Understanding success criteria

I handed out the Internal Assessment (IA) criteria for Design, along with the guidelines from the IB, and had the students analyze and discuss it.  They were to identify what constitutes a “complete” score for Aspects 1, 2, and 3.  Then, they assessed sample work that had been submitted by students during this past May exam period.  They combed through the IAs seeking to understand the research question, the variables, and whether it was a properly controlled experiment.  

I gave them explicit instructions as to how I expect the research question formulated and the variables (with units) outlined in table format.  Additionally, in the table they are to discuss clearly how they will control their controlled variables.  The students compared the expectations with the sample work before them and correctly identified weaknesses as well as strengths. 

Next they were to design, set up and carry out an experiment of their own (Investigate a factor affecting osmosis in gummy bears).  I chose something really simple this time so that they could focus on the design and their manipulative skills in the lab.  It has taken all week for them to create a design with correctly identified variables and a plan to properly control the experiment.  Today they busily did the initial preparations for the lab they will set up tomorrow.  I was able to focus on ensuring proper lab techniques, teaching serial dilutions, how to make molar concentrations, and identifying and discussing solutions to common pitfalls in the lab.  Each student had a turn to identify problems they were having in this initial phase and seek ideas and helps. 

I liked the format of establishing a clear understanding of the success criteria and then having the students actually work on unique (but simple) experiments rather than employing the identical lab for all.  The students are definitely invested.  The designs are GOOD. The understanding is keen.  Spending an entire week on making sure the students know the success criteria has unquestionably been worth our time.

Changes to the PSOW form

As I mentioned yesterday, I finished the grading of the internal assessments (IAs) for the biology students.  I still need to fill out the PSOW sheet for each candidate.  This sheet involved documenting every lab we did during the two year course including the hours spent on the lab, a brief description of the activity, and the assessments performed.

I keep a log of the labs in a sample PSOW form as we do them.  I simply add the data to the sheet and at the end of the two year course I just need to copy it for each student and fill out the final information (that student’s individual IA scores as well as the personal skills and manipulative skills assessments).  I usually do a quick look through my blog and double check that I haven’t missed anything.  I’ll need to especially go through my unit plans and make sure I have all of the ICT activities listed.  My system has worked quite well and usually saves me some time at this time of year.

However, this year there is a new form.  The thought of copying and pasting all that information over to the new form is overwhelming me.  I was going to do it tonight but, in the end, couldn’t face it.  I perused the IBO web site to see if there was any advice.  Nothing.   I did notice in the shared teachers resource site that someone has created an Excel file that, when filled in, will generate the new PSOW form for each candidate.  That took a lot of work!  I couldn’t determine if it will help me.

I recognize the need for progress and improvement.  However, because I don’t understand yet how these forms work (apparently they can be saved while you’re working on them but I couldn’t reopen and saved attempts) it is exceedingly frustrating.  Before expecting teachers to make changes I think trouble shooting should have taken place and clear instructions should be offered.  Is that too much to ask?

IA progress - Celebrate the gains

I just spent 5 hours on a Friday night finishing up the grading of the internal assessment (IA) lab reports for my IB biology students.   I feel like I’ll never master the art of grading IAs.  However, I try harder each year.  This year I had both the 2013 subject report and the IB guide open on my computer.  I also had my IB examiner material available.  I went back and forth between sample work and the descriptors to accurately determine “complete”, “partial”, or “not at all”.  I was as careful as I could possibly be, taking short breaks so I wouldn’t burn out or get tired on a specific paper. I documented, in a word document, the justification for each mark I gave.  I don’t think I could have been more thorough.

Part of me is relieved to be basically done.  Part of me is discouraged to realize major gaps persist in my students’ work. I wonder how graphs appear in their work that I never taught or modeled for them.  I wonder why despite my two-year effort to consistently teach, model and have them rework graphs until they consistently demonstrated proper data processing and presentation that when they wrote their final reports their graphs look nothing like what they’ve been producing for two years.  How can this be?  We spent so much time on uncertainties and yet several students didn’t even include them.  I spent so much time working with them to control variables in an experiment and then they don’t bother.  

One of my students wrote the following beneath a graph, “The error bars show the margin of error the data has, they show how accurate the data is and how much u can trust the data collected".  I wanted to scream.  Since when do scientist "trust" anything? And the use of "u" is priceless.  After two years in both IB English and IB Science, this was the product?  I cringed to think of submitting the work feeling it somehow is a reflection of my abilities as an IB biology teacher.

