NGSS and Standards-Based Grading With Guest Boni Hamilton [Episode 107]


Click below to learn how to integrate NGSS and standards-based grading: 


You all know that I want to bring you as much information and perspectives on a topic as possible. With last week’s episode on standards-based grading being a new idea and way of grading for some of you, I wanted to bring on another teacher who has years of experience implementing this in her classroom. Boni Hamilton, a friend and experienced teacher, is sharing how to integrate NGSS and standards-based grading in both a middle school and high school science classroom.

Boni has such a unique perspective, as she simultaneously used both a traditional grade report alongside a standards-based report. While this eased the minds of parents and students who were comfortable with traditional grading, it did bring up challenges. Boni is honest in our conversation, along with her students, as she navigated this type of grading system. She describes why she believes standards-based grading is more accurate, authentic, and honest as it pertains to mastering skills and content. 

As you listen to this episode, you will see how this conversation, and others involving this topic, has stretched my thinking and will stretch yours as well. Although work ethic, behavior, and responsibility need to be addressed, with standards-based grading, you truly get the best picture of how a student is performing academically in your content-specific classes. 

Topics Discussed:

  • Ways NGSS and standards-based grading can be easily integrated into your science classrooms
  • The challenges you will face with students and parents and how to respond to their concerns
  • How to get kids motivated with this type of grading system
  • Ways to approach your teaching, both academically and personally, when using standards-based grading
  • General tips and advice for those implementing standards-based grading into their classrooms
  • How Boni simplified her life, which includes advice she learned on this podcast

Resources Mentioned:

Meet Boni:

Boni came into education as a second career and taught for 23 years before retiring in May, although she’s already back in the classroom because she missed it so much. She spent 16 of those years teaching middle school science and 7 teaching high school science in California. She also helped to develop a lab-driven life science program which included Biology, Environmental Science and AP Environmental Science. 

Boni was a Science Department Lead for Professional Learning Communities and a California Scholarship Federation Advisor, among SO MANY other things. She has experience doing both standards-based reporting AND traditional-grade reporting at the same time, and shares her experience in today’s episode navigating both.

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:00
Happy December. And welcome back to the secondary science simplified podcast. Last week I interviewed Jenica Harrison and we talked all things standards based grading, and she shared so many specific and practical tips for implementation. If you have not listened yet, go back and check out episode 106. Before you go any further, especially if you were like me and knew really nothing about standards based grading, and you’re like, this doesn’t apply to me, you know, I don’t teach at that kind of school, I really think you can still learn so much from this conversation like I did. So go back and listen to that episode first. Now, I mentioned at the end of it that I knew I really want to have multiple perspectives on this, because it’s a hard topic, you know, and the more we can learn, the better I need it, I have a lot of learning to do. Okay, so I’m so grateful to be able to bring on a more seasoned veteran teacher way more than me, because I just think it really hits differently to think about making such a big shift in how you teach and how you assess when you’ve been teaching a certain way for a longer amount of time. So I was really, really thrilled when one of my internet friends, Bonnie Hamilton, and I call her one of my internet friends, because we’ve been emailing and chatting back and forth for several years now. Bonnie has been such a cheerleader for me and truly encouraged me so much over the years to keep going. I mean, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this woman. And so I was thrilled when she applied to come on the podcast to speak on this topic. And I’m just so grateful for her time and sharing her wisdom with us. So you don’t know Bonnie like I do. So I want to introduce you to her. She came into education as a second career. And so she taught for 23 years before she retired in May. But she’s already back in the classroom because she missed it so much. And during those 23 years, she spent 16 teaching middle school science and seven teaching high school science in California. Also during that time, she was department chair and she helped develop a lab Driven Life Science Program, which covered biology, environmental science, and AP environmental. So she has a ton of experience. And she also has experience doing both standards based reporting and traditional grade reporting at the same time, which I think is crazy, but also very unique. And so she’s going to share her experience in today’s episode navigating both of those. And she really speaks a lot to the NGSS, which was really helpful for me to hear. And again, I feel like this is another conversation that really stretched me and stretched my thinking as an educator. I am just so grateful for her humility. And honestly, just her growth mindset, like our conversation really inspired me to stretch myself as a teacher in terms of what do I prioritize? And how open handed do I need to be with all that I do, because I am a very rigid person, y’all know, I’m so tight, I am all about a spreadsheet. I like to check things off a list. She just really challenged me and I’m really thinking about things a lot differently. So I’m excited for you to hear from her. And she really speaks again to how to integrate it the NGSS and standards based grading are and just has a great wisdom about the importance of relationships with students and communication with parents. So I’m gonna stop talking so you can hear from her and without further ado, here’s my conversation with Bonnie Hamilton. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all and only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time spent in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend. Let’s get to today’s episode.

Rebecca 3:59
Well, Bonnie, I’m thrilled you’re here. Thank you. For listeners. Bonnie and I have been talking forever over email. Like I feel like there are certain people that I feel like I know through our email correspondence, and I feel like I know you and we celebrated your retirement and then you had a fake retirement.

