Chocolate Chip Cookies & Single Point Rubrics

Today: an analogy for explaining our single point rubrics, after explaining their set up to a parent during parent/teacher conferences today.

Our health education department uses single point rubrics for all of our summative assessments. A single point rubric is set up differently than your traditional, column and row analytic rubric. To make a long story short: three columns, left to right: the middle column has the criteria for a student to demonstrate proficiency and the left and right columns allow a blank space for teachers to explain how students are either not meeting or exceeding that criteria. We use the single point rubric because it brings the focus to feedback, and in our experience allows for more critical thinking and creativity from our students. It also opens up the door to differentiation for each assessment.

The analogy I use to explain this to my students (and their parents) involves baking chocolate chip cookies. If I buy a bag of chocolate chips, I’ll see a recipe on the back to make chocolate chip cookies. If I follow that recipe, will I produce a chocolate chip cookie? Yes. Will it get the job done for someone who is craving a chocolate chip cookie? Sure. But if I want to be the best cookie baker I can be, then I need to think about how I can add to that recipe to make it that much better. Maybe I add in more chocolate chips. Maybe I add in mint extract to make mint chocolate chip cookies, or I modify the recipe based on the food allergies of whomever will be eating them. Maybe I add a box of vanilla pudding mix into the cookie batter, as Lianna H. (DHS alumna!!) used to do with her cookies she made for after cross-country meets. And after I do that, I taste the finished product and go “WOW! What a cookie!” 

So I’ll ask my students, “For this project, what is going to be your ‘vanilla pudding mix’ ?” Not all of them accept that challenge; many are content with just doing what the recipe says to do. Education has gone down the road of recipes and checklists, and I want my students to think beyond just following directions when they complete their projects. Using single point rubrics help us accomplish that goal, and helps us avoid getting 100 projects turned in that are all the same, while allowing us as educators to look for what end up being essentially endless possibilities around different areas of concern or excellence from each student. I could go on and on with this analogy, but I’ll stop here for now.

Ideally, all of our students end up in the “proficient” category for their summative assessments. Is that good enough? Sure. But as I mentioned earlier, in today’s world, we want people who don’t just follow the recipe all the time.

For more on single point rubrics, check out these articles from the Cult of Pedagogy on the single point rubric and other rubrics

Now, about that grading…


Self-Management/Health Enhancing Behaviors Activity

Our health education department has been revamping how we teach the content portion of our skills-based curriculum by working to develop activities that are student centered. In this post, I want to share an idea we took from the social studies department in our school, and provide links to templates you can use in your own health class. There’s also a link to a folder that we (health teachers from across the US) are trying to fill with skills-based health education activities at the end of this post.

I enjoy getting into other teacher’s classrooms whenever I can, even if it’s just to look around. Spending time seeing how other teachers do things, even from different subject areas and grade levels, can provide meaningful information on how we can improve as educators.

Earlier this year, I was asked to cover a geography class during one of my prep blocks. In our building, we can put in to be a (paid) “spot sub” when the school doesn’t have enough subs to cover all the classes needed for the day. I don’t always say yes, but I often do because teachers typically leave lesson plans that are easy to follow.

I ramble a little here, but I think it’s important in order to understand the assignment. During this particular geography class, a review activity was planned for the day. The geography teacher had placed different resources around the room in stations: physical map, political maps, climate maps, charts with economic data, etc. Students worked in pairs and were asked to pick a card from a pile in the front of the room. Each card was numbered as a different challenge and required different resources to complete the challenge.

After reading the challenge, students had to first determine the appropriate resource to use in order to correctly complete the challenge. When they thought they had correctly completed the challenge, students were to come up to me. Then I, armed with the answer key from their teacher, would simply point to one of three color cards on the desk: Green (Go Ahead!), Yellow (Go Back & Fix Something) or Red (STOP! Start Over). When pointing to a yellow or red card for the first time on any challenge, I was told NOT to give the students any clue as to what was incorrect so they could figure it out themselves. If they came back again and it was still yellow, then I could provide a hint (“Maybe you should use a different map,” or “I’d re-read the instructions because they’re very specific”). Students could only work on one challenge at a time, and the activity continued until all the challenges were completed.

