Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Gendered Mind—another myth that will not die

I am much more mellow now than I used to be. Sure I'm willing to fight when I think a fight is called for. But I think I was much more of an intellectual pugilist when I was, say, age 16 to 21.

While at The University of Michigan, I found a place for that energy. In a response to the then-new Moral Majority, a statewide grass-roots response was organized: The Voice of Reason (later to become a national organization called Americans for Religious Liberty—not a name I was excited about).

Since my interests and aptitudes lay in science, my "beat" within the organization gravitated toward the creationism debate. Among my first credited by-lines was the article I wrote for the campus publication, Consider. It was a simple, single-sheet (11"x17" brochure folded to 8.5" x 11") that featured one-page essays on the inside facing pages. A topic was identified, and authors were found for pro and con pieces. But I digress.

I was heartened by the the Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision that was argued months into my first year of teaching and handed down a few months later. It wasn't unanimous, but it was 7-2. I naïvely thought the issue was settled. But of course, it wasn't.

Years later in Pennsylvania, creationism newer iteration, "intelligent design" had to be put down by the courts in The Dover Case (Kitzmiller v. Dover). You would be naïve to imagine that that will be the end of the debate over maintaining the integrity of biology instruction in public schools. Judicial precedent doesn't seem to stick on this debate.

When I authored my master's thesis on gender equity in physics instruction, I came across the notion of the gendered mind. Boys were supposedly better with spatial geometry and mathematics while girls were better with language and communication. But the research supporting these "common sense" notions was weak. It seemed to be born from age-old gender bias, and the differences found by researchers were tenuous at best.

But they floated effortlessly in the updraft of societal and cultural gender norms. The supposed science presented a story that was "too good to be verified." And so it persists. To this day, it persists.

All of that to introduce a story I came across on Audm. The abridged title was "Of Two Minds".

The Discredited Science Behind the Rise of Single-Sex Public Schools

There are many important take-aways in this thorough investigation. One of them is that as an instructor, there's a good chance you will be subjected to these notions in a school or district-sanctioned in-service professional development session. You will be frowning in disapproval, but colleagues will be nodding in agreement. And it has to be legit, right? It was approved by administrators and district personnel.

It will fall upon you to rise up and put a stop to it. The cavalry isn't coming. You—and it may be you, alone—can shut this nonsense down before it goes any further. Arm yourself with articles like this so that you will have the strength that comes from knowing. And do the right thing.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Plandemic: What a conspiracy theory looks like when it's a baby [u]

Some critters are totally adorable when they're babies. Conspiracy theories do not. Maybe you came of age in science, reasoning, skepticism, and critical thinking after the "truthers" of 9/11 ran their course.

But given the magnitude of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, the ground was fertile for new brand new conspiracy theories. Nonsense was sure to arise. And arise it did.


A 26-minute "trailer" for a promised documentary has exploded on YouTube. The video violates YouTube's Terms of Service, so they take it down. But it pops up with a different video address soon enough.

Watched in a vacuum of ignorance, it might seem appealing. A plucky scientist, hounded by the omnipotent "they" tells her story of oppression and betrayal. You might know "they" from such hits as "they don't want you to know" and "they have been keeping X secret from the public" and so on. There is nothing worse than "they". Nuh Thing!

The video is in a perpetual out of control spin which continues into the manifesto that is the video description. But again, it's an appealing narrative for the uninitiated. Such unfairness; such corruption.

When it bubbled up to a YouTube doctor (ZDogg), he was dumbfounded by the pure dumbosity of the video's production and claims.

A Doctor Reacts to Plandemic

I know he seems brief in his dismissal. And annoyed.

A more rigorous debunk of Plandemic can be found in the link below. It's a long read, but worth it.
Judy Mikovits in Plandemic: An antivax conspiracy theorist becomes a COVID-19 grifter

If you need something a bit more concise, try Big Think's "The anti-vaxx agenda of The Plandemic". There's even an audio version with the print article.

Since Plandemic, itself, violates YouTube's terms of service, I must leave it to you to use your Google skills to find it. Any link I provide will likely go dark before you get to click on it.

I am not a fan of censorship, and YouTube knocking this video down plays into the hands of the conspiracists who claim oppression. On the other hand, it's YouTube's platform: of you don't want to play by their rules, host your video on your own platform. It's not rocket science. The promulgators enjoy the censorship, so they won't host it, themselves.