Boni 4:16
Well, it’s so hard because I have such a passion for teaching. It’s It’s crazy, where pretty much the minute I retired, I was looking for work. It was very bizarre. And I wanted work that involved students wanted to work. Actually, one of my long term goals was to work with baby teachers. And by that I mean teachers in their first five years of whatever and when you switch grade levels, you kind of start over in a lot of ways. So I’m thrilled to have this opportunity with you Becca because this this whole issue of standards based report. Seeing and traditional for ease of communication, traditional reporting, there’s a big difference between them. And we have some pretty bad practices in the educational system. And it would be good that our, our teachers, the ones that are our audience today, understand the difference, know the difference and be able to really explain it to their parents and their students. And, and I’d love for them to go to have a big takeaway of, oh, I got this I can, I can now really differentiate and explain what’s going on here. Well,

Rebecca 5:36
I’m thrilled because I have no experience with this. And so I’m grateful to bring yours on for the listeners. So when in your career, then was this introduced? Did this happen? Or was it required wasn’t an option kind of tell us how it came to be for you?

Boni 5:51
Well, it was a requirement. And it was one of those requirements that the district basically does every year, they pop a new requirement on US units, everybody’s familiar with that. Some new thing, you need to learn some new strategy, even though it may be an old strategy just revamped or whatever. So we were doing traditional report, report, card grading, so that was your ABCDE F. And it basically went the, you know, the percentile was 59% was a fail. So it was essentially that was if you if you use percentages, so it broke down like that. So when I came into teaching, which was actually 2000, this is a second career for me, which is why I retired after 23 years to some of you, you’re gonna think, Wow, I’m 23 years and and I’m not stopping, I don’t blame you. Because if I would have started when my in my early 20s, I would still be rolling, trust me. But we were teaching to standards. And California had adopted standards, they were very old. But they were standards. The problems with them were that there were overall arching concepts. And then there were discrete facts, and there was no rhyme or reason. So standards based was required. They called it basically rubric ing. And pretty much everybody’s familiar. Now, I think with using rubrics, and using them to really try to pull our biases out in and say, what, what things must this student do to show me that they have gotten this information and they know or gotten this skill or whatever. So they wanted us to go, this was the the difficulty I faced was they wanted a rubric of one to four. And of course, we have five grades. And just like anybody else, I wanted to equate them. So then for me and my brain, then no, okay, then 01234. But it didn’t really work that way. Because for meant you have mastered the content or the skill. Three meant, you got it, you’re okay. You know, they called it proficient, but really, I would have called proficiency four, but whatever you I won’t argue with their rubric right now. And then two was approaching, I’m going up to that standard. And one was just really having a hard time with this, the equivalent I could give you today we use, and teachers are going to be real familiar with this now. And that is mastery, proficiency. Basic, below Basic. And then far below basic. So pretty much those are the overall national standards, if you want to call them in terms of how we rubric. And that’s gotten very standardized it if if your school is way behind on that you may want to check it out, because it’s it’s pretty standardized in in most states. I am based in California, but there are national teaching standards. And there are absolutely standards for teachers out there that you can look at and they go across the board. Doesn’t matter what state you’re in. Anyway, I digress. So they said to us, you must do this rubric thing and with your traditional report card, and they didn’t even tell us how to do it. They were we started putting it on the same report. In other words, who was really trying to overlay or integrate right on top of the traditional and wow, was that confusing?

Rebecca 9:42
And a lot of work?

Boni 9:43
Oh, no. Oh, a ton of work. We we revamped these forms. I cannot even tell you because you had to explain in terms of your rubric. You know where your child was at as far as the content and this was I was about five years into my career at this point. And I was teaching middle school and I was teaching multiple grades. So I was teaching science, you know, discrete, I mean, specific sciences, I was teaching physical science to eighth graders at that time, life science to seventh and earth science to sixth graders. And it was a mess. We were a mess. We messed around with this for probably three years before, we all just said, we need to just give them two different reporting pieces. This isn’t they really don’t align, you could try that. And parents will in their brains, they’re going to automatically say, My child has an A, because they have a four. And they’re probably right. I mean, they probably are. And that’s where the difficulty lies. Because traditional reporting has so so much more bias in it. Because it includes behaviors. And it includes work ethic, it includes personal discipline, and self control. All of those things, which are we are building in our children, they don’t have them automatically. Right. So whose standard? Are you going by when we’re speaking of standards as far as behaviors? And how much does that affect their overall grade. And sometimes it would affect it a lot. So where the standards has helped me is, when I’m looking to what what grade does my student really have in this course, especially at my finals, that my midterms and my final, I’m looking at the content, what they really understand from the content. And if I’ve been really diligent, and this takes a long time, folks, I’m going to tell you, this is not an overnight process takes a long time to build this. But if I am diligent about my rubrics throughout the year with their assignments, they will know exactly where they’re at. And they will know also how it converts to a traditional grade, they’ll know that they’re a C student, or that they’re a B student, there won’t be this huge surprise, when they hit the final end, they only do this much, or they do this much, whatever that is. So I find that the standards, but if we follow them, and we attempt to really teach to them, make sure that that’s what our that’s the goal of our design, our curriculum design, then everything else kind of falls into place. I don’t think traditional report cards should be held higher than standards based, I think standards based reporting is much more accurate, it’s much more authentic, it’s more honest, I can rubric a child who has been such a behavior problem with me. But I can rubric that child on a project, and that child will shine, because we finally hit some kind of skills that he or she is really good at. So cool. They met those content standards. And it doesn’t matter what their behavior were was. So I think overall, you know, explaining this to students as well, and simplifying it. But basically, you know, this test that I’m giving you this assessment is, so I know what you know, and what you don’t know, okay, give it to me, bring me your best stuff, because I need to know what you don’t know. How am I going to fill those gaps. And if you don’t, if you don’t do that for me, and I have a rubric for the assessment. My team, I was biology. I was on the biology team, but I was also del facto department chair for a little while for all of our science team. And we all decided that we needed a screener, we needed an initial assessment that applied to every science that we gave to every student that entered our doors right at the beginning of the year. And the reasoning for that was to create a baseline because we’re professional learning communities we were using PLC process. So we needed to, to create this baseline. I cannot tell you the hours we spent discussing, what’s the baseline in all sciences, so we had to get that work down. And of course, keeping to our standards. These are the skills that they have to have. And And here’s where NGSS comes in, and has been really marvelous. In 2013 when California adopted the standards, I knew they were coming in and I’d been reading the drafts and things like that. I, while I was all over it, because I was so sick of tweaking my curriculum and teaching things that I just, well, I mostly didn’t, I did not teach things, I didn’t think were going to be helpful to them as they went forward. And I think that’s my right as a teacher, you know, but standards take your bias out of that standard, say, your student will, they will be able to do this, and it’s very specific. In science, I think it’s very specific, and all the standards that I’ve been able to see. So as as the lead for bio, and bio, generally, we get all the freshmen. So we we went hours and hours around, okay, narrow it down. These are the skills they have to have. What I was saying was the NGSS standards also brought in our SNPs. So our science practices and our engineering practices, se apps or whatever they are, but all of the those skills. So that’s really what we we screen them on, because it made sense to us. Where are you in all these skills? Can you construct a graph? Can you read a graph?

