning her.

I'm thinking, "Sure ... unless it's a bad measurement." I get that BP is inexact, but it's a bit silly to refuse to re-measure it when the patient points it out. 20 points can make all the difference to the doctor's diagnosis of my overall health.

I decided that I would request the printout from the front desk as I left, the one with all of the day's numbers and decisions from the visit. I read the scale ... same weight as two weeks ago. On the printout, though, it was different ... she had obviously transposed digits when entering the data. In two weeks, I had "gained 23 pounds" and then lost it again in the 30 minutes it took to drive home. My blood pressure changed by 20 points, and that's a lot.

Bad data makes for inappropriate diagnosis.

Bad data makes for bad education policy, too.

The state of Vermont is "suffering" through the release of the first round of SBAC scores despite our scores being better than most other states (we're usually top 5).  "Results are much lower" and already my principal is bitching about it, despite declaring at the time, "We don't care what the scores are, we just want to get the process right." (I'm paraphrasing but that was the intent.)

I'm all for improvement, but I hate basing change on the back of bad data.  Our diagnosis is flawed because our data is flawed, and the prescription runs counter to other policies that the State has imposed.

First, the SBAC has measurement errors just like my nurse had.  Many students took that test knowing that scores would not be held against them, that there was absolutely no chance that anyone would see the scores in fewer than six months or act upon them to set courses for this year or college applications. Additionally, the test itself is drastically different in format (and it's all done through the Chromebook) ... a test completed entirely on-line.

There are no multiple choice questions and kids can have scratch paper, but they're not used to doing math that way. There's a lot of "drag the factors to the answer box" and write three paragraphs explaining why you know that this is a straight line .. and few can stretch out an explanation that far.

Second, and just as  important, the SBAC "passing scores" were decided upon after the fact, to make the percent-passing numbers match what the state had decided they should be ...

That's right. Before the kids even took the test, they told us that there would be a state-wide passing rate of 33% on the HS math test. Then they set the cut-score to match.

Third, add in the fact that we are a small school and we pride ourselves on being able to provide a more personalized education that your average public school, including having personalized learning plans that had quite a few students taking Algebra 2 as seniors. I'm sure you can see where this is going: many of our kids were taking a test heavily based on mathematics they hadn't seen yet.

This runs directly counter to another major initiative in the State of Vermont, the Personalized Learning Plan. Sometimes called "Personal Pathway to Graduation", the initiative requires schools to design different course pathways to graduation for each student as appropriate. This includes allowing schools to schedule certain kids into a faster progression for math and others into a more moderately paced path that might not even include algebra 2. It means that "pre-algebra, algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2" might be the most appropriate for a student.

Taking that approach and then complaining that they don't know algebra 2 by March of their junior year is silly.

It's the rhetorical equivalent of reading a graph that says that Pre-calculus students do better on the NAEP and then concluding that we must make sure every student takes Pre-calculus by the time state tests are given in the junior year

which a previous principal actually said.

So when the bright bulb in the room points out that we teachers should prepare the kids for college and careers, and should have prepared the kids better for this test, and "If you hold the kids to a higher standard, they'll rise to meet that standard," I will calmly channel Dick Cheney and say that "you go to war with the students you have, not the students you wish you had."

Finally, the teachers are not allowed to know what's on the test.  I don't want to teach to the test, but I'd like to know what is included.I'll give the same assessments I would already have planned, but I might change some questions to a similar format, for example.

Also, I'm not willing to just take their word for it that the test is appropriate. We can't check for bad questions that might have tripped up our students and we can't check that the answers they gave were correct or not. We have to take Pearson's word that the scorers actually knew what they were doing.  After reading Todd Farley's book, Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry and others with similar tales of the realities of corporate test making and scoring, I'm not particularly willing to do that.

The NY Regents is an example of a relatively open and transparent test-making system, but it has many errors. The NY teachers can catch these problems and get them fixed. If we look at Mr. Honner's long-running series reviewing the NY State Regents exams in mathematics, why should we expect that the SBAC tests will somehow be perfect if there is no chance for oversight?

