Friday, December 30, 2011

Make-up work and grading systems

As I think about things that I want to improve at school in the new year, I have a bunch of ideas about things to try that might improve student participation or make group work better or let me do more productive formative assessments.

The thing that remains a puzzle is make-up work.  Poor attendance is an issue for a lot of students and my expectation that kids should take the initiative to find out what they missed when they return from being absent has not been met.  I have been slowly improving my own systems to let kids find out what they missed - this year I have hanging folders on the wall for the past week's classwork and homework, and about a month ago I reserved a small area on the board for the overview of the week's activities, including quizzes and labs and the titles of notes so that kids can see what happened in their absence and hopefully use that as a trigger to remind them what they need to make up.

A few of my students do actually find out what they missed and make it up in a reasonable amount of time.  But the majority of students don't.  It seems like part of a general pattern among my students where they say they care about their grades (and get upset when they are failing), but they don't take action to do what it takes to earn a good grade.

I have been thinking about my grading system, partly because it seems like the other teachers at my school have systems where it is much easier for kids to stay after school once or twice, or take home a packet of work, and raise themselves up to not just a passing grade, but often an A or a B.  In some ways I wish my class's grades were that easy to raise - particularly since I have over 50% of my kids failing right now, and that's not good for anyone.  But on the other hand, I don't think it's right to be able to slack for weeks and then do one burst of work and earn an A, partly because I don't believe that allows true learning that will stick with the students.

I have been reading about standards based grading (SBG) on various blogs for awhile now, and in some ways it sounds like the answer to my problems, and a clearer and fairer way to grade.  Maybe the daily homeworks and Do Now points and everything else shouldn't even be part of grades; if kids can show consistent mastery of the physics concepts in my class, shouldn't that be enough for an A?  But I wonder if I can make the retesting aspect of SBG work in my classes, where there are 30 kids at all different levels and many of them lack the motivation to come before or after school for a retest.  I also wonder about how to combine SBG with the project-based learning I've been trying to implement.  If only quizzes count in true SBG, does that mean I have to scrap the projects?  Are kids actually getting anything out of doing the projects anyway?  Even if I dump the projects I still want to have labs, so if I do SBG does that mean the labs don't count towards grades?  I kind of hate grading lab notebooks, so a system where I stop doing that sounds pretty appealing.  I don't think I have the energy or clarity of ideas to change my grading system midyear, so this is mostly a question for next year.  Although if I keep having half my students with Fs, I'm going to have to do something to get a few more kids to pass this year.

Friday, December 23, 2011


This past week my students did a project that's basically straight out of our physics curriculum that I never had the guts to try last year.  It goes with our waves unit, with an emphasis on sound (the curriculum specifies it as sound and light, but I left out the light part).  The project involves making a musical instrument and performing for the class, and also writing about how the instrument makes sound and how the sound gets to the listener.

Some of my fears about this project were well-founded.  The vast majority of the instruments were basically paper plate maracas filled with beans.  Some groups just got up and shook their maracas without any particular rhythm for the required 1 minute.  A few people refused to perform entirely.  Most of the performances were unrehearsed.

But I am glad I tried the project, and would probably do it again.  It was nice to have the kids present something for the class (although I probably should have had some form of public speaking or presenting of solutions or something before this to make it more normal and less of an ordeal).  Some of the performances were hilarious, and though they were not what I would call ideal, respectful audience members, the kids seemed to enjoy watching the performances and many said they had fun performing.  For next year I need to think about how to make kids make a better variety of instruments, and how to make sure the presenting takes less time.  I might make it an optional performance next year, so kids who are outgoing and/or creative enough to want to do it can, and the other kids can do a different set of project requirements.  I thought more kids would go with the write-physics-song-lyrics option, but I think a combination of stage fright and laziness prevented it for more groups, so I might make that mandatory next year.  The one student who did sing an actual song (Bruno Mars's Lazy Song adapted with physics lyrics, which he found on the internet) totally brought down the house in his class and won the "most creative" voting by a landslide.

