Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Nov PD1: School

November 2013 was a good month for Professional Development. I attended four sessions, each with different audiences. Finally, I'm getting to blogging about them.


(This post was actually written back in December.)

Our school was one of four selected in the region to have John Antonetti come in as a speaker. The day was structured so that each department would spend a period with him; for the math, music and special education departments, this was the last period of the day.

John began by thanking everyone for being there, remarking how it's often easier to be dead in your classroom than to prepare to be absent. Truth. He's got my attention. He also said that he didn't consider himself to be an expert, but rather a learner.


"Don't ever confuse teaching with learning." Students may get the marks, but may not get the meaning behind what they're doing. How can we help the learning? Ideally we want to have both an engaging teacher and engaging work, but how do we even define "engagement"?

John provided the following two tasks, which were done in sequence:
Task A. This is a competition. In your groups, write as many states in the United Nations as possible, along with their capitals, in alphabetical order. You have three minutes.
Task B. Individually, come up with the 3 main criteria you would have, if you were forced to move to another country for three years. Then as a group, decide on the top 3 to share.

I dreaded Task A. As soon as it became apparent that this was a competition, I hated it, I zoned out, I thought why am I here and why do I even care about capitals, this 3 minutes can't end fast enough. Others in my group had smart phones for looking stuff up, which is good as I didn't, I mostly suggested courses of action. I'm not kidding when I say this was a form of torture.

Even when you win, you lose.

By the way, our group won Task A. John later said that it's often a less engaged group who wins such a timed competition, because they take the time to strategize and plan (we split the alphabet with two sheets of paper), rather than diving in, trying to do everything as fast as possible. I couldn't care less.

Task B I found more interesting. More opportunities for thinking and creativity. The third item was surprisingly difficult for me to pin down. In the group we categorized the individual choices (such as items that all fell under 'Quality of Life'), and saw how other peoples' life experiences had led them to certain selections. Also, something really important in retrospect may not have even occurred to a single individual.

Deconstruction: What made each task FUN? Which task was EASIER?

Conclusion: Engagement is a product of the learner. Some will be engaged by X, others by Y... you can see clearly where MY bias was.


The next question was exactly what a "rigorous" task was. Some thoughts were "When you don't know where to get the answer"; "When you don't know how to start doing it"; "When you have to decide HOW to think before you can attack the WHAT". It was said that if one person shouts out an answer, the rest of us stop thinking - somehow we need to get each person's ideas interacting together.

When I have an idea, and thanks to you, I change it: LEARNING
When I have no idea, and thanks to you, I gain one: ACCEPTANCE

I've also scribbled down "Cognition moves but engagement doesn't" here, which I think relates to rubric outcomes, but I'm not certain.

So, a rigorous task may be something involving deeper cognition. Perhaps akin to "Provincial standard", or "above level 2" on the rubrics. That said, something at "level 1" is not BAD, but ideally posing a question at "level 3" will require the student to LOOK for the information at those lower levels. In other words, by starting with a 3, the student will themselves be driven to fill in the prior information. Assuming they're engaged.

How to overcome paralysis? Make sure things make sense; try to make the task something they care about; start with a single truth and persevere from there. (I drew a link here to Max's "Noticing and Wondering" from Twitter Math Camp 2013. Everyone can notice something.) A math style example was: "A zoo has 41 heads, 128 legs, and contains 2 snakes. What are possible sets of animals?" Once individuals have a chance to think, they can even be grouped with others who are thinking along the same lines.

A "Rubric for Designing Student Work" was shown; "Doing Mathematics" was defined as "Doing something with multiple entry points and multiple valid answers" (as in the above example). Often "level 4" involving some social component. One also doesn't necessarily need a Big Activity; nine little ones may be equally worthwhile.


Earlier in the session, it was pointed out that watching better teachers doesn't make you any better if you don't know what they're doing. I'll further point out that some might consider me a good teacher, but I don't think I could even articulate what it is I'M doing - and would the act of someone observing me change things? Not sure. No answers here.

I guess what it comes down to is that we cannot problem solve until we problem notice... which applies just as much to our teaching practices as it does to student learning. For more from John Antonetti, check out this website: Colleagues on Call.

Oh, one more thing - we learned that in Arkensas you can lose your teachers license if you mispronounce the state name. Jinkies.

Monday, 17 February 2014

No Comments

You will probably not comment on this post. I'll explain why, with a particular focus on why you're even less likely to comment were this a post within a serial story, or a 180 blog.  (Aside: For those who don't know, in the US there are 180 teaching days, and a 180 blog tracks them. Kind of like a "reality" version of a serial. For a list of some, check out the sidebar on this 180 site.)