The SBAC is a closed system with no accountability that scores the tests in strange ways, fails to take into account the realities of the students, will not allow anyone to analyze or even examine any of the questions (unlike the SAT which I can see in its entirely within a few weeks), spits out pre-determined results that do not reflect student abilities, and makes everyone wait an unconscionably long time for those results ... much too long for the school to do anything with them.

I can't use the scores because they aren't detailed enough, timely enough or accurate enough.

I guess I'll just teach math and ignore all that bluster.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I guess we have to talk about cellphones again.

Actually, we need to talk about cops in school, euphemistically called School Resource Officers, as if they were a librarian or something.  This is a bit of a rant, in case you didn't realize.

This came across Facebook.
Sadly, there was a time when kids were taught to respect adults, in general. I work with some amazing teachers, but parents show open disrespect for teachers, so why should their kids be any different? todays parents are so over involved with their kid...
Total and utter bullshit.

"That time when kids were taught to respect their elders" and things were rosy and happy and nobody sassed an adult ... didn't exist except in the fevered dreams of people who think they weren't Royal Pains in the Ass themselves when they were teenagers.

"Back then" kids were just as disrespectful and just as stupid about it. The difference between then and now was that a teacher who made harsh and unreasonable demands could arbitrarily smack a kid - corporal punishment was pretty common - and there was nothing the kid could do. The teacher could be totally and completely wrong and all of society would just fall in line. After the teacher got done slapping or spanking, the parents would probably deal out more punishment when the kid got home, "No Respect for Authority."

After the Tinker decision and other lawsuits, schools began to realize that they didn't have complete and total control of their students and never did, that "students' rights didn't stop at the schoolhouse door", that the Constitution and (in the case under discussion here) specifically, the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments weren't just for adults.

Kids are citizens, too, and have all of those pesky constitutional rights. Smacking them around for looking at a text (the modern day equivalent of passing a note) is ridiculous. Expecting them to hand over a phone to a teacher who will search through it or not give it back until some unknown time ... is likewise unreasonable if you only do it to one student and only when you catch her and only if you're in a bad mood because your day wasn't going well. If you want to apply discipline, you have to be fair and equitable.

Teachers who do something creative, like having the students line up their phones on the "chalktray", have a much better record because it's done to everyone and becomes a habit. Kids can deal with that.

What they hate is the "I'm annoyed, therefore you are wrong and I'm taking your phone because reasons and if you question my AUTHORITAH, I will have you arrested."

Why does the teacher need to make this an issue? All accounts say the teacher asked her to put away the cellphone but she didn't do it fast enough (emphasis mine). How does this justify a harsh takedown by a cop, public arrest, jail and fines? Any teacher/admin/cop/adult who escalates this to the level in that video really needs to take a few psych courses, and do some serious introspective work ... is that student really threatening you that much? Is the student use of a cellphone anywhere near the disruption that the policeman caused?

Nowadays, schools try to slide past the Constitution by using weasel words and police phrasing and lingo to attempt to do this crap. We changed from "Inappropriate Language or Behavior" to "Assault", "Bullying" or "Harassment" ... or my favorite response to one boy shoving another at a locker, "ASSAULT and BATTERY, Third Degree."

The kid who recorded the incident was also arrested ... for "Causing a Distraction."
WTF, people?
Then, there's the kid who recorded the video on her cellphone: she was also arrested ... for "Causing a Distraction." So a cop in the room who takes a girl forcibly from her chair and throws her against a wall and handcuffs her -- that's not a distraction but a second kid with a phone is? I can assure you that my difficulty keeping the class on task would have a lot more to do with the cop than anything else.

We see this all the time as schools struggle to pretend they're Gods of All They Survey. A girl wears spandex leggings and the administrator calls it "a Safety Issue." It's not.