Other highlights included the kid who made his own awesome-looking cardboard guitar (which unfortunately had plain old string for strings and barely made a sound at all) and asked my permission in advance to smash the guitar like a rock star at the end of his performance, the kid who made a really cool-sounding rain stick at home using a fabric bolt tube, nails, and rice, and used it as his group's grand finale, and the girls who made a beat with their maracas and had two enthusiastic (and rather provocative) dancers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More innocent than I expected

After school today in my classroom:

D: I'm so happy!
Ms. P: Why?
D: I don't know if I should tell you. 
G: It's perverted.
Ms. P: Well, then maybe I don't want to know.
D: I don't think you will think it's perverted.  You will probably think it's sweet.
Ms. P: Huh.  Is it about a girl?
G: (nods) Keep guessing.
G: It's really perverted.
D: She is married.  She probably does it every day.  Every day!
Ms. P: Umm, OK.  You know what, some things are personal.  We don't need to talk about it.

It turns out that D kissed a girl.  On the lips.  But he is still too scared to sit with her at lunch.

D was right.  In the end I found the whole thing really sweet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Good and Bad

L is quickly becoming my favorite homeroom student.  He's hardworking and smart and goodnatured and he gets along with everybody.  And every now and then he gives me a look that makes me think he actually realizes that I am a human being, which is pretty rare among high school freshmen, even the ones who like me.  I let him leave his jacket under my front desk during the school day, which is a privilege that no one else has asked for, which is lucky because I am not sure I would say yes to anyone else and then I'd have to confront my favoritism.

Anyway, yesterday I was covering for another teacher last period and the kids weren't really working, and I didn't feel obligated or able to force them to, so I was watching and listening to their social interactions.

First I fell in love with L all over again: a group of kids was gossiping about a fight and S, a goody-two-shoes who lacks social graces and social standing, butted into the conversation to say that she didn't see the point of fighting anyway.  The other kids turned and looked at her like she had two heads, and had just opened their mouths to mock her when L basically saved her, saying matter-of-factly, "She's a pacifist.  That means she doesn't believe in fighting."  Then as kids were mulling that over, he followed up with, "I actually agree with her."  And I don't know what happened next, because I had to walk away so I wouldn't grin at him and reveal my schoolgirl crush.  Love.  That.  Kid.  So impressed by his maturity and kindness.  And vocabulary.

Then, not five minutes later, one of the girls said something I've already forgotten and L replied with a lame macho comment about how big his dick is.  I perceived it as a not-very-funny joke, but the girls saw me hear him so I had to make a big show of walking away and pretending not to hear it (which is favoritism again... if it had been another boy I would have likely started a mini-lecture about being appropriate).  So I had to scale back my impressions of L's angelic nature and incredible maturity.

He's still my favorite, though.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Magic Cupcakes

Lots of ups and downs this past week.  More downs than ups, actually, and the major up was that a bunch of my kids cut class on Friday, mostly kids who normally stir up behavior problems, and then Friday was a relatively calm day.  But cutting class en masse is hardly something to celebrate.

Anyway, one highlight of the week was my second period artists, the ones who draw cute pictures for me on the backs of their quizzes.  One girl was trying to get me to tell her my favorite kind of cupcake during the quiz (NO TALKING, ya know?) but I wouldn't talk to her and she got frustrated so I thought she drew me an angry picture.  Turns out she drew me a "magic cupcake," complete with a little note about how it is magic and will be any flavor I wish for.

Unfortunately I handed the quiz back without even photocopying the picture, which is a shame because I ought to make a folder of kid things that make me smile so I have something on reserve for the days when I really want to quit.  Maybe I can get her to give it back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You look like...

As a white teacher of black and Hispanic students, it is interesting to hear how they perceive me.  I am not talking about deep discussions about racial issues, because I don't normally get into those.  More like, another white woman stops by my class and the kids ask if she's my sister because they say we look exactly alike.

Today we went on a field trip to the aquarium and while watching three aquarium workers scuba diving in the big tank, a group of my students asked me if I ever worked at an aquarium, because, "Miss, you look like a person who would work at the aquarium."  I pressed them a bit about what they meant by that.  I think they just mean that I am white.  I asked them if they would want to work at the aquarium and they all said no.  I'm wishing for more diversity in what my kids see as their options.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Today was not only the last day of the first term, when I have my kids do self and class evaluations, but also the day of my annual observation/evaluation.

I haven't gone through the class evals yet, but from flipping through it appears that 1st and 2nd period mostly like me and my class, and 3rd and 4th not so much.  Not shocking.

