Introducing the 3D Gradebook

In December, I had a wild idea to take the spreadsheet that I used for standards based grading in my classroom and turn it into an online application that would be easier to use and to market.  The basic premise of the spreadsheet and of the application was to adapt a gradebook model for standards based grading in a way that allowed teachers to store and use data in simple, meaningful ways.  From the outset, the 3D Gradebook project has focused on three main beliefs:

  1. The teacher is the most important asset in the classroom.
  2. Student grades should be an accurate reflection of what they know and can do.
  3. Educational technology should enhance the role of the teacher in the classroom, not minimize it.

Each of these beliefs have led me to create a product that is a simple, intuitive data platform.  It is not an assessment platform because teachers make assessments, not computer programs.  It doesn’t make decisions based on the data because those decisions should be made by the teacher in their classroom for their students and their objectives.  It doesn’t even assign a grade because that is the professional responsibility of the teacher.

What it does is give teachers a way to store data and view it in a way that helps them to write good assessments, make decisions about what their students need to be successful, and assign grades based on student achievement.  It also facilitates communication of that data to relevant stakeholders, including parents, teachers, students, and administrators.

Traditional Gradebooks


A traditional gradebook has two axes: the x-axis contains the assignments that the teacher has given, and the y-axis contains the students in the class.  Teachers use the resulting grid to input assignment scores, the scores are averaged and turned into a percent, and the percent is converted to a letter grade.  This model presents difficulties in a standards based system because there is no place to tie assignments (or assessments) to standards.

The 3D Gradebook

What is needed for a standards based gradebook is a z-axis that can link assignments to standards and then link those assignments to students.  The structure of the data platform needs to be three dimensional, allowing teachers to tie standards and assessments together to be a representation of student achievement.

The 3D Gradebook has just that type of data structure.

Z-Assignments View

Z-Assignments

When teachers finish scoring student assessments, they need a simple place to enter their standards scores for that assessment.  The Z-Assignments View in the 3D Gradebook is where that happens.  As shown in the screenshot above, this view has the standards as its x-axis and students on the y-axis, giving a traditional grid to put scores in that is familiar and easy to use.  The z-axis, which holds the assignments in this view, is on the left, allowing teachers to click to each individual assignment page and input/view scores.

Z-Students View

Z-Students

When teachers want to find out how individual students are performing and create plans for them, they need a place to see individual student data in a way that is easy to understand, visual, and organized.  The Z-Students View in the 3D Gradebook is perfect for this.  As shown in the screenshot above, the x-axis for this view holds the assignments that the student has been given, and the y-axis holds the standards for the class, giving the teacher a view of student achievement on assignments and how that achievement is tied to the standards.  The z-axis on the left allows teachers to select which student’s data they want to view.  This view is also editable if the teacher needs to update individual student scores, such as when a student retakes an assignment to show improved mastery.

Z-Standards View

z-standards
Z-Standards

When teachers meet in PLCs or with administrators, or when they are making decisions about pacing and reteaching opportunities, they need to have a place to view data on each individual standard that is visual and concise.  The Z-Standards View in the 3D Gradebook is the place for making these classroom and PLC decisions.  As shown in the screenshot above, the x-axis for this view holds the assignments that have been used to assess a given standard, and the y-axis shows the students in the class.  The z-axis on the left allows teachers to select which standard’s data that they want to see.  This view is so useful as a teacher when planning and implementing curriculum.

Summary Views

Click on the picture to enlarge.

class-summary
Class Summary
student-summary
Student Summary
standard-summary
Standard Summary

Along with the views above, sometimes teachers (and other stakeholders) just need a quick summary of data.  Sometimes we just need an overview.  The summary views in the 3D Gradebook provide just that.  Below is a short description of each of the summary views above:

  • Class Summary: This view shows a list of which standards the teacher has assessed during the marking period and which haven’t been assessed yet.  It also shows a list of students and missing assignments.  The students and the standards are links to the other two summary views.
  • Student Summary: This view shows a pie chart of how many standards for a student are currently at each achievement level.  It has a list of missing assignments on the right.  Below the chart and the list of missing assignments, there are lists of the standards that are currently at each level for the student.  This is a fantastic tool for parent/teacher conferences.
  • Standard Summary: This view shows a pie chart of how many students are currently at each level for an individual standard.  It also lists the assessments that have been used to assess that particular standard.  This is another great view for lesson planning and PLCs.

Other Features

In the name of brevity, here are a few other features that the 3D Gradebook offers.  They all build off of the ideas and views above.