A kid wears a hat and we call it "Disrepect" and if the kid doesn't take it off instantly it becomes "Refusal To Follow Orders" or "Insubordination" or "Disruption". It's not.

A kid gives an Advil to another kid because of PMS, we call it "Illegal Drug Distribution" or invoke some "No Tolerance Drug Policy" as if that applied here. It doesn't.

South Carolina even has a law against disrupting school, a law that carries a punishment of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.  "Disruption" used to be shooting spitballs and the punishment was a detention. Now it's a major criminal offense if you want to push it that far.

Police need to use specific, precise language that has been scrubbed of as much bias and humanity as possible because they are dealing with adults and a criminal justice system. If the police get involved, there are serious consequences if guilt is proven.

When the situation calls for jail time or extensive fines, we absolutely must call the police. This is not something untrained school personnel can handle. Anything you say can be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney; you have the right to remain silent. The policemen can use DEADLY force if public safety is at stake.

The "School Resource Officer" is still a cop. Every interaction with a student is written up, recorded and reported. He is not a friend and he cannot ignore things.

The other 99.9% of the time, school discipline is not at that point and the cops should not be involved. Schools need to get out of the policeman's mindset, to remove that language from our speech and discipline policies.

We are not cops; we are dealing with children, actually and legally.

Passing notes in class, while rude and should be dealt with by school officials, is NOT a criminal offense. Cops should not be involved.

I don't want kids handing out Advil  - there are medical reasons. So I send them to the office/nurse to get some for free (where the nurse can say "That's enough for today" or "Is there something I need to know about that bruising all over your body? Know that I am required by law to call the state abuse hotline.") This kid in this case is nothing for a policeman to deal with. The abuser, yes.

"If all you've got is a cop ... everyone looks like a criminal" isn't quite accurate, really. He's required to treat every interaction as a possible criminal case; he has no choice. He is a policeman and he must follow rules.

"If a major incident occurs that needs the US Justice System, we'll call the cops"
"The SRO is there to deal with major incidents."

But that has become
"We pay him $90,000 dollars a year and he's not doing anything else right now,
so we'll send him to do this task we don't feel like doing."

and in some cases:
"The kid won't listen to us. SRO, you take care of it."

And that's how passing notes becomes a criminal offense. That's how refusing to hand over a phone can lead to forcible takedown, arrest, and jail time.

School administrations have increasingly becoming a cadre of self-important fools who have never taught a day in their lives and who have no idea what they're doing. 

A Professional relationship or a personal one?
Has the administration abdicated its responsibility to teach behavior and self-discipline to a policeman who must follow completely different and far stricter rules of interpersonal contact? I think so.

Here's a thought: If your SRO is expected to be a friendly guy, messing with kids and always has a smile ... do the kids know he is really a cop? Is the disrespect some claim as a reason for the arrest partly because kids have been calling him by his first name all this time?  Does he have a professional relationship with the students or a personal one?

A final point. Some reports claim the girl was recently orphaned. This is not true, but she was in foster care ... still a traumatic and depressing situation for a girl whose mother and grandmother are still alive. Think about what kind of home life that girl has lived. It doesn't excuse, but it does explain.

Thanks for reading. I've got to get back to work.

Anyone who wants to claim that the cop is there to protect the students from a "Bad Guy With a Gun", please just shut the fuck up and crawl back into your hole ... you have no idea what you're talking about.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

For some, College IS a waste of time

Walter Williams writes
"A good part of our higher education problem, explaining its spiraling cost, is that a large percentage of students currently attending college are ill-equipped and incapable of doing real college work. They shouldn't be there wasting their own resources and those of their families and taxpayers."
Absolutely true. For many students, a well-paying blue-collar job is all they want, and all they will want from life.  And that's OK.

But Williams doesn't stop with that:
Another CCAP essay by Vedder and his colleagues, titled "From Wall Street to Wal-Mart," reports that there are "one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees." More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, such as flight attendants, taxi drivers and salesmen. Was college attendance a wise use of these students' time and the resources of their parents and taxpayers?
Well, no, not if you leave it at that.  Why is the assumption that all those college graduates are stopping there or that the jobs that don't require a degree are anything other than temporary?

