Prologue

The sick new tardy policy.

Every student starts with a green passport. The green passport has boxes for eight tardies and lines for fifteen hall passes. The student shows up tardy, the teacher signs one of the boxes. The student needs a trip to the bathroom, the teacher fills out one of the lines. No one’s gotta be uptight about it or make it personal.

The student reaches the fifteenth hall pass or the eighth tardy, they head to the office and grab a yellow passport. They also serve five lunchtime detentions and get a parent phone call.

The yellow passport fills up after six tardies and fifteen hall passes. Penalty at the end of that is a red passport plus a one-day suspension plus a parent conference.

At the end of the red passport (three tardy boxes and fifteen passes) they fail the course with the most tardies.

They get a fresh start every semester.

This is a clear, reasonable, enforceable solution to a squall of a problem ’round here. It will doubtlessly drive down tardies. Only question is how student morale will fare, a question which is bound entirely up in how respectfully teachers fill up those passports.

The cell phone policy that almost was.

From first bell to last bell: no cell phones at all.

Which would’ve been an interesting sight at this school where some students report clearing a thousand text messages by nightfall.

After some lively internal debate among the faculty, this policy was later downgraded to allow cell phone use during brunch and lunch.

I kept mum throughout the meeting (my default mode during staff gatherings, incidentallyI realize this fact bangs rather awkwardly against my blog persona. I have no excuse. Playacting this adult thing is easier online than when people can see me.) until the following criticism of student criticism arose:

I got through high school without a cell phone. Why can’t they?

My right arm floated above my head and kinda hung there for a few seconds. I realized what I had done but before I could pull it back down, the principal pointed at me.

I cursed the edublogosphere in my head — all of you — and then said:

I don’t want to turn this into an age thing but arguments that “it wasn’t like that in my day” don’t hold much water with me. Kids didn’t have cars when my grandparents went to school but the world changed. Mobile phone penetration is at basically 100%. [Yeah, I actually said “mobile phone penetration.” *smacks head* -ed.] These things aren’t going away and someone’s gotta teach our kids how to use them right.

One person — no idea who — clapped three times from the back. I sat down, hazy, unsure of who the hell I’ve turned into.

The Moodle demo.

Moodle’s gone from a zipped file on my desktop to a functioning demo in front of our math department in three days.

Gotta throw love to Marcie for the free phone tech support and Chris, who gave me some time in spite of his duties heading up the hottest high school in Philly, PA.

Moodle’s what they call a content management system. Lets teachers and kids store learning online. I only brought it up back in the day ’cause everyone wanted some way to update homework lists but no one liked the lengthy html updates which were status quo.

So I asked everyone to bring a laptop and we got started first by showing everyone how to post a homework assignment. Really easy and yet lotsa trouble around the room.

I showed ’em how to add a link, say, to an online graphing calculator we used in our (hypothetical) lesson. More trouble.

After putting out fires, I showed ’em how to set up an online homework assignment, ripping off Darren’s Flickr assignment (or ripping off what I understood Darren’s Flickr assignment to be), setting up this thing where students identified and described three Geometry concepts they saw in a posted picture.

People seemed intimidated, impressed. Can’t shake the awareness we’re nowhere near the bottom of this thing.

The prospect of registering our students daunted all of us. That’s where I’ll lose some folks. Me, I plan to make registration part of our opening week activities, sending kids up to my laptop to sign up and enroll in our course. I plan to drive student traffic to our Moodle page by linking to the daily cool video I show at the break (stuff like this).

Today the math department, tomorrow …….. OTHER departments!!11!

About 
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.

30 Comments

  1. You could avoid the registration process by making all of the course open enrollment. After a week or so, teachers can unenroll the lurkers- no sweat.

    We use FirstClass as an e-mail system (every student has an account) and every course has a conference as well. Every year the tech department has to go through the massive registration process of assigning students to their course conferences. When students start switching classes (like say, out of my AP Euro), there is always a lag time until they get assigned to their new course conference in FirstClass.

    No so in Moodle, it is simply a non-issue. Open the enrollment and they will come.

    Shame on you for having access to YouTube at school – how do you get around the thought police?

  2. “This is a clear, reasonable, enforceable solution to a squall of a problem ’round here. It will doubtlessly drive down tardies. Only question is how student morale will fare,[…]”

    It will make them feel disrespected. That’s how I’d feel if I were in their position. The system sounds clear. And certainly enforceable. And it will certainly drive down tardies. Not sure the measurable benefit will outweigh the hidden costs though.

