Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

This is the second of a three-part podcast series discussing high-stakes testing. In this episode, I elaborate on my post, 6 Ways to Win the High Stakes Assessment Race. I discuss the traditional approach to high stakes testing and how I moved toward an integrated methodology.



Read my post, 6 Ways to Win the High Stakes Assessment Race and listen to part one of my podcast, Winning the High Stakes Assessment Race Podcast Part 1.


high jumper.jpg

    Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

This is the first of a three-part  podcast series discussing high-stakes testing. In this episode, I elaborate on my post, 6 Ways to Win the High Stakes Assessment Race. I discuss the traditional approach to high stakes testing and how I moved toward an integrated methodology which went on to achieve surprising results.



I invite you to share your own experiences with me in the comments and be sure to check back next Wednesday for Part II in the series.



    Diane Rubino
Diane Rubino
Adjunct Instructor, New York University
Course Associate, Columbia University

483459552.jpgA friend with limited exposure to Millennials recently made a flip comment about young people and entitlement. Though typically thoughtful, he did what comes naturally, falling back robotically on a facile trope.


But I think it’s necessary to expand the contours of our beliefs, toward a more nuanced, humane understanding of Millennials. A topic I believe warrants additional attention is the greater amount of anxiety I see in my student’s struggles compared to my own when I was in college.


During the first session of my graduate school course in communications ethics and law, for example, my class and I discussed the Manchester attacks. I gave my students, who dream of working in entertainment or fashion public relations, an exercise based on headlines that appeared hours before the session, crafting possible responses from Ariana Grande.


I simultaneously wondered if I was being callous for tying horrific events to career skills.


I avoid asking how they feel about this tragedy and am unaware if it leaves them either unhinged or unfazed. On the surface, this is a topic for the university’s health services. Yet classroom experience has helped me see that students who appear at ease seem more present and more willing to engage by sharing insights and questions. Fear takes one out of the moment—and thus out of the classroom—and while the fact that this phenomenon impacts learning negatively may seem obvious, it took me a few years and some lessons from champions of the contemplative classroom before I internalized this concept.


There’s a lot of dust-up about Millennials in education, about their social media use, and their sense of entitlement. Less discussed is the impact on students of global challenges like climate change and the violence all around them: the Paris attacks, ISIS, cyber-, and, in my city, machine-gun-toting militia in plain view, as well as other issues that are foreign to me and my colleagues. I see the need for a space to discuss how these issues play out in the class, without getting into a competition about which generation had it worse.


Anxiety: Then And Now

In one sense, I know all about fear and learning. It’s a byproduct of new places and educational challenges. I still recall the anxiety I felt back in my college days. But things were different then. My students are embroiled in a life experience scarier than my own.


When I started college, concerns about terrorism were so low that Gallup didn’t see fit to give it a separate polling category. Now it fluctuates according to the latest disaster.


Recently the morning’s email included an alert about a near-to-campus shooting from one school where I teach and a car theft heads-up from the other college. What’s new is the onslaught of awareness delivered electronically into one’s consciousness. When I went to the same university as the students in my communications ethics and law course, I barely knew what existed outside my dormitory. But this class was clued into the shootings that happened in the days before the session and instantly filled in the details when I mentioned one of the incidents.


The distance between my family’s home and my dorm was exponentially different as well. At the time, going to school in a neighboring state felt serious. I can only recall one international student in my residence hall. Now, many of my students are from the other side of the planet. The idea of being so far from all that is known is unfathomable to me.


Further, a college degree used to project certainty. My stable financial future seemed an obvious return on my family’s investment. Now, crushing student debt and the volatility of what the Brooking Institute calls the “significant and growing fast” gig economy ratchets up the stakes for the next generation.


I’d also incorrectly assumed my graduate students made a decision to pursue a degree after having work experience. I’d returned for my master’s degree while a full-time professional, after a long spell in the work world. I was confident in my skills. I knew why I was there and what I needed to do. Most graduate students in my classes are now straight out of college and their classroom footing isn’t as solid.


These factors coalesce into a potent brew of anxiety. So, while it’s a cinch to focus on easy labels, there’s little value in internalizing shallow stereotypes. With a more nuanced perspective, we are in a better position to brainstorm, ask questions, and more generally craft a new line of thinking to better serve both ourselves and our students.


What has your experience been with the Millennial mindset? Share your perspective in the comments below.


Image Credit: Frankhuang/Getty Images


    Justin Meyer
Justin Meyer
Senior Lecturer of Chemistry, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Do you find yourself short of time? I certainly do. As educators, we all wish we had more minutes, hours, and days to do things related to our classes.


Time and workload are not minor concepts for those who teach. A small shift in how you use your hours can make it look like you have too much work, or you have too much “free time.”  The following are strategies I use to work smarter, not harder, so I can spend less effort on the low-impact stuff to focus on the priorities that matter.


Academic Time Zones

There are academic time zones in which we end up devoting most of our hours: course preparation, in-class time, assessment, and finally, ‘other’ things. Three of these four zones I’ll touch briefly upon; the fourth, however, I will unpack in greater detail.