Rebecca 16:16

Boni 16:17
you know, can you divide? I mean, there were just some very deep, can you read a thermometer, pictures of things, things like that was only a seven question screener. But what it did for us as a department, was it informed us of the overall level of the freshmen coming in. So every, every class gave it every year. Now, that means that yes, juniors, and seniors took it. And they had taken it before then as we went. But they understood why. And we would share their progress with them. And we told them, it was not about a great, it’s about we need to know where your gaps are. So they really did help us tremendously with that. But again, it was looking at our standards, and saying, what do these students have to have in every single science? Right? Then what was crazy was my school actually did a big PLC meeting. And we compared our standards to each other in terms of a basic what, how we did the comparison between departments, because that’s gotta be crazy, right? You’re talking about math, and you’re talking about English, the humanities, history, and oh, all these different things going on in business. And you know, we’re at the high school level. So we’re talking about all these different kinds of things. How do you get to where you have tools that would actually apply? All the way across the board? And the tool that we actually found? That worked the best? Was the claim evidence reasoning in

Rebecca 18:08
all of your classes? In all of them, you love to hear it as a sign, which was crazy,

Boni 18:14
because claim evidence reasoning does not mean exactly the same thing in the humanities than it does in the sciences. Okay. I mean, did you know that that goes without saying, so I’m gonna say that. So we said, when you’re

Rebecca 18:28
writing a paper, it is like you’re making, like any sort of paper you’re writing,

Boni 18:33
making some statement? Some kind of argument, right? Some kind of this is what I fit thesis statement, whatever it is. And you do have to back it up with something. Right, right. And then, you know, so So then, then then, of course, there’s the rebuttal at the end of it. But what we did was we actually aligned in our science department, what we did was aligned claim evidence reasoning with the lab report. So your claim was really based on your outcome of your of your experiment. So it doesn’t relate exactly to your hypothesis. So you’d have to do your hypothesis no matter what. But in terms of your results, you could throw a claim out there and then just go back and modify it like you would your hypothesis anyway. Well, as we scrolled through these other departments and looked at the claimant, I mean, that’s what popped up. All over the place was that they use some form of claim evidence reasoning. So we were of course thrilled to death that 60 staff members were essentially using the same kind of tool. Now, how helpful is that for our 1500 students? Right, right. That’s what they can do. Yes. And And of course, they look a little bit different all the way along, but isn’t life like that? Right, you know, your application of your skills looks different in each area of your life. So that the the claims evidence reasoning, I feel really, in my opinion really pushes the standards, because a lot of the NGSS standards ask students to make an argument for, right. Okay. Give me your evidence, show me why you think this show me your understanding this way. So it just makes sense.

Rebecca 20:38
Well, and I love that you guys were collaborative. And you did it together. Because what I’m hearing from a lot of the teachers I’m talking to is figuring out, like, in some senses, it’s way simpler to grade this way. Because there are only four numbers as opposed to 100 numbers. In other instance, teachers feel that it is they are being more biased, because they’re like, Well, I think it’s easy to say, Okay, well, this is mastery. But how much grace do I give before then I say, well, now you’re only a three. And then kind of, because it’s such a qualitative term that we’re kind of putting on people as like you’re approaching, you’ve met it, you know, we don’t expect him to be perfect. But I think the tension lies with like, teachers trying to use resources, they already have tests they already have, and apply it to standards based grading, how do they know? What is mastering what’s not quite? Or do you think it’s like, no, you need to rewrite all your assessments? Oh,

Boni 21:34
I would never have them rewrite all their assessments. First of all, you’re going to rewrite all your assessments your whole teaching life, because that’s kind of what we do we tweak them, you know, so okay. But no, that’s just daunting. No, my what what we did that, that helped a ton. Was but it takes vulnerability. You know, Becca takes, it takes you being willing as a teacher to kind of set your ego aside and, and be risky. And put your assessments out there for others to look at. And so what we did was the first thing we did was we printed out all those darn standards for each, each of our departments by all bio, and then physics then can and because we we went after the three course model,

Rebecca 22:28
the I was wondering, because I know some districts in California still are doing four. Right. So I was wondering what y’all did. And

Boni 22:35
I think we should have done four. And I think that’s what we’re rolling back to. I know that sounds funny.

