Archive for October, 2017

I start the flipgrid conversation, with fun yellow glasses.

So I’ve been thinking about formative assessment. Originally I began this post “I’ve been thinking about how much/often to check in on student progress.” However, “checking in on student progress” is really the same thing as formative assessment, so I’m going to say that I’ve been thinking about formative assessment; it makes me feel better. Formative assessment is something I am trying to work on.

A little background. Students in my class are engaged in a medium-term project (see hyperdoc, some links deactivated) The project was structured so that the initial work was some thinking and writing about book we recently read followed by some independent research that went a little farther afield and then to is followed by group work on a question to be determined by the group that is presumably going to be informed by the independent research. There are a couple of potentially contradictory characteristics about the students in the class. They are seniors in an honors-level course and therefore should be able to keep up with independent research, stay on track, and do all the things. And, they are seniors in honors-level class and therefore are smart people who sometimes put things off and can BS their way through. Since I come from a lower school background, I tend to include lots of checking in points. Older students are may be less a fan of that. I want to balance expecting and respecting their independence with assessing how their research is going early on before it goes too far off track.

I made a grand plan for this little mini unit. (Those of you who are familiar with my planning will not be surprised that it was perhaps a grander plan than was necessary or was advisable given that this is a new-to-me class, but there you have it.) And, I Incorporated some check-ins, which I’m now calling formative assessment, along the way. As I wrote last year, I am a fan of the audio response, and I thought this was another good opportunity for audio. The other thing that I wanted to happen with these little formative-assessment-check-ins was the ability for classmates to listen in on one each other. There are two reasons for this. First, I want us to feel like a group working on connected work, and it’s hard to feel very connected to other people’s work if you don’t know what it is. And second, the students need to form groups based on research that they think goes together, not just people they like to sit with in class. Therefore, I chose to use flipgrid, which I have recommended to people before and seen others use, but have not actually used myself. It was a great opportunity to try something new for me as well.

When it came time for the students, according to my grand plan, to have done a little flipgrid checking in, I was worried that they would forget. We were heading into a long weekend; there was a lot going on; there a lot of moving parts to this project overall. I really wanted to email the group on Friday and remind them. However, I resisted. know better. Come the end of the long weekend, there were not too many flipgrid videos. I was the first one to add a video; I thought I would model the assignment. Flipgrid lets the recorder add goofy hats or whatnot to the still image, which I could not resist. The student comments started coming in. I think every person who has commented has had some little drawing, do-dad, or design on their picture, and it is so funny to me that these mostly full-grown people are also still those 10-year-olds who loved to fancify their mindmaps in 5th grade. I love that.

As I listened to the student flip grade comments, I was really struck by a couple of things. First, of course, students could have done a little bit more research. But one of the other things I noticed was that a lot of what they shared was information I thought they already knew. Now, some of this could be students telling me things they already know, as opposed to things they researched, but I don’t think that’s true for all of. I’m fairly certain that I misjudged just how much background many students had. I learned something I needed to know. Isn’t this the point of formative assessment? These little check-ins were super helpful for me in terms of getting my head around what to expect and how to help support students in coming up with their next research questions.

Another thing I noticed was that several of the students were doing a good job of seeing patterns and generalizing. For example one of the things students needed to do was look at a wide range of images in the art database Art Store. Again, there is a wide range of experience in the class. We have practiced looking at art, we haven’t gotten very far, but we’ve done some good “slow looking.” A lot of students were able to see trends and patterns in the images they reviewed. More good information for me from this formative assessment.

This little formative assessment moment had a great return on investment. From two brief (2 minutes max) flipgrids from each student, I was able to have a more specific conversation with that student, assess some new skills (looking at art), and adjust my instruction along the way. Bonanza!

So, I’ve been thinking about secrets, redacted text, and how we don’t have access to all the information.

