Monday, July 31, 2017

August E-Book Sale!

Click on the image above for a link to that webpage.
Click on any of the purple arrows to go to the Amazon page for that eBook.

An August Month of Savings!


The recently re-edited Reverse Image is on sale ALL MONTH for $1.98. No code or coupon needed!






Buy early in each sale window.
These prices may not be seen again in 2017.



DISCOUNTS ON PRINT VERSIONS ALSO AVAILABLE. SEE BLOG OF 8/1/17




Monday, July 24, 2017

Teachers. Grading Over The Years #7 – Group Tests


If there is part of the topic of grading that is more despised than “Group Project Grades” it has to be “Group Assessment (Tests/Quizzes) Grades.”

I hope you’ve read the previous blog post about my Group Grade policy and procedure. If not, it might be a good idea to do that before continuing with this post.

Ultimately each student should receive a grade that accurately reflects her/his level of understanding at that point in time.

That’s fairly easy to do on an individually completed in-class assignment. Assuming you were monitoring the session.

It’s harder to do on homework—who (student/parent/buddy) did what?
It’s harder still on tests.

It can be hardest for a semester grade. That doesn’t have to be the case. I’ll discuss semester grades in the last post in this series.

Today we’re looking at Group Testing.

Before that, a “bird walk” into testing in general . . .

One of my pet peeves was hearing a teacher say as they were leaving school in the afternoon, “I’ve got to get home and write the test for tomorrow.”

If you—TEACHER—don’t know what you’re going to hold students accountable for before you begin planning a unit—or EARLY in that planning process—how can you expect the students to know what they are supposed to learn/retain/understand during the unit?

Okay. That bird has taken flight.

I used group assessment at various times, most commonly for quizzes.
Whether the questions were handed out on paper, projected on a screen, or given orally, on a group quiz the rules were as follows.
  1. You may not communicate orally during this quiz.
  2. You can write on scratch paper, which I will collect with your answer sheet.
  3. If you talk once, you get a warning and a mark on your answer sheet.
  4. Subsequent talking infractions result in additional marks on your answer sheet. Each additional mark is a __ percent deduction from your final score.
  5. Each group member must physically write about the same number of answers on your answer sheet as every other group member. This was modified in classes with special needs students, but it was rare that each group member wasn’t able to write at least one answer.


Although the written communication often included significant amounts of pencil pounding at a specific answer on the scratch paper, it’s amazing how quietly kids can argue. 

It wasn’t uncommon for a silent group quiz to use a whiteboard as an answer sheet. That made grading quick and finished by the end of the quiz time.

The most evolved group test I gave was on "evolutionary theory and process." I gave this test to 1) AP Biology Students at Monte Vista High School; 2) General Education Biology at Point Loma Nazarene University; and 3) biology students of all levels at Great Oak High School.


What follows are scans of the directions and the test itself.


The formula for calculating a student's grade is not easy to read. Here it is in "older eye" size.

Your Question Score +
Your Question Score +
The Group Question Score +
The Average of All Individual Questions =
Your score on this exam

A conservative estimate on the number of groups that have taken this exam in this format is 150. Not once did every person in a group receive the same numeric grade.

I had some PLNU students come to me and ask if they had to be in a group. My answer was this

"If you choose to take the test by yourself, you are still responsible for turning in answers for the same number of questions as each group—that means you have to answer five individual questions and the group question in the same time period that the groups answer six questions. However, each group member answers only one alone."

By the next class meeting, all PLNU students were ready to be in a group.

I only had to give the above answer once in high school. It was an AP Bio student. She also chose to become a group member.

Grading A Group Test

Group quiz grades were almost always the same score for all members. Quizzes were of significantly less value than tests, and I could watch group members interact.

Below is the grading KEY for this exam. Point values for each part of each question are designated.

Students normally took this test around a lab table. 

