Posts Tagged ‘eportfolio’

So, I’ve been thinking about experimenting in class. I announced last Friday that we were going to try an experiment.

Test tubes and other recipients in chemistry labOne student said, “Experiments never work out.” He’s a solid kid, not just trying to be the class clown at all.

I replied, “Getting iPads was an experiment. . .”

He was quiet for a second, “Oh, that’s true.  Never mind. I like experiments.”

And we were off.

A little background: my division (lower school in a prek-12 school) is going Mac. Teachers all got new MacBook Pros a few weeks ago. We will be getting a number of laptop carts with MacBooks for next year. One cart arrived the other day. So, of course, I was eager to give those computers a test run. It just so happened that we were at the end of an assignment that fit perfectly.

We have been reading Tuck Everlasting. (I wrote about it the other day.) One of the things I asked students to do was collect examples of great figurative language and descriptive writing—not hard in this book. So students have been collecting examples, sharing them on our blog, and commenting about why they like the passages they chose. This was all practice for a final recording of each student reading his or her favorite passage and commenting about it.

I figured we would use Garage Band (there are some Macs in the music room) and then share the files to iTunes and from there to our eportfolios. We have iPads and have the Castor app, but have not been able to send podcasts for some reason. I think it may have to do with our network at school. Anyway, I learned that I could make a recording with Quicktime and upload directly to our wikis. Since these recordings will be short, we don’t really need all the Garage Band extras.

Then, I was talking to @TeacherDebra and she suggested adding an image to the recordings. That way there is something to look at while you listen to the podcast. Super idea. This is why I like to talk to other teachers about what I am doing. I like to take their ideas. (For great resources on web tools check out Debra’s wiki here.)

So, I asked students to find an online image that they felt went with their passage.

Here comes the experiment.

We got out the Macs, first use in class. In small groups, I showed students how to use Quicktime, selecting new screencast, and then built-in microphone. It’s not as if everyone saved their first try, but it worked with a minimum of fuss. I don’t think anyone had used this application before, although I have many Mac users in my class. But, there continues to be just one of me so I could only help some students. As students figured out various steps, I assigned them as experts for others.

In less than 40 minutes, everyone found an image, leaned how to use Quicktime, made a recording (or several until they liked what they had), and saved. The vast majority also uploaded the file (.mov) to the language arts page of their digital portfolios.

Then, I did a little happy dance. It was a good experiment.

(Photo by Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons license.)


So, I’ve been thinking about what I call my class as a group. I know some teachers do the “friends” thing. My personal kids go to a Quaker school so their teachers certainly do that. And, I hear lots of teachers, usually of younger children, use “friends” at my school as well. I wasn’t sure that was right for us (my class and me as teacher).
"What's in a name?"
I feel like we are working on things together and there is a social aspect to that, but my students and I are more coworkers than friends. Not that we are not friendly, we are. But I don’t feel that is the our primary relationship. So, what are we? Peers? Co-workers? Colleagues? Teammates? Buddies?

Well, I’ve settled on “colleagues”. We’ve been working on so many things in groups this year that it does seem to me that we are in it together-that we are working towards common goals and understandings. It still makes the kids giggle a little, but I can sense that sometimes it makes some students feel important and makes them sit up a little straighter. It’s the power of words being brought to life in my classroom. We are reading Tuck Everlasting at the moment, so we are talking a lot about word choice and the power of descriptive language. Then just out of the blue I got an email with a link to a great video on the topic. I love it when things come together like that.

On a side note, I am a gatherer, not a hunter. I collect things/ideas/images all the time. It’s just what I do, and it works for me. I count on being inspired and having ideas come to me. And, I can count on it because I’ve got all that flotsam and jetsam in my head just waiting for the right moment. It sometimes make for some last-minute changes of plan, but it lets me take the best advantage of what I encounter in my day and combine information in my own ways.

So back to what to call my students, Tuck Everlasting, the power of words, and my email. Here is the link to the YouTube video (it’s less than 2 minutes, you should watch. I would have embedded it, but I’m not paying for that option at the moment) called “The Power of Words.” It ends with the words “Change your words, Change your world.” It fit in so well with what I have been thinking about as well as what we are doing in class. I showed it to my students before we begin a writing assignment on Wednesday.

I am pretty sure that my word change to “colleagues” is unlikely to change the world. But, I noticed that one of my student colleagues wrote this on her digital portfolio reflection for our last book: “Me and my 5E colleagues just read the book called, The Rainbow People.” (I know it should be” my 5E colleagues and I”.)