  • Student Portal: Using a username and password, students can log in and see their Student Summary page, Z-Students page, and a list of assignments with detailed instructions for completing them.
  • Email Updates: A teacher can send a brief update of what’s happening in class along with instructions for logging into the student portal and a list of missing assignments to all students and their parents with one click.  The update and the date of the email are saved to give teachers a record of communications with parents.
  • PLC View: Teachers in the same PLC can mark certain standards as “essential” and see a standard summary for those standards for their whole PLC.  This will facilitate discussions about achievement in the PLC and possible interventions that need to be implemented.
  • Canvas Integration: All requisite data can be automatically pulled from Canvas.  This includes courses, rosters, assignments, standards, and rubric scores.

Interested?

Go to https://3dgradebook.com for more information and to purchase a license.

3D Gradebook Beta Testing

It’s been over a month since I presented at UCET, and I’ve been steadily working on the 3D Gradebook since then to get it ready for testing.  I think we are finally at that point.  I still have some things to do:

  1. Create an email feature, so progress reports and class updates can be sent out to students and parents.
  2. Create a student view that will allow students to log in and see their missing assignments and current performance levels (the back end of this is already finished)
  3. Create a PLC view that will tie a group of teachers together and allow them to share data.
  4. Work on mobile compatibility.  It will never be awesome on mobile (there is too much information on each page), but it should be usable.
  5. Fix a few persistent annoyances.

However, the base functionality is there, and I would like to start work with volunteers to get this thing tested and ready for the big time.  If you are interested in testing, please comment below or email me at jeff@3dgradebook.com.  I will send you a username and a password so you can start testing.

I will be posting tutorial videos over the next couple of days to help everyone get going.

Reflection on UCET

On Friday, I presented at the UCET conference at the University of Utah. I talked about my experience with standards based grading, the way I have implemented it in my classroom, and my new project, the 3D Gradebook. After the weeks of preparation that went into the presentation, I took a few days off before writing this little reflection, answering some questions, and posting the video of my session.

Preparing to give this presentation and standing in front of 30 teachers, coaches, and administrators challenged me to be at my best and to really seek to understand my subject matter.  I was also introducing a piece of software that I’ve created.  Sharing work is always nerve-wracking, and this was the same.

Overall, I thought the session was a success.  I was impressed with the level of knowledge in the room, and I learned a ton from each person in the room.  I’m excited for the spirit of collaboration that I see in the standards based grading community.

I want to take a minute to answer some questions that I got in my Google Form after the session was over.

  1. Just ways to use the data to inform student.
    1. I think that the beauty of the 3D Gradebook is that it leaves decisions about how to use the data to the teacher.  As teachers we get to decide how to use the data we’ve collected, what interventions we will use, and how to use it to inform grades.  It is just a data platform that presents data in interesting and meaningful ways.  It isn’t an assessment or intervention platform.  Those decisions are left to the teacher.
  2. How would it be different or better than Canvas Mastery Gradebook and benefits of 3D over that?
    1. When I started using Canvas in my classroom, I used the Mastery Gradebook with my students.  While it does the same thing that the 3D Gradebook does as far as collecting and displaying student data, my students had a difficult time getting meaningful information from it.  The teacher view is fairly user friendly, but I found the student view difficult to navigate.  I also like the 3D Gradebook’s multiple views for crunching data.  Each view provides a valuable snapshot into student achievement.  I love Canvas, but I think the Mastery Gradebook still needs some work to be the right solution.
  3. Is it possible for each user to enter their own standards/learning targets?
    1. Yes.  In fact, I recommend that over just importing the core standards.  Robert Marzano recommends 15-20 learning standards that we track throughout the year.
  4. What will be the cost for schools (especially Title I schools)?
    1. I’m still working on the price point.  My goal is to make it affordable if a teacher wants to use their classroom budget to buy it and to be a much more affordable solution for districts and schools than my competitors.
  5. Would beta testing work with a Biology course, or are you only interested in beta testing with ELA?
    1. Anyone who wants to beta test is welcome.  In fact, I would like to get feedback on how it works in other disciplines and grade levels.

Please feel free to post any other questions in the comments.  Along with the 3D Gradebook, I really want this blog to serve as a forum for discussing SBG and coming up with new ideas and solutions that we can benefit from.

From Raging about a Mouse to SBG

Change is slow.

From the cocaine-addicted mouse day until now, I have taken many incremental steps in the journey of standards based grading.  On that day, I had never even heard of standards based grading, and it would be a few years until I did.  However, even with my limited knowledge, I took some steps toward SBG organically, and those steps were crucial in the progression when I finally did gain the knowledge to completely make the change.