If you are predisposed to accept conspiracy theories, you are probably already a Plandemist, admonishing the sheeple to wake up!

In any case, the baby conspiracy theory of Plandemic has been born. Where it goes from here depends on all of us.

Why is this disingenuous hot mess dangerous? Because it's attempting to plant the shopworn anti-vcxx message relative to the hoped-for coronavirus vaccine. The Plandemists will claim (without evidence) that a COVID-19 cure will be the product of the shadowy "they" in a money-grubbing, power-hungry. another evil-hyphenation-goes-here cabal set to control the world population. A population made docile by, of course, the vaccine.

I'd say the best response is "Cool story, bro, but eh ... hard pass." But the story really isn't all that cool.

UPDATE: Dr. Steven Novella is Skeptical of Plandemic


Here's a Google Docs compendium of the claims laid out in Plandemic. h/t Jamy Ian Swiss

UPDATE: From a friend of a friend on Facebook (before you ad hominem me on this, tell me the name and professional history of the person who produced Plandemic.) (Exactly!)

So...this video is now circulating widely on social media. This woman is titled as a Molecular Biologist/Medical Researcher. The guy interviewing her claims to be a 'Father/Filmaker'. The last I looked 'Filmmaker' has two 'M's in it. Anyway...this video's defenders seem so drawn into it...I took some time to evaluate, and fact check this.

00-3:00 - nothing corroborated that 'they wrecked her life'

2:07 - footage of police raid is file footage, and not her supposed 'raid'

4:10 - Fauci directed cover up. Proof? No proof given, no contrary voices to her

5:45 - paper she wrote contradicting Fauci. Where is this paper? That should be easy to show, and physically have excerpts of paper for the video

7:35 - Fauci and CDC director Redfield own patents. Proof? A look at the patent office should be indication. They don't do this easy check. So, no proof

8:15 - Who is this 'expert'? No graphic I.D., so we can check his credentials

9:26 - Bill Gates accusations...Proof? None offered

9:48 - 'Vaccines kill millions'...Proof? None offered

10:23 - she says 'I can't say it was man made, but'...what exactly is she saying? This is intentionally vague

10:34 in - Quick length of time proves virus was manipulated. Proof that this is always the case?

10:54 in - she says 'Virus didn't occur at a market'. Proof?

11:26 in - article is from, which is a British conservative tabloid...hardly objective

11:31 in - footage from CGTN, which is China State-Run TV, and who is the 'reporter'? Could be anyone speaking over the footage. Could be friend of the 'filmmaker' or 'fimmaker'...we don't know

11:38 in - article from, rated as an 'Extreme Right-Wing conspiracy site

13:55 in - Bakersfield doctors, that have been widely discredited. They get a lot of time in this video

14:50 in - Host says that he 'talked to many doctors' that incentivize Covid-19. Where is the footage of ANY of them being talked to? That would be what a 'filmmaker' or ummm 'Filmmaker' does.

15:08 in - Doctor on clip says that hospitals are paid '$13,000 for Covid diagnosis, and $39,000 for a Covid ventilator'. Snopes link below widely weakens that claim

15:29 in - person in clip has medical scrubs on, but who is he? could be an average person with a medical shirt on. We never see his name or title.

15:40 in - proof of Italy vaccine?

16:40 in - from 'WashingtonTimes' - a conservative daily newspaper...and who is 'reporter' narrating? Could be anyone

17:12 in - Mikovits says 'thousands of documents on hydroxychloroquine'...well, where are ANY of these documents? None offered

18:55 in - She says flu vaccine makes a person more susceptible to Coronavirus. That is disproven in link below

21:02 in - host says 'You're not the first person to tell me that we are doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing'...well, 'filmmaker' us ANY of these other people

22:55 in - who is this doctor? No I.D. to check his credentials

24:55 in - she says 'every medical person who has learned about this has turned their opinion around'. Show us ONE person that has changed their views? None offered.

Below, and in the comments, I will post a bunch of links that debunk some of the claims made in this video, and I will also cut and paste them here.

Snopes: Was a Scientist Jailed After Discovering a Deadly Virus Delivered Through Vaccines?

Snopes: Is Medicare Paying Hospitals $13K for Patients Diagnosed with COVID-19, $39K for Those on Ventilators?

