Occupying Space in my Brain | March 30

A brief description of things that I've been thinking and learning about recently. (An idea stolen directly from Tim Calvin's "SitRep" posts. Also, you should subscribe to his email newsletter).

  • Sharing. I used to share my thoughts, reflections, and resources much more often than I have the last few years. Several factors have affected this (more stringent district policies, twitter got weird, having a child), but I do miss the active engagement with the education community that occurred through this active sharing. As evidenced by this post, I'd like to be more proactive on this front. As I've been thinking again about how important open sharing has been for me, I always head back to Dean Shareski and his thoughtful writing. His recent piece includes the phrase, "Sharing in its purest form is a moral imperative." And thus here I am, trying to figure out what that sharing should look like in 2017, when blogs are so 10 years ago, Twitter is huge and impersonal, and does anyone even social bookmark anymore?
  • Reflecting & Reading.  Specifically, I'm inspired by the depth (and quantity) of reflection Brian Frank does in public. His recent post on problem solving with forces is just one example. His reflections also include references to physics education research, which I'd like to get back to reading more often as well.
  • Baseball Rosters. For whatever reason, I've been fascinated for some time by the way a baseball team's makeup changes throughout the season. Originally this thinking was inspired by a throwaway comment from the long defunct Up and In podcast that "the team that starts the season is completely different from the team that ends the season" (loosely quoted). I've had in my head the idea for an infographic showing the movement of players between the various levels of a baseball organization, but I don't have the graphic design chops, tools, or skills to really pull it off. My best effort was in 2012 when I made this spreadsheet tracking the Tigers players at all levels. I've tried other years and other formats haven't worked out so well. This year I'm going to track just players on the 25-man Active Roster, which will hopefully make the task more manageable. Also, if anyone has an idea for a tool that I can use to turn this data into a beautiful graphic that uses ribbons showing the movement of all the players. It seems like JSON or something might work well for this, but my skills with that are pretty much zero. If you're familiar with resources that would help me learn how to use JSON (or some other format) to generate infographics, please share!
  • StatCast Metrics. I like baseball and the start of the baseball season is upon us, so bear with me. For the 2015 and 2016 seasons MLB rolled out an advanced system of tracking player and ball movement called StatCast. Now that there's been a couple years of data they've started rolling out some fascinating statistics: Hit Probability and Catch Probability, for example. Catch probability looks at the hang time of the batted ball and the distance an outfielder needs to run to make the catch to determine what probability the outfielder has of making the catch. This is some fascinating next level statistical stuff. As a bonus: The data is all publicly available. Go play!
  • A Big Move. Finally, I'm no longer a Connecticutian. For my wife's career, we moved back to the MidWest (I'm originally from Michigan) in January and I now live about 45 minutes north of Chicago (or 45 minutes south of Milwaukee, for my Wisconsin readers). I was able to find a job for the spring, and am adjusting to being the "new" teacher. It's an odd position to be in as a veteran teacher, and perhaps I didn't realize the level of leadership I had among my colleagues at my last position now that I'm starting fresh.

[Update] Changing student perceptions flyers are rolling in!

Earlier this week I put out a request for people who identify as scientists, engineers, or as working in a technical field who also happen to identify as women or people of color to share a picture of themselves and a brief summary of what they do and who they are.

The response so far has been pretty amazing.

As of writing this, I've received 9 profiles (some are shared below), and had many other people tell me they're planning on sending in a profile.

However, I'd love an entire wall full of profiles of women and people of color working in the sciences. There's no reason I can't keep adding to the wall throughout the school year, so feel free to share this with any of your science-y friends, colleagues, family, or even enemies. 🙂 (here's the link to the instructions & template)

Thanks again for those who have taken the time to share and send in profiles. It's much appreciated.

Jessica SciPerceptions - to Share.002 SciPerceptions - to Share.003 SciPerceptions - to Share.004 SciPerceptions - to Share.005 SciPerceptions - to Share.006 SciPerceptions - to Share.007

Google Drive Lab Report Workflow

This year I've rolled out using Google Drive for all Physics lab reports. Several people have asked me what this looks like, so I thought I'd share. Feel free to suggest a better/easier methodology- this is something that's come together based on how I know how to use Google Drive, and I certainly don't know all the ways to use Google Drive.

A big debt is owed to Katrina Kennett, whose posts and EdCamp Boston sessions on using Google Drive for paperless grading inspired my use, and for Frank Noschese, whose lab rubric I borrowed from heavily.

The setup

1- Creating shared folders. As soon as I get a finalized class list and my students' email addresses, I set up shared assignment folders in Google Drive for each student in my Physics class. This is a folder that is only shared between the individual student and myself, so anything I put into the folder they can see and vice versa.

Here's what it looks like for me in Google Drive:

Shared Assignment Folders in Google Drive

It can be a tedious process to individually create individual folders for each student. Fortunately, you don't have to- there's a Google Script called gClassFolders, that will automatically create folders for all of your students from a spreadsheet with your students' information. I won't go into detail here about how to setup gClassFolders, as the official site does an excellent job walking you through the process.

2- Share the rubric. I created the lab report rubric in a Google Spreadsheet, then I make a copy of the rubric for each student, and share with them, and place the rubric in their individual folders. Again, this could be a tedious process. Fortunately it isn't, thanks to Doctopus. Doctopus will make copies of the rubric for each student, share it with that student, and put it into their GDrive assignment folder. Super easy.

To use Doctopus, you'll just need a spreadsheet with students' names and email addresses (which you probably already have from using gClassFolders in step 1), and then it'll walk you through your sharing and naming options. Again, I'll forgo the lengthy explanation of using Doctopus, because the official site has you covered.

At this point, when each student signs into GDrive, they'll see their shared folder, with a spreadsheet titled, "Josh- Lab Report Rubrics," for example.

A student's view of the assignment folder

Now we're ready for some student lab reports.

Google Drive in Action

3- Students write lab reports. In lab, students record their data in lab notebooks, graph their data using LinReg, and discuss their results in a post-lab Whiteboard Meeting.  For their formal lab report, they create a Google Doc and type up their lab report. For graphs, they take screenshots of the graphs, and add them to the lab report as an image.

When they have finished the lab report, they drop it into their Physics Assignment folders, where I can then see it and have permissions to edit the lab report.

4- Scoring. Since I am able to edit their lab reports, I leave comments directly on their lab report, as shown below.

Comments on a Google Doc lab report.

A nice feature of Google Docs is that students receive notifications when I leave a comment, so they know right away when I've commented on their lab report.

At the same time I'm commenting on a student's lab report , I'm filling out the Lab Report Rubric & Checklist for their lab report. An important note: For each student, I'm filling out the lab checklist on my copy of the lab report rubric, and not the copy that I've already individually shared with students. This may seem odd, but in the end it means that students will have one spreadsheet that contains the rubrics for every lab that they've done. Below I'll explain how to make that happen.

5- Copying the rubric to students. After I've finished filling out the lab report rubric and checklist for a student's lab report, I select the "Copy to..." option on the tab of the spreadsheet:

The "Copy to..." location

A window then pops up asking me what Google Spreadsheet I'd like to copy it to. Since I've already created a lab report rubric spreadsheet for every student (in step 2), I just search for the student's first name, and select their lab report rubric spreadsheet:

Searching for student lab report spreadsheets

Once selected, the sheet is copied to that student's spreadsheet, where they can see it. On a student's spreadsheet, it'll show up as "Copy of [tab name]," as shown below:

Copied tab- Student view

Voila! Each student has one document that will contain every lab report rubric we do all year. This makes it easier for students to look back at previous lab reports and see where they made mistakes or needed more depth. It will hopefully also easily document their their growth over time.

Once I've copied a lab report rubric to the student's spreadsheet, I revert my copy of the rubric back to its original state so it's ready for me to start on the next lab report.

6- Rewrites. When a student turns in a less-than-stellar lab report, they're required to do a rewrite. A nice (and new) feature of Google Drive is the Activity Pane, which shows all the changes that are being made to documents in a specific Google Drive folder. As students work on their rewrites, I can check the activity pane for the folder with the students' shared folders and quickly see who has been updating their documents (and who hasn't).

Activity view in GDrive

Wrap Up

This is the first year I've used such a system, and it's definitely a work in progress. So far I've been quite happy with how the process has worked, and being able to create one document that contains the rubric for every lab report we do all year is a major plus.

Again, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for improvement, let me know. I'd definitely be open for suggestions that make the process even more streamlined.

Announcing: SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT

This weekend hasn't gone quite as planned. The plan was to get into New York City on Friday, meet up with some friends, then cap off the weekend by running the NYC Marathon on Sunday. Unfortunately, the only part of that plan that came to fruition was getting into New York City on Friday.

As you may know, the NYC Marathon was cancelled on Friday. Considering the time and effort that went into training, having the marathon cancel at the last moment was a bit of a bummer. However, canceling the marathon was probably the right decision given the significant number of people in the NY/NJ area that are still suffering after FrankenStorm Sandy.

Since going home and moping about not being able to run doesn't include (1) running a marathon, or more importantly, (2) doing anything to help out those most affected by SuperStorm Sandy1, I've decided to create and participate in the first (and last) ever SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT2.

What is the SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT?

Good question. It's my way of still running a marathon on November 4, 2012 while also helping raise money for disaster relief efforts.

Who will be running?

Just me. My lovely wife will be the support staff, cheering section, course photographer, security, and everything else.

When and where is this happening?

  • When: 8:00am EST, Sunday, November 4, 2012.
  • Where: On backroads near my home in Oakdale, CT.

How does this help disaster relief?

We're donating the cost of the NYC Marathon entry fee ($255.00) to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

Can we donate towards this cause in honor of the SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT?

Yes! Here's all you need to do:

  1. Visit the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Donation page.
  2. On the donation page, click the box for "Make this Donation in Honor of..." and fill in the following:
    • In Honor Of: Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT
    • Recipient Email Address: ben.wildeboer@gmail.com
    • The rest you can fill in however you'd like.

Also, please share this with all your friends and followers using your social network of choice.

How can I follow your progress?

Easy! There are bunches of ways:

  • I'll be using Runkeeper Live, so if you visit my Runkeeper Activity Page while I am running, you should be able to see a live updating map with my progress.
  • I'll also be sending automatic updates every few miles to my Twitter and Facebook feeds.

What's the route?

Here's a map of the route:

Find more Run in CT, United States

Feel free to come out and cheer me on!

What if no one donates?

Impossible! No, seriously: We're donating, so that's at least 2 people. If that's all we get, it'll still be totally worth it.


  1. Which, really, is the reason the marathon was canceled in the first place. (back)
  2. Hat tip to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for helping inspire the name. (back)

2 weeks later: myTEDxNYED

A major problem with public education is tradition. "This is just the way things are done here," is a refrain that I've heard many times in my own short career. One of my take-aways from TEDxNYED is this: The tools and services to make schools modern and relevant are available, but schools need to overcome their "traditions. I'll avoid a breakdown of what individual speakers discussed1. Instead I'll try to comment on the broader spectrum of themes and reactions.


Theme #1: Education should be open. To me it seems obvious that a high quality education should be treated more like a universal right than something only available to those in nice neighborhoods of rich countries. I think many of the educators I know as well as the speakers (& hopefully you, reader), would heartily agree. However, it's quite clear that the current schooling system puts an awful lot of faith in for-profit corporations to provide educational content. Clearly this doesn't have to be the case. Many schools and educators are resistant. Why? "Because that's the way things have always been done."

Theme #2: Education should be social. This definition of social goes beyond using collaborative groups within your classroom. Instead (as Andy Carvin did such a great job illustrating) we should empower our students to set up collaborations without our classrooms to help tackle real problems. John Dewey noted that learning is socially constructed and this movement towards using social networks to connect people around a common problem seems to flow quite nicely from that idea.

Theme #3: Better Problems = Better Learning. Whether intentionally or not, as educators we tend to  shelter our students from real-world problems. We don't think our students are ready yet, don't know how to connect students to the problems, or are afraid of relinquishing our control over the students. Many speakers pointed out the fact that one of the greatest motivations for learning is attempting to solve a really good problem. Hats off to Dan Meyer who did his typically great job showing us what that actually looks like in an Algebra classroom.

Theme #4: Do it for the kids. Chris Lehmann makes this case so well2. Make schools a place of great relationships and great learning. We can't continue allowing schools to be places students detest. While Michael Wesch and Dan Meyer's talks didn't focus on the topic, they've both been great advocates to creating educational environments that focus around positive relationships with students as a cornerstone (see here and here, respectively).


1: I'm much cooler online. This was the first large event I've been to with loads of people I've talked to through Twitter and blogs in attendance. I'm not so great at walking up to people cold and introducing myself. As a result I didn't meet nearly as many people as I would've liked.

2: It's great to meet locals. I had the opportunity to meet Dan Agins, who is the only other educator on Twitter (that I'm aware of) from Southeastern Connecticut. Perhaps it's a bit ironic that we first met in NYC instead of SE CT, but regardless of location it's nice to connect with people nearby. Let's hope we're just the beginning of a larger trend in the area.

3: Advice to sink in slowly. So much knowledge was dropped in such a short period of time at TEDxNYED that I'm really looking forward to the videos of the talks being posted online. There were several talks that I'd like to hear again to help me clarify my thoughts and ideas on the topic.

4: Post-TEDxNYED furor. There seems to have been a pretty big, "TEDxNYED-was-great-but-what-does-it-actually-do-to-improve-education" reaction from many attendees3. I was surprised that this seemed to be a major reaction. Perhaps that surprise is the result of me being a edu-conference newbie working in a school/district/state which doesn't sport a very high population of educators who are familiar with the ed-tech world. For me, this event was a reminder that I'm not crazy. A reminder that there are a lot of smart people out there who are on the same page. For me, that re-invigoration was necessary. It's easy to get worn down by the head-against-brick-wall experience that can be day-to-day teaching.

5: Oh, the irony. Coming back from my TEDxNYED weekend I had the honor of administrating practice CAPT (Connecticut's standardized test of choice) to 14 year old students that may very likely not even be graded. I'm sure the feeling was similar to Icarus' transition from delight in flying to despair in falling4.


  1. Several people have already done this quite nicely. My own observations wouldn't add much value to what already exists. Plus the talks should be available online in their entirety shortly.     (back)
  2. He deserves to be featured prominently in the education version of 40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 minutes.      (back)
  3. Check out many of the responses at this site curated by Shelley Krause (@butwait).     (back)
  4. This might be a little overstatement, but I was in a serious edu-funk the first week or so of school after TEDxNYED due to this crash back to reality.    (back)


TEDxNYEDI'm in New York City for the TEDxNYED conference which is focused on how new media and technology are shaping the future of education. I can't say enough about the speaker line-up. Many are people whose work and ideas I'm familiar with (Lawrence Lessig, Michael Wesch, George Siemens, David Wiley, & more), as well as a couple people I've communicated with at least minimally through Twitter and their blogs (Dan Meyer & Chris Lehmann).

I'm super-excited to hear from these people in person and look forward to the conversations, thinking, and challenges that I'm sure will spring from this experience. There's a live stream of the event on the official website (http://www.tedxnyed.com), so check it out between 10am - 6 pm on Saturday, March 6.

Help a teacher out- Video shoutouts

Our district has been throwing around the term "21st century skills" an awful lot lately. What's more distressing is no one really is making any attempt to identify what that means (if anything at all). My vice-principal sent out an email saying he was planning a one hour professional development session to go over what that means. I mentioned in passing that's an area of particular interest for me1. So, now I'm co-presenting.

I'd love to have some of you share how you utilize technology in support of powerful pedagogy in your classrooms or schools. To do that, I'm going to steal a page from Dean Shareski who borrowed the format from Alan Levine2.

So, if you could submit a brief (~1 minute) video to me simply explaining how you use technology to take teaching and learning to the next level, I'd love to share it with some staff members who are just getting going on this technological journey.

If you could send the files to my email (ben [dot] wildeboer [at] gmail [dot] com) in whatever format is easiest for you, I'll share your videos with the participants and I'll share them online in some format (if you're okay with that).

If making a quick video clip isn't your thing, please light up the comments with your thoughts on this topic.

I hope to provide some teachers with examples of real educators using technology to take their students' learning to a better place. Thanks in advance!

cc licensed flickr photo shared by db*photography

  1. Not so much the whole "21st century skill" bit. I don't like the term and how loosely it's thrown around. I think of it more as, "Good teaching using available tools" But anyway...     (back)
  2. Thanks! I really appreciate it!  Check out their finished products (they're great): Alan Levine's and Dean Shareski's (back)

Tim Gunn & the role of a teacher

As mentioned in previous posts, I've been spending a lot of time reading research and thinking about my Master's Project. I'm working on a self-directed learning1 unit in which students choose their own specific topics of study within a broad category (i.e. climate change) and follow their interests and passions while documenting and publishing their learning as they go.

Through all of this, my biggest struggle has been working out exactly what the ideal teacher's role should be in this type of environment. There needs to be guidance, scaffolding, and assessment, but how does a teacher do those things effectively in a self-directed learning environment?

I knew regularly talking to students and discussing their progress and understanding of their topic and learning was a must, but I was struggling to picture how that looks.

Then it hit me.

I've watched a few episodes of Project Runway2, and though I'm not really big into fashion design, I did realize there was something relevant going on here. For each episode, contestants are given some design challenge (i.e., make a more fashionable postal uniform) and given a limited time frame in which to complete their outfit. After working for awhile, Tim Gunn (one of the hosts) goes around and talks to each of the contestants about their designs. It's brilliant.

Conversation, questioning, and critique: Clip 1

Tim Gunn goes around to the contestants asking them how they're doing and to explain their design. He'll point out things that don't look right, offer suggestions for improving the design, praise designs that are well-developed, and overall do what he can to help and support the designers without interfering too much with their particular senses of fashion. Tim Gunn doesn't force his will on them but he does learn a great deal about who they are as a designer and their ideas behind the design. The best part? At 1 min 25 sec: "I don't want you to ask me that. I want you to ask yourself that." Pushing for self-assessment. Nice.

Joining a community of practice: Clip 2

In this clip Tim is more forceful. Wendy (a contestant) designs clothes for lower-end/more practical uses. However, the focus of the show (and that of the judges) is definitely "high fashion." Tim takes her aside, validates her viewpoint as being important and necessary, but goes on to suggest that if she wants to be successful on Project Runway that she rethink her viewpoint. In essence, Tim is trying to help Wendy join the "high fashion" community of practice.

Notable differences

The designers on the show are already members of a community of practice. They want to be fashion designers and, for the most part, they are familiar with what it means to be a designer and are motivated to pursue that route. In my 9th grade science class not all students will be as interested in the material. Those that are interested in the material are probably not familiar with what it means to be a scientist or act scientifically. Fix? More support. Tim Gunn stops by once or twice in a 4-6 hour design session. I'll have to be constantly circulating and talking to my students. Giving them stronger nudges than he does & providing more guidance.


Teaching students to be able to regulate their own learning and follow their own interests will probably be more challenging than it should be in our schools. Students have been trained to expect the teacher to tell them what to study, how to study it, and when to study it. It will take time and support to help students begin to take control of their own learning. To do that, the teacher is going to have to step back from the lead role, and start a role similar to Tim Gunn's. Talk to individual students or groups. Give feedback, offer suggestions, but allow students to express their personality and follow their interests.


  1. hat tip to @msansonetti for helping me discover that name (self-directed learning). I found lots of great research using those search terms.  (back)
  2. Wikipedia article for Project Runway if you're unfamiliar.   (back)

How can we fix this?

From Pedersen, Arslanyilmaz, & Williams (2007)1:

"However, as we began to scale up the program and teachers began to implement [the problem-based learning (PBL) unit] without our involvement, grading became an important issue and teachers wanted additional ‘‘gradable’’ products. They  requested two things in particular: an objective item test that could be used at the end of the program, and worksheets or activities that could be used during the program as ‘‘check-points’’ or to generate ‘‘daily grades.’’ We complied with teachers’ requests, despite some concerns that these instruments would alter the nature of PBL. A twenty-item test was developed that used a modified multiple choice format that allowed for multiple correct answers within a single item. Our reasoning in using this format was that it required a greater understanding of a given concept than a standard multiple choice format, and did not facilitate guessing or a process of elimination approach. Teachers were strongly dissatisfied with this format, arguing that it was difficult for students this age and that, because it differed from the format used on standardized tests, that it might confuse students. They wanted standard multiple choice items with one correct answer and distracters that could be quickly eliminated."

Is this mad desire for grading & multiple-choice assessment driven by the way our institutions are set up (i.e. NCLB, etc.)? How teachers view what assessment should look like? How do we change this? I'm aware of this problem and I still feel the pressure/need to have grades and old-fashioned assessments. Is there any hope here?


  1. That is: Pedersen, S., Arslanyilmaz, A., & Williams, D. (2009). Teachers' assessment-related local adaptations of a problem-based learning module. Education Technology Research Development, 27, 229-249.  (back)