One of the first steps that I took in my progression was to change my assignments.  I used to be the teacher who defined rigor as workload, so I gave my students 3-4 assignments a day, which ended up being more than 100 assignments in a 45-day marking period.  As I thought about my students’ grade obsession, and their permanent link to the online gradebook, I wondered what would happen if I substantially reduced the number of assignments and, instead, focused on creating meaningful, project-based experiences for them instead.

So, I started working on creating learning experiences in my class instead of assignments (It hurts my soul to think that I actually had to consciously do that–shouldn’t that be the goal of all teachers?).  We started to look at multiday, multistep projects that covered many learning objectives, allowed students to use their creativity, and almost forced prolonged engagement into skills, themes, and ideas.

In the beginning, there was a lot of blow back.  Students struggled with the new ideas, and my principal didn’t like that I wasn’t updating the gradebook daily because there wasn’t anything to update until we finished a project.  It was interesting to see what the complaints were, from students feeling like I had increased the workload (even though I had significantly decreased the number of assignments), parents worrying how their student could possibly pass my class if I was basing the grade on a handful of large projects instead of 120 little assignments, and administration worrying about the perception of a teacher who only had 5-6 scores in the gradebook for a marking period.

The story takes a bit of a turn here.

In November of 2013, I left my job at a local charter school and accepted the only teaching job available in the middle of second quarter at a residential treatment center for students with severe emotional, behavioral, and cognitive issues.  It was one of the hardest experiences of my life, but also the most rewarding experience that I have had in my teaching career.

The most real teaching that occurs in the world happens in residential treatment centers.  My classes there were so diverse in academic ability, behavior, literacy, study skills, etc.  I had to focus on each individual student each day.  Everyday was different.  I had to dramatically alter the way that I taught in order to be effective.

Because of the way that school was structured in the RTC and the rapid turnover of students, working on protracted projects for days or weeks at a time wasn’t really a possibility.  I tried in the beginning to keep up that teaching strategy, but it didn’t work, and the students became frustrated quickly.  Because of this, I adopted a “win every day” strategy, where I focused on one skill or concept that I tried to teach well and have the students understand each day.  We used short works of literature, small writing assignments, and focused grammar assignments to work through the language arts curriculum a day at a time.

My time teaching in the residential treatment center taught me the value of little victories and the need to teach individual concepts and focus on mastery.  It was a key component of my development as a teacher and as a practitioner of standards based grading.  It was also probably the closest I came to actual SBG without even knowing what it was.

After a year and a half in the treatment center, we were told that the facility was closing, and we were all out of a job.  This was in April, and I set about the job search vigorously.  At least the timing was better this time, and  I landed a job at a high school near my home town, and set about creating curriculum for a more traditional school environment by combining the project-based curriculum from the charter school with the “win every day” mentality from the treatment center.  The result was one of the most effective teaching years that I’ve ever had and the final step along the way to standards based grading.

During that year, I noticed that some of my students were playing what I have come to call “the game of school.”  They were manipulating the system, working hard on smaller assignments to accumulate points in order to do poorly on or completely skip larger assignments.  Unfortunately, even though I had taken steps to make it more difficult, this type of point manipulation was still possible, and the students were well versed in how to game the system.

One day on my prep hour, I was doing some research and discovered a set of YouTube videos by Rick Wormeli (starting with this one).  I watched the whole series over the next couple of days, ordered several books, including Fair Isn’t Always Equal and How to Grade for Learning by Ken O’Conner, and my move toward SBG was almost complete.  I vowed to make whatever changes I needed to make in my classroom to create a culture of learning and a growth mindset.

That was two years ago.  I have learned so much since then, and my classroom is much more about learning and much less about the game of school.  There is still room to grow, but we are moving in the right direction.

Installing Ubuntu (or Ubuntu Variant) on Acer Aspire A114-31-C4HH

**Warning: Non-SBG related post**

For the past couple of months I have been working on a new educational software program that will implement what I have been doing in my classroom with standards based grading.  In the beginning, I was coding the program on my Chromebook using Crouton to boot into Linux.  While that solution mostly worked, it was a limited Linux experience, and I found that I needed a full fledged Linux distro in order to successfully create this program.

So, I started looking around for an affordable laptop that I could put Linux on to be my developer machine.  I found the Acer Aspire A114-31-C4HH on Amazon.  For the $209 price tag, it is a very functional machine, and it is all Intel based, so I running Linux on it should have been a fairly straightforward process.

It wasn’t.

I didn’t even boot the computer into Windows when I got it.  I downloaded pop!_os on to a USB drive and booted into the live system on my new laptop.  The Ubuntu-based distribution worked beautifully, even running just in RAM, and I found that I had access to all of the hardware: wifi, webcam, sound, etc.  I was very excited.