USA Today: Fact check: Getting flu shot doesn't make you more (or less) likely to get the coronavirus

23ABCNews Bakersfield: Kern County Public Health does "not concur" with statements made by Accelerated Urgent Care doctors

Reddit r/Moronavirus: Where can I find a good rebuttal to "Plandemic"?

For those of you looking at this post, and saying 'geez'...I spent about an hour and a half on this. It doesn't take much time to scrutinize/fact check a 26 minute video, especially this one.

She is selling a book on this literally drums up interest in her book. Who is the host? A family member? A good friend? We don't we...

Actual journalism always backs up statements. This does nothing to back up claims. This has no one on to debunk her, and it also has no one on to back her claims. Yet, somehow, many people have attached themselves to a doctor, whom they know only from a YouTube video, who has questionable credentials, and is questioned about her repeated attempts to create conspiracy theories...maybe to sell more books. If you click to watch the video...enjoy the marketing attempt.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Grade Inflation Pandemic of 2020, Part 2: The Solution

Call me Physics Oprah. Because everyone on my roster gets an A this semester. Everyone.

If you didn't read Part 1 (below), you won't realize why I have adopted this grading solution.

After you read Part 1, you may not like this solution. I do not like this solution. But Part 1 details how all the teachers in the San Juan Unified School District were needlessly and deliberately thrown into a no-win scenario. And there are no good solutions to a no-win scenario.

The object lesson provided by the highest-paid district leadership and the dues-collecting union officials couldn't be clearer:
Angry, misguided, vocal minorities operating on incorrect information are to be respected and appeased. 
You could start with a well-reasoned, correct and deliberative position. But abandon it without a fight when any opposition is mounted. Ill-informed? Misguided? It doesn't matter. It's opposition, so capitulation is the expedient response.

I don't like it. It's a policy that comforts the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. But it wasn't my call. I argued against it to no avail.

But the call has been made and I must roll with it.

It's clear that none of the decision-makers have ever been classroom teachers. If they had, they would realize that they were asking teachers to keep a double set of gradebooks: one set for students happy with the default C/NC and a second for students who were petitioning for letter grades. My god.

I am sure that after throwing teachers under the bus, district and union leadership imagined energetic and innovative teachers would find some way to thread the eyeless needle and develop a second set of online/distance learning policies that would keep students fully engaged with powerful teaching and learning.

And they may be onto something. A colleague compared his Unit 5 and Unit 6 test scores. The Unit 5 test was administered in a secure classroom setting. The average score was under 40%. His Unit 6 test administered online. The average was over 100%. He had clearly made a successful transition to online learning and his students were shining in this new environment. Only a hardened cynic would so much as suggest that elevated Unit 6 scores may have been influenced by cheating of any kind.

So yes, I'm giving all my students A's. Because I have no idea what each of them is up against, but I do know exactly what I'm up against. I will share the news of this obvious grade inflation as far and wide as I can. Admissions officers at colleges and universities need to know: I'm giving all my students A's for Spring 2020. And I'm not the only one. Check out this news from San Francisco. The angry, misguided petitioners' victory is entirely pyrrhic.

I'm giving all my students A's. Because when everyone gets an A, no one gets and A.

But doesn't that hurt students who could have distinguished themselves from their classmates with a performance-based A supported by documentary evidence? Yes it does. But in Spring 2020, we do not possess the means to assemble that performance-based documentary evidence.

That's why Credit / No Credit was the sole correct solution to the circumstances. Those are the only honest grades that can be earned this semester. But the district abandoned honesty. And so will I.

Do colleges and universities need to populate their freshman classes with appropriately capable students? Yes they do. But the Spring 2020 grades in your course (and many courses across the country) may not be an honest reflection of students' capabilities. True. Somehow, colleges will need to overcome The Grade Inflation Pandemic of 2020. I have confidence in their abilities to do so.

Primary source documentation available in the comments.

The Grade Inflation Pandemic of 2020, Part 1: The Problem

As the coronavirus pandemic began to take off, schools around the world began to close. Initially it was thought that a month-long shutdown might suffice. Student were told to take their papers and books home on our last day of school.

After a few weeks of virtual office hours paired with opportunities for students to read, review, and enrich, it was decided that more direct instruction was called for. If assignments are to be assigned and so forth, there must be a mechanism for determining grades.