Rebecca 22:43
But it’s so hard at the high school level, to integrate. Like, it’s so hard. It’s so hard. Yeah. And then to switch them to senior year taking AP class. It’s like, what are we doing? You know?

Boni 22:56
Yes, exactly.

Rebecca 22:57
Like love it in theory, like obsessed. But just practically, it’s hard. Practically

Boni 23:01
speaking, it has been really hard because our students do they, they pretty much almost all of my, you know, real go getters in science, they wanted to do exactly that take their AP and their senior year.

Rebecca 23:16
So and for me, as someone who doesn’t like Earth Science, sorry, go science teachers, I would be tortured have to have Earth Science every year. Like I was so excited. I took Earth space as a freshman. And then I was like, done, like not looking at it again, you know,

Boni 23:30
right without and that’s what we’re going back to because there’s first of all, in our blocked teachers. So I taught from and sorry, I just retired, so I feel still feel like I’m teaching. So I taught, you know, from August to December, and then I had a whole new group of kids. I loved that. But how deep into Earth Science am I going to be able to get with biology? Right? Are you kidding me? Okay, I’ve got six or seven units in biology and I’m going to crack through those puppies, but I have freshmen I know who don’t know anything. Right. And they are coming in to us. I mean, just to validate y’all just borrowing your phraseology, your dialect, just to validate your they’re coming in a good additional two years behind No, right. Anytime

Rebecca 24:21
I read someone send me their integrated standards. I’m like, I don’t know how to I don’t want to discourage them. But I’m like, I don’t know how you’re supposed to teach all this in one year, or especially if you’re on block because as a teacher, I love semester block because I love starting fresh in January, but like I did the math once and you lose like you it’s like 80% of the actual time. If you awesome. It’s crazy,

Boni 24:44
right? It’s crazy. Yeah. Yeah, you cannot. I’ve always had to be selective on block. The only time I ever got through curriculum through an entire curriculum, I was teaching at a charter school, and I was able to teach them there. Science for an entire year. And I had award winning science students to out of that age difference. Yeah, given a chance, we could unblock, you can’t go there. So, like you, I love getting those fresh faces, I think it’s so fun, we get to start again and new people and all that,

Rebecca 25:21
well, and for me getting to learn from my mistakes and get like two tries in a year, almost like, I feel like you get double the experience almost because your TTS finished twice, you know. And like you said, like, you have a terrible test, or you have to rewrite the whole thing or lab bombed like you already get a couple months later, you get another chance, which is nice. So

Boni 25:39
this is this is to kind of sum it up in terms of what my team did, we agreed on five main standards that were just critical to their understanding of science, each one of us did in our particular area of science. Now, that’s, that was an arbitrary number, you guys decide what, you know, if you’re going to use this, this strategy, you decide as a team and do it as a team, because you need those heads bouncing off of each other in terms of what kids really need to know, you. You don’t want to under give them content, you know, but overarching concepts, what’s the most important thing? What are the five, five standards, we just got to make sure they know, you know, one of ours was cell theory, they needed to know DNA, they need to know, not cell theory, but they need to know central dogma is central dogma, thank you so much. Because the words were right there. They need to know central dogma. They need to know basically, how their body system works, you know, not not huge, but they need to know I mean, just things like that. And biology, basic ecological principles. And so you decide those. And then what you do is you teach to those, and you do it as much thematically as you can. Because students love stories. Our brain loves a story. And NGSS has it right in that they give you examples of how the story could travel through the different grade levels. That’s not when you’re going to be able to use I’m going to just tell you, you’re going to have to make up your own stories, because the dynamics and the culture and what our kids understand,

Rebecca 27:32
Barney I had is that there’s so much I have so many people who asked like, Okay, you love NGSS Why don’t you have storyline based curriculum. And I’m like, because the whole reason story works is when you do one that you are passionate about, or your students are passionate. Yeah. And you’re telling the story the whole time, like, a whole, you’re weaving it in, and you can weave it into like anything. Like I don’t even give you a story. It’s so like, I’m like, I totally hear what you’re saying there. Because that’s yes. I tried to give people ideas, but I’m like, No, you need to like, take ownership of this. You got to facilitate the discussion and like the, you know,

Boni 28:12
and so that you can six units down, say Now remember when Joe was running? Yes. And he collapsed. And there was a fire nearby and a lot of smoke. Now, what do you think? I mean, you know, like you said, the integration of the storyline, whatever the story is, I told stories all the time, and they pretty much were mostly true. I mean, you get them from your real life. Yeah, I live with big dogs, I have grandchildren, you know, people get sick, they owe challenges in life, all that other stuff. There’s so much fun, you can tell some great stories.