Now then, here are your excuses:


This is, of course, an artificial excuse. After all, if you had a few minutes to read the post, an extra thirty seconds to post up a comment is inconsequential. It could be done. Don't pretend otherwise. Let's look at more plausible reasons.


It could be that someone else has already remarked on exactly what you were going to say. Jumping in with "me too" doesn't really further the conversation, so you demure. This does, however, require others to have commented previously. I believe that's not often the case. Let's move on.


Now we're getting into more valid reasons. This post may not register with you personally. To spark a comment, the post author must overcome inertia. They must somehow fan the flames of the single spark of agreement or disagreement which brought you to the post in the first place. If your reaction is merely "That's interesting" or "I disagree"... well, there's no inclination to actually say so. For a couple reasons.

The first reason: Merely commenting "that's cool!" fails to further the conversation in the same way that "me too" is unhelpful. It may even annoy and frustrate the original poster, who would want to know exactly WHAT was cool. Saying "that's cool, I liked the use of metaphor" is better, but still doesn't invite much in the way of author response.

So what do you think is better - silence, or someone saying only "interesting perspective"? Many choose the former.

Ziggy says this image makes
perfect sense in context.
The second reason: Lack of context. Which I think is big in serials. You have no inclination - because you don't know the backstory. That being the week of planning that led up to an activity, or the two months spent building to the story's climax.

Granted, every entry should stand on it's own, but an author can't recap at the start of every post. That not only insults regular readers, it makes for dry reading. Yet as soon as an author says "And here is the culmination of everything to this point", you, the reader, may interpret "If I comment on a problem I see here, it may be something they dealt with last week. I'll both annoy them and look like an idiot". 

Again, what do you think is better - silence, or someone revealing their ignorance of your earlier posts? Many choose the former.

It's a pity, because ignorance of the earlier posts is itself useful information. Why were they not read? Or rather, why was THIS post read? What CHANGED? What drew you here?? We may never know.

Of course, if someone does chance to comment despite the lack of context, I admit my first inclination would be to say "Excellent point! I considered that in episode 185.", where my mind is going 'I hope you'll now read that part too!' while your mind can interpret 'He thinks I'm ignorant, I'll move on'.

But let's move on to another reason why you won't comment.


This is probably the real reason for those of you who say "no time". You have an opinion, are even inclined to say something, to offer encouragement or otherwise... but you're not sure how. You can't articulate your feelings in one minute or less. You don't have the words, and there isn't the time to THINK of the right words.

So you don't comment at all.

I'm guilty of this. Lots.

The context aspect of a serial plays in here as well. But this time regular readers have the bigger problem - after all, you've been following along, you've seen everything posted up... but you don't have anything new to say about it. You may sympathize, even empathize with an issue, but you've previously expressed those sentiments. Expressing them again doesn't further the dialogue, or help in any way. Does it?

Note: I'm not saying regular readers will be the ones with no insight, whereas spontaneous hits will be the ones with no inclination. The streams cross. In fact, here's the thing: I suspect the trick is to somehow GET them to cross.

Should the spontaneous reader become inclined to comment, it may spark an insight in the regular reader. Similarly, if the regular reader makes a comment (perhaps connecting the current post to prior context) it may break the ice and allow the spontaneous reader to offer up some new perspective.

What do you think?


Of course, if there's anything to that theory (and there may not be), the question becomes how spark the first comment. So here's some possibilities:

1) Vary up social shares. Break the routine. New platform, or change the time when you send something out. Last week, Megan Hayes-Golding tweeted out that publishing later in the evening garnered more readers. Alternatively, I don't post every entry of my web serial to my personal Facebook page - only the ones that I think have particular impact. CAVEAT: Don't change things too drastically, for instance the actual day when you post. That may throw off your regulars.

2) Vary up an entry. There's something to be said for sudden shock value. Perhaps every post has started what you had for breakfast, or included images of you. This one doesn't. Interesting. Why the change? Or suddenly you're writing in the third person. Don't explain it - see if anyone asks. If no one comments on the modification, draw attention to it yourself, ask outright whether people noticed, and if this is something they would like to see more of.

3) Demand comments (nicely). This can work if you don't abuse it. That is, if you're ALWAYS asking for comments, that's routine. "Carrie's at it again!" However, if you judiciously choose a few posts where you really NEED someone to say SOMETHING, they may stand out. This also forces you to really think about what you're writing. Of course, in the heat of the moment, it ALL seems important, so maybe once a month, pop up your highlight reel.