  • On the table was a box with enough "correcting" pens/pencils so each group member had one to use in step 4 above. 
  • Once the "correction" time began, all "non-correcting pens/pencils" were traded for "correcting" pens/pencil in the box on the table.
  • Only correcting pens were used for crossing out and adding material.
  • Student pens were traded back once the exam "packet" was turned in.

When grading the GROUP version of this exam, additions were worth less than an original inclusion of the specific information by a student. 

For example: 

  • For Question C, each correct inclusion in the "list" part of the answer is worth one point. If one of those was added in correction pen, it would be worth 1/2 point.
  • This rewarded the student and the group without devaluing the effort of students who needed no corrections.


BONUS SECTION
One of the things students like about the group test was that they had a choice of questions to answer. If you’ve never offered choices, I recommend you give it a shot.

Below is an alternative test for similar evolutionary content. This is an individual test.
Notes
  1. The content of these questions mirrors the group test content.
  2. Questions are clustered by point value.
  3. Each "cluster" of questions is diverse in content coverage.
  4. Restrictions apply to ensure that every student demonstrates a breadth of understanding.
  5. There are enough questions to allow achieving the maximum points possible in a variety of combinations.
  6. Students can answer questions that equal fewer than the possible points. If they answer questions totaling more than the points possible, points are subtracted from their final score.

This is another way to reduce some of the anxiety that accompanies testing. 


I'll do an entire blog post on ways to help students reduce stress later...
Although some might argue that I was more stress-inducer than stress-reliever...

Next Teacher blog will discuss final/semester/end of term grades


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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Authors: Where Do Ideas Come From? An example.

This is a revision of a post from April, 2016

I found the idea for the story that follows at: http://www.thewritingreader.com/blog/I included the idea from a second prompt (#1722) in the story as well.

BTW. "The Writing Reader" is an outstanding source for story ideas. I give it 5-stars!

Fiction Writing Prompt #1694: Write a story or scene about doomed freedom fighters.
Included was this photograph.

 

Here is my just plain fun response to the prompt. At the end is a link to the finished story:

Ghetto Uprising

Gnarnell looked down with one of her two stalk-eyes. The rough wooden box she focused on sat in the corner of the small room she and her fellow freedom fighters occupied. The two other stalk-eyes and her pair of inset-eyes remained focused on the evidence of her predicament. It was a mental challenge to focus a single ocular organ on something while her other four eyes were otherwise focused.

She grunted.

“Yes, Leader!” The closet of the twenty freedom fighters to her provided the required response to any and all directives from an officer. That was the expectation, even if the soldier wasn’t sure of the directive.

How foolish is our protocol? Gnarnell thought. This youth is willing to do something without even knowing what it is. I must devise a task.

“I require,” she said before pausing. I have the answer! “I require the box of ammunition and weaponry from that corner.” She pointed a prehensile finger toward the box.

“By your command!” The young male made his way through the crowd that filled the room. Gnarnell watched him with all three stalk-eyes. He’s so dedicated. I wish he lived at a better time. But, it isn’t even a good time.

The room was too small for all of them. It was also too poorly located to act as a shelter for any who championed their cause. In fact, it was too poorly built to provide adequate protection for anyone, regardless of the cause they championed.

The youth returned with the box held tightly against his scaly body. She noted that his fingers had yet to mature into the almost sentient digits she had. He sat the box close to where her tail circled her legs and clawed feet. She flashed the sign for a job well done. He beamed.

She gave a nod of dismissal. He nodded in respectful reply worked his way through the crowd, recounting the end of his successful mission to each companion as he passed.

Using her well-muscled tail, Gnarnell slid the box the youth delivered against the wall behind her. Turning her body, she shielded her movements, and the contents of the box, from prying eyes. It’s best that I know what we have before anyone else. I have neither time nor space for panic or celebration.

The lid lifted with minimal resistance. She leaned it up against the front of the wooden container. Inside she found much less than she’d hoped for. Her spirit plummeted.

I was told that this room had a supply of weapons. I assumed that at least some would be plasma or, at least laser pistols. This, this collection of antiques does not qualify as a supply of anything but disappointment. I fear we are doomed.