Students were engaged during this lesson. They were accessing information and analyzing it, and they were communicating with their peers. It was a kinesthetic activity that required movement around the room. Naturally, I figured we could use this in health class, so I left that class and told my colleague, Danielle, what the lesson was and that we should use something similar in health class.

One thing you should know about the working relationship Danielle and I have is that we have two very different styles that work very well together. I am (overly) methodical, focused on planning, and typically won’t try something unless I’ve made sure it’s put together. Danielle excels at jumping in with two feet and just going for it full speed ahead, and is creative enough to roll with something on the fly. Danielle listened to my idea and whipped up a “Challenge Packet” for our eighth graders to complete during their health enhancing behaviors & sun safety unit. Instead of making separate cards for each challenge we just made one packet with separate boxes for each one. We then created a “Challenge Packet” for our sixth grade health enhancing behaviors/nutrition unit. These challenges go over content or have students review health skills from the national standards.

The sequence is the same as in the geography class. Students are given different challenges, and provided with resources to help them complete each challenge. 

This is an activity that could work with other National Health Education Standards, like accessing information. Students could examine information first, determine if the resource is valid and reliable, and then move on from there. So essentially you could use this as a skill practice. For us, we took what would normally be a teacher centered, more lecture style lesson, and made it student centered. Because we’re a 1:1 school, we have some information for students to look at on their Chromebooks, but have also printed things out to get them completely off-screen.

I’m going to throw a bunch of links at you below. The first two are templates we use in our middle school health class. If you think this is something you’d like to modify, simply make a copy to your Google Drive and you’ll be able to edit your own version. As always, we may adapt this activity and change it around a little, but for now, this is what we have.

As always, suggestions are always welcome! We are constantly adapting how we teach our health classes (sometimes even in the hallway between classes!) and would love to hear your ideas. Comment below or send me a tweet!

Now, about that grading…wait! There is no grading! It’s summer time!

Those Fidget Spinners…

Fidget spinners are the latest trend to take over American schools. Like anything, they have their fans and their opponents, and in my mind it’s another go-round of a pretty consistent cycle of mini-trends of toys captivating kids that adults don’t understand or take issue with on a way too personal level.

A few years ago Tech Decks made a comeback, and in our school Rubik’s Cubes were the thing for a while. Water bottle flipping was the thing a few months ago. When I was in middle school, the cycle went through pogs, and Giga Pet/Tamagotchis (mine always died), then Yomega Brain yo-yos. Members of my Twitter PLN are noticing the same thing. With any trend, it’s time to cue members of the education profession calling for a ban of the most recent distraction…because surely it is ONLY a fidget spinner, or a Tech Deck, or a water bottle, a computer, a cell phone, the sky outside the window…surely only THOSE things are why students are bored and distracted in our classrooms, right?! Are we going to get fed up with…pen clicking? Finger tapping? Looking out the window? Let’s ban all clicky pens! No fingers for you! Block all windows!


My Man Kermit

All sarcasm aside, earlier this week I talking to a colleague who made the following observation: these spinny things captivate students and hold their attention. We recently saw the same thing happen with water bottle flipping.

So, we found ourselves asking questions. How can we harness this in our classrooms? How can we captivate students like these inanimate objects? If a small plastic device with a few ball bearings can hold their attention for that long, what can we do to do the same in our classrooms? My Twitter PLN is full of educators meeting students where they are, particularly PE teachers who are using them as fitness timers. They did the same when the Bottle Flipping Movement took over our cafeterias, by developing similar games using cones in PE, and our engineering teacher used that as an opportunity to teach about concepts related to physics. As educators we constantly have to find ways to make our subject areas meaningful and interesting to our students, especially in a world filled with distractions.

“But kids are already so distracted these days! They already don’t pay attention in MY class, and MY subject area is SO IMPORTANT that they NEED to pay attention ALL the time!”