Of course, there's one other problem. Those who don't actually read in the first place. This is a HUGE problem with serials, in that one's instinct is to start with Day 1 and move on from there. But where do you find the time to read 180 posts?! All I can say is, that's another place where a highlight reel could come in handy. I've also tried video recaps, but (almost) no one's watched them.

More food for thought: This article in The Verge titled "You're not going to read this". They say there is no correlation between social shares and people actually reading, hit counts be damned.

That said, aside from the all too plausible reason of "the internet ate my comment when I tried"... we're done! Feel free to leave a comment now, telling me why you're not leaving a comment. Paradox is fun.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Mage Trixie, the Third

Aside: This is a character I made for a D&D Next session. Her first name was taken from a mage-type character from my "Melissa Virga: University Witch" story. Her last name from a prior wizard in D&D Next (Will Knott). I've decided to do a little write-up of her story. This would be the end of the sixth, and then seventh session.
This is Part 3 of 3.


I... I died.

I mean, I'm obviously okay now, or I wouldn't be writing this. And maybe I only really dropped unconscious, but I was as good as dead for at least six seconds or something. I just... look, I need a moment. We're trying to steer a boat here anyway.

There. A moment for you, hours for me. So how did I begin my last entry? ... Joking about being dead. F*c* it, the **ck was I thinking... I'm such a **c**ng... Look, I apparently need more time.

Hee! So wha's better, a Trixie writin wh*n drunk or tomrrow mornin when hu*govar? D'you even car*? Helloooo, anyone readin? I know wat'll get you read! If I discrib* what I* wearin, namely * **~* of **** w*th ******** **** an ***~* ******** ****!!!


Note to self: Don't write when drunk. Those bits aren't erasing very well. Heck, I'm sorely tempted to chuck this entire account in the river. But even if I do, maybe some other mage will still restore the pages and maybe they can learn from reading the whole thing. Which... yeah, if you're reading this, that probably happened. Great. And at at this point, I've really screwed up this introduction, let's just pick up where we left off last entry. Okay?

An image of actual me.
Recorded in case I die again.
Small open area, pool of water in the middle, perimeter around the outside. Where I nearly died. Okay, okay, getting past that. So we're walking across to this door on the far side, when Patronian tells everyone to freeze. He's become aware of something in the water, despite Eldar flashing a light and checking that.

It's a water weird. THAT much I clue into now, having heard of them with my planar lore! It blends right in with the water. Which... yeah, pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Oh, there's a guy a few villages over whose advice would be handy about now, but he's not exactly accessible.


I forget who came up with the plan, but it involved chucking the oil lanterns onto the water and setting the surface alight. Fair enough. Eldar makes a break for the lantern by the far door, and he succeeds. Patronian gets the closer lantern, but as he's heading for the throw, the Weird uncoils. I zap it with ray of frost! Was holding my action for that.

I think the Weird was hurt there? Created a chunk of ice at least. Then Ox and the Paladin wail on it, while Morrian sets the oil from the one lantern on fire. This causes the Weird to retreat back beneath the surface. GOOD. Which gives US cause to retreat. Except of COURSE both doors are (1) locked and (2) locked using 3 separate locks. And we're not retreating back up.

Gabriel keeps an eye on the closer door near me as Patronian starts to try and unlock the far one. The oil on the water burns itself out, but the Weird must be wary or healing or something. I go to investigate a pile of rocks in the corner. Turns out to be a pile of rocks. Alrighty then.

Which is when the big alarm goes off. Apparently Patronian succeeded with ONE of the locks, but I guess it's the wrong sequence or they had to be simultaneous or something. He soon makes short work of the others, but hey, now they know we're here! So I hang back with Gabriel as our heavies go into the new area first, namely our paladin, and Ox. Patronian follows.

According to Ox, the other two suddenly got jerked up into the air. In the cavern (with a sandy floor by the way), Ox saw a tree-like structure in the middle with moss growing on it. He went to investigate. Apparently, not so much a tree as rock with carvings on it, and the moss was normal according to Morrian's natural lore. Then Ox got jerked up into the air, and apparently the problem is nooses concealed in the sand. Then that annoying alarm stops.

Then the troglodyte shows up.

I hear Morrian give a shout, and run over from Gabriel's Door to zap it with the trusty ray of frost. Patronian, Paladin and Ox try to cut themselves down as we engage the lizard-like being with the bad odor. That last putting us at a bit of a disadvantage; it's like poison. That said, it's actually dispatched fairly easily, particularly once our paladin is on her feet again, but that gives time for the other nasties to close within range. Another troglodyte aaaaand I learn what a Mud Tiger is.