Rebecca 28:51
It was great when I mean, when we had our infertility, and I was going through all this fertility testing. I mean, I was like the I was I was the storyline for anatomy, like, but it was really so helpful, because I had like legit experiences to be like, let’s talk about this, or you know, whatever. And it was so helpful.

Boni 29:08
Well, I raised rats in my classroom, and I had my girlfriend next door who taught sped, she had the females I had the males. And one night a male broke out and got into her cages. And so what we decided is we would have a wedding which we get, for her little case, two thirds and my seventh and eighth graders time. And we did a population, you know, genetics on it. We did colors. I mean, it was perfect. And those kids were, you know, they were engaged. And then of course, mice aren’t. It’s not a straight up. You know, you’re this color and you’re that color and you come out maybe a mix or you know, no, it’s they’re more complex than that which Wade made it way fun of course, because then They would predictions would be just shot all the hell and shot all the heck and then they’d have to, you know, really rethink it. And it we’d have a deeper discussion about how genes work. And actually the genetics of eye color. Now we’ve identified up to 18 genes that affect our eye color, which is why we get such variation,

Rebecca 30:22
which is awesome. It’s so awesome. I feel like one of the things and I have all these questions for my audience, I need to get your opinion on. But

Boni 30:29
yes, let’s get to them.

Rebecca 30:31
I feel like what I’m hearing too, though, is you like one, this is super collaborative. And two, it really requires a lot of humility as a teacher. Like, for me, I’m the type of teacher that’s like, I want to checklist I want to just make I want to, I don’t have that flexibility. And I feel like the older I get, the more I realize, you have to just do what’s best for your students and be flexible to do that. And not I was so stressed about the EOC, you know, and about their grades. And I think that’s one thing that makes me so interested in centers based grading is taking some of that pressure off. Yes, this is like less focus learning, and what the students know and can do. And then you only have to pick from four options. And you’re going to label them. I would love to hear like, how did students reply to this? And how did parents reply when you all started doing this? And I know you said it was kind of crazy in the beginning as you did both, but maybe as time went on? And did you all switch and just doing center space? Or have you always continued to have two reports?

Boni 31:31
Actually, at that school, and I taught there another five years, I think we did both report report cards up to the time that I left, and that was in 2010. And then the next place I taught a little charter. And we did standards based reporting there. So I was actually really happy with that, because I didn’t have to I didn’t have to really bump up against why does this look like this, and this looks like this. So to respond to here’s the big challenge with standards based reporting, is not so much anymore, because you’ve got millennials coming up. And a lot of them actually have been exposed probably to standards based reporting. But as parents, they still have in their heads the old traditional that we still are fighting that. And I just say that from the standpoint of they want to understand holistically how their child is doing. So you need to figure out how to address that. Right? You can tell them in terms of content, your child’s doing great. They’ve been there, you know, test percentages, or that they’re getting the information in their projects, they are applying the information, their essay, whatever the feedback you’re getting. You, of course, need to use multiple assessments, use authentic assessments along with your regular, you know, testing in weekly quizzes, so that you can show parents where they’re struggling and where they’re doing well. But then you need to be able to address the behaviors, the discipline, the work ethic of the student, because parents want to know those things, right? Probably the best way that we did that was would be our initial parent teacher conferences. We did an initial parent teacher conference, we did it in the gym. It was, you know, teacher sat there and her students rolled through they had a particular time they in the parent were supposed to show up. This was done actually at a at a charter here. Big, big, big charter, well known but really a good charter. And it was wild. It was lovely. Because what happened is that parent talked to all five teachers or four teachers within an hour’s timeframe and got a holistic picture of their student, because I could save what’s happening in Johnny’s quite what Johnny’s doing in his class, but I don’t know what he’s doing out here unless I’m out here. And how many of us are we hide in our classroom is just working our little butts off for all our work. So arena conferencing is what we’ve called it is one of the ways that we address that. And then the other way is just to communicate with parents, basically, separately. This is what I see. You know, you you have to it’s there’s nothing standardized that I know of there’s no reporting tool that we have developed yet that I know that can give parents that additional piece that traditional report card gave us. And I think that’s the reason that the school that I just retired from we were doing traditional, you went back to traditional. Yeah. And I was doing standard based grading. Because I had to that was the way I was trained. So it was, you know, did they master the standard? Or I’m looking at my DC eyes, and I’m just looking at all my NGSS standards. And did they meet these? Did they not? And so we had rubrics that told us basically, mastery, proficient, basic, and then below Basic, basically, I mean, that’s all you need to know, you know, the students got this hands down, can do it in their sleep, or they just don’t have it. And the whole department graded to that because it was, and I’m not gonna lie, I created my own tests, and I graded on a curve. Okay, so I did grades grade on a curve, because I, I know, I have a tendency to make my tests really hard. I really want to see that application. At level one, level two, level three, I want to see you really push that what do you really don’t, however, you know, if the whole entire class did 60%. I know that’s me. That’s right. Okay, right. So I have to make adjustments for that. But as long as I looked at my standard, and didn’t water that down, then me grading on a curve is no big deal. Right. Okay. As long as those individual questions still address the standard, and at the level you’re expecting to see, you’re good. Just take out the bad questions. Because trust me, there are bad questions. Yes,

Rebecca 36:44
I had a really great high school chemistry teacher who I’ve had him on the podcast several times. And I remember he would throw out questions a lot, because the same reason like you realize, like, okay, yeah, that wasn’t fair. Or, you know, yeah,