In the box were ten items. She recognized them all, from the history books she’d read in school years ago. She took inventory.

One grenade. Three canisters of noxious gas. One canister each of flammable liquid and explosive fluid. One detonator for a bomb. Two sacks of projectile ammunition. One bottle of what I assume is poisoned wine. This must be a twisted joke being played by fate herself.

“I need a volunteer,” she said with even less inflection than was usual for her species.

All heads turned in her direction. Twenty-seven quintets of her species' eyes found their point of focus on her. Twenty-seven first fingers on the twenty-seven hands of the twenty-seven arms of revenge of the twenty-seven freedom fighters she led pointed at her.

It is what I suspected would be the case. They’ve all volunteered. How many do I send on this suicide mission?

This was the catalyst for a what is now a 10k word story. Titled "Freedom's Just a Word," it follows the subterfuge invasion of a planet by an alien species. The opening few pages is below after the cover. Notice that the above is now the opening scene. The story backfills from there.




Freedom’s Just A Word . . .
By C. R. Downing
Location: Frinyo City – Weapons Cache
Date: 38.442.02.13
Gnarnell looked down with one of her three stalk-eyes. The rough wooden box she focused on sat in the corner of the small room she and her fellow freedom fighters occupied. The two other stalk-eyes and her pair of inset-eyes remained focused on the evidence of her predicament. It was a mental challenge to focus a single ocular organ on something while the rest of her eyes were otherwise engaged.
She grunted.
“Yes, Captain!” The closest of the twenty-seven insurgents under her command provided the required response to any directive from an officer. That was the expectation, even when the soldier wasn’t sure of the directive.
How foolish is our protocol? Gnarnell thought. This youth is willing to do something without even knowing what it is. I must devise a task.
“I require,” she said before pausing. I have the answer! “The box of ammunition and weaponry from that corner.” She pointed a prehensile finger toward the box. “Bring it to me!”
“By your command!”
The young male made his way through the packed room. Gnarnell’s stalk-eyes followed his progress. He’s so dedicated. I wish he lived in a better time in our history.
The room was too small for them. It was too poorly located to act as a shelter for any who championed their cause. In fact, it was too poorly built to provide adequate protection for anyone, regardless of the cause they championed.
The room was never meant to be a sanctuary. It was listed on government manifestos as a weapons cache. That description convinced her to stage the end of the mission there.
The youth returned with the box held tight against his scaly body. She noted that his fingers had yet to mature into the almost sentient digits of mature Deloqkites. The boy’s no more than twelve-years-old. He sat the box close to where her tail circled her legs and clawed feet. She flashed the sign for a job well done. He beamed.
She gave a nod of dismissal. He nodded in respectful reply and worked his way through the crowd, recounting the end of his successful mission to each companion he passed.
Using her well-muscled tail, Gnarnell slid the box against the wall behind her. She turned her body to shield her movements and the contents of the box from prying eyes. It was best that she know what she had before anyone else. There was neither time nor space for panic or celebration.
The lid lifted with minimal resistance. She leaned it up against the front of the wooden container.
Inside she found much less than she’d hoped for.
Records indicate that this room holds a supply of weapons. I assumed that at least some would be plasma-based or laser pistols. This, this collection of antiques does not qualify as a supply of anything but disappointment.
In the box were ten items. She recognized them all from books on the history of Deloqk, her home planet. Despair crowded out other thoughts She gave her head a vicious shake to reset her feelings and began taking inventory.
One grenade. Three canisters of noxious gas. One canister each of flammable liquid and explosive fluid. One detonator for a bomb. Two sacks of projectile ammunition. One bottle of what I assume is wine.
Despair pushed against hope, trying to gain the upper hand in her mind. This is a twisted joke being played by fate.
“I need a volunteer,” she said with even less inflection than was usual for her species. Suppression of emotion was her preferred method of overcoming unwanted thoughts. She’d found the technique useful in times past.