Mud Tigers apparently shoot out lightning. Alrighty. On the bright side, still being in the water pool room, I wasn't in range of that attack. On the down side, it meant I WAS in range of... of... okay, okay, one thing at a time.

I decide to zap off magic missiles. I can track three, so I spear two into the Mud Tiger and one into the troglodyte. Ox has cut himself down, and while Patronius is having more trouble, he's chucking daggers from above. One scores a hit.

Meanwhile, Gabriel has come to join me at this point as we try to figure out if we can get into this cavernous room without being offed by the troglodyte. As such, it's Eldar who first sees Gabriel's Door open and a hooded cleric come through. Cleric says something to "Brubgrok" about us being here, as expected, and is joined by a dwarf with a sharp sword. And then, in his chanting a few words, everything goes silent.

Have you ever experienced total silence? It's *~~K* DAMN CREEPY. You also lose out on a lot of battle cues, so I didn't realize the dwarf had closed the distance behind me until his sword was practically giving me a haircut, gyaaah. This now takes up my attention. I also can't Ray of Frost - or spellcast generally - because that needs a verbal cue. So I'm worried.

I figure this isn't TOO bad though. I haven't taken a hit yet, Gabriel's gone to the cavern to help Morrian deal with the troglodyte, and I see Eldar throwing his sleeping powder at the cleric. Which... the cleric shakes off. A bit incredulous, I back up a couple steps, moving into the cavern while engaging the dwarf with my quarterstaff - unsuccessfully.

Then... I die. Just like that.

Okay. To be absolutely accurate, I make what might be termed a "saving throw", in that I don't feel like I have negative health... I simply have nothing left in me. It's necrotic damage. That much, I know. Yet one second, I'm fighting a dwarf, the next, I'm staring at the cavern ceiling, my life rushing before my watering eyes.

I have never felt so terrified as I did that moment when I slipped into unconsciousness. Into oblivion. In, I might remind, absolute total silence.

Sorry. I pray you don't have a vivid enough imagination to picture that.

The one saving grace, if any, is that at least I took the hit rather than someone else in our party who might not have had my constitution. See, I used to work out in my youth. Probably saved me. Uh, not that I'm old now. Well, I guess I feel old. But I don't look it. Perky as ever.

Now, the Mud Tiger died around the same time as I did. This allowed Morrian, resident druid, to take a couple steps back out of the zone of silence - he knew where he was, he'd had to run around the centre pillar - and cast some sort of healing on me at range. Took maybe six seconds. Just like that, I was fully healed! Apparently, it's that easy when you're a low level adventurer like me!


Okay. Okay, not... not easy. It's like I was yanked back into my body, drawing a huge breath into my lungs - without hearing it, goddamn spell - my extremities kind of tingling, as I saw people running back into the room with the pool. My first instinct was to run like hell, to get away, to curl up into a ball and cry. My second instinct was to inflict severe pain on the guy who had driven me to feel that way.

Went with the second instinct.

I ran in and attacked the cleric with magic missile. I guess I managed it without speaking aloud? It's also possible I merely dreamed that I did it. Sadly, he didn't drop.

Other stuff was happening too, naturally. Didn't register another troglodyte going after Gabriel. That dwarf with the sword probably could have killed me if it weren't for Ox - only the cleric was on my radar. After all, I found out later that the dwarf had taken a successful swipe at the paladin as she entered. Also he wasn't a dwarf, he was a dwarf-half-orc or something. But said Dorc was summarily dispatched thanks to Ox, OUR half-orc, so poetic justice maybe.

Ox and Eldar closed in towards the cleric. Patronius ran in after me - having finally cut himself down from the ropes - and fired a crossbow bolt at the cleric too. Cleric finally turned to flee, and Ox cut him down... "you killed a party member, prepare to die, natural 20" and very good for all that. I don't know who offed the troglodyte. I wasn't paying attention. I was busy closing into range and bludgeoning the cleric's dead body with my quarterstaff.

Someone pulled me back. Or maybe just grabbed my quarterstaff. Don't remember. Don't care. At that moment, once I was sure the cleric was dead, I was content to listen to the sound of my heavy breathing. Sound. Breathing. You have no idea. None.

I will say this: I didn't cry. That I remember. Maybe I even smiled. Smoothed my robes. Business as usual. Right?

