Science in the City

Apr 2, 2013

What Do You Think About Controversial Report Card Policies?

I don't know how your school does report cards.  My school district has 6 marking periods for report cards.  Each is approximately 6 weeks long. Most districts have 4 approximately 9-10 week marking periods.  This change was done before I started working there, for a number of reasons that I'm aware of:

  • With six marking periods, the need for interim (5 week) reports is gone.  We are suggested to send progress reports home, but its not required.
  • With six marking periods, kids will have a better chance of being successful (each marking period counts less).
We also have the restriction that no report card grades lower than a 50% can be given.  Even if a student has hardly shown up to class and has an average in the single digits earns a report card grade of 50%.  This is also to increase incentive for later in the year.  If a student has a 50% for a marking period or two, its not that difficult for them to still pass.  

Many people are frustrated with this policy.  I get it.  Some students honestly work and earn a 55%, or even a 50%.  What do our grades mean?  And what are we grading?  

This has given me a lot of room for thought on what we are grading.  I think there is a place, in a way, for this.  Students do still need room to be successful.  They can't go back and redo the earlier work, really, but if they are to pass a final exam they will still need to learn a lot of the content.   The final exam counts 25% of their grade for the course.  Many times, if they just squeak by, they don't pass the final.  But this policy gives them incentive to keep working for the rest of the year.  They don't give up, because they feel they can still pass.   It doesn't seem quite fair, but what is the alternative. 

Does your school have a similar policy?  What do you think about a minimum grade?  Do you agree or disagree. 

Many of the students in the district where I teach have a very difficult marking period because they have family members in jail, or they have to move because they have gotten evicted, etc.  How can they maintain the expectations of a "student" all the time? Is that a reasonable expectation on our part? 

When I was a first year teacher, and very frustrated over state test scores, another teacher who had been in the district a long time talked to me about how "they may just need to take the class twice to pass, they are learning a lot, but maybe need to see it again."   That has echoed in my head many times.  As frustrating as it is, we (and our students) sometimes need to take a longer range/bigger picture view, particularly in the face of adversity, and keep plugging away towards a goal, realizing that we have a long way to go and a lot setting us back. 

Mar 31, 2013

Wow! A Great Literacy Freebie For You

Happy Easter!

If you aren't already a member of, or receive the weekly newsletter, you may want to.  They send out a weekly newsletter (you do not have to be a seller) which gives 10 free downloads of various topics and grade levels each week, some featured products, and some discussion of what is upcoming.  Did you know April is Poetry Month?  There are suggestions from  other teachers of how they are using this in their classroom.  Its a great way to liven up your classroom routine, and stay creative in your teaching.

I am writing about the newsletter because I was lucky enough to have one of my products be one of the featured free downloads this week (see picture below).  Strangely enough, it is the product I just wrote about in my last blog post! (I swear I didn't know it was going to be featured).

Photo: Here it is!!
I love this for the feedback as well.  Here are a few of the wonderful bits of feedback I've gotten today!

"Excellent way for Reading teachers and other core subject teachers to collaborate."

"I like this! It's great for common core and higher-level academic reading."

"Great to use with my ELLs? Thank you."

"This is user friendly for high school students and a great tool to share with pre-service teachers to include literacy in their content area."


"This is a great reading activity....As an ELA teacher it's great to see science teachers promote reading skills. We're your newest followers!" 

Here is a link to this week's newsletter.

I actually first got involved in TpT through looking for a free product, and then signing up for the weekly newsletter with the free downloads. There are some great products coming right to your inbox every week, and some inspiration and ideas from a creative and passionate group of teachers.

Here is a link to sign up for the newsletter (all the way at the bottom look for this)

Mar 29, 2013

Are You Struggling with How Common Core Affects Science?

I was asked what effect common core has on science education.  I have been looking, and found very confusing and mixed information.

Some sources only want to discuss the Next Generation Science Standards, or other moves towards National Science Standards.

Some articles and references seem very anxious and concerned about common core changes.  Other seems to advocate that the changes are minor for science.  Here's my take.

Most references that I found reference the appendix of the ELA standards, which is for informational text, science, social studies, etc.   That's where I first turned too.  There are many references in there about reading and writing informational text, procedures, drawing conclusions, supporting with evidence, etc.  In my mind, these are all things that we do in science already.  The common core puts more emphasis on them, and ties them more thoroughly with other subjects and with specific language objectives.  They are skills that scientists (and science students and teachers) are hopefully already doing.

However, one area that I think we struggle as science teachers and don't reach our full common core potential is in reading strategies.  (CCCS on reading informational text (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI). We expect kids to be able to read, or we find alternative ways around it, such as notes, hands-on, demos, videos.  We do need to teach reading strategies, even though we are not reading teachers.

This is something that I work on a lot in my classroom because the district I work in historically has students with very low reading levels.  Along with this, I have always taught courses ending in a state exam, where the reading level is at or slightly above grade level.  This is not a good combination.  Reading level is the biggest predictor of how they do on the exam.  (a topic for another day).

Anyway, one strategy I use for reading out of a textbook is this freebie available at my store.  It is really a scaffold to teach a good strategy for reading a textbook.  It includes what to do before reading the chapter (previewing), what to do during (vocabulary, looking at text features, recording new information and connecting it to what is already known) and after (questions you still have and reflection on what you learned).

It is in a format that kids can readily fill in and understand.  This has been very popular with our ELL and SPED teachers and students, and used for students in grades 7-10 with very good results.

If you use it, let me know what you think in the comments.  If you have suggestions or other strategies you use, let me know that too!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday
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