Why are you making the assumption that college was useless for them just because they are accepting a job at the low end of the scale? This used to be called "working your way up the ladder" and perhaps some few of the waiters and and taxi drivers were looking to remain there permanently, but all of them?
Colleges should refuse admission to students who are unprepared to do real college work. That would not only help reveal shoddy primary and secondary education but also reduce the number of young people making unwise career choices. Sadly, that won't happen. College administrators want warm bodies to bring in money.
More importantly, why must college be the default?

So many people are being told that college is the only option for post-high-school 18 year-olds. It shouldn't be the default.

Not every kid belongs there ...
  • right now ... maybe a couple of years from now, when he's more mature, has gotten a job and realized that he wants more?
  • perhaps a technical school, certification program?
  • at all .... not every kid has the chops to get a college degree ... and that's okay. Honesty in self-evaluation used to be considered a sign of maturity. Not every kid wants to spend $80k to get a degree when he could just start being a woodcarver/artist, logger, mechanic, plumber, heavy equipment operator, welder ... just like his dad.
  • not at this time because he doesn't have the money, but he's going to work for a while and save up.
Come on, guidance counselors.  Your job is to counsel the students on the best options that exist for them, not shoehorn them into some version of your fantasy student.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lost Learning Time

This clown feels that he has the answer to our time crunch: teach bell-to-bell.

He calculates 5 hours a day of teaching; each 1 hour block takes about 5 minutes to get started and ends about 5 minutes early. Extrapolating out, he gets 10 minutes out of 60 minutes are "underutilized", 50 minutes per day, 250 minutes per week and 8700 minutes per year not utilized for learning. Okay, that's still 1/6 of the school year, or about 17% ... and it is a lot. I'm just not sure that the time can be re-couped so easily.

If you only have a couple of minutes to go from building to building or from floor to floor, there's no way that students can make the transitions if they are writing in their notebooks and not packing up until after the bell ring rings -- pack, walk, sip of water, pee break - walk, and barely make it to the next class.  Bell rings and most are still unpacking, getting out and starting up Chromebooks, etc.

Okay, so a few minutes start and finish. Meh. Just another fool extrapolating way too far ... like the people who calculate that time talking about football is somehow wasting billions of dollars per year in lost productivity.

But here's where it gets funny; here's where he failed miserably ... and where I'm not particularly sure the Good Doctor has been in a classroom recently.
"... and 8700 per year not utilized for learning. Now, let's be realistic and cut that number in half because we all know there are assemblies and other events that cut into learning time throughout the school year. That leaves us with 4,350 minutes of time not spent learning."
Cut in half?

Try "double it".  Assemblies aren't some magic eraser that makes those lost few minutes go away. Assemblies and field trips ADD to the lost time.
Sheesh, dude.

I'll pass, thanks.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Grading and Homework

from Justin Tarte, one of the signals that there is a grading problem in your classroom is:
When talking with parents at parent teacher conferences (which honestly need a complete overhaul by the way) you find yourself telling multiple parents that their child would be doing much better grade-wise if they would just do the homework.
It struck me that there are two ways to parse this.

(1) That the child was not doing the homework and the homework is graded so the zeroes bring the grade down even though the student understood everything and could prove it ... OR
(2) that the homework is key to building automaticity and understanding, and that by not doing any of it, we shouldn't be surprised that the grade, which is a reflection of the understanding and ability to use the material in new ways (proficiency) was an indicator of that lack of proficiency.

Is it any wonder that I hate professional development that takes such a simplistic and uninformed statement and builds policy around it ... despite the ambiguity inherent in the statement?

"Stop grading homework!"
"Stop giving homework!"
"Homework is counterproductive!"
"Proficiency-based Grading explicitly rejects grading homework."

Leading to a blanket policy across the board:

Is this really a good idea?