Our paladin identified the cleric as worshipping... Thorizdun? Something like that. He had a ring of keys, a few gems, and the ledger with all the slaver information we'd been looking for. Eldar had been keeping an eye out down the hall behind the cleric during this time. All clear. Passage seemingly led to the troglodyte village or something, so didn't go there. Found a couple lockboxes.

Paladin had heard water waves from one of the five passages out of the cavernous room. Found a ship. Navigated our way out of the mines. Still business as usual.

Baron had finally arrived in town. Slavers were chased off, townspeople were able to leave the guardhouse, more business as usual. Except we were seen as heros, so that was different. I also got drunk - come to think, might have been on the rare vintage wine I stole - so that was different too. I mean, I've been drinking before, but not to excess. So... yeah, maybe I've changed. Who wouldn't?

Now what? Well, there is one part of me that isn't sure I can keep doing this. Still, another part of me has already started looking into the Arcane Tradition of Illusion, and knows a spell I can add to my spellbook. I'm not sure which of them is me the practical me. The one I should listen to.

Perhaps, in the end, it doesn't matter. I'm alive. And life, as I said in the beginning, is awesome. So I'll try to make the best of the time left to me - so long as you, dear reader, say that you will learn from this and do the same. ... Deal?

For more by the author:
 The web serial Taylor's Polynomials
 The high school saga Time Trippers

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Mage Trixie, the Second

Aside: This is a character I made for a D&D Next session. Her first name was taken from a mage-type character from my "Melissa Virga: University Witch" story. Her last name from a prior wizard in D&D Next (Will Knott). I've decided to do a little write-up of her story. This would be from the fifth and sixth sessions.
This is Part 2 of 3.


Did the title of this new chronicle entry make you think I died or something? Like "the second", as in I'm now my own daughter or something? Nope! Still me. No virgin birth or anything. Uhmmm, not that I am a virgin... Moving on!

Maybe I look like this!
(Ignore previous images!)
You may recall from last time, our party is in this guardhouse, which is adjacent to a goblin den, and all the evil folk are on the second floor, so we can't go up there. Or leave, because they'd kinda pick us off through windows. But other than a brief attack destroying the door to the water (I zapped a ray of frost at one goblin), nothing. We even set up a guard there after, so that when they tried to lower a water bucket, we zinged them again.

Eventually it's dark, and okay, we can't do this indefinitely, and we haven't heard from them in a while, so Ox (the half orc) climbs the ladder to check out the situation. Bad guys put something heavy on the upwards opening door, but that's dealt with, a couple slaves meet their makers, and we end up in a storeroom.

There's some really vintage wine here! I grab a bottle.

Eventually I follow the others to the kitchen, where there's four slaves who had been killed in some kind of ritual. Ick. Glad I took my sweet time getting there. There's another storeroom for meats off to the side, whatever, we cross the room to the dining hall. Everything is suspiciously deserted.

Through another door, and this time three more slaves are taking swings at us. Kind of lame - after two go down, the last guy is "convinced" to tell us what's up. Apparently Gly (that nasty, invisible elf from last time... you read last time, right?) fled through a passage out the back of the upper floor. Along with, like, everyone. Damn slavers.

We quickly clear out the third floor above us (after Patronian spots a trap on the stairs), but they took everything of value. I mean, unless you count the wine. So now what? Well, go after the folks who escaped into the mines of course!

Time to cast light!
Okay, still not me...
Here's the thing. Running to the mines means we're kind of a visible target, and while I can do fog cloud, it's (1) not prepared, and (2) the entrance is too far away to cast at. Discussion. There's some kind of vent the rest of the party ran into high in the cliffs, but it had bars over it. Some party members do have shield abilities. So fine, in the end, we run for it! Easy! ... Too easy! Suspicious!

Oh well, no one shot at us, so now we're in the main cavern. There's a few supporting pillars around. I cast a light at the end of my quarterstaff so that we can see a bit better; there's some tunnel offshoots, but keen eyed party members see where the majority of the traffic goes, so we follow that route out. Same thing once we come to a fork, and now we're sloping down. And now we're being attacked by goblins. Wait, what?

OKAY. So in the corridor there's this huge pile of rocks blocking the way, and at the top are 5 goblins kind of lounging about. We get the drop on them, a couple are quickly picked off, and I fire a ray of frost at a third... hits... guy's still standing... fah! At this point they're throwing spears at us and OW! Except actually not OW because there's this paladin in our group (don't think I've mentioned her) who cast a shield of sorts which saved me from OW, so yay to paladins. (There's also a dwarf with us, Gabriel, and I think that's everyone.)