I didn't know what to expect from my administrator evaluation, since last year my principal basically pasted my name into a document written about someone else (I don't know who, but someone who runs a very different class from mine).  This year I had a brand new Academic Director doing mine and he actually had a pre-conference with me and then spent an entire class period, bell to bell, in my room.  And then after school we sat down and had a nice, productive, encouraging half hour post-conference about what he saw as strengths and "deltas" (gosh I hate that euphemism).  It was actually 100% awesome and I went home smiling after an exhausting day.

Last year, whenever visitors came to my class and chose a student to ask about what we are studying, how class works, to show their notebook, etc, they had the uncanny ability to pick a kid who has no idea what is going on and/or actively dislikes me or school enough to portray the class in an unfavorable light.  Not today.  Mr. W. sat down next to R, one of my absolute favorite students, who DEFINITELY made me look good.  So, big thanks to my buddy R for convincing Mr. W that I am organized, offer useful feedback to students, and have class procedures that run smoothly.  I should probably buy you a whole bag of Kit Kats.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Last year I sent kids out to the stairwell to collect walking and running data, so we could calculate work and power.  This year the principal vetoed the activity since things have been a little crazy around the freshman academy lately.  I really think my kids could have handled it (well, OK, I would only have sent the ones I can trust) but she's the boss.

So we collected data for pushups instead.  In 3 of my classes I had a dozen volunteers clamoring to be one of the 3 kids who got to come up and do pushups on my front lab table with the entire class watching.  And an impressive mix of boys and girls.  But in my second period class, where the kids are more academically oriented and apparently more self-conscious, I only got one volunteer.  With a bribe of extra credit points, I got another good sport.  But nobody else was willing.  So I took off my sweater and my lanyard of keys and climbed up on the table myself.  The activity required 5 good form pushups.  I managed 3 with decent form, then the fourth was weak, and I barely made it through the fifth.  The kids were rolling and I was laughing too.

And the best part was, the data in that class came out GREAT for proving the difference between work and power.  I did the most work because my weight was the biggest, and the two students had the same weight but one moved a significantly larger distance, as measured by my meterstick-brandishing volunteer, so their work values were different too, despite the identical weight.  And my power was much smaller than theirs, despite my larger work value, because it took me almost twice as long to get through the pushups.

I could not have rigged the data any better if I had tried.  I guess that's the hidden benefit to being sadly out of shape?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

General Malaise

Here's a succinct way to explain how things are going: today while I should have been lesson planning, I found myself googling for articles and blogs about quitting teaching.  Things have been discouraging lately.  Two classes near completely out of control, administrator behavior that is puzzling at best, and frustrations with other teachers.  Life at home has been wearying this week too, with Spouse home suffering from an ugly GI virus.  This week has been the first time I have seriously thought about leaving teaching.

It's funny because I can't remember whether things like student behavior, my stress level, etc were worse last year.  They might have been.  But I expected last year to be hard, being my first year and all.  I knew things wouldn't be all sunshine and rainbows this year but I guess I thought it would be better than this.  I do remember this general feeling from last year, though: it feels awful to be trying as hard as you can and still feel like a failure.

Of course I'd never leave school in the middle of the school year unless there was an imminent threat to my health, so it's not like anything would change in the short term.  But I've had to remind myself that I promised myself I'd give this a 3-year effort before leaving teaching or leaving this district for a cushier suburban school or private school.

On the bright side, I do adore quite a few of my kids.  I have a handful of kids coming after school to help tutor other kids... the tutees haven't been showing up but the tutors are a lot of fun to have around.  And I showed the OK Go Rube Goldberg video to 3 of my classes and got a near universal oohing and ahhing over it, even from the jaded kids who hate me and my class.  And I love sarcastic yet earnest L from my homeroom, R from homeroom who is a big serious teddy bear, L from second period who is too sophisticated for most things and yet laughs at my corny jokes and comes by after school to chat and help put up my chairs, J from fourth who writes cute little exclamation-point-dotted notes in the margins when she shows her work, and many more.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I am buried in a mountain of grading, which is not very fun.  However, I treated myself to a big pack of Flair pens in a rainbow of colors and it is perhaps the best $15 I have ever spent.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I take it all back

I may have started crowing too early about how the second year is easier than the first.  Things have gone seriously downhill in one of my classes.  I could say more but I am trying not to be mired in the negativity.  Let's just say I had my first kid sent to the hospital from my class.