    You are correct in saying that a lot will depend upon how teachers go about it and communicate this system to their students. One small but obvious thing to do might be to drop the insulting-to-the-intelligence color-gradient scheme (green, yellow, red) for the “passports”. Clearly these traditional colors are used to intimidate rather than teach. But I guess some are into that kind of psychological baloney.

  3. Oh yeah…I second what Steve says about enrollment. Just let the students join the class freely during the first few days it exists. It’s easy for a teacher to detect any strangers, boot them out and then close the door to any new students after the flood gates have been opened. After that, teachers could just use an enrollment key to give to any new students or guests they want to allow into the course at a later date.

    I’ll be presenting Moodle workshops to my colleagues in November. Like you, I’m still learning. Good luck.

  4. It’s Saturday morning. The kiddo and I are playing in his room while we wait for his mama to return so we can head out for a little breakfast-at-the-diner action. Thought I’d take a look at what’s been going on in the DY/Dan world this week. So pleased I did.

    As I sit here watching my kiddo pull every book from his little bookshelf onto the floor while simultaneously turning the Fisher Price barn upside down between trying to climb into his closet — all worthy of smiling and laughing on his papa’s end — I can’t help but smile/nod at the following provocative lines of yours:

    “One person — no idea who — clapped three times from the back. I sat down, hazy, unsure of who the hell I’ve turned into.”

    Worth the price of admission to the DY/Dan experience on this Saturday morning. Bravo!

    I know that the post was content-wise supposed to be about Moodle and tardy structures, and that most comments are focusing on congratulating you for taking ‘the plunge’ or advice for how to enroll your kids,…but in my humble opinion, the true Academy Award performance moment is ground-zero’d at the moment the clapping paralleled your sitting back down, hazy, and clearly on the ‘other side’ of the proverbial line.

    The “rabbit hole” 1, DY/Dan 1. Mental note: Might be worth watching “Pan’s Labyrinth” in the coming days in anticipation of what may unfold in the DY/Dan school year ahead.

    Cheers from Texas,
    Christian

  5. What happens when they lose or “lose” their pretty passports?

    I also like the comment above re the colors. It does seem like they could all be the same color but they could just differentiate with a number on the 2nd or 3rd ones, even if it has to be Sharpie’d on there at the office.

    As a complete aside, in my city? No one under the age of 18 is allowed to buy sharpies or spray paint. So, Sharpies are a cool, cool item to have. ;-D I honestly don’t know if anyone actually follows this law or not.

  6. I’ll put aside my Edubabble on whether or not this passport policy is a good idea or not in terms of how to run a school and manage students, etc.
    Here are my questions…

    1. Won’t half the kids have “lost” these things by Labor Day? The rest by the 49’ers home opener?

    2. Will your administration provide gloves to handle the passports? Yuck! I sense biohazard after 48 hours.

    This idea will be scrapped within weeks, if not sooner. Nice try Dy/Dan’s supervisors!!!! Damn Educrats

    About the cell phone policy…hats off for your comment and for speaking up. Every generation of adults seems to have a bit of envy about the cuurent crop of youth. The car analogy is a fair one. Driving to school is rarely a neccesity for kids. Schools, probably back in the 50’s as suburbia was built most likely debated car policies. Now a suburban/rural school a student parking lot is a given.

  7. No doubt that almost all students that are the ones who are generally tardy will lose these papers. Then what is expected of the teacher when a kid enters the room? I’d suggest that we would be able to send these students to the principal’s office. Once they realize that they are getting ten or so kids a period by the time the middle of September comes around, they’ll realize the policy isn’t working (and suggest that the teachers do something).

    A lot of my kids can’t get through the school year without losing a cell phone or ipod. Expecting them to continue to carry around a piece of paper all year long seems silly.

    Seriously, who thinks this will work?

  8. On Moodle:

    At the moment, when a new user clicks on a course, they’re given the option to enrol(l). That’s what you fellas mean by “open enrollment,” right? So I let that run for the first part of the year and then turn it off. Where do I turn that off?

    On the tardy policy:

    If a student loses the paper she is moved to the next color level.

    I’d be more willing to indulge speculation that “this ain’t gonna work for [reason x]” if this principal hadn’t already implemented this policy successfully in three other schools over six years. In six years and three schools, he reports, only two kids have ever taken the policy to its endpoint.

    I’m more interested in discussing student reaction to this policy which, no matter how teachers enforce it, will initially be one of shock.