It turns out that I changed my words, and I might have changed a little piece of the world.

(photo by Jack Dorsey used under creative commons license)

So, I’ve been thinking about our ePortfolios, again. Working on them on the iPads is a little tricky. The eporfolios are wikis which, while easy to view on the iPad, are a pain to edit. You see all the formatting coding and it’s hard to do a lot more than insert text. But, I love that because the iPads and keyboards are small, students can easily sit in their favorite position, spread out the work for the unit, and really see what it looks like.

While students are getting the hang of the pattern we are using to review work, it’s not exactly becoming a habit. It’s too long between units. So, I’m working on some ideas to tackle that.

coursework to mark
In the mean time, we had conferences coming up. In the fall, I showed parents their child’s eportfolio. This time I did something different. We spent time in advance getting the work up to date. I did a lot of attaching files, since I am the organizer of each wiki, I can attach a lot easily from the school’s network folders. Then each student did individual reflecting. That’s been our pattern. However, this time I assigned this item for homework before the conference: take your parent(s) on a tour of your wiki.

Of course not every student did that. However, most did. And, those parents who did get a tour came to the conference with a better sense of their child’s work and with more of an understanding of where our conversation would and should go. For many it was much more of a conversation between similarly informed parties.

I’ll definitely be giving that assignment again.

(Photo by Andrea Rota used under Creative Commons license)

A Cool Tool for me

Posted: November 30, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about some of the web 2.o tools I like best. One of them is Symbaloo.


This tool allows you to organize links to websites. You can use it as a PLE or a way to organize your favorite bookmarked sites. I started using it last year after listening to Wendy Drexler talk about it in a webinar. She showed how middle school students were using it both to collect research links on a topic and to link to the final online artifacts (glogs, etc).


Since I teach 5th grade, having students search for readable content is sometimes more time-consuming than is reasonable. So, I thought I would start out using it as a way to gather preselected links about a social studies topic. Then, I could share them all with my students. Here’s a picture of what a “webmix” or “desktop” I made.

I assign a link to teach tile and pick the color and little icon that go with it. Not hard, not fancy, so helpful.

This webmix above was from last year. We were just moving on to studying classical Greece after studying Crete and the Minoan civilization. So, I did some searching of pictures and text in advance. I arranged the tiles so that the pictures were at the top and then as you move down the links are more and more text-heavy. Using the “share this webmix” option, I emailed the link to my students. Then in class they could follow the link and see the same webmix you see above. Students had some time to explore the links at their own pace. Those who like to see a visual first, could start at the top. Those who wanted more words, could head to the middle or bottom rows. Great for differentiating.

Also, you’ll see on the bottom right, two tiles with pencil icons. These are links to wallwisher bulletin boards for students to leave questions or interesting facts.

I have continued this pattern of using Symbaloo this year as well. So far, I have made a webmix for links about Mesopotamia. Again, I organized more pictures and bite-sized information towards the top and more far-reaching text at the bottom. And, again I linked to bulletin boards (this time Stixy) to collect questions and fun facts.

I have found that this allows students to gather some background knowledge that works for them. Then, we come together again, each student has already begun to build that background knowledge and has a place for new information.

Other ways I use Symbaloo:

  • I made a webmix that is just links to all my students’ edublogs on one side and in one color and all their eportfolio wikis on the other side in a different color. (I borrowed this idea from Ann Leaness @aleaness on Twitter.)
  • I have started a webmix of tools and resources that my class uses so that we have a 1-stop shopping place to find all our the tools and sites we use a lot.

I love this tool. I have shared it at several unconferences (EdCampPhilly and NTCamp) and offered a short session on it during an inservice day at my own school. Those who came to my session at school were not all classroom teachers, but all were enthusiastic about how they were going to use it in their everyday lives.

Anyone else using Symbaloo in a great way?

EPortfolios Update 1

Posted: November 3, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about the digital portfolio project I wanted to add to my classroom this year. (Read about my plans here and here.)

I ‘ve made 17 ePortfolio wikis on wikispaces: one for each student and one for me. Each student has added pages for three subject so far (language arts, math, and social studies). And a few weeks ago we updated both the language arts and math pages.

