Archive for January, 2012

Thu 1/26: Into the great wide open

January 27, 2012 1 comment

In an act likely motivated in equal parts by inspiration and desperation, I have agreed to take on the role of Educational Technology Facilitator at the school where I am working. In many ways, this is a fantastic move for me. It allows me to jettison some of my other non-technology responsibilities and crystallizes my job into something approaching a coherent whole. I will still be responsible for teaching all of the computer courses, which was something that I insisted on so that I could stay in the classroom. And I also get to keep my job as the school’s sports information director, which is something that I really love to do.

The majority of my job role, however, will consist of this new position. What exactly my responsibilities will be remain to be determined. In a nutshell, my job will be to start pushing the school’s use of technology a little further down the field again since the last person to hold this job left 18 months ago. In what areas will that manifest itself? That’s a good question. I hope that I can make meaningful changes both in and out of the classroom.

I am excited about this new opportunity and also somewhat terrified. The fact that the job remained unfilled for nearly two years makes me nervous that the position (or me) could be judged to be expendable when the initial two-year appointment expires. I’m worried that prevailing faculty attitudes about technology might be difficult to budge much during that short period of time. And I guess I’m just worried about my ability to get up to speed quickly enough to be effective in the job.

But it’s a great challenge and, if it works, should be a great career move. Being  a successful technology integrationist is actually something tangible that has some street cred, much more than the extremely valuable but largely unrelated hodgepodge of responsibilities that has been my job for the last five years.

Categories: ETF, Hotchkiss, teaching, worklife

Wed 1/11: SBG 2.01

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday I issued a minor patch to my new SBG rubric for programming. My students were complaining about how it was impossible to get a 4.0 through computer work, and I knew deep down that the system was flawed and antithetical in some way. So I decided to modify the rubric to allow 4.0 work on labs if the students completed a “challenge exercise” for that standard that I established ahead of time. As I told my students, I was going to make these challenges very hard, probably as hard as I could think of. I want the students to really feel like they had to sweat to earn that extra point. This will still end up being less work for me, as now I only need to think of a bonus challenge for each standard that I grade. So far on my first lab project, two of the three students in my class have elected to do the challenge. We’ll see how their efforts turn out.

Categories: CO552, sbar

Fri 1/6: Wrestling with SBG

January 6, 2012 4 comments

I’m a big fan of standards-based grading. In fact, since I switched to it midway through the first semester of last year, I can’t imagine going back. Escaping the shackles of a point-grubbing culture and refocusing my assessment on standards performance has really changed the way I teach — for the better, I hope.

But the implementation is still a work in progress. This year I decided to switch from a 1-10 scale to Marzano’s 1-4 scale, as detailed in his book. I even went to the trouble of creating a differentiated rubric that listed Level-2 skills and Level-3 skills. It was a lot of work and I’m not sure that it improved things very much.

The problem is Level-4. One of the reasons why I wanted to move away from points-based grading was to reduce grade inflation in my class. I wanted to make it really hard to get a top score. But the problem I encountered was, especially with take-home programming assignments, it was too easy for students to produce “perfect” work that satisfied all the requirements of an assignment.

Does a working program equal a 4.0? I don’t think that it should. In my mind, students need to go above and beyond the basic expectations to earn a 4.0. But it’s a bit like that old paradox: once you define what constitutes a 4.0, then that becomes the new literal benchmark that students will strive for. Marzano says that a 3.0 is “proficient”, so shouldn’t a 4.0 require students to exceed expectations.

Last semester I tried requiring my students to write me a narrative argument for why their work should earn a 4.0 if they felt they had exceeded the basic requirements of the assignment. That didn’t really work, because their explanations were really just facile restatements of the 3.0 proficiency standards.

Maybe my standards just need to be reworked so that I establish a new top tier. I can’t really figure out how to do that, but maybe other people in CS who are using SBG can help me with that. In the meantime, I am using a new rubric in my AP-level class:




Concept can be implemented on paper.


Concept can be implemented with no logical errors


Concept can be implemented with no runtime errors


Concept can be implemented with no syntax errors

In other words, to get a 4.0 you need to be able to do this stuff correctly on a test. I think this sort of fragmented rubric would get an angry letter from Mr. Marzano. But it’s the best way I can think now to reduce the “soft bump” that students get from doing their work at home with the benefit of compilers and other resources.

What do you think?



Categories: CO552, compsci, programming, sbar

Wed Jan 1/4: Rebooting the blog

January 5, 2012 1 comment

Faithful readers of this blog — OK, who are we kidding? The blog went into hibernation almost immediately after it was launched. I’m not quite sure why that happened. The simple explanation might be that the course on Web 2.0 technologies that I planned to teach last fall got cancelled, and so the main reason for my starting the blog went away. But that’s a cop-out. I guess I just got too distracted by the urgency of everyday work to invest the time I needed into this kind of professional development.

So, let’s try again. I will try to post to this blog at least a few times a week with my thoughts on teaching. Sometimes it will be personal reflections about the two courses I am teaching this semester (AP Computer Science and Introduction to Programming). Sometimes it will be reactions to posts I read in other teaching blogs — which, sadly, I also got away from reading at about the same time this blog went on hiatus. And it might also start containing posts on technology integration if the job I have applied for here at Hotchkiss comes through. More on that soon, I hope.

Anyway, hope you enjoy it!

Categories: blogging