SBG Reflections 3/4 Through the School Year #physicsed #SBG #flipclass

What I’ve learned by implementing Skills Based Grading (SBG) in my physics classroom this year…

  1. The skills required for success on the end-of-year state Regents Physics exam are but a small subset of the skills I teach in my class. I had hoped this was the case — every teacher wants to think they teach beyond the minimum requirements of the curriculum, but having it in front of me in black and white reinforced this, and also allowed me to pick a topic or two for a “deep dive,” without fear of shorting the students on material they need to be successful on their final exams.
  2. Students who take the time to “shore up their learning” and reassess in an ongoing manner quickly learn how to learn in my class, and rarely need the opportunities for continued reassessment. After a few weeks of the SBG program, those who “drink the SBG Kool-Aid” learn exactly what they need to study and execute on their assessments, and therefore are better prepared for the initial assessments with no need to undertake reassessments.
  3. Students who slack during the first part of the year and dig themselves a hole have considerably less success in reassessing a multitude of skills later in the year… at this point the SBG system becomes an exercise in grade improvement instead of learning.  Next year, I plan on putting a two-week limit on reassessments to both save my sanity in grading as well as encouraging students to avoid this situation.
  4. Grades hg clrNot all assignments need to be graded. Many of our labs and hands-on projects serve to build understanding, but a full rigorous assessment of these multi-faceted projects is complicated in an SBG system.  After struggling with this the first half of the year, I realized that I could assess these projects based on a single skill, or at times, not at all.  It’s important to keep in mind the ultimate goal is student learning and understanding, NOT grading.  The more I embrace this fundamental change in thinking, the more freedom I enjoy in designing activities to allow students to build their own understanding.  Grades are NOT the goal, learning is.
  5. Automated scoring / feedback systems for exams is a huge timesaver. Last year I invested in Remark OMR software, which allows me to set up exams and have the results automatically scanned and tabulated, providing separate feedback on any number of skills from the same written assessment.  Without spending hours and hours grading, I take the time to set up a quality assessment up front, program the software to give me the information I need, and the actual grading takes minutes.  Further, by taking the time to set up these assessments now, I’m building a library of assessments I can pull off the shelf in the future.
  6. The flipped classroom videos I created to help students who missed class for various reasons provide an excellent introduction to topics. Toward the second half of the year I began assigning students to watch the videos as homework to introduce and / or reinforce the basic problem solving skills required for the topic under study.  Since I began this practice, activities and labs have gone more smoothly, students have become more independent in their problem solving, and the quality of questions and discussion in the classroom has gone up tremendously.  I would surmise that because students feel more comfortable in the “standardized problem solving” after having watched these videos, they feel more open to taking the next step and pushing their understanding to the next level.
  7. Students who didn’t do their work in the old system didn’t do their work in the new system. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but the SBG system is not a silver bullet.  Regardless of assessments, classroom styles, etc., I can’t force students to learn.  Only by active engagement and hard work is anything worthwhile undertaken successfully, and my physics classroom is no exception.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
  8. My time allotment with students needs more thought. In the words of a colleague of mine, you can take the horse to the water, then hold its head under the water until the liquid soaks through its pours and it ingests the water forcefully.  I’ve tried this brute force method with a few students who I just couldn’t seem to engage this year.  I’ve pulled them in for (in)voluntary extra sessions, hounded them both in class and out, and all but pushed the hand holding the pencil, with mixed success.  In some cases the students have pulled through and improved, but I’m not certain the effort is being focused on the right students.  When I do this, I spend 80% of my time with the bottom of my class — is this really fair to the remainder of the class, those who are engaging and interested?  Further, am I instilling a total hatred of science and physics and school in the students I’m trying to pull along?  This definitely requires more thought.
  9. There is still a place for the “drill and kill” method of problem solving practice. I love inquiry-based activities, and students building their own understanding, utilization of the modeling cycle, but learning how to solve standardized problems quickly and efficiently is also a requirement in our school system, and there really is no substitute for just diving in and practicing.  I’m not advocating this as a “day after day after day” strategy, but without fail, my students’ assessment scores and understanding levels go up when they’ve had the opportunity to work through problem sets and receive feedback on their work.
  10. I am 100% certain I want to continue utilizing SBG in my Regents Physics classes next year. I feel the methodology has clarified our course objectives, reduced student stress, and helped emphasize learning while de-emphasizing grades in our classroom.  Students get detailed feedback on strengths and weaknesses, and those who utilize the system correctly develop individualized learning plans tailored directly to their needs — individualized self-directed differentiation.  Of course, I see many opportunities for improvement in the classroom, things I want to change next year, and items I’m still not sure how to best attack — but implementation of SBG this year has helped both my students and myself, and it has also emphasized my primary goal for students each year: teaching students to be independent learners.