    If these passports served merely to curtail tardies, I’d consider those “the hidden costs” more. But these are their hall passes, too. Something like 90% of suspendable offenses took place during class hours last year necessitating some sort of consistent way to tell who should be out of class and who’s gonna set a trash can on fire.

    Like several of the commenters, top-down policies like these make me itchy. But out-of-class incidences and in-class disruptions (tardies) are currently so high and this administration seems so willing to absorb the time cost of this system, I have little doubt of its success.

  9. To turn off:

    When the teacher of the course is logged in and at the course home page, they can go to Administration > Settings and then the options for enrollment are in there.

    Hidden Costs:

    I think we’d all agree that ideally what we want is to convey to students why showing up to class and on time is part of what it means to be a responsible individual. We want this more than the “Show up on time or your ass is grass (while pointing to colored sheets on the wall).” threat.

    Unfortunately, using artificial systems of control to influence behavior is in direct conflict with the desire to get students to actually see their own behavior in action. If we do the latter, we win. We all win. The reality though is that many of us are teaching in supra-large institutions with 30 or 40 students in each of our classes. Although we try, student-teacher relationships are FAR less than ideal in such circumstances. So, I’m certainly not suggesting that these schools do away with these “necessarily evil” systems though it does bother me that many educators out there don’t even realize that these systems are a result of very imperfect circumstances to begin with. Instead, they just smile and defend these systems as being “solutions”. It’s like giving money to poor countries and thinking one is actually doing something to solve the problem of poverty.

    My 4-year old has no concept of “rules” in our house. So far (crossing fingers), Mom and I have no need for such things. That’s not to say we just “let” him run wild. But we interact and relate to him so much that we can generally let his own conscience decide. In fact, we see that the more his own conscience makes decisions, the more he matures. We spend an enormous amount of time asking questions like “Why do you think you should bathe and brush your teeth?”, “Why should we go to bed now?”, “Why are you upset?”, “What did you think would happen when you stuck those coins in the DVD drive?” We can do this because we spend an enormous amount of time with him (both Mom and I are teachers and he also attends the school we teach at). We attempt to be as relationary (instead of reactionary) as possible. As teachers, do we have the time to establish the kind of relationship with all of our students so that a question like “Why do you think it is important to come to class prepared and on time?” has a genuine opportunity to “hit home”? Generally, no. We don’t. And because we don’t, we depend upon systems that further drive a wedge into what is naturally the very intersubjective job of teaching. Hey, when we treat students like Pavlovian dogs, what can we expect? Getting them to “step-in-line” will produce some statistics proving the very “worth” of the implemented system but at what cost? How can you measure the disadvantages of these systems? You can’t really…at least not numerically.

    Imagine if we taught a few classes of 10 – 15 students. Any teacher good at what they do would never need systematic devices to control and shape student behavior. But the blunt argument I have no response to is – “But I don’t have 10-15 students in my classes. So I have to do this.” I guess in that situation you just try to do your best and be honest with the students as to why these systems are here. Surely though, if we buy into the baloney and actually wave these papers at the students in a dark tone to scare them, we’ll make matters much worse (I don’t know you Dan, but I’m guessing you’re far from the type of teacher who would do that).

    It’s tough. Got no answers.

  10. Wow.

    I’ll bow to your principal’s obviously successful experience curtailing tardies with this system at other schools. Tardies have been a MAJOR issue at every school where I’ve taught or administrator’d, but I just can’t shake the feeling that this seems a little Draconian.

    A thousand questions come to mind — and I’m sure they were asked and answered at your school so they’re just rhetorical here:

    * The administrator in me wants to know: Is someone keeping track of what color a kid is on? Else what’s to stop me from “losing” the yellow one when it’s about to be full, going to the office, and saying I just lost a green one in order to get another yellow one?

    * The parent in me wants to know: Why do eight tardies go by before I’m notified of the issue?

    * The teacher in me wants to know: Is there a limit to the “lateness,” or can a kid waltz into class with 5 minutes left and get dinged for a tardy only?

    So many layers to this one I’m interested to see how it fares.

    As the system gets more complex, you create a new class of criminal…

  11. First, I’m implementing Moodle this year as well. I’m having fun with it, but the creation end requires a lot of patience.

    Second, everyone has addressed the whole tardy issue (lost papers, biohazard), but how about the problem of 17 tardies until failure???? That’s insane. I went to my VP and told him I wanted “10 and a fail”. I actually want 8, but I figured I’d be nice. The VP liked the idea, but said that the district would probably not back it up.