The in-class lesson plans for the remainder of the year were rendered useless. Teachers had to suddenly master online distance teaching tools and techniques that most of them never had any interest in using.  "Have you activated your Google Classroom? Are you ready to Zoom with your classes? Are you hip to Flip Grid? What about Pear Deck? Do you have an Edulastic account? Have you tried Screencastify or do you prefer Screencast-omatic?" Every company with online solutions flooded teacher inboxes with free trials and promises of online instruction efficacy.

There was an expectation that teachers would flip a switch and put their in-class instruction online. Of course they cannot. And college prep / Advanced Placement lab science? Not a chance.

Even if they could, student families were in various states of preparedness. In any school community, there will be a variety of Internet accessibility. And on a larger scope, there is now a variety of economic stability/parental employment status. And a variety of direct COVID-19 impact.

Practicable instruments to asses individual student performance online do not exist. Period. Full stop. If you believe students can be honestly assessed online, it's because you are old. Well over 20. Anyone under 30 knows secure online assessment doesn't exist. (If you think you know such an online tool, type its name into your search engine and add the word "cheat" and see what happens. I'll wait.)

Given the variety of teacher preparedness and student circumstances, it was decided that the most equitable solution would be to switch from letter grades to pass/fail (credit/no credit). The decision was agreed to and communicated to the district community of teachers, parents, and students.

But some families chafed. Rather than appreciate the extraordinary circumstances and understand that everyone was affected and that colleges and universities would take this into account when evaluating applicants, they took a different tack. They behaved as if their child was going to be saddled with a D– on their permanent record (transcript) and no elite, top-tier post-secondary school would even consider them for admission. College admissions officers would gaze upon the Spring 2020 grade and wonder why it was what it was. Colleges were assumed to be completely unaware of the pandemic.

My own Next Door app feed, usually filled with tales of found and lost Chihuahuas and porch piracy now featured an angry petition to Stop the madness of Credit/No Credit being imposed on district students. Petitioners asserted that the policy would cripple the district's best and brightest students, ruining them for college admissions and beyond. The email addresses of school board members were shared and a boilerplate angry missive was suggested.

They demanded that individual students be able to opt out of Credit / No Credit into letter grades if they so desired.

When I caught wind of this movement, I did what I could to stand in opposition, as you can see in the previous post. The angry petitioners were arguing for a policy that would comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted.

Within hours of my action, the district announced it would acquiesce completely and without modification to the petitioners wishes. Word for word capitulation. My principal instructed faculty to direct their misgivings to their union (San Juan Teachers Association—SJTA) representatives.

The adoptee policy allows students to opt into letter grades, but they can change their mind on that no later than the end of the school year. So if the grade is looking good to them at the end of the semester, they can lock it in. If they don't like what they see, they can fall back to C/NC. Perfect!

The union agreed to this complete and total cave-in, 100% and without any pushback whatsoever. But they attempted to gaslight their dues-paying membership: in an email to be shared with all bargaining unit members, we were told of the pitched battle SJTA mounted.

"We did our best to negotiate, and we got what we could.  Most of our neighboring districts mandated teachers to give letter grades A—F.  Our union was able to reach the compromise of C/NC with the petition piece."

Here's what the Next Door petitioners were petitioning for.

'Instead of the misguided "Credit/Co Credit" policy, the district should allow ALL students the option to choose either "Credit/No Credit" OR letter grades."

Re-read the union's statement—they never said that our district was demanding X and SJTA battled them back to Y. In reality, the angry petitioners and their school board enablers demanded Y, and SJTA agreed to Y. No negotiation; no compromise.

UPDATE: I had a conversation with the president of the SJTA. It seems that the union had very little leverage in this decision. The school board and superintendent went forward with their capitulation and there really wasn't much the union could do about it. And the petitioners' demands were in line with CDE broad guidelines for what would be permissible. Still though, the objectively correct response to the pandemic closures was to adopt Credit/No Credit. And to then stand firm in that position. My district opted to appease the angry petitioners. That decision, expedient in the short term, will not age well.