So now we're all climbing up this set of uneven rocks, and with a second ray of frost I down that one goblin I hit last time. The first folks to reach the top (not me... what is it with me and walls lately?) say there's another dozen or so BEHIND the wall, so oh JOY. Actually, I'm sort of serious there, starting to like this spellcasting. Once I make it up, I fell another goblin - still using ray of frost, gotta be the cantrips here, not breaking out magic missile for these guys.

Eldar, that wizard in our midst, casts light to put them at a disadvantage. It's a mauve light. (He likes to mauve it, mauve it. And apparently to colour code areas of the mines, which actually makes total sense.) To go with this, Morrian shouts in their native tongue that we're gods of light or something. This freaks out the five chucking more spears at the back, who run off. The others are pretty quickly dispatched, though we keep three alive in order to question them on what's going on - what sort of headstart the slavers have, that sort of thing. Also we get a map.

I shall now describe the map! Kinda! There's sinkholes around (lovely) and their underground village (we can avoid it) and some temple to Mud Tigers (the heck?). Good enough, won't bore you with the direction specifics. Suffice to say, we went through some barracks where they broke camp fast, and as I've been scribbling this account, we're walking down this long sloping passage.

'K, it apparently emerges around a bend to an area with a pool of water, and two doors - one opposite this entrance, the other on the far side of the water. Two oil lanterns here. Eldar casts yellow light on the water to have a look at stuff, but that doesn't seem to do anything. So, no problem.

   Addendum: Ahhh! Ahhh!! Water Weird!!!

For more by the author:
 The web serial Taylor's Polynomials
 The high school saga Time Trippers

Monday, 10 February 2014

Mage Trixie, the First

Aside: This is a character I made for a D&D Next session. Her first name was taken from a mage-type character from my "Melissa Virga: University Witch" story. Her last name from a prior wizard in D&D Next (Will Knott). I've decided to do a little write-up of her story. Note she didn't join until the fourth session.
This is Part 1 of 3.


Hi! I'm awesome. And you are awesome for reading this! Life itself is awesome!! Woo!!! Okay, I don't really know what 'awesome' means, but it has something to do with awe, right? Right?? Wait, let me start over.

I look something like this!
Except not really...
Hi! I'm Trixie Knott, I come from a long line of mages in my family. On my dad's side that is. This according to my mom, because my dad's out roaming the countryside, saving innocent people, or something. I figure hey, I'd like to do that too some day, so I learned some spells and put together a kit and basically I was all prepared when this group of adventurers came to Darkshelf village. Here's our story.

The main impetus for joining the group was unfortunately the fact that some Slaver Ships were coming. Our whole party decided that the guardhouse was the only defensible point, with Glyrthiel the elf getting the group inside. I didn't do much in the initial battle, still trying to figure out who these people were and what was going on. For instance, figuring out (after Glyrthiel went invisible) that she was on the side of the goblins... so I'm glad I wasn't cozying up to her. Of course, the others are going on about aquatic owlbears, so I'm still a bit wary of them too.

Anyway, we got a bunch of citizens inside to safety. So yay!

Let me try to paint this picture now... in the guardhouse, main doors barred, big room with mules, oxen and a forge. And people. Secret door to the side near the front nailed shut, small room off on the far opposite corner having water, and a ladder up to a trap door in the ceiling. The evil is above us, with goblins starting to pickaxe through the walls. Fun! Except, you know, not!

Okay. Someone had the idea to get the oxen rampaging around one of the places where the goblins would break through. In the hopes of them being trampled. I can see the logic there. Thus Morrian, this druid, cast a light to make the animals go crazy in a controlled way around - okay, let's call it area one. Meanwhile, hot coals from the forge and some caltrops carried by Patronian were thrown onto the ground in area two, where the goblins were also trying to get in.

At this point, we wait. They come through. Elgar (wizard guy from town) drops some goblins in area one with sleep, as those in the other place throw water on the coals, making it all misty. They send in some slaves, who end up on the caltrops, so that's a problem for them walking. I drop Magic Missile on three of them. Which I feel kinda bad about, except okay, not really, because they chose the wrong side. Hey, my first spell in combat! Go me!

What you imagine I look like. Maybe.

At this point, we've got Glyrthiel marching into area one along with a bugbear and, I dunno, some other goblin maybe, I wasn't paying close enough attention over there. Though the mules had apparently been trampled to death by this point, so that was kinda bad.