On the bright side, I do have some ideas about how to get that class back to being functional, my principal seems to mostly be backing me, I am infinitely more comfortable calling parents than I used to be, and some kids are definitely learning.  So I guess I'm still doing OK.  For now.

I killed a cockroach today in my second period class, which is also a new teaching first.

That's about all the news I have.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bad Mitten

I had this as a draft post from last September and it's too good to just let it die...

I gave my kids a survey about their interests and learning styles. One girl's favorite sport: Bad Mitten.

The honeymoon is officially over.

Things are still going relatively smoothly, knock on wood.  I wrote and then deleted a long list of kids who are either disruptive or not learning, but that's an awfully negative way to start this post.  Suffice to say that I have a lot of kids with a lot of challenges.

But on the brighter side, we started doing calculations with F=ma on Friday and a lot of kids think it's easy, including some who have really low math skills.  We did a semi-successful lab on friction last week too (although I haven't graded them yet... hopefully the work is good enough for me to give some high scores so their grades go up because the grades are pretty dismal right now due to the disaster of the Barbie doll bungee jumping lab... and I need to figure out how to grade notebooks more efficiently).  Kids are making connections to what they have studied in science in previous years at a rate far higher than I remember from last year.  Connections to math too.

I am really happy with the decision to start the year with the forces unit.  It's fairly light on math and mostly intuitive.  I had intended to wrap up the unit at the end of this week but it's going to go on for another whole week now.  Which eats into the energy unit, but I think we'll be able to pick up the pace and get through it.  I hope.

So, things look OK at the moment.  The real challenge of teaching, though, is that you never really know what to expect.  Anything could happen at pretty much any time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

2 days down, 178 to go!

The first two days have gone well, but an astute coworker deemed this the honeymoon period.  Especially with freshmen, kids are scoping things out for the first few days and personalities haven't come out yet.  But, so far, so good.

I am meeting some of my goals so far - I called 21 parents on Friday to introduce myself, choosing the kids from each class who won our tower building contest in class to start with.  Parents seemed really receptive to hearing good news about their kid and some offered some tidbits of information about their kids.  It felt better than calling about bad news, for sure.  So hopefully I manage to continue the practice of calling for good reasons and make myself allies with families this year.  I hate talking on the phone, even personal calls, but every teacher I know says it's worth the time and effort.

There are a few kids that I'm wary of.  D in my homeroom who is already faking sleep in class and writing one word responses when I asked for two sentences.  J in second period whom I taught for the second half of last year and seems to be alternating between being determined to do better this year and resistant.  The table of boys in third period who loudly protested my announcement that uniforms would be strictly enforced with detention but then proudly won the tower building contest with the brilliant idea to flip the table on its side to get extra height.  And of course I am automatically wary of anyone who has not showed up yet for the first two days, since that's usually not a sign of a model student.

I also already have some favorites.  D in second period who drew hilarious stick-figure pictures of his hobbies and concluded his Wrap-Up writing with "Thanks for the class today, Ms. Pippi."  J who is apparently repeating the 9th grade from another school but has an amazingly positive attitude, urging her group along when they resist getting started.  M who fixes his gaze on me so intently that I don't know what to think of him.  And strangely enough, those third period boys who flipped the table to build a 210 cm tower are also tentative favorites, since they have the potential to literally turn class upside down in a good way or a bad way.  It's up to me to find a way to channel them into greatness.  Wow, that sounds corny.  But I do believe it.

It's going to be a fun year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The unknown

I did some setup in my classroom today and while I feel more confident and clear-headed than I did a year ago, there is still an overwhelming feeling of not knowing what I should do.  I mean, I can make a very accurate to-do list, but there are so many decisions that I just don't know the right answer to.  Desks in clusters or rows?  Or a U shape?  Or something else I haven't even dreamed of yet?  Baskets to collect homework near the door, or near my desk, or maybe I shouldn't collect the homework at all, except last year giving homework points without collecting papers became so time-consuming.

I think this is the real problem: last year I did some things, and some of them (most of them?) didn't work as well as I wanted them to.  But I'm a different person this time around, figuratively speaking, and my students will literally be different people, and so it's possible that those things would work this time if I give them another try, or if I make minor tweaks.  It's hard to know what to do.