This is the context necessary to understand my solution as laid out in Part 2.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Maintaining resolve on Credit / No Credit

[My district, San Juan Unified in suburban Sacramento, decided to adopt Credit / No Credit grading for Spring 2020. But they are facing blowback from a certain element in the community. So I wrote this and sent it to the decision-makers. How is your institution handling Spring 2020 grades? Let me know in the comments.]

The feed on my Next Door app has turned from posts about lost and found Chihuahuas to angry missives about the San Juan Unified School District’s decision to adopt Credit / No Credit grades for the pandemic shutdown second semester: Spring 2020.

I am grateful that I can count on my district and especially my association to maintain their resolve on this important decision. Because it is the correct decision.

During shutdown, there is no way to assess individual student knowledge or capabilities. In functional school, in-class tests carefully designed by classroom instructors could be administered and proctored by those teachers to ensure accurate and secure results. There is no practicable way to do that online. None. Everyone under 20 understands that perfectly well. People over 30 have diminishing understanding of that, which decreases with increasing age.

That reality, alone, is enough to scuttle any hope of being able to produce letter grades for students during shutdown. But it gets worse.

As of March 13, 2020, instructors such as myself planned to make it to retirement without ever having constructed or administered an online version of their course. I teach college prep and Advanced Placement physics lab courses. No one imagines teaching or learning such a subject in an online environment. No one.

Sophisticated and specialized demonstration equipment remains locked away in access-restricted classrooms. Sophisticated and specialized laboratory apparatus for hands-on student lab group collaborative experiment activities is similarly behind lock and key. Neither demonstrations nor labs can be conducted or assessed during shutdown. And these are the core of my courses.

As of March 16, 2020, I have been bombarded with invitations and recommendations to engage in Google Classroom, Pear Deck, Edulastic, Flip Grid, Zoom, etc., not to mention online science resources. The flood of online platforms, tools, and resources is overwhelming and I am being asked to build an airplane while it is in flight. I know nothing of these things and never planned on using any of them. They do not pertain to the job I was hired to do—a job that I have been recognized for doing exceptionally well.

Could I assign copious reading, video watching, and essay writing for the many, many students on my roster? Yes. But those assignments would be going into homes with an untold variety of circumstances: high and low bandwidth, high and low economic anxiety, high an low physical space, and myriad environments—some more conducive to learning than others. At best, getting all those lengthy assignments back would require time beyond what’s available to assess.

Those who insist that letter grades be awarded during this time appreciate and understand none of this. They are worried that a Credit/No Credit grades awarded in Spring 2020 will disqualify students from admission to top-tier elite post-secondary institutions. They imagine that none of these institutions will be aware of the global pandemic that shut down the world in Spring 2020. They worry that students from districts who are awarding letter grades in Spring 2020 will have a competitive advantage over SJUSD students in college admissions. None of this is true.

In short, it is a small but vocal band of affluent families who are arguing for letter grades that cannot be determined honestly in Spring 2020. It is an argument for a policy that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted.

I appreciate my district and my association rejecting such a policy.

Dean Baird
Rio Americano High School Physics
Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching
American Association of Physics Teachers Fellow

Monday, March 23, 2020

Online Resources for Teaching Physics

Howdy all,

First, I'd like to thank my friend and colleague, Dean Baird, for inviting me to be a guest blogger here at The Blog of Phyz. Briefly, I've been teaching high school and college-level physics since 1998, and in that time I've seen a lot—but nothing like what we're all dealing with now.

In addition to my teaching duties, I am the secretary and webmaster of Physics Northwest (group of physics teachers in the suburbs north and west of Chicago), and we've worked with our own teacher network as well as the TAP-L email list to assemble a long list of available online resources for teaching physics. This list of information has been posted to the front page of the Physics Northwest website at

Update 3/28/20: Here's a new and improved Google Sheet version of Matt's collection that we've been working on: Physics Distance Learning Resources. Consider it Version 1.0, and load us up with links we missed down in the comments. Remember: Google Sheets can have tabs. This sheet has four tabs (so far). Check them all out.

I apologize that the list isn't formatted and organized yet, as I've been busy tackling my own struggles with online teaching this past week, but now that I'm on spring break I'll have some time to tweak the list (so stay tuned). Any suggestions for additions and/or edits are welcome.