Let me be clear about something now. TOTALLY planned on not being able to scale the low wall running down the middle of the room. Like, okay, so when I tried and failed (meaning I couldn't cast a Colour Spray) this meant I wasn't in the path of the rampaging ox! It also meant that the goblin approaching to take a swing at me WAS in the path of the ox. And toast. So yeah. TOTALLY planned that. Yup.

The second time I tried, when I went over on my face, okay, yeah, that was an oops.

Let's see... by the time I righted myself, the bugbear had been taken down, and Gly (I'm going to call the traitorous elf Gly now) had turned invisible again and run off. She was pursued by Ox (not one of the oxen, a half orc party member named Ox), Gabriel and Aeryn, as Elgar wasted the sleeping goblins. Me, I checked out this cleric that someone (Patronian?) had dropped in area two, and got two healing potions. Oh yeah! Though I gave them away to other party members since I wasn't actually hurt. See how nice I am? Sooo nice!

Meanwhile, up some stairs Ox and friends met a lot of Gly's friends, so quick turnaround there. More caltrops thrown on said stairs during the retreat, thus as a sergeant and some other guy came down after, they fell and were easily dispatched. That seemed to give the Upstairs Goon Squad pause, so we choked the stairway area there with bodies, meaning the only way up would be that small room on the opposite side with the water and ladder. Did you forget about it in my description? Go back to read it now! For serious!

While you do that, we rest. This lets me recover a spell, and the rest of the party some health and such. Also lets me write this. By the way, did I mention the rampaging ox rampaged into the forge? We have meat.

For more by the author:
 The web serial Taylor's Polynomials
 The high school saga Time Trippers

Sunday, 2 February 2014

My Grading IEP

I used to like math. I liked how everything made sense, how math quantified the abstract, and used numbers to tell a story. A story with clear answers, gradually revealed, all of them fitting together to reveal a larger puzzle.

Then, abruptly, math stopped making sense. There were no clear answers any more. I became confused. Worse, I became sad, as I was now struggling to deal with something that I used to enjoy... something which had now become a chore. A chore I wanted to avoid.

Wait, hold on, wrong subject... silly me.

I should get a clue.

I used to like grading. I liked how everything made sense, how grading quantified the abstract, and used numbers to tell a story. A story with clear answers, gradually revealed, all of them fitting together to reveal a larger puzzle.

Then, abruptly, grading stopped making sense. There were no clear answers any more. I became confused. Worse, I became sad, as I was now struggling to deal with something that I used to enjoy... something which had now become a chore. A chore I wanted to avoid.


Let me be clear on two points right from the outset:
1) Grading on standards (rubrics) rather than points is a philosophy I agree with.
2) Grading on standards is the single biggest reason I am considering leaving the teaching profession.

You may not believe this, but ten years ago (as a student teacher) I used to enjoy grading. I'm hyper organized, and I thrive on repetitive tasks. More than that, grading was a chance to see what was getting through, and what still needed work. The only real issue was volume - I remember suffering complete burnout one year teaching summer school, having to take a day simply to catch up.

Still, the process itself wasn't so bad. Then (pretty early on) I was introduced to the communication rubric, and T's/C's (technical/communication errors). Which was also fine. Better in a sense, as it meant I didn't have to deduct silly half marks for sign errors. I could flag "T"s and mark overall communication.

But soon after I needed to create my own rubrics. Then dispense with points. Then have tasks that could address various levels. The grading became a matter of "professional judgement". I distinctly remember saying to someone, "Why are am I being asked to mark like an English teacher??"

I am a mathematician. I have spent most of my life devoted to studying and embracing numbers. To me, "using my professional judgement" means deciding whether this is a 2 or 3 mark question, and whether that's a half mark off or a Technical flag... not saying "ah, that's a 73%". WHAT? No, that's... I don't know, what you do when you're marking an essay.

Picture yourself as a computer technician. You are an expert at troubleshooting PCs. Except you never see them - everyone keeps bringing you their Macs to repair. Um, sure, they're computers, and you'll get better at handing them as you go, but it's hardly what you signed up for, right?

That's how I feel.


Standards Based Grading does make sense. It's more flexible, perversely less arbitrary, and makes the student think about what they did rather than tally up points. Again, I'm NOT against SBG. But to use an analogy, using Macs rather than PCs also makes sense. (Oh snap!) That doesn't mean you can simply haul off Mr. Root's PC and give him a Mac, claiming "here, this is better". You also need to give Root:

1) INCENTIVE. Humans are creatures of habit. You can't merely tell me SBG is better. You need to explain why. More, you have to do it in a way such that I UNDERSTAND - which may be very different from how someone else understands! In my case, this has been accomplished, so I don't want to dwell. I am on board with having this albatross around my neck.