Regents Physics #SBG Objectives 2011-2012 #sbar #physicsed

Been hammering out our Skills-Based Grading (SBG) objectives for Regents Physics for the coming school year, pulling from the tremendous efforts already in place and utilized by folks such as Frank Noschese, Kelly O’Shea, and others, as well as our state and district standards.  In defining these, we were conflicted about how detailed and specific to make our goals, providing students more concrete feedback on their objectives, compared to more general objectives that allow for more interpretation and generalization of the “big picture” concepts.

businessman_good_pointing_lg_wht Eventually, we settled on a fairly specific list of concrete objectives in an effort to provide students specific information on what they need to do well on the end-of-year state culminating exam.  These are absolute minimum baseline standards, provided with the strong understanding that these baseline objectives will be augmented throughout the year as we teach significantly above and beyond the state minimums.  For example, our current list of magnetism objectives is quite limited, and will most certainly grow in individual classrooms as all our physics classes spend significantly more time on electromagnetic induction than is required to meet the state minimums.

With this large number of objectives, assessment and feedback could become quite involved, which is where our implementation of Gravic Remark OMR will be of tremendous benefit in streamlining assessment on a specific type of standardized exam.  Of course, we’ll still have our hands full with more authentic assessments, student-initiated assessments, labs, activities, etc., but it’s a start, and of course, we can always adjust as the year progresses.

Here’s our first pass rough draft:

Math Review


  • MAT.A1 I understand and can estimate basic SI units
  • MAT.A2 I can convert basic SI units using common metric prefixes
  • MAT.A3 I can convert compound SI units
  • MAT.B1 I know the difference between scalar and vector quantities
  • MAT.B2 I can use scaled diagrams to represent and manipulate vector quantities
  • MAT.B3 I can determine x- and y-components of two-dimensional vectors
  • MAT.B4 I can determine the angle of a vector given its components
  • MAT.C1 I can draw accurate graphs and solve for the slope and y-intercept
  • MAT.C2 I can recognize linear and direct relationships and interpret the slope of a curve
  • MAT.C3 I can recognize quadratic and inverse relationships
  • MAT.D1 I can solve algebraic equations symbolically and numerically
  • MAT.D2 I can utilize the Pythagorean Theorem to solve problems involving right triangles
  • MAT.D3 I can utilize basic trigonometric identities to solve for sides and angles of right triangles
  • MAT.E1 I can use my calculator to solve algebraic equations with exponents
  • MAT.E2 I can use scientific notation and significant figures effectively

General Skills


  • GEN.A1 I can design a reliable experiment that tests a hypothesis, investigates a phenomenon, or solves a problem
  • GEN.A2 I can communicate the details of an experiment clearly and completely with a formal lab report
  • GEN.A3 I can record, analyze, and represent data in a meaningful way
  • GEN.A4 I can identify sources of uncertainty and error
  • GEN.B1 I can solve problems using the FSA format
  • GEN.C1 I can properly utilize a metric ruler, meter stick, protractor, mass balance and stopwatch
  • GEN.D1 I can use writing to clearly and constructively communicate my thoughts to others using proper grammar, spelling, organization, and punctuation
  • GEN.D2 I can use technology effectively and appropriately to further my learning
  • GEN.D3 I can engage in constructive and responsible discourse in both small and large group environments

Constant Velocity Motion


  • VEL.A1 I know the difference between position, distance and displacement
  • VEL.A2 I can calculate both distance and displacement
  • VEL.B1 I know the difference between average speed and velocity, and instantaneous speed and  velocity
  • VEL.B2 I can solve problems involving average speed and velocity, and instantaneous speed and velocity
  • VEL.C1 I can interpret/draw motion diagrams for objects moving at constant velocity
  • VEL.C2 I can interpret/draw d-t and v-t graphs for objects moving at constant velocity

Constant Acceleration Motion


  • ACC.A1 I can define acceleration and I know the difference between acceleration and velocity
  • ACC.A2 I can calculate acceleration with both direction and proper units
  • ACC.B1 I can interpret/draw motion diagrams for objects moving with changing velocity
  • ACC.B2 I can interpret/draw d-t, v-t, and a-t graphs for objects moving with changing velocity
  • ACC.C1 I can use kinematic equations to solve problems involving objects with changing velocity
  • ACC.C2 I can use kinematic equations to solve problems involving objects in free fall
  • ACC.D1 I understand that the vertical and horizontal motions of a projectile are independent of one another
  • ACC.D2 I can solve problems involving projectile motion for projectiles fired horizontally
  • ACC.D3 I can solve problems involving projectile motion for projectiles fired at an angle