I do know that I have a few major things I want to change this year:
  • Fix the tardiness issue.  Give detention to anyone not in the room when the bell rings.  No excuses.  This was a HUGE problem for me last year and I'm hoping that being strict early in the year will help.
  • Call or text parents more often, and for more positive reasons.  I said I'd call every kid's parent to introduce myself when the year started last year, but it didn't happen.  This year I have a lot more kids but I do really want to do it.
  • Have kids clean up the room BEFORE class ends.  This has a direct relationship to my ability to wrap up class activities in a timely fashion (which actually partly goes back to the homework issue at the start of class).  I wanted to be better about this even before I got my revised schedule, which has me teaching 4 periods in a row.  There is literally no time for me to clean up a trashed room or reorganize supplies before the next class comes in, which is how I got through last year.
  • Get kids to actually listen to each other and have meaningful class discussions.  This is part of why I might want a U-shaped desk arrangement.  Also I made a poster of "Discussion Sentence Starters" and I plan to ask kids what they think about each other's comments rather than saying right or wrong myself after I call on someone.  Oh, and I want to do cold calling (my #1 takeaway from Teach Like a Champion
    ) to try to keep kids engaged and paying attention in whole-class discussion.
I am dying of impatience to meet my new students.  That's the biggest unknown right now.  Only 6 days away, eek!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

September Beckons

It's August 31 and that means the school year is approaching quickly.  I went to school today to get my keys and see if I could start setting up my room (I couldn't).  I have been working on mapping out the year and detailed planning for the first few weeks.  I am excited and apprehensive and hopeful and all those standard new school year feelings.

In most ways I am sure that the new year will be better than last year.  I have one full year under my belt and I can only be better the second time around - I will have a better idea of what to expect, I will get more sleep because I can reuse some of last year's plans, and I will just plain be more confident.

There is a lot that will be different, though, even though I have been lucky enough to be hired back at the same school teaching the same subject.  One physics teacher's position was cut, which means I'll have about 30 kids per class instead of the average of about 20 from last year, so I'm a bit nervous about managing that many kids at a time, grading that much more work, and just plain physically fitting up to 32 kids into my room.  My academy's principal, whom I really respected and liked overall, is out on medical leave and I'm not sure yet what I think of the stand-in, who has shifted from a position elsewhere in the school.  And of my 3 closest teacher allies at school, only 1 was hired back for the upcoming year, so I will need to make some new friends.

As nervous as I am about the new year, I'm also really excited to get started.  8 more days until the students arrive!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


On a more pleasant note than my last post, this week my students wrote thank you letters to the semi-anonymous donors who made our electricity labs possible. I know some of the sentiments in the letters were forced, but some were honest and sweet. They wrote about what they learned in the labs and what they like about doing labs. Next year I would like to do more freewriting or journaling or reflections whatever I decide to call it. I think it's helpful to have kids process what they did in writing outside the constraints of answering questions or the formality of a lab writeup. And also, it was amazingly peaceful to have even five minutes of class when all the kids were intent on writing without much input from me.

Parts of a Whole

Last week, for the first time, I found myself able to think about the rest of the school year all at one time. It's still blocked out into several chunks (wrap up last unit (done as of last Wed), state test review, take state test, post-test project) but I can think about all 7 weeks at the same time without my eyes bugging out or tearing up.

For me it finally feels like the end is in sight, although there is still some hard work ahead. My kids took last year's state exam as a practice test this Thursday and Friday and I am avoiding scoring them because I'm too afraid of what I'll find. And I really have no idea how to create effective review activities. For some, it's just a matter of reminding them of what they already learned - the vocabulary, formulas, and units that have slipped their minds - but for others who never fully grasped the concepts in the first place, it's hard to imagine how I'll bring them to any level of proficiency in the next 11 school days.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A leap of faith

I inherited a school printer in the fall and bought a $150 toner cartridge for it, which was in itself a leap of faith since the toner was not returnable and there was no way to tell if the printer actually worked without trying the toner. It has been worth every penny. After heavy use (including running off a full set of handouts for the days when the copier is out of order and/or features a really long line), it now says its toner is low.

As a first-year teacher in a time of deep budget cuts, I almost certainly will be laid off this spring. My administrators claim it is a near certainty that they will be able to hire me back in the fall, but I am interpreting their stated 99.9% as more like 65%.

So, the big question is, do I order a new toner cartridge? Do I really push my luck and order the $220 high-capacity cartridge?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Caught up... sort of

I am finally caught up on grading, after falling almost 2 weeks behind. I dug myself out from under a 3" high stack of ungraded work in the past 2 days. That feels good.