    Bummer.

  12. It’s 17 tardies accumulated across all classes at which point the student fails the class with the most tardies. Not 17 tardies in one class.

    Sources tell me you guys have a new principal for the first time since I went to high school there. Hope that works out.

    Scott, I’m afraid I don’t have satisfying answers.

    I’m positive they have a method for tracking which color a student is on. I mean, otherwise a student could game the system like you describe.

    I can’t speak much to your concern as a parent. After two tardies I call home, but that isn’t law around here.

    I think twenty minutes is the cut between tardy and absence.

  13. Well I’m very interested to see how your tardy policy plays out. This is always a major issue and I like the idea of the student owning the record-keeping responsibility. But as you insightfully pointed out, how the whole thing feels to students will depend solely on how the signatures are doled out by the teacher.

  14. One more follow-up on that… I guess the reason I’m curious about who’s keeping track of what color the student is on is because at first I thought, “My goodness! They’ve finally figured out a system of tracking tardies where the record-keeping responsibility rests solely with the student!” But that just doesn’t seem possible.

  15. How’s the new tardy policy working out? Also wondering about the use of Moodle in the math classes, so how’s that going? What are you doing about the kids that don’t have internet access at home?

  16. Tardy policy is great. In my class we’ve kept things cool and respectful.

    “What’s up, Josh? I need your passport on the side desk.” *teacher continues going about his business as if nothing happened*

    The Moodle thing has had a slow uptake. Nine students out of 35 turned in the first couple online assignments. I’ve told them repeatedly this is happening every week and I think it’s starting to sink in. I know it’s starting to affect their bottom line grade.

    Those who have been on it, been using it, report to enjoying it, which is great. I try to give ’em a week’s lead time so that kids with patchy ‘net access can use library computers.

  17. I’m with Peter Rock on this one. Time was, it was the nasty chermenz who stopped people in the street and demanded “Vere ah your peppers?” The next twit who goes on about Amerka “land of the free” will get raucous laughter from me. Colours? Levels? Passport? Tracking? If I wanted to get people from a young age accustomed to showing their id any time any “authority figure” demands it, accustomed to thinking in terms of coloured levels of categories for just about everything, accustomed to having everything about themselves tracked and logged, this is how I would do it. The idea that this policy could only be demeaning and insulting if poorly implemented has me rofl! If no-one protests at the very IDEA of it, then you will indeed have robot ants for students. (Missions accomplished, some cynics might say). I didn’t go to school in the States so I had to ask a colleague who did what the hell a “hall pass” is? We never had them in my school in my day. Oh, but I forgot, that’s not a valid argument, is it? ;-)

  18. I guess I don’t understand.

    I work in a school where student attendance determines whether its employees are paid or unpaid.

    I teach in a class where the students who spend more minutes in class learn more than those who show up twenty minutes late or use a bathroom pass to wander the halls.

    What is your solution?

  19. I think it may be a cultural issue.

    How well do “rules” and “independent thinkers” play together?

    There is some tension there, and depending on many (cultural?) factors, it could be possible to take different views.

    My own suspicion is that, if you weren’t exposed to a large tardy problem (as in a significant percentage of the class showing up well after a lesson had started) that the above approach might seem overkill.

  20. Dan,

    I am curious how the tardy policy is working also.

    Just to make sure, if a student is tardy 8 times they move up to the next level? even if they have hall passes remaining? what about vice-versa?

    Also have you run into kids photocopying the passes?

    what do you do if a kids doesn’t have the pass but says it is not lost?

  21. Crud. I could’ve sworn I updated this somewhere. (Ah, found it.)

    Okay, so: wildly successful by some measures, not so much by others. The office ladies are working hard on the paperwork so we don’t have to.

    From other measures this is great, though. Tardies are down. When kids come in late, I give ’em a friendly, “Hey, what’s up?” while they set their passport down. It’s all business and all personal at the same time. Love that.

    You ask good questions, though. Easy ones first.

    Kids can’t photocopy the passports ’cause they have an embossed stamp at the bottom.

    If a kid doesn’t have the passport but it isn’t lost, the penalty is supposed to be the same. In practice I think the office staff looks on the computer and just resigns the existing tardies.

    If a kid fills up her hall passes, she goes to the next level but doesn’t incur the consequences of filling it up on tardies (lunch-time detentions, phone call home, etc.).