Here’s What I Did

First up, language arts. We started by looking at 2 inspiration webs we had worked on in class. I passed back the first assignment and asked students to look at the feedback I gave them. Next, I passed back the second web and asked them to look over it with my comments in mind and evaluate their own work. Then, I passed back other work and a reflection guide that allowed them to rate both the quality of their work and their work habits. Each person chose one piece of work that would represent their best work on their wiki.

The next day, we hit the wikis. Using the reflection guide students wrote about their work and work habits during this unit, inserted their best work, and explained that.

Next up, math.

We have finished the first 2 units and assessments in our math curriculum. So, I put a list on the board of the skills that were assessed. I also made an outline with the following headings:

  • things I can teach someone else
  • things I can do in class (or that I feel ok about)
  • things I still need to work on
  • directions and neatness

Then, I handed back both assessments (the first they had already seen) corrected. Their task was to use the assessments as a guide to put the skills in the appropriate category on their math page.

Here’s What Happened

Students really thought about their comments on their webs. Most of them were right on.

One student wrote, “this was my best assignment because I was really prepared and I had fun doing it.”

Another said, “I see progress in my packet [reading comprehension questions]. My examples got better.”

“After we practiced [making inferences], I got better at it.”

Students spent a lot of time thinking about where to put each math skill. One student asked if he could divide the skill into 2 parts since he felt it belonged in different categories for him. Wow! I mean, WOW!

What Next?

Well, I think this is a success already. We have plenty of room for improvement, but I feel like the time we’re spending on this is worth it. My ultimate goal is to have student write quality discussions and make complete reviews of their work on the way to self-discovery and nirvana. Too much?

Next week, we review our next unit’s worth of language arts work.

ePortfolio Plans

Posted: August 12, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about eportfolios for a long time. All last school year I was looking around, talking to folks, listening to webinars/elluminate sessions, tweeting, etc. about it and trying to figure out exactly what to and what format to use.

What are my goals anyway? Well here is what I want the portfolio to be able to do:

  • Students each have a portfolio that they own, not me.
  • Students can take this portfolio with then into the future, because of course they will fall in love with the idea and will make this a habit even without me (I say dream big or don’t bother!)
  • Ability to add artifacts and comment on them
  • Ability to add video and screencasts
  • Ease of use: some 5th graders think they are 15, but they aren’t
  • Option for sections/pages by subject area or skill

Here’s how I imagine the portfolio working into my classroom:

  • We will begin with 1 subject-Language Arts then add Social Studies and Math
  • At the beginning of each unit, as usual, I’ll explain our skill goals and final projects/products to show new learning
  • Use anticipation guide of key skills and concepts before and then review after
  • Once unit is finished, work is returned with comments, and discussions have happened we will have a self-evaluation period in which students use 1-5 scale to rate habits and skills and write a little about their work on the unit
  • Students pick an artifact that represents their best understanding/work to add to the portfolio for this unit
  • Record and embed commentary on the artifact chosen (I imagine this being a video discussion with me at first and ultimately a camtasia screencast by the student.)
  • When we add math to the portfolio my plan is to have students make “how-to” videos/voicethreads/screencasts

Things that I haven’t figured out yet:

  • Where all this time will come from (I am considering some “creative” scheduling with Library and Computer time and am working on how to sell this to the teachers of those classes)
  • What I will cut from the curriculum to make this a reality
  • How to organize (by subject or skill–in some ways skill makes more sense, but might not be practical in school at this point)
  • Exactly what the template should start out looking like (again, I’m trying to think not just about what would work for me now, but what makes sense to begin as a potentially continuing project)

So, time is ticking away before the students arrive.

I am pretty sure that it makes the most sense for the portfolios to be wikis-no extra cost for video or storage, discussion options, multiple pages that can be organized and re-organized. I am also quite certain that this is the right thing to do, for all sorts of reasons. And, after a 2 day workshop with Dr. Judy Willis I am convinced that this makes the most sense in terms of the brain and learning (students needing to see incremental progress and the importance of prediction and feedback). I am also glad to have found another teacher who is thinking about the exact same things with her 5th graders. I am looking forward to keeping in touch with her during the year to compare notes.

Then, the other day I was participating in an #elemchat on twitter and Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches) put in a link to a blog post she wrote about the topic: fantastic visuals and a great video of Dr. Helen  Barrett (who it turns out is known as the grandmother of interactive portfolios) at TEDxASB.

So, I’ve got back-up resources (why and how-to), a peer in the trenches, and the motivation. Now, I just need my class list so I can get started. That’s a lot of wikis to get set-up.