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How Accurate Are My Perceptions?  RSS Feed

How Accurate Are My Perceptions?

image-2018-03-1208-11-34-864I have a soft spot for awkward middle schoolers. Maybe it’s because I remember, with a little fondness, being an awkward middle schooler myself. Looking back through yearbooks and family photo albums,
I see hairstyles and outfits that were some of my favorite that clearly were less than flattering. I had a very cool jacket with sleeves you could unzip to turn it into a vest. Rather than wear the vest, I would wear just the sleeves. I also went through a phase where I used numerous braids and ponytail holders to put my hair up. I’m thinking I must not have looked at the back of my head in a mirror or I would have likely chosen another style much sooner. I had confidence in my appearance without a lot of data to back it up. On the flip side, I had classmates who were beautiful and put a great deal of effort into their appearance but had the perception that they were unattractive. I wish now I could go back in time and tell them how lovely they really were.
 
As science leaders, we can sometimes fall into the same habits as middle schoolers—making decisions without much evidence to back up our beliefs—so here are some data traps we might fall into and a few ways to escape them.
 
Judging by Appearances
We walk through the hallways and see students using equipment, so we assume labs are rolling right along. If we stepped into the classroom, we might find that there’s not a lot of science attached to the activity itself. We may see another classroom that appears to be in complete chaos but upon further study find out students are sharing data and summarizing their work after visiting with fellow students. Of course, there’s the possibility that the chaotic classroom really is just full of chaos, so that is certainly something to address. Dig just a bit deeper than the first glance to really find out what is happening in your teachers’ science classrooms. Informally interview a student to get a description of the lesson in his or her words.
 
Testing, Testing, Testing . . .
We want students to be familiar with the content and rigor they will see on high stakes tests, so we may sometimes assume that more is better. Stopping too often to take multiple-choice tests takes away from instructional time and can become more important than the learning the test results should reflect. Choose a few checkpoints during a grading period for formal multiple-choice test questions and consider implementing open-ended questions for the in-between time. Students have a 25% chance of getting an ABCD question correct, but it takes a bit of thought and reflection to put answers into their own words.
 
Let’s just get it out there: State test results rule much of our lives as science supervisors. It is a big piece of data that cannot be ignored. As the results arrive, your district will no doubt dig deep and closely analyze student strengths and weaknesses. But don’t stop there. That one piece of data can cause us to panic or to preen, but the reality might be that we need to zip the sleeves onto our jackets and get to work making some adjustments.
 
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