A Letter to Professor Webster

Last week was my final week student teaching at 58 School. I had planned to end it with two summative assessments and fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so. The first assessment was a performance task which asked students to apply everything that was learned so far in the unit to an authentic problem.

The context: Professor Hersh Webster, a geologist at the University of Rochester, heads a research program called Genesee Valley Exploration and they recently discovered a new kind of rock in the Genesee valley. While initial data collection proved fruitful, unfortunately much of the GVE’s staff needed to take off to study due to upcoming exams. Professor Webster, still wanting to continue research on the rock, has opened up an opportunity to analyze the data to any interested geologists. All they need to do is to sign a contract, which gives the University of Rochester full rights to their research. In exchange, the geologist whose analysis appears most plausible will be awarded the opportunity to name the rock.


"Professor Webster"
“Professor Webster”

Unfortunately, there really is not a Professor Webster or a GVE, but even in the illusion I attempted to create, I integrated elements of cultural worth such as the Genesee and the University of Rochester. I also created a blog which contains all the data that the GVE have compiled on the rock. Not only did all my students buy that this discovery was true, it helped drum up excitement that there was a possibility that they would be able to name the rock.  This motivated many of them over the course of the next 3 days. By having students sign the Genesee Valley Exploration Research Contract, I was hoping to get them to feel ownership for the project and take responsibility for completing it.

The task: The students needed to write an email claiming what type of rock the newly discovered rock (dubbed “mystery rock”) is, what it was made of, how did the sediment that make it up get to the Rochester area, how it formed, and how old it was. For each of these five claims, students were also required to present a piece of evidence from Professor Webster’s website with information about the rock.

The above was the main goal set for this summative assessment, students needed to have an email completed by the end of class on Thursday. Since they needed access to the internet to access the website and write the email, and our class wouldn’t have them until Wednesday, I planned out that the students would assess previous “student work” based on a rubric I supplied. I anticipated by doing this, students would be able to see two examples of what their end product should look like and get an idea of how they would be graded. I also had students provide feedback to the authors’ of both letters, as a small preparation for peer assessment of the emails, if time permitted.

On Wednesday, students were given access to the Chromebooks. Their Do Now was to sign in, get on the website and explore it for a little bit. Their Do Now had a graphic organizer attached, presented in a series of questions, and it asked each student for a claim answering each question and a piece of evidence they found that supports that claim. This graphic organizer (Day 7 Rocky-ologists at Work) was meant to order their thoughts and make the time they spend writing the email later more efficient. Not everyone was able to complete the graphic organizer on this day, so I made sure to allow them an opportunity to working on the next day.

On Thursday, I supplied them with a checklist (Day 9 Checklist) to get them through that day. Their first goal was to finish the graphic organizer (I decided that this would act as the summative assessment for those students who needed more time to work on their email). Following the organizer, students needed to work on  the email and turn it in through Google Classroom. Finally, students who finished all that were to pull out their study guide and correct their answers.

About half the students were able to finish their emails and  if I had more time at my placement, I would have given the class more time to complete them. I was really impressed with the reasoning that students were putting into the task and I was also able to see gaps in their content knowledge. While students were able to recognize that the mystery rock was sedimentary rock, some weren’t able to articulate how they knew. Over all I was impressed with the emails that I did receive and I will copy one of the best ones below. Enjoy!


Dear Professor Webster,

               My name is D and I am a student at World of Inquiry School 58. I am writing this to tell you about your mystery rock.


Your mystery rock is a sedimentary rock. I know this because most sedimentary rocks are found near rivers, layers of rocks, canyons or mountains that has been around for a long time such as Genesee Valley River. Also, Genesee Valley used to be glaciated during the ice age. That’s when erosion took place.That glacier probably carried a ton of new minerals like Obsidian that has been either been washed up , carried by the wind or has been glaciated as well. When it melted it probably combined together with the stone dolostone forming a new rock and setting in Genesee Valley after the Glaciated canyon had melted because dolostone is also a sedimentary stone. With that being said dolostone with the rest of the other rocks of the glaciated canyon came all together. However Obsidian is a igneous rock and the nearest place it could’ve came from would be Pennsylvania. The Obsidian must have been carried by bodies of water after coming out of a volcano and froze along with the sedimentary rock, dolostone during the ice age and joined together. When the canyon melted, a huge ice invasion caused the canyon to deepen and widen, making a U-Shape. When they canyon split, it probably cause the inside of the canyon to form into layers since so many minerals were carried along with it! Many other minerals may have been melted together as well forming layers and this new rock became apart of it. With that being said, I think that this rock would probably over 100 million years ago because scientifically the ice age began probably about 2.4 million years ago and it lasted until 11,500 years ago. I have also learned that, there were at least 17 cycles between the glacial and interglacial periods. The last glacial period was about 100,000 years ago and lasted until 25,000 years ago. This also proves that when glaciers move across the landscape, it moves other rocks and sediments along with it forming rock piles or moraines which also proves how this is a sedimentary rock.


If my theory ends up being selected, I would like to name the rock Kingdom Falls because it was found right by Genesee Valley! It’s homeland! The water falls tumble over 6 of them making it very attracting and beautiful! Just like this new stone!


Thanks for reading,



One thought on “A Letter to Professor Webster”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *