British Columbia Science Teachers' Association

One Teachers Journey Testing Out Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades — Fix 7

Fix 7: Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment method, or simply summarize into a single grade; organize and report evidence by standard / learning goal

Ok, for anybody out there reading this, I would love to see how you do this.  I struggle with this. I have heard that I need to try FreshGrade but haven’t yet.  Maybe in July I will do some recon…Currently, in Biology 11, I give the students our Learning Goals every Monday morning to start the week.  However when I report evidence it is definitely a summarized grade and is not specifically organised by standards (just the title of the assignment).  I do specify as to whether or not my marks are Formative or Summative, and I always reiterate the weight of major tests etc. Almost all of the time for Formative assessment I use a three point scale to indicate the level of comprehension.  I find that our system just doesn’t allow for the kind of information I want to include (conversations, observations etc.) all in one place.

When I teach math, and teach out of the textbook, I have a system I enjoy that works for both myself and the students.  The learning goals are plentiful, which can be intimidating for some, but we pick away at the goals; the students day to day activities as well as my reporting are lined up around clear descriptive standards.  When I teach Biology, however, which is my forte, I the organization fails me to some extent. Maybe it’s because I have only taught the course twice, and the curriculum has been different each time…Or maybe it’s MyEd.  Or maybe it’s because my “bell curve” is so broad that my standards are different for some students compared to the others.

I am, by nature, pretty organized and Type A.  I can admit it. I have an MSc, but since going into Education, from applied science, my focus has evolved from numbers and algorithms into more personal documentation and note keeping.  I have seen Kindergarten teachers’ mark books and I think we highschool teachers could learn a thing or two. A kindergartener is never going to get a score / 5 on raising their butterfly from a caterpillar.  You will never see a list of assignments in chronological order of the worksheets they attempted to describe metamorphosis. Kindergarten records are a living document because a Kindergartener changes month to month- scratch that- day to day.  No “grades” are permanent, it is just a snapshot in time of where they are at and how we can all support growth.

I want to spend my time teaching my students, and preparing ways to inspire them at their level.  I went into this career knowing that record keeping is a big part of it, but I am skeptical there is software that can do this in a meaningful way that wouldn’t be a huge sink to my time that would be value added.  Hmm… Kind of leaving this one hanging which I don’t like. Feel free to comment please. Until next time.


DIY Microscope Opens Up Possibilities

Guest Blog by Kevin Yapps.

Kevin has taught in various Science settings. His current role is teaching French Immersion Sciences as well as a combined French Science-Math option at WL Seaton Secondary Vernon, BC. Kevin is an avid tinkerer and maker and loves incorporating it into his Science instruction. @yappsolutely 

Osmosis: abstract and difficult to demonstrate 

For years, I have been trying to come up with concrete methodology that will help learners better understand osmosis. Laboratory exercises and online videos have made it much simpler to understanding diffusion. However, I have always found it daunting to come up with activities that make it easier to understand osmosis because it almost seems counter-intuitive.


A colleague shared a lab-activity with me where students used red onion epidermis. Students were instructed to do a classic wet-mount slide preparation. Then, with the use of a pipette, they injected a saline solution between the slide and the slide cover. All this was to be executed in real-time with the prepared slide on the stage: talk about complicated! Even when or if it worked, it was difficult for the untrained eye to understand what it was looking at.

Let’s just say that the students, like always, loved the fact that they were doing “lab-work,” but they executed it without fully knowing whether or not it worked. I was left having to explain what they should be seeing. A student mentioned that everything happened too fast. This made me reflect. I didn’t want to throw the activity out. It had so much potential.

How it all came together: the “a-ha moment”

I began to reflect on the activity. What went well? What went horribly wrong and what needed to be improved? About a week prior to this activity, students were encouraged to use their smartphones during lab-work to snap photos of pond life through the microscope. This was a very engaging activity for students and they were proud to share, via Airdrop or email, the various photos and videos of microorganisms (I even began to archive these in a Google Photos photo album). A collective problem with this technique was finding a way to hold the phone still to take a photo. Some used 2 sets of hands! Then, they had to crop out the impertinent segments of their photos.

I thought to myself: “If only there was a way to hold the cameras to take better photos. I could 3D-print a mounting apparatus! Photos will be clear and I can even take video like I would with a tripod.” Using a 3D printer was not a viable option for me at that point, so I began to improvise with selfie-sticks and “oogoo” (silicone and cornstarch). Let’s just say that my prototypes were marginally functional.

Then, one evening, while surfing aimlessly on the Interweb, I stumbled upon a DIY microscope video from the Instructables website: a home-made microscope that used a small acrylic lens coupled with the focusing power of a smartphone camera. Subsequent Youtube searches yielded demonstrations; one of them being with red-onion cells. I immediately concluded that this project could solve my previous problems with camera stillness and videos. To boot, I had also come to the realization that time-lapse was a function that existed on most new smartphones.

I now had a way to watch the phenomenon in real-time, in time-lapse and then repeatedly by using video. For example, once salt water is injected into the cellular matrix, cytoplasm leaves the cells to balance the exterior. In real-time, this is difficult to notice as it happens over minutes. Time-lapse permits the observer to watch 5 minutes-worth of footage in a few seconds. Moreover, the time-bar in the video application permits the observer to go back and forth in time. If you miss something, it’s always accessible! Having the luxury of going over the visual component of osmosis with learners is a very powerful tool. (The following photo’s were all taken using these microscopes.)


*3x 4 ½” x 5/16” carriage bolts
*9x 5/16” nuts
*3x 5/16” wing nuts
*5x 5/16” washers
**¾” x 7” x 7” plywood  — for the base
***⅛” x 7” x 7” plexiglass  — for the camera stage
***⅛” x 3” x 7” plexiglass  — for the specimen stage
****11/32 inch threaded Acrylic lens (use two for increased magnification)
*****LED click light (necessary only for viewing backlit specimens)

*Can be found at any hardware store – It is better to buy from a wholesaler to cut costs

**I use old shelving – You will need a saw to cut this with the appropriate dimensions

***I found used plexiglass in the school. Canvassing your local glass retailers for donations (even scrap pieces work)

****I found small acrylic lenses on Amazon

***** LED lights can easily be found at any hardware stores

Use the Instructables website if you are uncomfortable troubleshooting on your own. You will need the following tools and accessories for building purposes:

  1. Drills
  2. Drills bits – 5/16 (to drill through wood)
  3. Step-drill bits (to drill through plexiglass)
  4. Table saw and or Mitre Saw
  5. File (to soften edges on plexiglass after cuts)

Potential related projects and cross-curricular

There is the potential to collaborate with a visual-arts class. Students can share their photos with collaborating arts students who can transform microscopy photos into works of art. This could work well with pond life organisms, insects, etc.


If you are not comfortable using small power tools in your classroom (i.e. drills and saws), you can converse with your school’s tech-ed instructor. High school and middle school shops usually possess the necessary tools.

Future projects

Every semester, I have students use previous classes’ home-made microscopes. They use the “Design Thinking” methodology to establish a plan to build a 2.0 version.

One Teachers Journey Testing Out Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades — Fix 6

Fix 6:  Don’t include group scores in grade, use only individual achievement evidence.

I have to say, I am not looking ahead in the book, but I’m a little bit proud of myself.  I haven’t actually got to try out any new fix or strategy yet; so far I do all of the fixes Ken suggests for broken grades.  Doesn’t make for a very interesting read though, so I’m feeling the need to comment on each fix anyways. When we have group assignments I do not include group scores in the students grade, only their individual achievements.  Not to fear, I’m on top of this one already.

I think group assignments are important; we are a collaborative species, and when scaffolded properly, students teaching themselves and/or their peers is much more powerful than having the only adult in the room “download” their wisdom. However I can empathize with the assessment piece when it comes to group work, as every group has the potential to have a “Hannah” (aka the student that cares about grades and does a great job in spite of the group) and each group also seems to end up having a student that contributes little to no work and is there for social hour.

With group work I think I do what most teachers do, in that I track who contributes what, and blend the actual scores (based on a rubric) of teacher, self and peer evaluation.  That said, I am also not afraid to go with what my gut tells me, and have a one-on-one conversation with a student to see what they actually know and can demonstrate with or without the powerpoint, poster etc. their group completed.  For group work, if you can set high standards and create a culture of collaboration and curiosity, the actual score at the end of the project is just for accountability. Fair is not equal, so trust your professional judgement and give the students an individual grade that is honest and, hopefully, encourages them to continue working towards bigger and better things as they advance through your program and high school.


Atomic Models and Coast Salish Design Elements

Guest Blog by Aliisa Sarte.

Aliisa has taught in various Science settings. Her current role is teaching Sciences at Port Moody Secondary School in SD43. Aliisa has collaborated with Marina Mehai and SD43 Aboriginal Education department to explore ways of expressing learning in her chemistry unit. @asarte12 @MMehai 

After a meeting with our district’s learning support team, including teachers from our Aboriginal Education department, I IMG_7400put together a lesson for Science 9 using Coast Salish Design Elements to create atomic models.

In class, students had already learned about subatomic particles (protons, neutrons and electrons) and Bohr Models.  We began this lesson with a map of Coast Salish territories as this is where we live, play and learn.  I then used 3 pieces of art from local Coast Salish artists lessLIE and Dylan Thomas that I accessed on-line from either the UVic Perpetual Salish gallery or Dylan Thomas’ own website ‘Salish Weave’ (see links and citations below).

As I showed the art work to the class, piece by piece, we talked about Coast Salish design elements.  I introduced the shapes (trigons, U-shapes, crescents, ovals and circles) and the concepts of positive and negative space.  We then looked at the 3 pieces again, this time I asked them the following questions:

How is this artwork like an atom?

How is it not like an atom?

If this art work were an atom, which design elements might represent the subatomic particles?  The nucleus? Electron shells?

IMG_7404Then students moved to groups of 2 or 3 and were given large papers and the template of Coast Salish design elements (from Uvic Perpetual Salish), and the assignment was to use what they know about atoms and what they learned about Coast Salish designs and create a Coast Salish Atom.  On the back of their work, they needed to write which atom it was and which design elements represented each part of the atom.

When students were done we put them up around the room and had aIMG_7407 Gallery Grand Opening event where student checked out the art and had to try to identify which atoms at least 3 of the pieces were representing, and talk to the other artists (students) about their work.   The whole process took 2 class periods.

 Art Pieces used in class:

Free Form, Dylan Thomas, 2013

Mandala, Dylan Thomas, 2010

wHOle W(((h)))orl(((d))),  lessLIE , 2014


Thomas, D. (2018, June 13). Salish Weave. Retrieved from

University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries. (2018, June 13). Perpetual Salish. Retrieved from


One Teachers Journey Testing Out Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades — Fix 5

Fix 5: Don’t include attendance in grade determination, report absences separately.

Whoa boy… I better give this one some thought.  First off, I don’t. But this is similar to my post about docking late marks, and, now that I reflect, marking effort.  I don’t mark effort. I don’t dock marks for lates. I don’t include attendance in the grade. However all three of these fixes, for me, relate to the same chronic problem a few of my students face… I’m going to chew on this one and get back to you tomorrow.  Bye for now.

Ok, I’m back.  It has been two weeks and unfortunately I still don’t have some profound revelation to share with you about this “fix” for broken grades, and I wish I did.  At my school we have a pocket of students who are chronically absent. This time of year it is a considerable weight on me. With a few weeks to go, students that have missed lots of clases by now are probably feeling stressed about being behind; that stress makes them skip more school.  The cycle continues, and some parents enable this attitude, and self-fulfill their own educational shortcomings by allowing the students the time off as a bandage to their anxiety.

Getting back to the topic at hand, not including attendance in grade determination, I have tried a couple of different approaches to this.  Firstly I have tried making my class as close to an online class as possible with the added bonus of a warm and friendly teacher every day to greet you. All of my daily lessons, assignments, relevant links etc. are updated on Google Classroom so students can be alerted as to what they are responsible for.  Secondly I have tried to make my classrooms as predictable as possible (i.e. little assessment every Wednesday, rest of the week is lessons and practice).  Other solutions I have tried are about the frequency of assessment. I have tried marking and recording every little assignment; I have also tried the flip side by marking lots but recording (or counting in their eyes) almost nothing.  Thinking back, there was one semester where almost half of my students had “Incompletes” on their report card, because I refused to put zero’s when they just didn’t finish the assignment(s).  That didn’t go over very well… At what point do you change the category from “missing” to zero? I know I don’t have to.  At what point (test, small assignment, big lab report etc) do you continue expecting the assignment or just let it go? I guess it depends on the student, their circumstances, and how many missing assignments we are talking about here.


