Archive for January, 2012

Test corrections

A now-retired teacher once said “I have the kids do test corrections, because I want the last time they see a concept to be right.” The challenge is – how can we have students revisit concepts in a meaningful way? What doesn’t work is to have a student take home the test, and make corrections as homework. The learning task is to re-write a multiple choice question as a full, correct statement with the ‘right answer’.

I sometimes do a two part test, and it works well. Part 1, the student writes down what they know. Part 2, the student evaluates another student’s response for accuracy, compared with a ‘guide sheet’ supplied by the teacher. Here’s how it works:

  1. Student 123 puts their student ID on their paper, not their name (so they are anonymous)
  2. The student responds to short response questions.
  3. When finished with the test, they hand the test to the teacher.
  4. The teacher waits until 3-4 students are finished with the test.
  5. Then, the teacher begins handing back tests. Student 123 gets a test completed by Student 456, and a ‘guide sheet’ (not an ‘answer key’. The guide sheet provides support information that relates to the question.)
  6. Student 123 puts their student ID at the bottom of the paper they are evaluating, to stay anonymous.
  7. The 123 is asked to make corrections to 456’s paper, based on their knowledge, and their interpretation of the guide sheet.
  8. Scoring is as follows:
  • If the student makes an accurate correction, that’s 3 bonus points added to their Part 1 score.
  • If the students marks “No correction needed”, but the response wasn’t accurate, that’s -1 point.
  • If the students makes a correction, but it was right, that’s 0 points,
  • If the student marks “No correction needed”, and they are right, that’s 1 point.

The students then turned in their evaluation of the other student’s test. I, as the teacher,

Once the students got the system, I think it was good in several ways:

  1. Students stayed anonymous
  2. Students who ‘answered’ question 1 correctly, but didn’t understand it, needed to consider what another student wrote. This is a higher level of thinking.
  3. Students immediately had the chance to reevaluate their own response, when comparing with the ‘guide sheet’. There was no need to wait until I corrected their paper.
  4. The guide sheet provided support to students who needed it, without just giving them the answer.

A drawback to this system is that the teacher must do more thinking. Also, and keeping track of the two scores on two tests is challenging. If a student finishes very fast, there’s a time lag when they eventually get a test to correct. Lastly, I’ve given student’s their own test back from time to time to correct- but kids have always brought that up to me.

Do you have a test correction strategy? Leave a comment and let me know!


Meteorology and Astronomy in one video clip


What follows is a fantastic compilation video, edited by Michael König ( It’s a time-lapse view of Earth from The International Space Station, 350km above Earth’s surface. If you got creative, you could teach a lot of meteorology and astronomy, just from the phenomenon shown here.

I made an attempt of posing some questions, and posted it here:

In addition, I created a version of the video where I attempt to annotate features to which I want students pay attention. (It’s my first time, and I hope to get better)

Here are a few examples:

0:20: Fly over the Midwestern US at night. Using approximate distances between known US cities, estimate the depth of the atmosphere where aurora borealis can be seen, and discuss that phenomena, complete with observations of their relationship to the poles.

1:04: Observe and discuss the stars/constellations seen in the background. Discuss rotation of Earth on axis, and velocity/path needed for the ISS to maintain course.

1:35: Observe and explain cloud formations seen over land and water in this coastal region. Discuss sea level rise and the total estimates for population impacted near water as estimated by nighttime illumination. Discuss wildlife impact from such nighttime lighting, and why lights appear similar in color.

——and so on, and so forth——

Let me know what you think!



Merit pay for teachers versus competitive salary

Imagine this conversation:

Administrative team: “If you try twice as hard, we’ll pay you twice as much!”

Teacher: “But… I’m CURRENTLY doing about as much I’m able!”

A great horse, but not a race horse

The concept of ‘merit pay’, or awarding teachers financially for their students ‘results’ (what are we truly measuring?) is certainly a hot topic. Teachers are like jockeys (bear with me here):

  • a great jockey may push their top-notch horse to win The Triple Crown
  • a terrible jockey may break their top-notch horse, through poor guidance, not knowing when to push and when to save their horses strength
  • a great jockey cannot win any races riding a Clydesdale, a horse bred for strength, or with a 1 year old “thoroughbred- to-be”
 (note that the Clydesdale and the thoroughbred-to-be are wonderful horses – but either the task is not right, or the timing is not right.)

I follow Chris Lehmann’s blog, and his post about Making Teachers Rich suggested that being rich, is not the point for teacher. I agree with this. Apparently, so do teachers, because we start this career knowing full well that the salary will never be as high as an engineering salary.

And THAT, is the problem. I always wanted to teach, but I got my degree and first jobs in engineering because the pay offered more stability. When I left engineering, my mentors and the VP of operations called me to say “Listen, I want to teach tooo when I have some money saved up. Right now, you should think of your financial future.” These people WERE great teachers for me, although we diverged on this final point(they were family men – I have no wife or kids).

I contend that if starting engineering salaries are $50,000/yr, starting teacher salaries should be $55,000/yr. Let undergraduates compete like crazy to get teaching jobs, just like we did for engineering jobs.  I’m afraid that the teaching profession loses great teachers because they fear the comparable hardship of a low paying salary. Particularly with rising college tuition costs, the degree needs to pay off.

I agree with Mr. Lehmann, that we shouldn’t just make teachers rich. I also think that paying teachers for student performance will not lead to REAL performance improvements for teacher and student. However, let’s put teaching on an equal playing field with other professions, and let education compete with other careers that traditionally pay more money.