Say what!? I don’t even pay attention all the time and I’m an adult. Of COURSE your students are distracted: they’re kids!! I don’t want to go into the science of brain development, particularly during adolescence, but as we know (or you SHOULD know) we can’t expect kids to pay attention for long periods of time without a break. Many teachers forget this or choose to ignore it. Brain boosts and movement breaks are used for this specific reason by educators who understand that kids can’t learn with a “numb bum” (thanks for that term, Andy!) after sitting down all day. Perhaps something similar can be accomplished by allowing students to use their spinners every x amount of minutes.

When I see fidget spinners, I’m also reminded to keep things simple. We live in a time where the world is literally at our fingertips and accessed through phones or computers 24/7. Virtual reality is a legitimate thing now. Sometimes, going low-tech is the better way to go, and it’s actually nice to see students so absorbed by something not on a screen, no matter how silly or simple or time-wasting it seems to us as adults.

I understand the purpose of fidget cubes, but based on how my students are using the fidget spinners, I’ll admit the spinners are a distraction for most (but not all) kids. That doesn’t mean I would advocate for banning them. For me, a simple request to keep them away is all it takes. As educators, we can find ways to incorporate them into our teaching, and they’ve given me another opportunity to connect with my students. Students have shown me modifications they’ve made to their own fidget spinners in order to try to make them spin longer, and students trade different color bearings with each other. They even make their own! Students have asked me how long I could make them spin for and have me take one of theirs for a spin (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

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An American Adolescent completes her work while modeling appropriate fidget spinner use based on clear, common sense classroom guidelines…

Sample Ways to Incorporate Fidget Spinners in Classrooms

  • As fitness timers in PE class or during movement breaks
  • As Creative Writing Prompt Devices for ELA classes
  • As devices to “hack” (try to improve) during an engineering class
  • As a model for art class (okay, I’ll admit that’s a stretch)

I’m not saying we have to adapt what we do to fit every.single.micro.trend that students are into, or that we even need to incorporate them into our classes. But if we can find something to engage students, how is that a bad thing? Set parameters for your classroom that are based on common sense, take a deep breath, and realize it’s not that big of a deal.

For the record, I handle the Fidget Spinner Situation by actually doing one aspect of my job as an educator. I talk with the student and determine what needs to be done on a case by case basis. Most students are understanding and respond to a polite prompt to put it away. It’s not that difficult. If it’s particularly distracting to a student, then I may take the spinner for the block and let them have it at the end of class. To me, all of this is common sense and it takes approximately fifteen seconds out of my class. I have too many more important things to worry about during the course of a school day to get all fired up about a toy. This might even speak to a larger issue of educators making decisions that benefit them and not the students, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole I don’t want to go down in this post.

I’ll end with a Hot Take: one student has told me that the Moondrop is going to be the next “it” thing. If so…you heard it here first! 

Now, about that grading…

Skills Based Health Education & Bloom’s Taxonomy

I still need to write my final SHAPE Boston reflection, but I remembered something that came up in our presentation and wanted to share it. Implementing a skills based curriculum and following a set of steps to teach the skills in health education involves higher order thinking. It’s important for health educators to be able to articulate this using eduspeak that administrators or their evaluators, many of whom are unfamiliar with health education, will understand.

One characteristic of an effective health education curriculum, as defined by the CDC, is the following: 

An effective curriculum builds essential skills — including communication, refusal, assessing accuracy of information, decision-making, planning and goal-setting, self-control, and self-management — that enable students to build their personal confidence, deal with social pressures, and avoid or reduce risk behaviors.

For each skill, students are guided through a series of developmental steps:

    1. Discussing the importance of the skill, its relevance, and relationship to other learned skills.
    2. Presenting steps for developing the skill.
    3. Modeling the skill.
    4. Practicing and rehearsing the skill using real–life scenarios.
    5. Providing feedback and reinforcement.