As part of my ongoing taxonomy series where I create 5 works of some sort, I decided to head back to blackout poetry. I’ve been a fan blackout poetry for a long time. In some of my wanderings around the interwebs (hello, Pinterest!) I’ve seen a lot of interesting embroidery and sewing combined with words. That’s where I started.

I started with the same old children’s book, I Know a Secret by Christopher Morely (1927), that I used in my beet images and others works. I thought the book title, visible at the top of each page, was a nice touch for each image. Instead of using a sharpie to get to the poem, I stitched across words that I did not want. I mixed up the colors of the thread and tried a few different stitching patterns. I like the 2x zigzag strategy that looks like cross-stitch. The straight stitch with loose threads is another combo that appeals to me.

Once the poems and stitching patterns were finished, I thought that there needed to be more hidden; the poems were too easy to read. I really wanted to say something about how hard it is to get to information sometimes. Things get fuzzy. In addition, I wanted to consider the idea of crossing something out, but maybe also decorating to distract, hence the ribbons. I used whatever ribbon I could find in my boxes of odds and ends. As usual, some of the results are more successful than others.

The pictures below are in pairs. The image on the left is with the vellum and ribbon layer; the image on the right shows what is visible when the vellum is raised. The text of the “poem” is at the top.

I Know a Secret 4 “a warm morning/round the house/leathery smells from the garage/and sweet biscuits”


I Know a Secret 6 “quarreling over the world/worried about that/we all have to do sooner or later/Startled by a voice beside her/with a slight foreign accent”


I Know a Secret 8 “with nervous hopefulness/I continued/I heard your name/mentioned at the station/Before my marriage/I had connections/and worked in France”


I Know a Secret 14 “Mr. Perez/in the evenings/peered timidly/waved boldly and/began eating Escargot./Every morning they would sit quietly together”


I Know a Secret 16 “he grew stronger/meditated on the meanings of things/he withdrew/into his personal fortress./A secret fear/a sudden scream”


Some of them look almost like awards or presentations, which was intentional. I thought it was a contradiction worth trying. Others are more about more layers of hiding and blocking, which, with the festiveness of ribbon still has potential. Again, sometimes working out, sometimes not.

I’m definitely interested in the combination of words and sewing. Not sure I’ve found the final version, but this is a start.

These are some of the Make: books that I personally own.

So I’ve been thinking about the Makerspace at my school. We have a great space, interested and devoted faculty, and the resources to work with students on many types of projects. What we don’t have yet is a maker community.

Our small but mighty group of STEAM Department faculty went the to hear the founder of Make Magazine, Dale Dougherty, speak at the Franklin Institute a few weeks ago. The event was titled: Making in America. After several introductions, it was Dale’s turn to speak. What struck me the most about his message was the fact that he did not speak about how to make things. He spent a lot of his time talking about a making mindset and a making community. It was clear to me from the way he talked about his years of work at Make Magazine was that his gift is building community. He just happened to build a community around making. I left thinking he could build a community around whatever interested him.

Our department perhaps came to the event expecting something different, yet I think this really was the message we needed to hear. The men and women in the department have a range of interests and expertise and each of us has spent time learning new skills, tools, programs, what have you. We do not lack for enthusiasm or personal will to create. There are areas of making in which we don’t currently have expertise, but that is not what is keeping us from building and vibrant maker community at our school.

When we met up a week or so after the event to talk things over, we talked as we have multiple times about getting kids into the makerspace, but I think hearing Dale talk about community for most of his talk and during the conversation later with chief astronomer Derrick Pitts made us more aware than ever that building community is our main goal. It is not just something to sort of talk about and then get back to which 3D printer is currently not working (does everyone have this conversation endlessly?) and who’s going to label the hooks on the pegboard. Those things need to happen, but the business of our department right now needs to be more focused than ever on nurturing that community. We all have anecdotal evidence of how we’ve managed to bring someone into the makerspace who then brings comes back and brings a friend. So, we brainstormed ways to trick get kids into the makerspace, but in thinking about it now, I think we might need to be more intentional in thinking how not just to get them into the space, but into our community. We recognize more clearly than before the primary importance of that mission. What are the barriers? Which ones can we easily tear down? Are we visibly modeling that we, the colleagues in the department, are a community? I think we do this one quite well, personally.  