Take care, folks. It's a rough time for the lot of us, but in times like this I like to remind myself of the old Marine Corps motto: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

Cheers - Matt Lowry
[Matt has been my presentation partner for "Skepticism in the Classroom" workshops at AAPT and NSTA Meetings. To see our first collaboration, check this out! And if you click the Physics Northwest link above, you will see a collection of great physics teachers, some of whom you may know from Twitter or elsewhere. Matt's in the fourth quadrant in the fashionable "Keep Calm" T. –Dean]

Thursday, March 19, 2020

My path for instruction during coronavirus...

might be different from yours. And chances are, yours will be more robust than mine.

The physics instructor (and high school instructor) social media sphere is rife with tales of how best to lead online courses complete with live video lectures. A tidal wave of software tool recommendations have flooded in. Solutions that were previously subscription-based are suddenly free. Industrious instructors are assembling indexes of quality resources. Online instructional veterans are posting pro tips for the flood of novices.

All of this is appropriate, natural, and good. And I am completely overwhelmed.

Whatever path colleagues take into the uncharted waters of this coronavirus transmission break is correct as far as I am concerned. There is no One True Path for this. Different districts have communicated different expectations. Different teachers have different students and different temperaments and different resources and different abilities. One size cannot fit all.

My district has directed instructors to make themselves available to students via virtual office hours from 8:30-10:30am and 12:30-2:30pm each school day. No new assignments are to be given. No student work is to be graded. I am in a suburban unified school district (about 38,000 students at 50 sites). The district is not 1:1 (one computer for each student). We were duly warned that giving assignments or grading work online would likely constitute a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In the face of my trepidation, I pulled back for a little perspective.

When we left school last Friday, this break was going to be shockingly long: no classes for a month. Administrators would continue to report to their respective sites in the interim. Classroom access would be allowed for instructors (6am-6pm). Less than a week later, our sites are now abandoned shut—alarms are armed 24/7. Counties are on shelter-in-place or full lockdown. The governor does not foresee schools reopening this academic year. This is objectively a full stop.

Students have been thrown into an unprecedented spiral of lost activities (sports and other extracurriculars, prom, graduation). Their parents may be newly unemployed. Families with lost incomes wondering how they will obtain groceries amid the hoarding. They may have loved ones suffering from COVID-19, and they should be doing what they can to avoid being a vector for the contagion.

So how pressing is the physics curriculum to my students? Answers will vary. But I think it's safe to presume that it's less than it was a week ago. Substantially less.

What to do? I don't know. Here's what I've settled on.

I already have a decent "static" online physics curriculum presence at Much to read, many worksheets to do. Students do have their textbooks. And the Internet bursts with resources. I am going to encourage my students to learn the remainder of the year's curriculum. To learn it as if they were going to have their final exam at the end of the school year. My final exams focus on the big, important ideas that should be internalized by the end of the semester.

As is always the case, learning physics is a conscious choice. Some students choose to learn physics without ever having enrolled in the course. Many students enroll in the course but never choose to learn physics. It has always been thus.

I will be in contact with my students through the school's SIS mass email feature to provide direction for how they can engage in learning. We will not have all the labs, activities, and demonstrations that face-to-face classroom instruction would afford. The learning may not be as robust. But the big ideas and fundamental principles should get through.

So that's my path. Providing some resources and guidance, with the student goal of being able to perform well on the semester final exam. With that vision, I feel like I can move forward.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

The CAASPP Practice items ... were online a year ago

The CAASPP / CAST practice / training / released test questions were apparently posted on Monday, February 24, 2020.

The hope I had nourished for them was in vain.

I had hoped for new items. Improved items. Robust items. But that's not what we got.

What we got last year's released items with newer publication dates and new graphics on the cover. If anything of substance has changed between last year's released items and this year's released items, someone will need to let me know in the comments.

CAASPP Practice Items (51—the same 51 released last year, so read about them here.)

CAASPP Training Items (7—All Life Science items. And all of them previously released.)

I've clearly been taking this new round of assessments far too seriously. When I'm wrong, I'm wrong.

Friday, February 21, 2020

POTU Evolution Part 1: From California to Rio Americano

UPDATE 2/23/20: Extant course chart added.

We plan to launch our Physics of the Universe (POTU) course in 2021-22. Physics of the Universe is the physics portion of the three-course model for Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) implementation. California is where I live and work; Rio Americano High School is where I've taught physics since 1986.