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Arthur Camins says:
The biggest problem with education is the U.S. is not test scores. Rather, three central problems plague public education in the United States. The most dramatic is inequity. There are vast inequities in educational resources and in the conditions of students’ lives, resulting in persistent race- and class-based disparities in educational outcomes.
Second, we are far too focused on a narrow range of outcomes – reading and math test scores – and not enough on a broader range of subject matter or essential domains, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaborative skills. Third, we gravitate toward partial quick solutions, rather than thinking systemically and having the patience to allow strategies time to develop, take hold, and be refined.
Which is great ... but what do we do about it?

Not sure this is a "Majority"

from the Daily Buzz, not known for its math skills, comes this paragraph ...
Noel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media which owns Ashley Madison, claimed that the site had equal opportunity connections for men and women, but in fact, the site’s members were primarily men by a staggering ratio of 28 million men to 5 million women.
Surprisingly, a majority of the email addresses on the site, 15,000 of them, were linked to men who are U.S. government and/or military officials.
15,000 out of 33 million?

Is this like a moral majority?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Strike Against Charter Schools

This argument is one that I've made several times and I'm glad that it's resonating in some places, though I certainly couldn't claim any credit.
"The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional, reported the Seattle Times. Conservatives push charter schools as part of their mission to dismantle public education.
It's not just conservatives, but it does seem to be dominated by that point of view.More specifically, it seems to be dominated by a desire to filter out "the bad students", a desire that at first seems like it might be reasonable but that falls apart when examined logically.  It also, strangely, seems to come flavored with class and socio-economic discrimination.
Late on Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that charter schools are unconstitutional because they aren’t “common schools” in that their boards are appointed, rather than elected, said Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. Charter schools are publicly-funded but privately-owned.
This fact is key, in my mind ... how can it be justifiable to allow a private school to be paid out of public funds when the public is paying for a local school already? 
The ruling stems from a 2013 lawsuit in which a pro-public education coalition claimed that charter schools “improperly divert public school funds to private organizations that are not subject to local voter control.” Kim Mead of the Washington Education Association praised the court’s ruling. “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer money,” said Mead.
Right. I can run for the local school board (and have served on it), I can ask to see their budgets and accounts (and have), I can know about and criticize their hiring practices and salaries and policies. I can't do any of that for the local Catholic school, or any of the local private schools. If taxpayer money is being REQUIRED of me for tuition payment, then I have the right to have a say in how it's spent. Charter schools do not have to tell me any of that.
The ruling is a great victory in the fight against conservative privatization and the attack against public education. Private companies should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to run private, issued based, schools in a pursuit of profit.
The only thing a charter school can offer that public schools don't is the removal of all weak students from nearby classrooms.

The only voucher system I have ever supported is one in which students are allowed to choose a different PUBLIC SCHOOL than the one in their neighborhood. Public money should stay in the public schools.

Just as important, charter schools don't actually offer anything that the local public school doesn't.  The pro-charter reformers always tout low test scores as a reason to allow the best students to go somewhere else, but that's a straw-man argument.

Those top students aren't being forced to take remedial classes, or being ignored and forced into doing poorly because other kids in that same school are doing poorly. Those top kids are taking challenging classes in the public school. They're taking AP courses, college level courses (and receiving college credits from the University of Vermont system), and online courses through UVM and VHS. They're doing well on the SAT, ACT, and others. They're going to Dartmouth and the Ivies, state colleges and Universities. They're not being held back by their peers.

The only thing a charter school can offer that we can't is the removal of all weak students from other classrooms. That's not appropriate for a public school system.
  • Charters don't offer anything better than we do. 
  • Charters don't improve students; they improve averages. 
  • Charters don't improve school offerings; they remove the very students that allow us to offer AP calculus.
  • Charters don't help students; they offer the exact same courses to the same kids that I would.
  • Charters don't have better teachers, either. They have younger teachers, or those who weren't good enough to get a job in the public school, or those who weren't certified to teach in public school (and that's a pretty low hurdle), or those who want to work many more hours for less pay.