These developmental steps directly mirror action verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy. All educators are aware of Bloom’s; it’s a commonality shared among all subject areas, including health education.

The screenshot below indicates which portions of the NHES Skills Sequence are included in an example skills-based unit, as well as where each lesson (the “#” column) falls under Bloom’s Taxonomy. The number of lessons may differ based on your own schedule, so if you were to make this chart it may look a little different. Action verbs, based on what students will be doing during the lesson, are also included. Feel free to use this image in your own evaluation binders, blogs, or presentations to school committees. For my Massachusetts folks: Standard 1-A-1 on the teacher evaluation rubric.

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The progression from general information to specific information, and from simple to complex on Bloom’s Taxonomy, demonstrates a progression of learning experiences that allow students to, “acquire complex knowledge and skills.”

Most educators are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and administrators would certainly be looking for students to demonstrate higher level thinking during class. This chart can be used to justify the shift towards a skills based health curriculum, or as evidence of the higher level thinking that takes place during the teaching of skills and performance indicators from the National Health Education Standards. Health education IS academic, even when the focus is on teaching skills over content.

Now, about that grading…


New Trimester; New Student Created Expectations

I still have to write my final SHAPE Boston reflection, but one of the ideas I took from SHAPE Boston to implement immediately in my classroom was the “R.O.P.E.S.” acronym explained by Andy Milne in his session on participatory activities in health education. Today we began a new trimester, and I had all new 7th and 8th grade classes (I dropped my 6th grade today). What better time to try a new activity?!

A lot of teachers go over the same song and dance on the first day of a class. It’s a “here’s the course information sheet, yawn, tell me your name, blah blah blah, here are the rules, is your butt numb yet?!” routine. Today we did our usual “turn in your cool card” dance lesson, and then I moved into the “R.O.P.E.S.” activity. As explained by Andy & Andy:

R.O.P.E.S. is an acronym that we use to set a tone in the classroom. We have students come up with words that pertain to classroom environment that start with these five letters. Students are encouraged to provide an example (“what would that look like in our classroom?”) for the word they choose. It has been an effective way to get students to participate in creating classroom expectations. Usually we hang a copy of the ROPES list on the wall so that students are reminded throughout the year of the expectations.

I did this with four classes, giving each group a piece of paper to brainstorm words letter by letter, and then we discussed each letter and word one at a time and created a visual on the white board. After we had a completed list, I had the students individually reflect on what they could do to make these words a reality in our health class. I snapped a picture of each list after it was finished. Tonight, I quickly typed up all of the words from my four classes and put them into a Wordle

Some classes had words that were more reflective than others, and some words might leave you scratching your head, like “pancakes” (the student who came up with that said to make sure to flip your viewpoint to another side…like a pancake. That’s outside the box thinking!). Here’s an example of what one individual class (the 1st one I did this with) came up with, complete with a plethora of lost & found books missing their owners because #middleschool:


Below you’ll see four different layouts of the completed Wordles. I plan on printing these out in color to post around my classroom. I’ll post them in Google Classroom, and may even adjust the dimensions to use as a header for each Google Classroom page, too. Overall, I liked the interactive element of this activity and the opportunity for students to have a voice in what they wanted health class to look like. I’m glad Andy shared this activity that him and his colleague (another Andy) use in their health classrooms.  This is an activity I’ll be repeating and one that you could implement in your classroom tomorrow. Click the link at the start of this post or just click here to access the R.O.P.E.S. document from Andy & Andy.

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Now, about that grading…

The “Speak Up Pocket Guide” from Teaching Tolerance

Recently I’ve been compiling resources to examine related to school climate and school culture. This is partly due to general curiosity and partly an attempt to develop a project I can work on as part of a practicum towards my license in administration. I’ve been familiar with the resources from Teaching Tolerance since my early days teaching, but their information is more relevant for educators now than it ever has been before.

Today I was examining a free resource about responding to prejudice in schools: Speak Up At School. I was really just skimming through it and decided to download the PDF to examine more closely when I had a chance when I saw the “Speak Up Pocket Guide.”