More Magic: The Gathering
with Monty Python at the MtG Lair
2) SUPPORT. An albatross is not easy to cart around - one needs both time, and strategies, in order to learn how to deal with it. I've been extremely lucky here, in that the math department at my school has been beyond supportive. Plus there's twitter and other online communities. After five years, my misery is almost completely internal, there's not much more anyone else can do for me.

3) UNDERSTANDING. This is the killer. Do you understand that SBG is an albatross for me? Even if it isn't for you? Maybe the bird is smaller than it once was, but the idea that I can look at something and say "That's Level 3-!" (72%) instead of "That's Level 2+!" (68%)... that's HARD. That's DAMN HARD. It's not math! More, it makes ABSOLUTELY no difference whether I'm getting good at it or not - it's HARD! Even after five years! Can you understand that?

I called this post "My Grading IEP" - Individual Education Plan - because in Ontario we have such IEP plans for students. For instance, students have one if they need proximity to the instructor, or prefer verbal cues, or if they are gifted in some subject. Well, I'm telling you that I have an IEP as far as grading papers goes. I NEED EXTENDED TIME.


No, please, hear me out! I am not saying this lightly.

I know, some of you are saying "suck it up", or "I've been there it gets better", while others are ready to offer me coping strategies. (Don't say "return to points", that's not an option. Hybrids don't seem to work for me.) Thing is, I've tried some coping strategies. Doing 5 papers per night to have 25 by end of week? It doesn't work for me; I can maybe mark all of page 1 for a set of 25 in a night, but not 5 individual papers. Partly because I need to get a sense of that page for the class, but also because I'm a lot more "all or nothing". I'm working on it.

Put a few checkmarks and circles on a paper, no comments, then move on? Or mark with highlighter? That doesn't work for me either, because firstly, if I'm still marking all of page 1, then 2, then 3, by the time I go back to tally up the level, I'll have forgotten exactly what the problem was. Effectively, I'd end up marking the test twice. Secondly, it would involve turning off the editing part of my brain, and a year ago I babbled on about how I can't seem to do that either.

At present, my method is to go through and mark all my papers... then instead of 20 seconds to tally up points (because what points?), I take 2-3 minutes to decide what part of what expectations have been met, most likely assigning a level to each of them, and averaging the expectations together in my head to arrive at a final percentage I can live with. For a class of 30 students, this is 60 TO 90 ADDITIONAL MINUTES.

I'm not going to claim this is a "math" thing either. For all I know, English teachers have it harder - at least I'm being asked to completely realign my thinking as I move to a new system. My suspicion is that they're being asked to completely realign their thinking while working within the SAME system. Going back to my analogy, it's like keeping the PC but after years of Windows XP you're expected to transition immediately to Windows 7. Not so simple.


This always hits home at the end of January. During the semester, I can artificially create time, by spacing out my evaluations. Can't do that during exam week. In the span of 5 days, I have over 9 hours of duties (administering exams), 3 sets of exams to grade, 3 sets of report cards to generate, plus an entirely new semester to prepare for. Oh, and throw in 3 sets of summative tasks to grade too, since I never have time to get to those earlier, what with spending time SETTING exams and finishing final tests.

It is hell for me.

This year, the week before exams, I was seriously considering falling down the stairs as an "out". No joke. Possibly the only thing that kept me from doing it was the fact that I don't actually want to paralyze or kill myself.



I completely understand if "suck it up" or "heck with SBG" is still your response at this point. Fine. I know we don't have IEPs in the real world. Everyone has to do the same job in the same amount of time, whether you're a teacher or a doctor or whatever. However, I will say again: Standards Based Grading is the single biggest reason I am considering leaving the teaching profession.

Why? Because it is an internal issue.

Problem students come and go. Any issues with colleagues aren't a source of extended stress to me either. Even government politics and policies have a limited life span, albeit on a somewhat larger time scale - and by the way, I don't see SBG as a policy, I see it as a cultural shift.

All of that is external. Marking on rubrics, without points, without using the math that has been at my very core for so long... that's internal. That's a chore. That's something I'm constantly wrestling with. It is exhausting me. And I don't know how much longer I can deal.

Do you know anyone else like me? Are YOU like me? Because that's why I'm writing this. You're not alone. Then again, this whole post may still make no sense to the majority of you! Either way, feel free to drop me a comment below.

I know perception is part of the battle too.

By the way, I switched to a Mac over 5 years ago. Liking it. Found that transition to be tons easier - go figure.