Lately, for the last month or so, I have one student who misses two or three classes a week.  He is brilliant, and even whilst missing the lessons and activities, he can still troubleshoot high marks on the tests (which he shows up for).  His missing assignments are du to the fact that he is at another level academically and is trapped with his grade group (for now).  I have another student in the same class who comes diligently to every class and is conscientious about doing every assignment to the best of his abilities.  His assignments are the only reason he is actually passing the course, as his test marks are never above 50 despite his efforts.  These two gentlemen are in very different places in their Science 10 journey, and deserve to be treated differently in my assessment practices.

In my years as a teacher I have not found an assessment “fix” for students missing assignments that works for me.  I don’t include attendance in determining grades, but honestly the students end up including it on their own anyways, sadly.


One Teachers Journey Testing Out Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades — Fix 4

Fix 4: don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement.

Ahh cheating.  I think the longer you have been teaching the stronger (or weaker depending on age) your opinion is on this.  My colleague, gentleman in his 50’s, is a very firm believer that cheating results in zero and you have made your bed, now lie in it.  For myself, I agree with Ken and still want to actually measure how much the kid knows, not how bad his decision making is or how desperate he is.  So check off Fix 4: I have never reduced marks when busted academic dishonesty. BUT I do have a confession…

When I prepare my reassessment, I do let emotions get the better of me a little bit.  Firstly, making a new test is a huge undertaking. I spend a lot of time on assignments and tests, I rarely just copy the one from last year or “tweek” the version I saved in the test bank.  So chewing up my precious time to make a new test, when the student didn’t care to take the time to study or pay attention in class does upset me. Also being lied to by a student, to be honest with you, hurts my feelings.  As such I don’t give cheaters zero but I do make my reassessment WAY more difficult than the original test. So I don’t reduce marks, per say, but if it is a strong student helping a weak student I make sure they get a bit of a hit academically, and then also in their work habits mark too.

Does this make me a bad teacher? I found it interesting.  When I was finishing off my BEd we had one final big paper to write.  One of the teacher candidates plagiarized on her paper. Everyone was really shocked, and I’m not sure how my university chose to deal with it.  I’m sure her own guilt and the lack of glowing reference letters was punishment enough.


One Teachers Journey Testing Out Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades — Fix 3

Fix 3: Don’t give extra credit or use “bonus points”; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement.

Well this post should be a breeze; I’m almost second guessing this whole project.  Does anyone give bonus marks out there? To me assessment serves three purposes. Firstly, it informes the learner what they need to focus on, and where they still need to focus (based on clear learning goals).  Secondly, at the end of the day, assessment tells the learner how much the student actually understood of a course or component of a course. Lastly, everyone’s favorite, assessment is a reporting tool. Bonus points in any of these functions of assessment would just skew it from its intent, and mislead shareholder(s).  Deliberate practice and problem solving lead to learning; it doesn’t matter if you are trying to work on your open chords for the upcoming campfire season with your acoustic guitar, or trying to memorize the five agents of evolution. Work your brain and you will learn; there are no bonus marks.


One Teachers Journey Testing Out Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades — Fix 2

Fix 2: Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late; provide support for the learner.  I have never taken marks off for a student submitting work late. In reality, possibly due to the school I teach in, it is rare that I actually get work on time! ¾ of my students struggle with assignment completion, but ⅞ of them get work in on a reasonable timeframe.  Only the small fraction, the 1/8 , really battle with longer term incompletes in my classes. Bell curve.