Boni 36:56
that was poorly worded. That was oh, from what they got from me. Right? I see how they answered that. Right. And I always encourage my students to challenge me because of those things. And I would say, Bring me your evidence, Bring, bring it up, bring your case. And I said to you will never incur any wrath from me. If you do that, because

Rebecca 37:21
I’m so Bonnie, you’re so humble and gracious, like, I want to be that way. And I’m so not, but and so I’m trying to figure out to like, I feel like you’re just like taking stuff in stride, which I love, but like, getting for someone like me type A, I don’t want to grade kids on behavior. Like I know, that’s wrong, but at the same time, it’s very motivating for some kids. So how are you getting them to do work? Those kids that just don’t care? Especially if they’re like, well, it’s just like, I’m on, I’m on this rubric reporting system. So like, I’m not motivated by like, a 10 point grade here or there, because it doesn’t matter.

Boni 37:56
Right? You know, I’m gonna say to you, I’m always this is going to be the baseline, of, of any challenge you have with any student, and that is the relationship that you have developed with them. And my most challenging students, and they’ve been a fair mix of both female and male, they, almost to the person, they need to be seen and heard. So then, it’s incumbent upon us to do our homework. And I’m not asking you to look up the background for 34 children. I’m not asking you that. But I’m asking you to look a little deeper in or talk to the counselor of that one child that says, I don’t care school doesn’t matter to me. Because I’ve certainly had enough life experience to tell you, Rebecca, that when children are in survival mode, school means nothing. They can’t engage, they aren’t capable. And to the best of our ability, we need to give them grace and mercy and try to lift them even when they say I don’t want to be lifted. Well, I don’t care. We all get like that. But try to lift them with options, you know, okay, so I can make this. How about if we turn this into a project and you have to find out about your student, you need to know a little bit about them. Right. So the first couple of weeks of block schedule, you know, it felt real crazy because it’s a lot of time and a block. But I would spend the first two full days for sure. Just finding out who they are. And that would be I have this thing I put around the room. In fact i i I bought it I think off of Teachers Pay Teachers, but it’s a great classroom intro. And really what it does is it asks students how they want their classroom to be, what’s your ideal classroom look like? What’s What do you need your teacher basic that those kinds of things. And from that I would develop agreements, they came up with agreements. And I did this all the way through the high school level, I learned it in an underperforming school, in a training in New Mexico, on an Indian reservation. Wow. But it applied it applied to my middle school and in a way across the board to my high school. So it’s, it’s about relationship. It is not something I told one of my, my favorite subs, and I had to fire her she was my principal’s daughter, too, is terrible. Just because of the way she was treating my students. And, you know, I had to I had what I basically said to her at the time, and I say to anyone, you set the tone, it’s your job to set the tone, their children, it’s not their job. It’s not their job to meet you where you’re at. It’s your job to meet them where they’re at. Yes, that’s a good word. And, and yes, that’s hard with 34 students I totally get and I’m saying using that number, because that’s how many I had in my science classrooms. And yes, we did labs with 34. Yes, we did. I did AP with 32.

Rebecca 41:30
I can’t imagine the grading. Oh,

Boni 41:33
it was horrific. I had two beautiful TAs that just saved my butt. Ta they’re graded

Rebecca 41:41
under utilized. Literally, I tell her I’m like this is a free way your admin can support you. And then kids like to put on their resume, like I was adjusting to. And it’s volunteer hours, you know, zero credits. But yeah, they love it. That I was a TA in high school. And then I’ve luckily every school I’ve taught and has had that program. I’m like, I don’t know how I would have done it. Like, you get so much of those menial tasks and things off your plate. So it saved me. You mentioned like you’ve used other existing resources. I know you’ve used some my It’s not rocket science ones. That’s how we got connected

Boni 42:13
by sure half. Yeah.

Rebecca 42:14
So how do you like, because I’ve talked to I interviewed someone else about standards based grading. And you know, she’s only been teaching five years, it’s kind of been her whole career. So it’s different, because that’s all she’s ever known. But like, for someone like you so experienced, I know, it was a good bit of your career, but like, how do you this is a fear that people have is how do you take existing things you use? And really use them with standards based grading?

Boni 42:38
Well, I don’t know, if you feel familiar with most people are backwards design. Yeah, UBD Understanding by Design or whatever, exactly. Understanding by Design. Okay, so I have used UBD, pretty much most of my life, my teaching life. And what what Understanding by Design really does is it just makes you focus on the standard. As you decide what content you’re going to be presenting and how you’re going to present it. And read your darn standards, it’s, it’s, you will find that most of what you have is usable, you’re not going to have to rewrite your entire assessments, If all you’ve been doing is ABCDE F, and your district is saying, you know, we’re in the standards. And by now 10 years later, we need to be we should be teaching to those standards, all of us. Don’t be don’t be afraid of the standards, don’t be afraid to just read what it says. And that’s all it says, The standards are great about saying stop here.