I clicked install, went through the process, and the installer froze when it tried to install Grub.  I forced shutdown, and when I restarted the machine, it wouldn’t boot into anything, including BIOS.  I thought I had just ruined the computer and now had a $200 paperweight.

Long story short, I fought with the machine for nearly two days before getting it working.  There is little documentation about how to make it work.  I finally stumbled on this blog post that has detailed instructions that I want to share below.  Kudos to Ahmed ElSayed for saving my bacon.  What follows are his words.  I have cleaned up the grammar and spelling, but he gets all the credit.

To start installing, boot into a live USB then do

> sudo -s
> ubiquity -b

Then follow the installation process till the end, choosing “Continue Testing” at the very end. During the installation, I chose “Use entire disk”. The laptop only has 32GB so there is no point doing anything else.

After that go back to the terminal and do

> mount /dev/mmcblk0p2 /mnt
> mount /dev/mmcblk0p1 /mnt/boot/efi
> for i in /dev /dev/pts /proc /sys; do sudo mount -B $i /mnt$i; done
> modprobe efivars # https://askubuntu.com/q/906574
> apt install --reinstall grub-efi-amd64
> grub-install --no-nvram --root-directory=/mnt
> chroot /mnt
> echo nameserver 8.8.8.8 >> /etc/resolve.conf
> apt update
> apt install grub2-common
> update-grub
> cd /boot/efi/EFI
> cp -R ubuntu BOOT

Then reboot 🙂

As you can see from the picture above, I have pop!_os rocking on my laptop, and now I can get back to development.  I share this to maybe help someone in the same situation.

A Room Full of Computers and a Cocaine-Addicted Mouse

Six years ago, I was teaching in a charter school in rural Utah that had technology as its charter.  Because of that, I had a full computer lab in my classroom, and my students were expected to complete their work paperlessly on the computers.  As will be discussed in other posts, this is where my love of innovation and creation came from since I had to figure out how to run a paperless classroom without Google Classroom, which didn’t exist back then, or Canvas, which we couldn’t afford back then.  But, that’s a different story about my love affair with Google Apps Script.

I noticed as my students worked that they were distracted by their computers.  At first, it might seem that social media would be the problem, but my students were distracted by something more surprising (and more sinister): the online gradebook.  It seemed like every time I walked by, several of my students would be obsessively checking the online gradebook, hoping that it would magically change and their grade would look better than it had before.  I would tease the students about their obsession and point out that they were missing important parts of my class to check their grades, but it had little effect.

One day, after being fed up with the obsession, I accessed the hosts file on each computer and modified it to make the gradebook unavailable.  In hindsight, I should’ve asked for permission before doing this, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I just knew it was for my students’ own good.

Long story short, when students complained to the principal that I had blocked access to the gradebook in my classroom, she made me undo what I had done despite my pleas that it was necessary.  She also told me to find another solution to the problem that didn’t deny them access to the gradebook.

The next day, after begrudgingly unblocking the gradebook, the students and I had a heart-to-heart.

I began by telling them that we had a problem.  The focus of our classroom was not where it should be.  Instead of focusing on learning and growing as English students, we were focusing on how to gain points and get the grade we wanted.  We were playing a game, and the game was robbing us of our education.

After naming the problem, I talked with them about the online gradebook and its role.  Many of them had been using the online gradebook as a planner.  They would wait until work appeared as missing in the gradebook; then they would do it.  I explained that not only was this out of bounds of what the gradebook was designed to do, but it also meant that they were doing every assignment late because they didn’t hit the gradebook until after the due date.

I also told them a story about an experiment that I had read about where researchers put a lever in a cage with a mouse.  When the mouse would push the lever, a day’s worth of food would be released into the bowl.  They found that the mouse would push the lever once a day, eat the food, and leave it alone until the next day.  When they replaced the food pellets with cocaine pellets, however, the mouse would push the lever over and over again, obsessively trying to get its fix.

My students were acting like the cocaine-addicted mouse, obsessively clicking the refresh button on the online gradebook to see if their grade would magically change.  Many of them were checking 10 times in a 45-minute class period.

I challenged the students to make a change, to start with one day that they didn’t check the gradebook at all.  One day without cocaine.  I even made them chant, “one day without cocaine!” over and over again.  I challenged them to go to class, pay attention, learn the material, and do the work.  I promised them that if they would focus on that, their grades would reflect their hard work.

While some of them took me up on the challenge, many didn’t change at all.  The game of school was too ingrained in the culture.  Grades had become abstract and meaningless, easily manipulated by finding a point here or losing a point there.  School had lost its focus on learning.

I’ve spent the last 6 years trying to shift the focus back to learning.  This blog is a place for me to explore what I have learned and share with other like-minded teachers thoughts, strategies, and ideas on how to make this change.