SuperStock_1773R-13419522.jpg1. The Preparation Time Zone

Preparation is a large time zone. Classroom success directly relates to the time you devote to preparation. Nevertheless, a major aspect of preparation should be the time spent after class reflecting on how things went. You should consider both the good and the bad. The idea here is to make the next class period better than the last. It may sound counter-intuitive to spend time thinking instead of doing, but the more you reflect, less time is needed for course preparation later. Do not cut out this crucial thought-work when you feel time crunched.


2. The In-Class Time Zone

A 50-minute class is a 50-minute class. Sure, there are ways to make this time more productive, and I’ll mention one when we look at the next time zone. Classroom efficiencies are a topic for another occasion, but for the sake of this article, unless you have a secret formula that extends time, you get what you get.


3. Grading/Evaluation Zone

This time zone will vary depending on the discipline you teach and how you assess assignments and tests. Circling back to the Preparation Time Zone, reflective course prep can shave off grading and evaluation. For example, I maintain a comprehensive question bank that I continually update to keep from needing to create new problems from scratch each semester. I also correct errors in existing questions.  Other efficiencies are available in how you provide feedback to students about their exam results. I don’t spend an entire class period reviewing an exam; I instead record a video that walks students through the answer key so they can review it on their own time.


4. Other Things

The last time zone covers almost anything not included in the other three.

  • Course evaluations or surveys: We all deal with these, and we need to spend some time reading them if we’re aiming at continuous improvement outlined in the Course Preparation Time Zone. See Diane Rubino’s post on how to handle the nasty-grams we receive from our students.
  • Student assistance and reporting: These activities include in-person grade discussions, identifying struggling students and reaching out to them, and compiling reports on student progress reports for administrators and coaches. If you notice fewer and fewer students visiting you during office hours, it’s nice to think they’re all getting the material. But more than likely, they do not want to talk about their academic issues. Be welcoming; invite at-risk students to meet up during your office time. Create a list of discussion points to stay on track and set a time limit. If a student needs additional help, you might want to suggest tutors or peers who can help. If you notice most the class struggling with a concept, tackle it in class. You’ll lose some class time, but not reviewing concepts the class does not understand will just exacerbate issues down the road. (And take up more of your time when they do.)
  • Special Circumstances: Every institution has policies about students missing class for justifiable reasons. In most cases, these situations require additional time or resources on the educator’s part. Set specific office hour sessions for tackling student absenteeism. Maybe you have office hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Make one of these sessions your special case day. Another tactic is to split your office time in half. One-half is for student general questions and the other for unique circumstances.
  • The Downside of Technology: Do you get emails, or text messages, at all hours of the day? Composing an answer in an email takes more time than responding in person. Educators are losing the personal touch, and we should try to bring it back as much as we can. When students stop by during my office hours, my priority is to focus on their questions, but then it’s my turn to ask questions. I want to gauge how things are going, especially in large class sections. Email is not the right medium for gaining ad hoc student feedback; ask these questions one on one.
  • Bueller? Bueller? Absentee Students

I always joke that teaching would be simple if nobody missed class. However, that’ll never happen, which means professors need to create make-up material. Producing duplicate exams and arranging make-ups is a time suck. Nevertheless, here is what I do:


    1. Create firm and fair policies: I create firm but fair policies about missed classes, assignments, and exams. I state my policies in the course syllabus. I make it a point for students to review the policies. Students tend to believe all faculty have the same policies and will assume you follow what they are familiar with unless you state and document otherwise.
    2. Create manageable policies: Whatever policy you set, it has to be something you can manage. I do not allow make-up quizzes. Instead, students can drop three of their lowest scores. If they miss an assessment, it ends up being one of the scores they can drop.
    3. Schedule a common make-up time: Some professors schedule a common make-up time. A smaller room is reserved for a group of students to take a make-up assessment. On-campus testing centers can be an option as well.
    4. Have a plan: Anticipate that there will be make-up situations. Proactivity is key. Here’s an example: I provide answer keys to exams shortly after they’re completed. This, however, necessitates my need to come up with new questions for the make-up exam. I create the other questions as I write the original exam—time saved!
    5. Grade Replacement: In the end, I try to avoid any make-up options because it’s unfair that some students are allowed extra time to study (even if they have a legitimate excuse). In exchange, I offer students the chance to replace a missing grade. I do this by dividing the final exam into sections, each part relating to material found in a previous assessment. The score they get on the part of the final related to the missed exam goes in the grade book for the exam they missed. Their performance on the final then demonstrates they know the information (or don’t).


Summing It All Up

Reflect on what you do well and where you can improve to make the next go-around more efficient. Look to gain time on items you can control so you can focus on top priorities. Set policies that make sense and that you manage and be proactive where you can.


I would welcome hearing about how you manage your time. Share what’s worked for you in the comments below.


Image Credit: Cultura Limited / Superstock

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