Monday, September 7, 2015

We need to rename Herd Immunity

One morning last week, I found myself thinking about vaccines and immunizations as I drove to work. Perhaps NPR had something on the radio, perhaps not.

It occurred to me that the phrase "Herd Immunity" is flawed and I realized that I wished doctors and researchers could arrive at a better one.

It defined "noun: herd immunity"
  1. general immunity to a pathogen in a population based on the acquired immunity to it by a high proportion of members over time. 
My difficulty with this phrase and its definition is that it's not a definition of immunity. It's a probability statement.

Immunity is the capability of the body to resist harmful microorganisms or viruses from entering it, acting as a barrier, the capability to act as an eliminator of a wide range of pathogens irrespective of antigenic specificity, and the capability to adapt to each new disease encountered and generate pathogen-specific immunity.

If you are immune, you can't get that disease. Either your body blocks it from entering (skin or other barrier), it's not compatible with humans in the first place (not zoonotic), or you have antibodies in general that can destroy it, or you have gotten the disease before and developed specific antigens for it.

"Herd immunity," on the other hand, is not a thing you have or a feature of being human. You can get the disease just as easily as anyone, but the probability is low that you'll come into contact with a carrier ....  except in schools, hospitals, churches and any other place where people congregate.

"Community Immunity" (NIH)
Look at the way herd "immunity" works (source):
Top: If no one is vaccinated and a disease carrier enters the group, the group catches the disease. A random few have a natural immunity, or did not attend church that day, or live far enough away from the carriers and did not contract the disease.

Middle: A few are vaccinated, a carrier mingles with the group and again, many people contract the disease.

Bottom: Many people are vaccinated and the carriers do not inflect as many people.

But there's problems with that. This image shows a nice statistical spread, a random positioning, that allows the unvaccinated to avoid being infected.  Schools, churches, hospitals, and other gathering places, are all scenarios in which this nice statistical spread is not in place.

School children are grouped together all day. If there is a red person and a blue person anywhere in that building, they will come in contact at some time during the day. The statement "If you have a high enough percentage in the group who are vaccinated" now runs afoul of the reality that schools are not random distributions with unvaccinated children able to stay away from any potential carriers.  They will come into contact with the un-vaccinated and they will be infected.

Why does this matter?

I think that the term is incorrectly giving people the impression that they are safe if they don't vaccinate when the truth is that they are in danger of infection when they no longer are spread out into their respective suburban cul-de-sacs and are commingled in schools and other gatherings.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

If that's a condition, I want nothing to do with it.

In a discussion the other day with one of the new teachers in the district, I mentioned that I was the NHS advisor, and that I was surprised that the dues for the school's joining for the year went from $85 to $385 per year. That got a strange look and a negative comment about the organization; I'm paraphrasing here: "I hate the NHS."

One raised eyebrow later, the teacher continued, "I was straight As, honor roll, did everything they expected of new members, the works. I and a couple of friends were rejected because our parents were divorced. Yep. The kids who were accepted all had married parents. Everyone rejected had divorced parents.  When we asked the advisor about it, he talked about the morality clause."


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Considering Google Classroom - part1

So you're considering Google Classroom?  Great!

What it is: The best way to explain this thing is that it's an organizing system for GMail communication in a classroom setting. It has tools that make the process of sending out assignments and collecting assignments, from all of the students, multiple classes, multiple artifacts per student, much easier. 

It is NOT an online classroom where each student gets to work at his/her own pace. That would be Moodle ... if you want a totally differentiated system that does the teaching and each kid is at a different place, then Classroom isn't going to work well for you.

Type of class it's best for:
My colleagues in the English and History departments are the most satisfied with Classroom because their myriad assignments are typically written paragraphs that could easily overwhelm your in-box if you were to try and have the students just send them to you ... to the tune of 1000 emails a week, or more.

