Students Find Voices, Learn Character Education Through Medal of Honor Curriculum in Haiku Learning

The Backstory: Jason Robbins teaches Social Studies at Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, California. Just this past December, he was awarded the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) Teacher of the Year award for California. We found out it had a lot to do with a Medal of Honor curriculum that he teaches through Haiku Learning. With Memorial Day around the corner, we checked in with him to learn about this fantastic honor and curriculum to match.

HL. Congrats on winning the VFW California Teacher of the Year! Can you tell us a little about the award?

JR. You have to show that you’re building the principles of patriotism for our veterans and creating an environment where students can learn patriotism in the classroom. A teacher at the school nominated me for it—I didn’t know she did it. She knew we were doing this Medal of Honor curriculum, and that I've done some memorials for 9-11. She also told them I’m a Boy Scout leader and I started a Washington DC trip at the school.

HL. And what led you to start using Haiku Learning with the Medal of Honor curriculum?

JR. We had been doing the Medal of Honor curriculum for about a year when I ran into a teaching mentor of mine, Mary Kraus (A Project Specialist with the Online and Blended Learning at San Diego County Office of Education, and a Haiku Learning customer).

She said ‘we’re doing this Medal of Honor thing.’ I said ‘Wait, so am I!’ Turns out she had put a bunch of lessons on Haiku Learning, and she said 'Hey, can you try it on Haiku?’ I was timid at first because it was new. But if you spend an hour with the platform, just clicking around, you figure it out pretty quickly. It’s very user friendly. There’s a lot more stuff there than I thought. And my students don’t seem to have any problems with it.

HL. So how are you using Haiku Learning to teach the Medal of Honor curriculum?

JR. One of the points of the curriculum is that the kids learn character education through the stories of these [Medal of Honor] recipients. The kids focus on learning commitment, patriotism, sacrifice, those types of values. So, they come in, turn their laptop on, and I tell them which lesson we’re going to do today, which recipient we’re going to study. They log into Haiku and watch a video vignette that is embedded into Haiku. Then they have to answer different questions about it in the discussion forum.

Discussion questions from Jason's class
This is a snippet of a Discussion in Haiku Learning that Jason set up for his students. The student names have been changed to protect privacy. They were sharing stories of how they overcame obstacles in life, part of the character education segment of the Medal of Honor curriculum.

HL. How do you and the students interact in Discussions—do you set them up as class-wide, small groups, or 1:1 with you?

JR. It’s a class-wide discussion, so everyone can see everyone else’s posts. We have rules about how to respond in class. They log in, add their own discussion, and then they have to go and comment on two other students' comments. Once they add their discussion, I can go in and comment on all their stuff. And then I go into the Gradebook in Haiku and assign either 0, 5, or 10 points.

HL. Do you other parts of the platform, like WikiProjects?

JR. We also use WikiProjects. The students add venn diagrams and “I am” poems to WikiProjects. An “I am” poem is a preset format of poems in which the beginning of each sentence has the words “I am” and then you fill in the rest with what you just learned about a particular Medal of Honor recipient. You pretend you’re this [Medal of Honor recipient] and finish the words on each of the lines.

HL. Overall, what has been the biggest impact you’ve noticed on using Haiku Learning with the Medal of Honor curriculum?

JR. The students seem much more willing to express themselves. Before we’d ask these questions in class and some kids just wouldn’t share and put themselves out there, but in Haiku, the kids are much more open. It made the lessons a little more real to all of the kids. It kind of scared me at first because I realized they’re telling me all this stuff and at first, I’m like well how do I respond? Some got very personal, very detailed. But we have a rule: What happens in Haiku, stays in Haiku. You don’t want kids to put themselves out here and then at lunchtime hear them talking about other kids. They’ve been good about that. Overall, I learned a ton more about my kids and my kids learned a ton more about each other.

We're also going to a Medal of Honor ceremony soon. There are only about 80 Medal of Honor recipients alive, and once a year they do a big thing at the Ronald Reagan library. There’s a panel of four of the recipients that the kids have learned about this year. They actually get to meet them sit down and talk with them, so that’s a really cool experience too.

Follow Up: A Colonel's Approval!

After Jason spoke with Haiku Learning, he mentioned that a Medal of Honor recipient, Colonel Jay Vargas, came to speak with them as a bit of a follow up to their Medal of Honor ceremony trip.

About the visit, Jason said, "The visit went very well. Colonel Jay Vargas liked the idea that they can share with each other and those that typically are not open in front of the class really open up in Discussions [in Haiku Learning]."

Well, it sounds like the students are getting a lot out of these real life lessons! Do you teach character education? Would you like to learn more about this curriculum? Find out more here.

For Haiku Learning customers: Any comments on this article? Let us know in the Community Forum.

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Standards-Based Grading: The Problem with Weighting Assessments

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Justin Goff is a Haiku Learning Community Specialist, and our in-house assessment expert here at Haiku Learning. Before joining the Haiku Learning team, Justin taught upper-school English at international schools in Korea and Japan. He’s a big fan of standards-based assessment practices and loves that Haiku Learning provides the right tools for teachers to use sophisticated approaches to grading and assessment.