Rebecca 43:53
You know, assessment bound to teach the

Boni 43:55
Krebs cycle, I don’t have to teach it right. And if you’re teaching the Krebs cycle to your students, first of all, most of them will never need it unless they’re going into medicine or biology. And you’re wasting your own time and nurse, why would you do that. So look at your standards and see where it stops, see what’s expected. It’s not as scary as you think. And our resources, if they were anything, they were too much. That’s what I have to tell you. So you’re gonna have too much resources and you will have too much for your lesson plan and you will only be able to get through so much. So make sure you’re clear on the standard you’re addressing, which

Rebecca 44:40
is great because it’s so much easier to edit than to come up with from scratch. So it’s like okay, now you can just trim things out or, and it’s what’s interesting is like, there are some things not in the standards, like you said, like gas laws is not really explicitly in the chemistry standards of NGSS PS, but like gas laws are awesome and they cover so many So so many of us are still just using a teaspoon, because it kind of like it brings in so many other contexts. And I think that’s where it’s like, that’s where NGSS is great in that it isn’t as specific as some people would like and are used to. But that’s the beauty of

Boni 45:17
rigid, it’s just not as rigid. Right? Standards. Yeah. Oh my gosh,

Rebecca 45:21
I mean, my first year teaching our South Carolina state standards were like, it would have a standard, and then there’d be like, eight to 12 objectives that were like, So define SEL, like, it was so specific, which was like, as a first year teacher was great. But now I’m, like, so grateful for NGSS. And that flexibility, like you said, to make those decisions, and,

Boni 45:42
and to, you know, have the content and then be able to parse out, Oh, these are the science, you know, practices we’re using. And these are the engineering practices we’re actually using, and to make students aware of those things. So they’re thinking about, they’re thinking all the time, and that we use these and stressing to them that we use these steps in every science. And the

Rebecca 46:09
CCCs. I’m like, Yeah, I feel like people stress about it. But I’m like, I don’t even think about CCCS because we’re just doing it. Like

Boni 46:16
if you’re we are doing it like you’re doing it. So yes, you are.

Rebecca 46:20
Hopefully it’s not too stressful. But

Boni 46:22
see, it’s the old, the old mithril. I think it’s a myth, because it was never my experience that science teachers don’t, don’t do. Right? It don’t do humanities? Well, one of the ways I hook my kids is to hook them into the history of something, right? Or to talk about things like the Black Plague. Come on. Right? And then chemistry gas laws, oh, my gosh, why wouldn’t you? Because gas laws are going to affect them their whole lives, right? Our atmosphere is all about gas laws. Come on. So yeah, you, they do give you a lot of flexibility. They also allow us to bring current science in just had a great, great article from National Geographic, here’s a free plug for them. It’s the most most just got it in my mail. And they’re talking about our climate again. And it’s just if you have an understanding of what the greenhouse effect is, and the fact that we exist, because there is a greenhouse effect, then you are better able to, you know, judge and read media and say, well, that’s probably garbage. Because I know what gas laws are, that makes no sense. You know, or I know what percentage This is. And that is that is that makes no sense. I mean, we need our students to be educated, we need them to know these things. Anyway, I think and you don’t have to teach went off somewhere,

Rebecca 47:56
right? Like you don’t have to teach about global warming, because if you teach the greenhouse effect, and how life units just, yeah, the data is there,

Boni 48:06
you know, the data is exactly the data is there. And that’s probably the biggest area where there is need is them being able to read and interpret data. And I heavily suggest it’s pretty much required, as far as I know that every student takes statistics. Because as much as challenging as that class is, it will help them so much determine what’s real and what’s not out there. terms of information

Rebecca 48:35
will and I very recently had a good friend sent me an article about something and I’m not it was very, it’s a very controversial topic. So I’m not going to bring it up what it was, but they were like, look at this data. And I looked at it. First thing I did, I said I looked at the sample size 34 people was the sample. Oh, no. Oh, no. Yeah. I said game over. Oh, my gosh, yes. If you don’t teach your students that that’s an absurd sample size. Right? It means nothing. Right? The scientific literacy.

Boni 49:04
Let’s just do just the United States. That’s 330 million people. Do you want those 34 people to represent? Right, though, right? Yeah, we I taught that’s part of the basics of science that I teach is, you know, what is your sampling size? What are you really looking at? We’re using three plants here at three plants there, but in reality, Mendell did 1000s of plant right 1000s of trials to see what was going to be happening before he came up with it. So anyway, yeah, I

Rebecca 49:43
love that. Okay. Well, before I ask your last question, is there anything else you want to say? I don’t want to cut you off. So is there any other tips or anything else you want to say and make sure people here who are listening to this and they’re teaching NGSS using standards based reporting or grading, you know, what would you want them to know?

Boni 50:00
I would just say be patient with your parents, just make sure that they understand that if their child is far below basic, but they’re getting a C in your class, it’s probably because they’re working like a dog. And their behaviors beautiful. And they need more support, could be el support, it could be they need to be tested, you know, could be a number of things, but to explain to a parent that, that all the standards based does is tell us where your child is at and understanding these standards, science standards, English standards, whatever they are, and that they can always go forward and improve. You know, it’s not none of it, it’s, it’s a flowing, it’s a fluid document is what. And that’s how those situations can occur. Because those are probably the most challenging conversations I have with a parent when their child is getting A’s on all their homework, and A’s on their in class work because they’re getting help from peers, and then they get to test and they can’t pass them. So then we then that’s when we put in tutoring help, you know, extra support, come see me after class, whatever that is. So that’s the most difficult conversation is, yeah, they’re there. They’re not an A student, because they’re doing all these things beautifully. And if I could just give them an A for effort, I sure would.