All heads turned in her direction. Twenty-seven quintets of eyes found their point of focus on her. Twenty-seven first-fingers on twenty-seven hands of twenty-seven arms of revenge of twenty-seven guerillas pointed at her.
It is as I expected. They’ve all volunteered. How many do I take with me on this suicide mission?
§  §  §  §
Solar System: Quadrant 4/Red Dwarf 221
Planet: Deloqk
Personal Observations Log
Author: Gnarnell
Rank: Captain, Army of the Sovereign Nation of Cronoqk
Date: 38.435.15.24
The celebration is finally over. I was afraid it would never end.
The aliens called themselves explorers when they arrived on Deloqk. Civilians should have asked, “Why would an advanced civilization on a mission of exploration need an armada of spacecraft to survey a three-planet solar system at the fringe of the Andromeda Galaxy?”
But they didn’t. They were too busy enjoying the novelty.
I was glad when the aliens were greeted with cautious optimism by the governments of Deloqk. The hundreds of alien ships are sleek and fast, unlike the bulky cargo spaceships of the Deloqkian space fleet. The technology the aliens freely share is decades, perhaps centuries ahead of anything we’ve got. I’m fearful that the opportunities for improving the status quo are seen as goals by the populace and not the temptations they are.
Few Deloqkites outside the top military brass on Deloqk doubt their claim of a neighboring solar system as their home. From a military point of view, the alien ships’ design and number indicate hyper-light capability. No solar system close to ours would commit this many long-distance spacecraft for a drive through the neighborhood.
Unless exploration was not the primary motivation of that neighborhood jaunt.
The public refuses to doubt any alien claim regarding space travel. Our social media channels buzz with praise of the “spacemen.” I see their point. For the public, the proof of the alien claims regarding interstellar travel is orbiting our planet.
Deloqk has never been a major player in interplanetary commerce. Only four Deloqkian nations have access to materials and fuel sources needed to build and maintain rudimentary interplanetary craft. For that reason, the vast majority of our citizenry is naively unconcerned with interplanetary commerce or interstellar travel.
I know for a fact that the Ruling Council of Chronoqk withdraws support of anything when revenue drops below its predicted monetary benefit. The direct correlation between cost and benefit is especially true for a venture as expensive as space travel. I’ve heard the other governments involved in space commerce feel the same way.
Because of this known expense versus hypothetical gain or loss, all spacecraft produced on Deloqk are cargo-carries. ALL OF THEM! We don’t have a single spaceship equipped with offensive weapons. Our ships don't have even the most rudimentary of defensive shielding systems.
I’m seriously concerned about the last issue. Mark my words, the lack interest in space travel as anything more than an economic novelty will come back to bite us in our collective muscular tails.
Solar System: Quadrant 4/Red Dwarf 221
Planet: Deloqk
Personal Observations Log
Author: Gnarnell
Rank: Captain, Army of the Sovereign Nation of Cronoqk
Date: 38.436.05.37
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 5.25 months since my last Observation Log entry. It hasn’t been from the lack of observations of the aliens, that’s for certain.

Observation number 1. There are a lot of explorers. That’s what the aliens call themselves. Remember? The citizenry continues to overlook that. Only a few naysayers—like me—keep pointing out the large number of aliens on Deloqk. This is a concern.
Observation number 2. The vocal minority has pointed out on many occasions that every alien wears a uniform. To me, the conclusion is clear: all the explorers are members of the military. That’s a cause for concern in my book. The vast majority of Deloqkites don’t see it that way.
Observation number 3. The aliens refuse to allow Deloqkites to board any of their ships except those that landed on the surface. Big concern! What’s in the ships orbiting the planet that has to be kept secret?
That completes my trilogy of concerns and this entry.
Watch your tails, people! (That’s a reference to the end of my last entry. I may just end all these Personal Observations with a tail reference. We’ll see.)
END of Sample

While at one level, I'm sorry to do that to you, on another level, I hope you're hooked enough to follow this link and read the whole story. If you do, I would appreciate a short review sent to crd.author@gmail.com.
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