  • DYN.A1 I understand Newton’s 1st Law of Motion and can define mass and inertia
  • DYN.B1 I know the relationship between acceleration, force, and mass (N2)
  • DYN.B2 I can draw a properly labeled free body diagram showing all forces acting on an object
  • DYN.B3 I understand the relationship between the weight and mass of an object.
  • DYN.B4 I can determine unknown forces, accelerations, etc.
  • DYN.C1 I understand the meaning of Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion
  • DYN.C2 I can recognize and identify force pairs
  • DYN.D1 I can define and identify frictional forces
  • DYN.D2 I know the factors that determine the amount of static/kinetic friction between two surfaces
  • DYN.D3 I can determine the frictional force and coefficient of friction between two surfaces
  • DYN.E1 I can calculate the parallel and perpendicular components of an object’s weight to solve ramp problems

UCM & Gravity


  • UCM.A1 I can explain and calculate the acceleration of an object moving in a circle at a constant speed
  • UCM.A2 I can define centripetal force and recognize that it is provided by forces such as tension, gravity, and friction
  • UCM.A3 I can solve problems involving calculation of centripetal force
  • UCM.A4 I can calculate the speed, period, frequency, and distance traveled for an object moving in a circle at constant speed
  • UCM.B1 I can state and apply Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation
  • UCM.B2 I know how mass and separation distance affects the strength of the gravitational force between two objects

Momentum and Impulse


  • MOM.A1 I can define and calculate the momentum of an object
  • MOM.A2 I can determine the impulse given to an object
  • MOM.A3 I can use impulse to solve a variety of problems
  • MOM.A4 I can interpret and use F vs t graphs
  • MOM.B1 I can apply conservation of momentum using momentum tables to solve a variety of problems
  • MOM.C1 I can distinguish between elastic and inelastic collisions

Work, Energy, and Power


  • WEP.A1 I can define and calculate the work done by a force
  • WEP.A2 I can calculate the kinetic energy of a moving object
  • WEP.A3 I can calculate the gravitational potential energy of an object
  • WEP.B1 I can solve problems using the law of conservation of energy
  • WEP.B2 I can solve problems using the work-energy theorem
  • WEP.C1 I can calculate the power of a system
  • WEP.D1 I can utilize Hooke’s Law to determine the elastic force on an object
  • WEP.D2 I can calculate a system’s elastic potential energy



  • ELE.A1 I understand and can calculate the charge on an object
  • ELE.A2 I can describe the differences between conductors and insulators
  • ELE.A3 I can explain the difference between conduction and induction
  • ELE.A4 I understand how an electroscope works
  • ELE.A5 I can use the law of conservation of charge to solve problems
  • ELE.B1 I can use Coulomb’s Law to solve problems related to electrical force
  • ELE.B2 I can compare and contrast Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation with Coulomb’s Law
  • ELE.C1 I can define, measure, and calculate an electric field
  • ELE.C2 I can solve problems related to charge, electric field, and forces
  • ELE.D1 I can define and calculate electric potential energy
  • ELE.D2 I can define and calculate electric potential difference (voltage)
  • ELE.D3 I can solve basic parallel-plate capacitor problems



  • CIR.A1 I can define and calculate an electric current
  • CIR.A2 I can define and calculate resistance using Ohm’s Law
  • CIR.A3 I can explain the factors and calculate the resistance of a conductor
  • CIR.B1 I can identify the path and direction of current flow in a circuit
  • CIR.B2 I can draw and interpret schematic diagrams of circuits
  • CIR.B3 I can use voltmeters and ammeters effectively
  • CIR.C1 I can calculate the equivalent resistance for resistors in series
  • CIR.C2 I can solve series circuits problems using VIRP tables
  • CIR.D1 I can calculate the equivalent resistance for resistors in parallel
  • CIR.D2 I can solve parallel circuit problems using VIRP tables
  • CIR.E1 I can define power in electric circuits
  • CIR.E2 I can calculate power and energy used in circuits



  • MAG.A1 I understand that magnetism is caused by moving charges
  • MAG.A2 I can describe the magnetic poles and interactions between magnets
  • MAG.A3 I can draw magnetic field lines for a magnet
  • MAG.B1 I can describe the factors affecting an induced potential difference due to magnetic fields lines interacting with moving charges



  • WAV.A1 I can define a pulse and a wave
  • WAV.A2 I understand the difference between a mechanical and an EM wave
  • WAV.A3 I understand the difference between a longitudinal and transverse wave
  • WAV.A4 I understand the relationship between wave characteristics such as frequency, period, amplitude, wavelength, and velocity
  • WAV.B1 I can utilize the superposition principle to analyze constructive and destructive wave interference
  • WAV.B2 I understand and can predict the result of the Doppler Effect
  • WAV.B3 I can recognize standing waves and explain nodes, antinodes, and resonance
  • WAV.C1 I can apply the law of reflection to plane surfaces
  • WAV.C2 I can explain the cause and result of refraction of waves
  • WAV.C3 I can utilize Snell’s Law to solve problems involving wave refraction
  • WAV.D1 I understand the principle of diffraction and can identify its effects qualitatively
  • WAV.E1 I recognize characteristics of EM waves and can determine the type of EM wave based on its characteristics