Our plan is to discontinue Physics as it has existed at the school since its inception in the 1960s, and replace it with POTU. We will continue to offer AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 (when demand exists). I plan to retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year, so the course will evolve considerably after I'm gone.

Here is a pie-chart representation of the course as it exists, in terms of the unit topics.

But August of 2021 is coming, so there is a course to create. The POTU Evolution blog posts will chronicle my development process for the benefit of both of my blog readers.

The state of California has developed a framework for the three-course (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) implementation of NGSS. (Feel free to read it real quick. I'll wait.) Physics of the Universe is divided into six segments.

As this course-development project began, my first step was two turn those six segments into twelve units. And I felt I needed to move the nuclear unit. So already, some entropy is working its way into the pie chart. Notice that where I broke one segment into two or three, I maintained color fidelity to the framework's six segments.

As I read deeper into the framework, it became clear that some subsegments were more equal than others. As I began mapping out a day-to-day schedule, my concept of the course took this shape. It's not even trying to appear appealing anymore. But that's not what's important. There are 180 days to plan, and they're not going to plan themselves.

That's probably enough on the planning for now. I'll post unit schedules as I develop them. It's hard to overemphasize how drafty these visions are right now. But they are preliminary drafts at best.

A few additional details: the principal would like our POTU course to be accessible to freshmen. Given that our district is all-in on Integrated Math, any algebra necessary in the course will need to be taught in the course.

We will be adopting textbooks next year for all science courses. Our last adoption in physics was in 2008. POTU textbooks are... largely still in development. I think Conceptual Physical Science would work nicely for NGSS 3-course Physics and Chemistry, but we'll see what the adoption options are in 2020-21.

Thoughts? Ideas? Advice? That's what the comments section is for. I'm keen to hear about what you're doing as NGSS and new assessments appraoch.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Anxiety among high school students

TL;DR: Today's high school students suffer anxiety brought on, in part, by always being connected on their phones and by a perpetual need to know what their grade-in-progress is right now. I actively remediate against both of these things, but my methods are frowned upon.

We tend to imagine ourselves the heroes of the movies we live our lives in. And those of us with blogs rarely hesitate to trumpet our own heroism. (That includes virtually everyone on Twitter, the microblogging site where virtue signaling is like oxygen.) As a publisher of a blog and someone with a Twitter account, I am in no position to hold myself above the crowd.

The theme of a recent faculty in-service session for the faculty of my school was anxiety among high school students. Counselors hoped to raise awareness and broadcast availability of services.

One potent source of anxiety was that students were constantly on their phones, connected to social networks that functioned as stock markets, chronicling the ups and downs of their individual social status.

I bit my tongue. I had a suggestion, but it would not have been welcome in this setting. This setting was to paint the picture of how bad things are for today's high school students. The aim was for recognition and accommodation. The problem was described as too pervasive and universal for remediation or solution.

Another stressor was the constant obsession with academic grades. Students and parents are in a state of perpetually refreshing their online grade book page to see if the latest assignment's score raised or lowered their grade-in-progress.

I bit my tongue again. Had the biting been literal instead of figurative, there would have been blood.

In my classroom, I do not ask students to refrain from phone use. I physically separate students from their phones as a matter of classroom policy. Violators are assigned Saturday School. That is my in-class, temporary remedial effort to alleviate phone-based anxiety during instruction.

Students hate it. My enrollments have suffered. Colleagues won't do it. Many teachers never want to be cast as the bad guy in their own classroom. So they beg/plead/bargain with students, who deploy the full measure of their genius to stealthily maintain their ongoing phone activities while instruction plays out around them. I cannot change my colleagues, but I also cannot allow my classroom to be another phone zone. I have a finite number of minutes to teach a difficult topic, so I'll don the black hat.

When I began teaching in 1986, we tendered grades four times a year. That evolved to six times. That, in turn, evolved into eight. Every increase in frequency was heralded as a solution that would lead to better student performance. In my personal experience, the actual outcome has been the diametric opposite.

With the advent of online student information systems (SIS), there is an expectation of daily grades-in-progress updates.

But I don't use my district's online grade book. I do not post daily updates to the SIS. I post updates at the district-mandated grading interims, eight times a year. (I prefer Excel over the online grade book; I can bend Excel to my will, and I like math. To me, the online grade book is a horrendous kludge.)