One area where I do think a community is forming is around the Science Olympiad. There is a growing group of students who are excited and motivated to gather, work together, and build a team. Although this is not the community we imagined building first, maybe that’s not the point. Communities get to define themselves.

I still think there are makers out there in our school whom we have not brought together. We have some ideas, and we are certainly looking for more. What have you and your schools done to build a maker community?

So, I’ve been thinking about Twitter, how race intersects with (English class) curriculum, and snacks, always snacks. Last night all those things came together.

Currently, #GlobalEdChat is in a prime column in my TweetDeck, and when I had a few minutes Tuesday evening to wanted the twitterverse, I saw this tweet from the Asia Society.


I sent the image and the following message to all teaching colleagues at my school:


I rarely send bulk emails, but I am making an exception for this timely bit of information. This Thursday’s GlobalEdChat topic is teaching about race. (picture went here)

The conversation is organized by educators at the Asia Society and is from 8:00pm-9:00pm. If you have never participated in a Twitter chat, now’s a great time to start. If you just want to listen in (which means reading what folks have to say) you don’t even need a twitter account. Learn how to follow along in under 3 minutes. Or, if you already tweet, maybe try using Tweetdeck. Learn how in under 2 minutes.

Also, if you want to participate with friends (i.e. me), I would be happy to have anyone interested join my at my table and (borrowed) projector to watch in real time. I live very near school and have room for friends to join me around the table. I have also been known to feed people who show up to my house. Let me know if you are interested and I will tell you where to go/park.

Thanks for considering,


By Thursday night at 8pm, there were 5 of us around my table (not all of whom had the same racial or ethnic background), several others who had planned to be there but could not, and a few more participating online on their own. (I am not sure what I would have done if all those people actually came to my house. My table, wall, and dining room are not that big.) With my borrowed mini projector, I projected my Tweetdeck screen on the dining room wall. Then, just before the chat started I got to sneak in a little just-in-time lesson about the world of Twitter and we were off. Luckily the chat was not a very speedy one. When they move quickly and have many participants it’s really hard for those new to the format.

We had several side conversations, as you might imagine. But what we did was talk about race. And, as basic as that is, it is impossible to teach anything about race without first talking about race. And, honestly, it is probably more specific than that–without talking about race with someone of a different race. People felt passionately about ideas and experiences. They said so. But I think they also felt comfortable that the other folks literally around the table were there with good intentions. Why else come out at 8pm on a Thursday when we have Friday off?

Spoiler–we did not solve the puzzle.

But, as I sit at the same table 12 hours later, I know we started doing something. I had already talked with most of the people around the table about race and school and curriculum. But, talking in this small group, with some great questions from the chat, with food and no bell about to ring is different.

We have work to do at our school, and we are committing time and people to that work. It is going to take a lot more evenings around tables.

This blog won’t write itself

Posted: October 3, 2017 in Uncategorized


CCO Creative Commons image

So, I’ve been thinking about this blog. And, as you can tell by the date of my last post (late JULY!) I have not actually been writing blog posts. It turns out the blog won’t write itself.

I had been on a good streak there. I was sure that I would have a great writing summer. I started off OK. Then, somehow, I didn’t write. I read. I made some art. I spent time with my personal kids and family. I left work at a reasonable time. I made a lot of pies. Mmmmm, pie.

It turns out, I could not do everything on my summer lists (no surprise), and this year blogging is what didn’t make the cut some weeks and months. I guess that’s what I needed to set down. I’ve decided not to feel bad about that.

Moving on.

It’s October. School is well underway. I am ready to pick up what I had put down. Blogging is back on my radar, and I feel ready to have at it again.