Teachers and administrators frequently write in to our Helpdesk or post to our Feedback Forum asking for the ability to weight assessments in the Standards-Based Gradebook.

These requests grow out of practices found in traditional grading, but to date, we’ve yet to find a situation where adding category weighting would improve the Standards-Based Gradebook. In fact, in nearly all of the cases we looked at, adding category weighting would actually make the Standards-Based Gradebook less effective.

Here’s why.

Keeping it simple, keeping it clear

At its core, the Standards-Based Gradebook is designed to answer a simple question:

How well is this particular student doing on this particular standard?

That question scales up, but deep down that’s what SBG is all about.

Introducing category weighting makes the question a whole lot more complicated:

How well is this particular student doing on this particular standard when assessed in the particular ways I think are more important?

This, in turn, makes the Mastery Score less clear.

For example...

Imagine that we want tests to weigh more than lab reports in our science class. And, imagine that we use a variety of tests and lab reports to assess the standard “Demonstrates understanding of the conservation of momentum.”

If a student has a low score on that standard, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the student needs to work on that standard: perhaps she’s mastered the content, but needs work on her test-taking skills.

In other words, that Mastery Score, with category weighting, is now trying to answer (at least) four different questions at once.

  • How well does this student understand the conservation of momentum?
  • How well does this student follow my directions for completing lab reports?
  • How well does this student write?
  • How well does this student study for tests?

As a result, the Mastery Score doesn’t give us any clear, useful information about any of these learning goals. How could we use that number to help the student improve?

If it's important, make it a standard

“Aha!” you say. “But isn’t it important that my students learn the skills they need for their standardized tests? Isn’t it important that they learn to follow directions? Isn’t it important to teach writing skills across the curriculum?”

Sure! I mean, maybe!

But if those things are important, then they should have their own standards. Otherwise, how would we know you needed to help a student with her test-taking skills?

On the other hand, if those things aren’t important goals in our classroom, then why assess them at all?

If if it's worth assessing, it's worth assessing well

“Wait!” you say. “Shouldn’t tests count for more than quizzes? Shouldn’t exams count for more than homework? Doesn’t the earth revolve around the sun?”

Nope! Not necessarily! (I mean, except for that last one.)

Somewhere along the way, it became a truth universally acknowledged that the size of an assessment should determine how many points the assessment is worth.

The tricky thing is that, in traditional grading, this makes a strange kind of sense. If we were using a traditional approach, we’d pretty much ignore the whole question of what it really meant, in terms of learning, to earn an A on a particular test or a particular paper or a particular quiz. Then we’d make up for this by cramming all of our learning goals into one giant final exam.

In that scenario, the final exam really was more accurate than all the smaller assessments that came before it, so making that count for more actually made the final grade a tiny bit more accurate.

In other words, the limitations of traditional grading are the reason to use category weighting in this way.

But with standards-based assessment, that reason goes away. Why does it matter how the student demonstrates mastery of a particular standard? If the standard is something like “The student can write a complete grammatical sentence with multiple clauses”, couldn’t she demonstrate that equally well in a journal as on a test?

Either the assessment is an accurate measurement of the standard, in which case it should count - or it’s not, in which case it shouldn’t.

The problem with the middle ground

In the end, the middle ground is one of those compromises that leaves no one happy: instead of designing assessments that work and avoiding assessments that don’t, we end up with the appearance of precision and all the false confidence we find in numbers, but behind the scenes there are so many extra variables involved that we can’t really tell what the number means. If we move to a standards-based gradebook but bring traditional category weighing with us, we’re bringing all those old, familiar flaws, too.

And that’s why there’s no category weighting in the Standards-Based Gradebook in Haiku Learning.

For Haiku Learning customers: Comments on this article? Let us know in the Community Forum.

New to Standards-Based Grading? Check out our Intro Guide!

If you're all in with SBG or just learning about it, here are some other posts Justin has written on the topic:

Don't miss any more of Justin's posts on assessment! Subscribe to the Haiku Learning blog to keep up with all the latest from Haiku Learning.

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EdTech Weekly News Roundup - May 15, 2015

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Being an educator means you probably have very little time to read the news during the week. Here are some interesting edtech articles from this past week that you might find useful.

"Meaningful Stories: How Teens Connect with StoryCorps and Podcasts” – MindShift

A new app called StoryCorps, built with support from the TED foundation, “spreads the power of interviewing around the world.” It’s a part of a curriculum that’s been around for a while called StoryCorpsU, in which students honor and celebrate the lives of everyday Americans by listening to their stories. With the new app, students get sample interview questions, tips for conducting good interviews, and the interview is recorded and preserved at the Library of Congress. Students learn concepts like tone and hone their critical listening skills through conducting interviews and listening to stories.

"Learning to Code Becomes Learning to Learn” – Edutopia

A teacher learns how to code, but more importantly learns lessons about “the growth mindset", such as not being afraid to ask for help; embracing failure to become confident with technology; and keeping learning fun with authentic activities.

