Friday, December 6, 2013

What I Learned Shoveling Snow

During the last 1 1/2 hours shoveling show, I did what I tend to do when faced with menial tasks - think about education. I was thinking about how my old middle school math teacher Wayne Spurbeck would grade my snow shoveling assignment. 

December 6, 2013
I'm certain he would have given me an incomplete, with the reminder that when I did finish the task points would be deducted for being late. I'd probably end up with a C in the end, but in this case, it might be a D. I didn't completely clean the driveway, nor did I clear off the car. And my lines and angles aren't very precise. 

I'm sure our conversation would have ended as they usually did, with Coach Spurbeck saying that he was surprised I could find my way home given my absolutely horrible memory for math facts and formulas. (I somehow always found 323 SW 2nd Street, probably because it was 3 blocks south of the library on the opposite side of the street.)

The grade would have accurately reflected what I did, but in no way would it have reflected what I knew about the subject. And Coach Spurbeck wouldn't have thought to ask what I knew, teachers just didn't do that 40 years ago. 

Now, if I were being assessed on my performance, and asked why I made the choices I did, I would have replied that I watched the weather and heard it was going to get bitterly cold. I knew that before it had started to snow, some freezing rain and sleet had fallen. The snow cover had kept this precipitation unfrozen; but the frigid temperatures would change that, so it was important to clear the driveway while it was warm enough to get this slushy layer off along with the 8" of snow, or it would freeze solid and the best I could hope for would be to scrape the snow off the top of the ice creating an inclined skating rink. 

I didn't clear the car because I knew the snow will still be light and fluffy tomorrow when I push it off onto the section I hadn't shoveled, and I can use the heater in the car to loosen the ice and clear it off. I had a plan going into the task. But I wasn't being graded on the plan, outcome, or what I had learned while working on the task - only the correct way to complete the task.

It's important to ask students the why and how questions they encounter while completing and assignment. Waiting until the end of the task and assigning a grade only reflects the "doing" and not the learning that took place before, during, and after the assignment. I failed to get the driveway or the car clear, but that doesn't mean I didn't show what I have learned. 

I'll finish getting the car out, but since the snowplow hasn't shown up yet, I'm not in any hurry.

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