The pocket guide is a handy little tool teachers, administrators, and students can use when they confront bias language or related situations in their school. The pocket guide provides guidance on four different ways to speak up against bias: interrupt, question, educate, and echo. 

I was able to print out and make two of the pocket guides before my eighth grade health classes came in. We’re currently in the middle of our analyzing influences/human sexuality unit, and today we were on the second lesson of two lessons focused on gender identity. A follow-up activity after viewing a clip about Jazz Jennings was a turn and talk, with each group being asked to brainstorm answers to the following prompt: “Regardless if you agree or disagree about other gender identities other than your own, take the time to come up with a list of ways friends or peers might be supportive of Jazz – or someone who is discriminated against in general.”

This specific class is ahead of the curve compared to their peers with their knowledge and understanding of topics around gender and gender identity, and discrimination in general, so we had a conversation that was more engaging than some of my other classes. After hearing their responses, I brought in the “Speak Up Pocket Guide.” I showed it to the class and mentioned how it’s a valuable tool for someone who isn’t sure what to do when they confront a challenging situation related to biased language or stereotypes. It was a perfect tie in to how students can support anyone who is discriminated against.

Here’s a quick video showing how to assemble the pocket guide from the Teaching Tolerance website. Print it out, put it together, and start confronting bias when you see it in your school. You could probably make your own template in a Google Doc or Word Doc to take this idea and apply it to skills from the National Health Education Standards (advocacy and communication come to mind), which could make a nifty little project for your students.

Now, about that grading…

Thoughts on Feedback

Last week, I was thinking about the kind of feedback I provide my students. An image (it’s below) shared on Twitter by the user @Alex_Corbitt caused me to self reflect.

As a teacher and a coach, providing feedback is a daily part of my routine. I want to become better at providing consistent feedback to ALL my students, not just those who I think need it, and with that I was thinking about what effective feedback is, both in the classroom and on the track. 

I also want to work on how I take in feedback, and by that I don’t mean how I receive feedback about myself or my work (although keeping an open mind is ALWAYS important), but I mean when students or student-athletes provide something for me to give feedback on: an assignment in class; workout splits, etc.

Here’s an example from the track and field world.

A long jumper keeps having difficulty hitting the board, a common frustration among high school long jumpers. The easy (lazy) answer is to move their take off mark around a few inches and try again. And again. And again. The correct approach (which can be difficult) requires analysis: how is their approach down the runway? Are they losing momentum? Are their steps consistent? Are they accelerating properly? Heck, are they even running in a straight line down the runway? This doesn’t take that much more effort and will result in fewer fouls and more PRs from the jumper. I’m not THAT great at coaching the jumps, but that’s an easy shift to make! That’s coaching.

With a little more effort, educators can improve their feedback, too. We can’t assume anything as educators, but we can notice trends/patterns among our students to help us analyze what we’re doing and what we need to change. BUT as an educator, I don’t want to provide students with all the answers. That may be appropriate to do when teaching the long jump directly to a student-athlete, but in the classroom I need to make sure my feedback is informative with enough room for the student to figure it out on their own, too. Asking specific questions and knowing how to direct students come into play here.

My school is a 1:1 Chromebook school, and if anything, that has INCREASED my ability to interact with students face to face. I’m constantly circling around my room, keeping an eye on what’s going on, and trying to check in with students when they’re working on long-term assignments. I’m not perfect, and I do miss things. But, I found a way to utilize our technology to increase the effectiveness of the feedback I give during project work (that’s a separate post I need to write at some point). Even if you don’t have a 1:1 environment, here’s the image that I found beneficial when thinking about how we give feedback to our students that basically summarizes all of this blubbering into a nice, organized image:

From Twitter User @Alex_Corbitt

How effective is the feedback you provide your students? Imagine yourself in their shoes, and determine if you would be able to work effectively with the feedback provided. Would that work? Or would it cause frustration? Just some thoughts flowing through my brain this week.

Now, about that grading…