Rebecca 51:34
But that won’t serve them right. That’s not going to serve them no. Well, and I think you really hit the nail on the head too. At the beginning when he said having those face to face conferences early on. Like, yes, I always try to encourage teachers, a lot like my first couple years in the classroom, I just like didn’t want to ever talk to a parent because they were scary. And then I got to a private school and they were like, You must do this. And oh, yeah, then I made it my goal, like how early on can I meet with everyone face to face, because I think when they see you’re a human as opposed to like an email address, they treat you so differently. And they see on your face and in your voice how you care about their actual student.

Boni 52:10
And that’s it. That is what happens. That’s what comes across to parents. And that sets you up some so much for success. Because then when you send an email and say little Johnny push, little jail over on the chair today, do you think you could come in and sit here for one or two days? They go, Yeah, I’m on it. Right. And, you know, I mean, they, they want to support you? Yeah,

Rebecca 52:35
I mean, I didn’t think of my my son. I mean, my oldest is just now in kindergarten. So I’m like, barely a parent of a student. But I don’t know, I was kind of like, about the teacher. At first, like in the communication. I was like, doesn’t feel but I was like, I’m telling my husband, like, don’t be critical. Like, you’re being critical because you’re a teacher. But then we had that first conference because it was required at our elementary school. And it was so clear that she knew my son, and instantly soften my heart to her, like a couple of things. I’m like, you know him, like, in your, you know, your math messages. I’m like, you know, do you even know my kid, but you do and when parents see you know, their kid, it just makes all the difference?

Boni 53:15
Yeah, it makes all the difference. Yeah. Okay,

Rebecca 53:17
my last question for every guest is, is there any way that you’ve simplified your life recently? Because I would love to hear.

Boni 53:26
You mean, as far as teaching goes, it could

Rebecca 53:29
be teaching, it could be at home, it could be, you know, something, you’ve started doing something you’ve started saying no to, you know, maybe you stopped doing something. It could be a life hack and organizational tool, it could be anything, any way that you’ve simplified your life in or outside of the classroom recently,

Boni 53:46
oh, you’re gonna hate this. I don’t make a list. So I have retired. And I do have projects that I have in progress. But for each day, I kind of take the day as it comes. It simplifies my stress levels. You know, I don’t Sunday night. I still actually still feel a little bit of that anxieties on Sunday night Sunday. scaries. It’s so funny, because I’ll catch myself. No, I, what I want to do actually, with that question is really backup something that you have said and done a podcast on. And that’s that I dropped homework. I dropped assigning homework, and I did it was before the pandemic. So I want to say that it was probably 2018 Maybe as late as 2019. And it was, it was your information, your reasoning that actually made me really look at it. So how I handle that with my adolescence with my high school students is right at the beginning of the term. I’m just straight up with them and I tell them I’m not going to assign homework. And of course, I get Yeah, hey, we’d love to hear your favorite teacher, you know, they just think that’s marvelous. And then I say, well, here are the conditions. Okay? The work that you get in class has to be finished, and it has to be turned in. And if it’s not finished in class, then it needs to be turned in the following day. And that will be technically homework, because you are going to finish it at home or after school or in tutoring or whatever. The exception to that are projects, long term projects. So I’d be very specific about that. And of course, I always gave them class time for projects. That’s right. So it’s not like they had no time. And labs lab, right, we do the lab but then the lab right had right up was usually do do the day after or two days after. But beyond that, I gave them no homework, I showed I’m kind of a flipped classroom gown, I suppose showed them a fair amount of video clips to really punch in concepts, short, direct lecture, 10 minutes, basically. Then move them on and activity, it started applying what they were just in or, you know, and then walk around and help them. And that’s the dropping the homework just absolutely changed my life. I’m going to tell you, in fact, it makes me feel a little choked up. Because, you know, like, most of you, I work till midnight, I worked till 1011 12. You know, when I had kids at home, it was so hard because I couldn’t even touch anything until they were in bed. Right? You know, because they deserve your time. They deserve your attention. They deserve your mom Enos, you know, your parenting. And I didn’t feel their homework was effective. It felt almost punitive at times, like I was chasing down a rabbit hole all the time. And what a terrible waste of my energy, and theirs, right. So allowing more time in class, which is essentially what I did, on my end, to help them individually. That was one aspect of it. The other one was I said to them, you have to step up. You have to crank through this work while you’re in front of me. So I can help you. Otherwise, you’re getting homework, because I need you to get this. Right. Oh, they they stepped up it for the most part. It’s

Rebecca 57:36
such a helpful life skill to now that especially so many jobs are virtual and at home. And it’s like, and you’re you know, you’re not paid to work a nine to five, you’re paid to get a result. And so yes, training that CLI to, I don’t care. Like I don’t care if it takes you 10 minutes to do it. Or you know if you can get Greg you know, so I think it really serves them, but it really serves you too. Yeah. I love that. Well, thank you seriously so much for your time. I’m really grateful. And I’m excited for my listeners to get to learn from you.

Boni 58:08
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share I so appreciate it’s been fun.

Rebecca 58:12
Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode, and my conversation with Bonnie. You can find a summary of this episode in the show notes at isn’t rocket science classroom.com/episode one of seven. All right, teacher friends. That wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you teacher friend.

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