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 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!




One Teachers Journey Testing out Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades

Good morning Readers,

In addition to being a Biology teacher, I am also a Foods & Nutrition teacher.  I know what you are thinking: I have the best teaching assignment a person could ever ask for.  You are right. One movie we watched in Foods with my Grade 9 students was Julie and Julia.  In case you haven’t seen the film, it is about a young lady who undertakes the enormous challenge of cooking the entire Julia Child cookbook (524 recipes) in one year.  Julie documents her journey experiencing the cookbook in a blog that is so popular she ends up being published.

I hope you can see where this is going.  Although Ken O’Connor’s book is out of print, it is still a fixture on many educators’ shelves, and is readily available on Amazon.  According to Pearson who published the book, in order to challenge your thinking as a teacher you should ask yourself these two questions:

  1.  Am I confident that the students in my classroom receive consistent, accurate and meaningful grades that support learning?
  2.  Am I confident that the grades I assign students accurately reflect my school or district’s published performance standards and desired learning outcomes?

My honest answer to both of these is a no with a question mark at the end…or maybe a no with a “but” after it.  It is complicated. Either way it is not a clear, or binary answer for me. I assume that is the case for many educators.  A Repair Kit for Grading has been on my bucket list to read for years; inspired by Julie Powell, I am going to try out all 15 fixes and blog about my experiences.  If we are to trust Wikipedia, Julie and Julia reached 129.5 million at the box office; the worst thing that can happen for me is that my students may learn a little bit better and I will have a blog out there that potentially no one will ever lay eyes on.

One last note before I dive in; if the book I’m following is from 2007 and the movie that inspired me is from 2009, you may ask me why I’m not following more contemporary media.  That’s simple. A child learning about Bohr diagrams or the structure of DNA is the same now as it was in 2007. The physical connections of neurons and strengthening of brain pathways is identical, and it happens because of quality assessment.  A thoughtful science teachers’ classroom, will be conducive to learning in 2007, and will continue to be so today. So for the same reasons people to choose to “live Biblically” for a year in a book published a a long time ago, I am going to trust the lessons in Ken’s book to also be timeless for today’s children.


Scientific Models: Practical Uses of 3D Printing in Science Classes

Guest Blog by Craig Howard.

Craig is a Sr. Chemistry and Physics Teacher at WL Seaton Secondary in Vernon BC. He actively looks for ways to incorporate technology into his practice.@craigihoward

Science classes have always been enhanced by the use of physical models to help students visualize and understand abstract concepts or phenomena that are normally outside the scope of direct observation by their senses. Some of these models are ubiquitous and easy to obtain, while others are too specialized to justify the cost of purchasing for a few minutes use in a single lesson. 3D printing is changing the economics of using physical models for briefly discussed topics.

Models make the abstract real

High school science classes expose students to events, phenomena and concepts that lie outside of their daily experience. The ability to see and interact with 3D models provides deeper understanding of the phenomena. Students can safely interact with models to understand structures, see how different parts interact with each other and make and test predictions about how real life objects will behave. Some models, because they are used throughout entire units, in several courses, or are so valuable to the understanding of a concept, are common supplies in most science departments. Teachers often work with molecular model kits, model hearts, model cells and bohr models of atoms.

Model Limitations

In spite of the obvious benefits of using models to help teach students, supply catalogues are full of useful models that don’t get purchased and used because the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t make them worthwhile. These models sometimes cost hundred of dollars and are only really useful for demonstrating single phenomena in individual classes. As budgetary responsibility always needs to be considered, these specialized models usually aren’t purchased and students aren’t provided opportunities to work with them.

3D Printing

Over the past few years, 3D printing has moved from being limited to professional engineering and prototyping settings that could afford the tens of thousands of dollars costs associated with the printers, to being common among hobbyists and easily affordable to a school or school district. Inexpensive, small printers can be purchased for a couple hundred dollars and prosumer level machines are available for well under $1000.

Our science department purchased the popular and well reviewed Creality CR-10S printer along with some accessories and a significant supply of consumables this spring for under $1500. So far, the experience with the printer has been positive. 3D printers are a little finicky to work with and new users need to be prepared to do some troubleshooting and fine tuning to get useable models. But once the print is dialled in, the resulting 3D plastic objects can be just as detailed and robust as mass produced injection moulded products.

A typical print of a model large enough to be seen across a classroom and robust enough for student handling will require 8-24 hours to produce. This is much too slow for an entire class to print their own projects, but is much faster than ordering a demonstration model from a catalogue and waiting for it to be shipped to the school.  Since purchasing the printer, it has been running most days and slowly building up our supplies of models. It doesn’t matter if the model is only needed for 10 minutes to supplement one Chemistry 11 lesson, it is still financially worthwhile to print the object. The cost in plastic is often less than a quarter per model, compared to tens or hundreds of dollars for ordered models.

Finding models to print

One of the wonders of the modern world is the ready access we have to information. Most of the models that a science teacher would want to print have already been designed and shared by others. A convenient source of free models is The models of the s, p, d, and f orbitals shown above were found here  

If one is truly ambitious, or in need of such a specialized model that it hasn’t yet been shared online, any CAD program can be used to design objects to be printed. Regardless of the source of the model, specialized software called a slicer needs to analyze the model to write instructions for the printer to follow to print the object. Fortunately for budget conscious districts and departments, there are several free and effective slicers available. The program we have used with positive results is Cura


At the early stages of experimenting with 3D printing educational models, the process is producing high quality teaching aids at minimal cost per item. This looks to have been a good choice for our science department and it might be a good choice for yours too.

Turning Your Approach to a Lesson Upside Down

If you’re looking for a fresh take on your favourite (or not so favourite lesson), how about designing your lesson upside down? Jennifer Gonzalez, from @cultofpedagogy, has a wonderful video giving an example of how to teach an inductive learning lesson. Although this strategy is not suitable in all situations, it is a powerful tool to add to the toolbox when you are in need of a change-up and the content fits.

In a conventional, deductive approach to learning, students are 1) presented with the overall concept or rule and then 2) work with examples to apply the concept or rule. In an inductive lesson design, this order is reversed.


  1. Students study examples of the content.
  2. Students make generalizations leading to an understanding of the rule.

By incorporating an inductive approach to learning, we simultaneously create a learning opportunity that allows students to access higher level thinking. Students are propelled into analysing and making connections between the examples that are presented to them.

Check out the video for a fantastic example of how one teacher used this for an exploration of natural selection and adaptation (1:23).

If you regularly use this strategy, or just tried it out for the first time, let us know how you applied inductive learning in your classrooms.

Catalyst 2018 Update

The BCScTA’s Catalyst Conference is held annually in October during the PSA Professional Development Day. For 2018, Catalyst will be held at Kelowna Secondary School in the sunny Okanagan, October 19th. This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Dave Harper. Dr. Harper is a science educator, researcher, and technology CEO. He is an advocate for education, and is passionate about the importance of fostering critical thinking and skepticism in students.

In light of the new curriculum, we have decided upon “The Changing Face of Science” as our theme for Catalyst 2018.  Come learn about ways to foster curiosity in your students, scaffold and assess inquiry-based learning with passionate and accomplished colleagues. With big picture trends in BC science education, workshops on approaches to the new science curricula, assessment of both the curricular and core competencies, as well as First Nations Education will be offered. Keep checking the website, as more presenters are still applying.  A full list of presenters will be shared once we finalize the details. We are looking forward to seeing you in Kelowna.

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