Sharing An Eye-Opening PD Experience With My Staff's picture

Written by Aaron Romoslawski, Assistant Principal, Grand River Preparatory High School. He can be reached at

I recently attended MASSP's Data Analysis workshop on the PSAT and SAT because I was interested in learning how best approach and drill down into the two years of SAT data we had for Grand River Prep. After attending this workshop, I wanted to share an eye-opening experience with my teachers related to the test itself. In order to prepare my teachers for this PD, I decided to use Da Vinci's ball bearing puzzle as a hook before they took parts Reading, Math without a Calculator and Writing and Language sections of the SAT. For those unfamiliar with this puzzle, the challenge is to navigate two ball bearings into separate notches at opposite ends of a cradle (see pic). Spoiler alert – to successfully do this, you need to gently spin the cradle like a top so that centrifugal force draws the ball bearings out into their own opposite notches.

To start our PD, Da Vinci's ball bearing puzzles were given to groups of teachers. Teachers had three to four minutes to solve the puzzle. Teachers familiar with the puzzle were asked to provide others with a genuine experience of struggling to find the solution. Groups then shared how they felt trying to solve this puzzle; identifying emotions like frustration and confusion. After someone in each group shared the solution, staff explained how they would feel if they saw this puzzle again and the consensus was this is an easy puzzle to solve, if you just know how to approach it!

With the focus on identifying how to better approach challenges we face, teachers attempted a portion of one of the sections of the SAT for 15 minutes. The goal was to identify specific and actionable aspects of the test that teachers could immediately implement in their classrooms in order to provide students with additional skills, or comfort, related to an aspect of the test. Teachers were asked to share what could be a strategy, a structure or an emotion drawn from their experience with the test.

After taking a different portion of the test, groups shared their "ah-ha" moments related to strategies, structures, and emotions. Groups then selected one or two of these takeaways to post for the entire group. We had a short discussion about why these takeaways were significant and how a teacher could quickly adjust their current practices to address these ideas. As an exit ticket, teachers identified two concrete things they could immediately and seamlessly implement within their current practices/assessments to help students as they approached this test (Items of note: using some timing system for all assessments in all grades, structuring reading passages with numbered lines, underlined and bolded texts and practice wrestling with the emotions of high stakes testing).

The next step is to use these exit ticket statements at our next PD time to develop a scaffolded approach to intervention by department. Departments will purposefully plan out what exposures, experiences, and supports they plan on adding to current practices in each grade level so that our students have a well round system supporting them for the experience of taking the PSAT and SAT. These two PDs are setting the stage for a later PD where we will dive into the data using some of the strategies from MASSP's workshop. These strategies will help structure our approach as we identify our strengths, and areas in need of improvement, from the two years of data that we have in order to better understand how we can better support our students as they approach this important assessment.