(update: "Ducks to Water - Google Classroom" details the experience of a New Zealand English teacher's use of Classroom)

It's tough for math, however.  Symbols are limited. There is Greek Delta for triangle, but you have to use < for angle. Complex notes are impossible - handwritten still works best for taking notes, then scan and send from the school copier.  Algebra is possible for me since I'm writing one equation for a problem but the students can't show their work easily. Pre-Caclulus and Calculus are basically a no-go in GDocs.  There's easy integration of Desmos and Geogebra, but you have to let go of the need to show work or steps.

The exceptions: Probability and Statistics, and portfolio/explanation/extended answer questions. P/S using Sheets works great. You can send out data ("Make a copy for each student") and the kids each create a presentation with graphs from it.  Similarly, "portfolio" problems or the new Common Core explanation-required problems work fairly well because there's more writing and verbiage than math equations.

Bottom line: If your students are using Google Docs to do their work, then Classroom is perfect. I gave the Stats class work that they generated spreadsheets and graphics for: Sheets and Slides came back, sorted, tagged with name, a nice little interface that collects all of the artifacts that are submitted with the assignment (also renames them with assignment name and student name, e.g., "6.2 Histogram - John Smitty 2018").

Bonus: If your students have more than one class using Classroom, then they get a dashboard with assignments and such. They LIKE having everything there.

  • Ease of use.
  • Every assignment goes to every kid at the same time. Email notification and bright red "Assignment Due" in the interface.
  • The assignments that are submitted are definitely submitted.
  • Kids appreciate it when multiple teachers use it.
  • You can grade right in the list of students' submissions. Open the kid's submitted files, add comments right in the margins, "Return" it if you want improvements, choose a grade.

  • Typing Algebra. 
  • Drawing graphs. (Desmos and Geogebra integrate well, but DRAWING is cumbersome)
  • Every assignment goes to every kid at the same time. Email notification and bright red "Assignment Due" in the interface. No differentiation.
  • No quizzes (yet. They claim to be working on it)
  • You can't have a class prepped too far out, certainly not a full course. 
  • Gradebook is limited and does not integrate with your gradebook program.

Here's a sample assignment:

It's got a title and a due date. I included a picture for them to look at (student can view), a spreadsheet will the data that each student will work on and submit later (Make a copy for each student) and an another spreadsheet that all students can edit together. The "Make a copy for each" option allows each student to have their own to work on while the "Students can edit" option lets us all contribute data to the same file. It could be raw data, a GDoc that you're using for class notes, etc.

The paperclip icons at the bottom allow you to attach a file from your computer (uploaded), attach a google doc (doc, sheets, drawing, etc.), a YouTube video link, and a general link.

When you student has completed his work, he goes back to this page and hits the SUBMIT button.  Any file that was "Make a copy for Each" is automatically attached, but the student can attach other files, evidence, artifacts, and then submit.

It all gets neatly organized in your GDrive, in a folder creatively called "Classroom", but you will never need to look in there for them.
Nope, don't care.
What you'll do is look in your assignment "stream":

Note: The blue rectangles are just to obscure the students' names for publishing here. The green one covers a student's name as part of the new automatically created filename. Each student's entry can be expanded as I did here to see and open any submitted files. Everything is in my Drive, but I can get to it all here.

Also, to answer the other question asked on Twitter, I feel it's not that difficult to create the same assignment more than once for different sections and this gives me the flexibility of having classes at different points during the year. Not only that, but announcements can be posted to more than one group and can contain PDFs, links, images, etc.

Note: I don't grade them here because I don't want dual-gradebook confusion. I do write comments (ctrl-alt-M) in the documents themselves.

If this works for you, you owe me a beer someday.

There will be a part 2.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

RI rejects sanity.

From Joanne Jacobs:
Rhode Island should stick with a single diploma, says Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who’d proposed creating standard, “regents” and honors diplomas. Instead, she said districts should be able to add “endorsements” to the diploma to indicate higher levels of proficiency and honors.
Which is a shame, really. Having more than one diploma makes the students work harder for the better one.