Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

SBG – Jumping In, But Only Up to My Knees

Posted on: August 17, 2011

I do believe I spent more time searching for an appropriate image than I did actually writing this post.I’ve been following a fellow science & math teacher, Frank Noschese, and his writings on his blog “Action-Reaction.”  He has some great stuff that I am going to steal and use in my classroom.  One post in particular has really had me thinking, “My SGB Journey” (  He is talking about Standards Based Grading.  I knew nothing about this form of assessment, so I dug deeper.

I won’t lie, it took me several hours of reading to get the gist of it.  Frank refers to a post by Dan Meyers.  Follow that link and read through the comments.  Others readers had many of the same questions I had; reading the questions and Dan’s responses pulled it all together for me.

I haven’t got it all worked out just yet, but I plan on implementing this in my honors Calculus class.  My administration backs me on all of my adventures and didn’t bat an eye at it, “sure, go ahead.”  After all, this one isn’t going to cost them thousands of dollars (I’ll fill you in later). I’m going to steal everything I can from Frank while I work out the methodology and the glitches in a small and forgiving class, then move it to my physics class the following year.

Here is my understanding of the concept in a nutshell:  The course is broken down into approximately 40 key concepts.  Students are assessed on those concepts. Once they get two questions perfect on that concept, they no longer need to answer those questions on later quizzes because they have already mastered the concept.  They can keep retaking quizzes on the concept until they get two of them perfect.  In the mean time, class moves on.  (We hit the wall a few times in calculus last year where we didn’t move off a section for over a week because about half of the students didn’t master the concept.)  Students track their own successes and know what they need to practice and get tutoring on.  They can get a 100% in the class, but my guess is you still end up with a normal distribution curve because many of them will feel that a 60% or an 80% on some of the concepts is acceptable.  However, if they choose to work hard and improve their grade, they can keep relearning and quizzing on the material until they master it.

Frank and Dan both have their own grading system.  I would read their posts and decide what makes sense for you.  I’m just getting started on mine, but my guess is I’ll steal one of theirs and tinker later.

It’s going to be a bit more work the first time around and a lot more time tutoring and retesting after school, but my goal is for the students to master the material.  I want them to take the Calculus AP exam and knock it out of the park.  This seems like the right approach.  I’ve ordered the three books Frank has recommended, you can find them very reasonably priced on  I think I paid about $25 for all three including shipping.

I’d be really interested to know if any of you have used similar systems and how they have worked for you.  My gut tells me this is the right way to go.  I nervous at the increased workload (again).


4 Responses to "SBG – Jumping In, But Only Up to My Knees"

Good for you, Scott! Some part of me wants to do SBG, but I’m not ready to take the plunge. The thought of the necessary recordkeeping for 160 students on SBG gives me stress induced heart palpitations.

I am looking forward to becoming more Frank Noschese-like this year by incorporating some modeling and whiteboarding.

Best of luck to you this year and I hope SBG has minimal growing pains for you and maximum benefits!

I am more and more intrigued at the SBG possibilities and philosophy, but it’s not so much the workload as the fact that I teach 3 or 4 different classes a day, with only one repeat class typically. Even though I could do it one class at a time over a couple years, I’d be re-inventing the wheel so to speak 4 times…thoughts?

I am in the same boat teaching 3 courses, that is why I’m only going to do this for calculus right now. It is a very small class (12) and a good way to get started. If I am happy with the outcome, I will transform physics next year. That will be a much larger undertaking, and one I am not looking forward to. Robotics & Engineering is already set up to be project based and more or less self-paced, it may not need much modification.

I’m not sure the term “re-inventing” is the correct one though. From my reading and emails with Frank, you aren’t changing the course, but you are changing the assessment system. Most of the work will be in rearranging your quizzes and tests into smaller quizzes and follow on quizzes.

I can agree with “re-inventing” not being the right word.

Obviously, SBG has worked in physics classes. When I think of physics classes, at least in my school, I think of the top 20% of students. I tend to have the middle 80% of students (a wide range). I wonder if “average” and “below average” students respond as well to this kind of class.

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What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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