"Some Schools Embrace Demands for Education Data” – New York Times

This article explores how some schools are following the business world in recording and analyzing all pieces of data related to school operations, from classroom instruction to school bus routes.

"Frontiers of Digital Learning Probed by Researchers” – Education Week

Academic researchers are studying emerging technologies that facilitate hands-on student learning as well as instructional practices that use technology to probe how children solve problems. For example, one research focus is on constructionist gaming, in which students make the games they would like to see and play.

"20 Education Administrator Blogs” – Edudemic

This is a mix of blogs, some written by administrators and others written by those outside the field but aimed at administrators. Some will probably be familiar, but there's a few you may not have discovered yet.

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Standards-Based Grading: Why Seeing Red is Sometimes Good

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Justin Goff is a Haiku Learning Community Specialist, and our in-house assessment expert here at Haiku Learning. Before joining the Haiku Learning team, Justin taught upper-school English at international schools in Korea and Japan. He’s a big fan of standards-based assessment practices and loves that Haiku Learning provides the right tools for teachers to use sophisticated approaches to grading and assessment.


In standards-based grading (SBG), the objective is to measure student progress towards specific learning goals or standards. Those standards don’t change over the course of a class: the standard is the same on the first day as it is on the last day.

This means that a student’s score for that standard is always a consistent measurement of how far the student is from mastering the standard.

This is pretty intuitive — if you think of a score as a measurement of distance from mastery, then it wouldn’t make sense to keep changing what mastery means — but it has some far-reaching implications for how grades work and what they mean.

In short: with SBG, low scores can be a good thing, at least when a class is just getting started. For students, a low score at the start of a class can mean that they're in a class that will challenge them and help them grow.

The problem is that many students, parents, and teachers still think of low scores in SBG the way they thought of low scores in traditional grading. A low score in traditional grading is almost always bad: it usually means that the student isn’t meeting the teacher’s expectations for a particular assessment at a particular moment in time.

Plus, with traditional grades, the teacher will often change those expectations as the course progresses or may even grade on a curve, so that most “good” students consistently get an A and most “bad” students consistently get a D or an F. This can easily lead students and parents to think that only “bad” students get low scores.

In SBG, that simply isn’t the case: “good” students should start with low scores. In fact, all students should start with low scores. Remember, having a low score on a standard simply means you haven’t mastered that standard yet. If a student has already mastered all of the standards in a class on day one, what is that student going to learn from the class?

Part of adopting SBG is helping students and parents understand that early reds and yellows represent opportunities — and helping teachers feel comfortable giving students an honest assessment of how far they have to go to meet their learning goals. Those early low scores can also help parents identify early on the areas where their children might need extra help outside of school.

Ultimately, this is one of the great strengths of SBG — it’s meant to separate what students know from what they don’t know, not separate the “good” students from the “bad” students. In that case, a low score doesn’t have to be treated as a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s just a sign that there’s something the student hasn’t yet mastered.

For Haiku Learning customers: Comments on this article? Let us know in the Community Forum.

If you're all in with SBG or just learning about it, here are some other posts Justin has written on the topic:

Don't miss any more of Justin's posts on assessment! Subscribe to the Haiku Learning blog to keep up with all the latest from Haiku Learning.

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New Tool Improves Data Importing

Watch the video to take a peek at the new Haiku Learning Importer, available for customers next month!

We have a new tool to share that is sure to put a smile on many a Domain Admin’s face! We know that a big part of a Domain Admin’s job is getting data imports right. While it's not the most exciting thing one can do in Haiku Learning, it may be one of the most critical.

The New Haiku Learning Importer

We’re excited to announce our newly redesigned Haiku Learning Importer, which is not only more intuitive and user friendly, but it also gives you more control, more transparency, and more safeguards when you import your data into Haiku Learning:

  • Early warning alerts: One of the greatest features of the new importer is that your data is now pre-screened for issues ahead of processing the file. You are able to review the results and approve (or cancel) the import, based on the detailed findings in the report. No more waiting until after you’ve imported data to find out there are problems!
  • Complete transparency: After the import is complete, you’re given added transparency into what data was imported, who submitted the import, and what the warnings were ahead of time, if any.
  • Time-saving approvals: If you are using Automatic Imports, you can now set thresholds to determine whether imports should be auto-approved or require manual approval, based on the number of warnings and the % of data changed in the pre-screening report.
  • Convenient notifications: You’ll find it easier to stay on top of imports with our new notification feature. When an import is submitted, approved, canceled, or completed, you’ll receive an email.
  • (Optional) New, more flexible formatting: We have devised an optional new specification format, which among other things, allows your columns to be in any order! Note: You do not have to use the new specification to use the new importer.

So when can you start using it?

Starting in early June, current customers will be able to switch to the new tool. We’ll send a reminder email when that time comes, so keep an eye on your inbox!

For Haiku Learning customers: Stay tuned for that update and share your thoughts about the new importer in our Community Forum!

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