So when we learned that a source of student anxiety was their constant need for grade updates, I might have raised a hand and described how I didn't play into that practice. But doing so would have cast me as the jerk. Counselors and parents, too, want up-to-the-minute grades-in-progress. I make my students wait a month (a month!) between grade updates. What kind of luddite barbarian am I?

Of course, there are some who would argue that I'm actually precipitating anxiety through my solutions. While separated from their phones during instruction in my class, students might not be able to think about anything except when they will be reunited with their phones. And two weeks into that one month eternity between grading updates, students could be wracked with anxiety over what their grade has progressed to.

If this is the case, it's a Kobiyashi Maru. I have chosen one losing path while others choose another.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

CAASPP link added to sidebar...

UPDATE 2/20/20: With testing about one month away, the CAASPP/CAST practice and training items remain in "Coming Soon" status. Will we run through the administration of the tests before practice and training items are posted? Time will tell.

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress is the part of the California Department of Education responsible for the statewide tests administered to students, such as the CAST (California Science Test).

They ostensibly publish training and practice exams ahead of the operational administration in March. As we close out January and head toward February, the training and practice exam status is as follows:

Scoring Guides for CAASPP: CAST, Smarter Balanced, CAA Practice Tests, and CSA

California Science Test (CAST)

Practice Tests

  • CAST Practice Items Scoring Guide—Grade Five (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Practice Items Scoring Guide—Grade Five, Braille (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Practice Items Scoring Guide—Grade Eight (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Practice Items Scoring Guide—Grade Eight, Braille (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Practice Items Scoring Guide—High School (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Practice Items Scoring Guide—High School, Braille (Coming Soon)

Training Tests

  • CAST Training Items Scoring Guide—Grade Five (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Training Items Scoring Guide—Grade Five, Braille (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Training Items Scoring Guide—Grade Eight (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Training Items Scoring Guide—Grade Eight, Braille (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Training Items Scoring Guide—High School (Coming Soon)
  • CAST Training Items Scoring Guide—High School, Braille (Coming Soon)
I added a permanent link in the sidebar to the right to make it easy to check in and determine CAASPP's definition of "Coming Soon").

The administration is, once again, scheduled for March. Fingers crossed that these items will post prior to that administration.

PTSOS Workshop 2 Links of Phyz

Here are some notes and links relevant to PTSOS Workshop #2. If you're new to teaching physics in Northern California, check out

Momentum and Energy
I prefer momentum before energy, but I've run into teachers who consider those to be fightin' words.

Phyz Momentum Curriculum

One highlight here is our Grass Omelette (Egg Toss Competition). In 2013, I had five sections of Physics, so I was able to compile an adequate set of images and video to make a tidy video: Egg Toss 2013

Phyz Energy Curriculum

If you're a fan of ranking items, you might enjoy
Potential Energy Ranking - Answers
Kinetic Energy and Momentum Rankings

Further distinctions between kinetic energy and momentum are explored here.
Kinetic Energy and Momentum Conundrums - Answers

For video resources, there's
The Mechanical Universe High School: Conservation of Momentum, and Conservation of Energy
The Mechanical Universe (College): Conservation of Energy, Potential Energy, and Conservation of Momentum.

Waves and Sound
Phyz Waves Curriculum

One of my favorite lessons is a nice foray into skepticism: Back Masking and EVP (Drop Box Link to Keynote Presentation). I connect it to a lesson that involves Musical Roads and Talkie Tapes.

Demo: Science is Fun!

For video resources, there's
The Mechanical Universe High School: Introduction to Waves
The Mechanical Universe (College): Waves
PBS: The Secret Life of Waves

Charging Ahead 2020

This year's Van de Graaff portrait gallery. Enjoy.

I'm migrating from Flickr to SmugMug. One apparently owns the other, but they continue to operate as separate entities.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Another call you don't need to return

Jeff Lind at 888-227-8212 navigated his way into my school voicemail box to request a call back. He is not a parent of any of my students. He is not someone I have elected to do business with. No, it seems he's on a cold-call campaign from WorldStrides, an educational travel company from North Carolina.

Nope. I blasted a mass email to all my colleagues at school to ignore any call-back requests from him.

I reported a similar cold-call telemarketer in a previous post. I can only imagine these will become more common. Apparently school voicemail systems are not protected by "Do Not Call" lists.