I also made equation posters today for the "new" equations, some of which are now a month old. Nice to cross that off the to-do list too.

Unfortunately, it's 10:15 PM and I don't really have any idea what I'm going to teach tomorrow. Not as caught up on planning. Or sleep, it appears.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Today I got my third holiday greeting from a student by email. First two were around the 25th from sweet studious girls. Not surprisingly. Today it was from a much tougher student, P, who failed my class first term due to severe lack of work turned in. Second term he started off with a bang (and was SO PROUD to have an A after about 2 weeks) but then missed a bunch of school and stopped doing any work and currently has a low F. Anyway, the message is:

H A P P Y ' NEWYEARS missss [Pippi] - have a goodONE &' take it easyy . OH & i was suppost to tell yuu Merry Christmas but i wasnt around a computer , sorry / but i just wanna wish you and your family the best & take a easy :] !

Of course I wrote back saying thanks and wishing him well and telling him to enjoy the rest of break because I'm going to make his life miserable in January so he can pass second term. Ha.

Resolutions for school

I think I will start class on Tuesday (our first day back from break) with a mini-lesson about resolutions. I'd like to present my planned crackdown on procedures and rules as "Ms. Pippi's Resolutions" and then I will ask the kids to make their own list of resolutions related to school. At the beginning of the year I had kids write goals but I never followed up with them - in fact I think that only some of my classes actually did it - but I would like to write resolutions and then find a way to follow up with them at the beginning of each month. Although maybe that's not a good idea if I fail on my own resolutions. Not sure if I want a monthly chance for kids to gloat that they STILL aren't doing their do nows or whatever I resolve to make my priorities for January.

Anyway, I'm brainstorming ideas about what my priorities will be. There are plenty of things that aren't going as well as I'd like them to, but I need to find some that I can actually tackle, and hopefully that will give me good payoff for the effort involved on my part. Some ideas:
  1. Routines to start class. Kids come late and though I have some penalties for tardiness (sign in, then you are theoretically supposed to make up the time with me after school) they are not effective and I haven't been following through very well - plus kids have started to take my 2-5 minute grace period (longer or shorter depending on where kids are coming from) as a freedom to not even try to be in the room when the bell rings. Furthermore, kids are flat out not doing the Do Now, and I spend the first 5 minutes of class cajoling kids to take out their homework and at least READ what's on the board. Clearly this area needs some work.
  2. Homework. I give it every day, and some kids do it religiously, but a lot of others do it sporadically, and some kids never do it. It's 20% of their grade so this is part of the reason some kids are failing. And I often assume that kids get extra practice on this so that they will be ready for quizzes but kids who don't do it obviously don't get that practice. Also there is blatant, blatant copying going on.
  3. Uniform policy enforcement. Kids are supposed to have a school polo shirt and khaki pants on all day, every day. Kids take them off throughout the day and have a plethora of excuses. I spend a lot of energy telling kids to put their khaki pants back on (usually over their jeans, since that appears to be the preferred way to wear them). I would like this to be less of a struggle.
  4. Make up work. I need a better system for making kids aware of what they missed and getting them to actually do it. This is also a big contributor to some of my kids' failing grades. My existing policy of "ask somebody what you missed and get it done within a week" is not working.
  5. Student participation. My school district gave out a student survey for every kid in every class and one thing I ranked low on (rightfully so) is calling on different kids. I mostly let kids volunteer to answer questions and it tends to be the same few kids doing it all the time. I have popsicle sticks with kids' names on them but I haven't used them much this year. One of my classes consistently complains that I treat them like little kids so maybe the sticks are too babyish for high school, but I need some way of calling on kids with some semblance of randomness.
  6. Rigor in class discussions. I'd like to spend more time talking about lab results and the conclusions we can draw from them, but I'm not sure how to make class discussions productive when only a few kids will talk and while that is happening most of the other kids are either zoned out, doing distracting things (talking about other things, out of their seats, etc). I have more success getting kids to stay on task when I am asking them to do something productive than when I am trying to hold a whole-class discussion together, but reading and writing skills are too weak (and/or kids are too lazy) to do much rigorous science on their own or in small groups - so whole-class discussions are my most promising idea to get more in depth about the science content.
In reality I don't think I can change all of this. At least not this school year. I have to figure out what I can actually work towards in January and then figure out how to clue kids in about my new plans and expectations.