Modern Physics


  • MOD.A1 I can explain the wave-particle duality of light
  • MOD.A2 I can calculate the energy of a photon from its wave characteristics
  • MOD.A3 I can calculate the energy of an absorbed or emitted photon from an energy level diagram
  • MOD.A4 I can explain the quantum nature of atomic energy levels
  • MOD.A5 I can explain the Rutherford and Bohr models of the atom
  • MOD.B1 I can explain the universal conservation laws (mass-energy, charge, momentum)
  • MOD.B2 I recognize the fundamental source of all energy in the universe is the conversion of mass into energy
  • MOD.B3 I understand the mass-energy equivalence equation (E=mc^2)
  • MOD.C1 I can explain how the nucleus is a conglomeration of quarks which combine to form protons and neutrons
  • MOD.C2 I understand that each elementary particle has a corresponding anti-particle
  • MOD.C3 I can use the Standard Model diagrams to answer basic particle physics questions
  • MOD.D1 I can define the known fundamental forces in the universe and can rank them in order of relative strength

Streamline SBG Feedback with Gravic Remark OMR #sbar #edtech #physicsed

I’m going to try out Skills Based Grading (SBG) next year in my Regents Physics courses.  I’ve talked to lots of teachers using it, read Marzano’s “Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading: Classroom Strategies That Work,”image  many terrific blogs, tweets, etc., and I’m convinced that providing students quick and detailed feedback on exactly how they’re doing with respect to course standards will benefit us all.

But I’m also worried.  Worried about the hiccups, the unknowns, the corners I may drive myself into.  Worried about tracking, about keeping up, about consistency.  And I’m worried about my ability to provide and record all the detailed feedback necessary.

Without a doubt I’ve been one of the hardest-working teachers in the building… I’m usually in my room by 6:30 a.m., most afternoons I don’t leave until 4:30 or 5 p.m., one night a week I often spend working until 8 to 10 p.m., and I come in for half a day or so on weekends fairly regularly.

imageI enjoy what I do, and I don’t mind the time commitment.  But I don’t want it to increase, especially with a family at home that I adore (and my daughter now believes watching baseball with Daddy is more fun than Mickey Mouse Clubhouse!!!).   So I can’t allow SBG to take any more time from me during the school year.  But how do I provide 100+ students with detailed, by-skill feedback on the larger standardized-type assessments, with multiple reassessment opportunities?  (Yes, I know about the standardized assessments, but here in NY emphasis is being heightened on standardized testing, including up to 40% of a teacher’s performance evaluation).

I spent several months researching this problem, with potential solutions ranging from a multitude of “punch-out”-type answer keys for individual assessments, all the way to having students do multiple self-assessments and exam breakdowns.  Of course, the personalized assessments that pervade the SBG mentality still apply, but for larger standardized assessments, including mid-terms and end-of-year practice exams and final exams, spending day after day grading the same exam across multiple skills just doesn’t make sense.

Finally, with the help of some terrific support folks at Gravic, I decided to try out Gravic Remark OMR.image   Remark OMR is a software package that allows you to scan multiple choice bubble sheets in a standard sheet-fed scanner, and evaluate them against an answer key which can break down questions into individual skill scores.  Further, with multiple exams and versions of exams, you can bar code the exam answer sheets against the answer key to help prevent mis-scoring.

The software package comes with a built-in analysis package which makes breaking down scores by class, individual skills, demographics, or any other student input quick and easy.

Setup of answer keys is fairly straightforward — you can make your answer keys in Word or any PDF creation system, and print them out on a standard copier.


The downside – Remark OMR is expensive.  A single-use installation license runs $995, and support is free for only 30 days.  Getting up and running with the software takes a little bit of tinkering, but within a few days you can be creating exams, scoring keys, and grading 50+ MC question sets across 100 students in 10-15 minutes.

I wouldn’t recommend it for all courses, but in a course where standardized testing is emphasized, and you want to provide many students detailed score breakdowns on a repeated basis across many multi-skill assessments, Remark OMR has terrific potential.  I used it as part of our Regents Exam review process this year… we gave the students old Regents Exams, and scored them using Remark OMR, providing each student detailed feedback on areas of strength and weakness.  Then, students developed an individualized action plan to work on their greatest opportunities of improvement independently using each other, review books, course notes, and the APlusPhysics physics tutorials before sitting down for a reassessment.

This process was repeated several times, and student feedback has been tremendous – they love how their review work is tied directly to their performance, they appreciate being able to track their improvement as we get ready for their culminating exam, and they particularly love the immediate feedback facilitated by the quick scanning and scoring process.