I make it very clear to my students that I will not take marks off.  I don’t know of any teachers who do this.  Some of my least punctual students have the best ideas to put forth; they are worth the wait.  However the lazy and apathetic students could benefit from some consequences to tighten it up more. They, ironically, are the ones least driven by marks in the first place, however, so may not even realize or care that they are cutting off their own foot.  Consider this fix implemented, with the caveat that my few frequently unreliable students that suffer from incompletes may be on the horizon for future posts as I continue to read this book and reflect…


One Teachers Journey Testing Out Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades — Fix 1

Just so you have some context, I currently teach Science 10 and Biology 11; students in these courses will be my test subjects.  I have been teaching for around 5 years and have taught both courses before, so I’m not completely wet behind the ears. I am going to try out all 15 Fixes firsthand in a little over a term, 13 or 14 weeks of instruction.  I am optimistic that I am already doing at least some of the fixes, but honestly I’m going in cold without having read the book.

Fix #1 Don’t include student behaviour in grade, only include achievement.  My understanding is from this is that I can’t include marks effort or participation.  Effort I totally agree with; one person’s 110% could very well be another person’s minimal effort.  I think about effort marks in PE, and something effortless for one athletic student could be a stressful nightmare for those less gifted in that department.  I have never graded effort, nor will I ever. Participation though I question, because if learning is constructed by firsthand experiences, if you never participate you will never fully learn… will you?


My philosophy about student achievement is that all students are all starting a course with me at different points on a continuum, and they will complete the course at different points.  My goal is to move all of them forward, maybe not always in knowledge but also in skills and / or their attitude towards the topic. Unfortunately for “fix #1” this will actually require active participation in doing science, not notes or filling in worksheets.  


Teaching foods and science for me is a nice complimentary course load; both have a written and practical component.  For me, the act of doing a crayfish dissection is much more meaningful that answering the conclusion questions and labeling the blank diagram.  In fact, I have 20 or 25% of my students that flourish in the “participation” days because it means no pencil needed, they are out of their seats and using a different part of their brains.  Interestingly enough, I have another 20 – 25% that would prefer to only take notes, read a textbook and answer questions.  It’s safer.  Either way my job is to generate the conditions for them all to learn, and actually measure how much they made sense of at the end, behaviour aside.  So is my ongoing formative assessment really a mark in participation?


Darn.  And here I would have 15 Fixes to try; each comment 144 characters or less, wrapped up in a neat little package, hit send.  At the end of this day my Science 10’s were reviewing physics on Position-Time graphs. I did not mark them on participation, but did go around and speak with them individually about their strengths and weaknesses in graphing and interpreting graphs.  I definitely feel comfortable not grading behaviour; at the end of 5 paragraphs I believe grading behaviour is not conducive to learning.


Teaching Literacy is an Important Part of Science… or any Class

Guest Blog by Rhiannon Johnson.

Rhiannon has taught in various Science settings. Her current role is collaboratively teaching in a middle school model at Charles Bloom Secondary in Lumby, BC. Rhiannon is a master at incorporating literacy strategies into her Science instruction. @bostie8o 

As a Senior Science teacher, it is a usual assumption that my students already know how to read when they come to me. Taking on the new adventure of teaching Grade 7 this year, I came across a challenge I had never had to deal with before – how do I help students learn how to read?

Being a part of a Literacy Pilot project gave me some fantastic inspiration; I got to take strategies and think about how to scaffold them into my Science lessons. Soon, incorporating literacy strategies into every Science class became my focus, and breathed a new sense of purpose into my teaching practices.


Most classes I begin with a brain warm-up. I would choose a 12 letter scientific word and talk about what it means. Then the students would

use the letters within the word to make new words. We also did word blasts with the “Big Ideas” from the curriculum, where students would find examples of or synonyms for the different words.


I used a lot of activities with Newsela articles. I was able to give students forms of the same article with appropriate reading levels, and then paired up the students to go read the article. On a post-it note, the students would write a “magnet word” or the most important word from the whole article. Then around that word, they would choose 4 words that connect to it, and then finally would create their own original sentence that included all 5 words.

Now I realize that the strategies I have been using can be incorporated into any class, at any grade level. I even find literacy strategies creeping into my math lessons too! I have seen a lot of success with struggling learners, and will continue to incorporate these strategies into whichever classes I teach in the future!




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