In the context of my IB examiner training agenda, I was reading through and assessing submitted papers from May of 2013 to compare my marks with those of a moderator.  Suddenly I was actually comforted.  Some of those reports make my "u" student appear a genius.  Furthermore, my "u" student has finally written a lab report that, indeed, in many ways has surpassed all his past attempts.  I realize my students do have a sound grasp of the scientific method relative to many others out there.  So, even though I see major omission and mistakes, I realize they have learned.  I realize they have progressed significantly in the last two years.  It’s time to recognize and celebrate the gains.

Assessing Internal Assessments

I have spent several hours this Crocus holiday grading internal assessments (IA) from both my Year 1 and my Year 2 students.  I am somewhat comforted in seeing that the Year 2 students do, indeed, have more depth in their reports than the Year 1 students.  So I know improvement is eminent with the first year students.  However, there is still so much lacking with the senior reports that I’m concerned whether they’ll pull it together by our final March 6th deadline.  Some of them simply need to redo an experiment or, at a minimum, rework their Data Collection and Processing (DCP) and Conclusions and Evaluations (CE). 

I spent some time on the ibo.org site looking at the subject reports from last year, with a focus on IA.  This proved exceedingly valuable.  I recommend this practice to all new teachers.  There are some concrete suggestions for things teachers should be looking out for in the IAs their students are preparing.  I even copied the list of reasons why papers were marked down in 2013 and sent the list to my Year 2 students.  I advised them to look at each item on the list against their own write-ups before submitting it to me.  We’ll see if it helps.

With the year one students I completed essentially a joint construction with them on the Effect of hydrogen peroxide substrate concentration on leaf extract catalase activity.  Even with all the joint work, there are a lot of misconceptions and omissions.  I’ve used the IB rubric to assess their work.  They’ll have an opportunity to fix their mistakes, hopefully leading to stronger experimental process next time.

This is my 3rd year teaching IB.  The students are definitely becoming progressively more prepared as they experience the science program at our school from MS and HS that has IB standards as a goal.  Additionally, I am becoming a stronger teacher as I do more PD in the IB area and as I become more familiar, through experience, with the IB criteria.  I remain an advocate of the IB Science standards and am happy to see that with the changes in Group IV for 2016, these standards will be more clearly defined for new teachers.

Valentine's Day

Roses by the dozens sit in buckets on my classroom tables.  The student counsel sold roses all week and I ended up buying a ridiculous amount.  Initially, I purchased for my family members, some close friends, and my fellow science colleagues.  However, the student counsel had so many roses left over that I ended up buying even more just to support “the cause”.   After all, I have two children on the counsel and all the remaining student counsel members are my students.  I just couldn’t resist them.  So now I can spread Valentine’s Day cheer to my neighbors when I go home tonight.

It’s 6:30 p.m. on Friday evening.  My classroom is finally emptying itself of students who have been here all afternoon working on their self-designed experiments, internal assessments (IAs), for their International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma.  While many test tubes, Erlenmeyer flasks, the foaming yeast, the elodea and other supplies have been carefully cleaned or disposed of, other ongoing experiments remain.  There are two plant projects under the fluorescent lights, a sprout project on the lab bench, Daphnia awaiting their caffeine experiment, and a cucumber prepared for an osmosis experiment.

I check my email as I’m waiting for the students to finish up.  There is an email from the IB with the announcement that I have been appointed to be an IB examiner.  That’s a nice piece of news at the end of the day.

My students claim to be “almost done” so I water my plants and tend to my turtle and the fish.  I tidy up around my desk and pack up my bag.  I notify my husband and youngest son that we’re finally about ready to go.  We gather up our coats and bags and all those roses.  It takes three of us to lug the flowers downstairs.  We wave to the cleaners who are the last ones in the building and exit out into the dark and rainy night.

Today was an 11-hour day at the school.  IB Meetings, an Open House, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Basket Ball Games, and IA’s meant I spent between ten and fourteen hours each day at the school this week. Needless to say, it’s been a long week.  How will I celebrate Valentine’s Day?  With a quiet movie night at home.  However, tomorrow I’ll have a Sushi Dinner with my husband.