Students and E-portfolios

Student E-porfolios
Digital Portfolios

Last week my math students wrote in their math journals about their experience in math class so far.  Their entries were fascinating and many students documented their learning that took place since the beginning of the school year.  Some students drew pictures and wrote lengthy paragraphs indicating skills learned.  At the end of the class the journals were put back in their designated place in the classroom.  I looked over the journals and made comments.  Afterwards, I starting to think about what happens to these types of journals after they’re sent home at the end of the year.

What happens after a student receives back their classwork? The work is often presented in a number of ways: hanging up the assignment, placing it on bulletin boards, showcasing it around the school, or sending it home for refrigerator placement.  I’m not sure what happens after the assignment heads home. Optimistically, I assume that they’re kept forever, but most likely the assignment moves towards a recycling bin at some point.

I’m finding that the work that students complete is becoming increasingly digital. Regardless of how the work is created, it’s often captured and presented in a digital form. Student work that’s completed and presented digitally lives on.  Not only does it live on, but it can be seen by people outside of the school, state, or even nation.  For example, students might use base-ten blocks to show their understanding of how to add numbers together.  The end product, although it may be a physical representation, has an opportunity to be captured digitally and communicated to stakeholders.  Some school districts are finding that they can help showcase student understanding through digital means.

I’ve found that some of these same school districts have moved towards a student e-portfolio model.  This is much more prevalent at the middle and high school level, but exists in small pockets at the elementary level. In some cases, students have access to their own e-portfolio and they submit their work digitally. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen elementary teachers use Weebly, Google, Seesaw, and Showbie to have students submit their work digitally.  In turn, student receive feedback and document their learning experiences in the process.

A few teachers in my school are currently using Seesaw to have students’ submit their assignments.  Teachers need to approve the submissions and parents are notified that items are located in their child’s portfolio.  Teachers and parents can provide feedback to the students.  Students can even take that feedback and resubmit their projects as needed.

Silicon Valley has also paid close attention to how this is playing out. Learning management systems (LMS) are starting to become more of the norm as students and teachers become more familiar with how they work. As districts become more familiar with LMS, questions about student privacy and data collection should be addressed. Having an online student portfolio gives teachers, students, and parents opportunities to be transparent in communicating what’s happening in class. This type of student work evidence goes far beyond a classroom newsletter.  Being able to submit assignments and receive feedback digitally encourages learning beyond the school walls.  Submitting projects digitally also allows teachers to give feedback a bit differently.  Instead of writing feedback on papers, teachers can record comments verbally or record a brief video with examples.  Although I prefer to give feedback 1:1 in person, giving feedback digitally has its advantages. Ideally, the student e-portfolio would follow the student throughout a school district.

Back to my students’ math journals … so the next day I had students submit their work to their e-portfolios.  Through this action, students were taking their physical work and making a digital copy.  Parents were able to immediately check out their child’s work and make comments.  Some parents made comments, while others just view the work.  I’m not looking for interaction on everything submitted, but I feel like having that opportunity to communicate and the transparency involved is important.  It also can help initiate the “how was school” talk that happens when children come home from school.  Through the years the physical journals may stay intact, but the digital copy will always be accessible.  Having access to past entries can help students see the growth that they’ve experienced during their journey.

How do your students document their learning journey?

Using Excel to Explore Rates and Proportions

My fifth graders are currently studying rates and proportions. Earlier in the week they explored rates by looking at unit prices and solving problems with some type of cross-multiplication strategy.  Although they’ve made progress I still feel as some many still need to cement their understanding of a ratio and proportion. So it was time to switch up the instruction model.

I decided to go with using a spreadsheet. In this case, the spreadsheet would be in the form of an Excel document. Each student grabbed a laptop and opened up Excel. The students used Excel earlier in the year so they were familiar with some of the basic functions.

After entering a few text cells, students were asked to put a random number above zero in cells B4 and C4. Then the class discussed what GCD stood for. Most of the students said “greatest common denominator.” That response made sense because that’s heavily emphasized in fourth grade as students add and subtract fractions. In this case, GCD means greatest common divisor. The class then discussed what that meant when comparing two numbers and the helpfulness in finding the GCD when exploring equivalent fractions. The discussion then transitioned from equivalent fractions to finding ratios.

Students entered in the formula =GCD(b4,c4) to find the GCD of the two different numbers. Students observed how the GCD changed as they updated their numbers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 7.30.47 PM

The next part was a bit tricky. I asked the students to write a formula to express the ratio in simplest form. The class used the GCD and trial and error to come up with the ratio formula. Once students wrote the formula and placed it in E4.  Students then explored how the ratio changed when their numbers were updated.

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The class then reviewed why the formula actually worked.  The class discussed that basically the formula took each number and divided it by the GCD of both numbers. What was great was that students were starting to connect the reasoning behind the creation of a ratio. Instead of just cross-multiplying, students are starting to show a deeper understanding of how ratios are constructed and the process used to simplify. The students were able to save and print out their spreadsheets for later review.


Excel Template

Example for Class Use


Reflections from Digital Leadership

Digital Leadership Takeaways
Digital Leadership Takeaways

About a month ago I started to read Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger.  His book is full of leadership strategies that are applicable at any school level.  Specifically, he speaks of how to integrate technology in schools and the reasoning to do so.  While reading I took out of my highlighter and it was busy as they’re many gems in the book.   I thought the topics on the role of technology in the classroom and student content creation opportunities were especially intriguing. I’ve outlined my takeaways and reflections below.

1.  Combining pedagogically experienced educators with technology-savvy students can be beneficial

Students often come into the classroom with an average to above average understanding of how to use technology.  Their understanding of technology can benefit a classroom and the learning experiences within.  I like the concept of being able to combine background knowledge of technology-savvy students and pedagogically experienced educators.  Weaving instructionally sound teachers and technology can reap dividends.  Both parties bring an understanding to the table.  Merging both can can turn technology into a tool for learning.

2. Students need to be aware that technology tools are for learning  

I believe that students are aware of the capabilities of the devices that they use, although understanding how they can be used for learning is another story.  I think this is where it’s essential for pedagogically experienced educators to seek avenues to combine  the capabilities of the device with learning opportunities. The transition from a perceived consuming/gaming device to a learning device may take time.  Due to corporate marketing and education success stories, I believe that transition is taking place in the field of education.  Naming them as learning devices also reinforces the concept that technology in schools can contribute to the learning process.  Regardless of the device, the opportunities for learning exist.  Educators and students can benefit from revealing this possibility.

 3.  Students’ learning experiences become more meaningful when they use real-world tools to show conceptual mastery

It’s becoming clear that technology devices can be utilized to showcase conceptual mastery. This year my students created online tutorials and various projects to demonstrate their learning of mathematical concepts.  Based on my end-of-year survey, students found the content creation projects meaningful.  Seeing that they were published online and available for comments provided opportunities to showcase their projects for an authentic audience.  To be honest, not all projects were optimal and I’m going to make changes for next year, but I was encouraged to see students use real-world tools to demonstrate learning.

4.  The aim is that students move towards creating an actual product.  They need opportunities to show what they’ve learned in a variety of forms

Students in many classes are expected to show mastery of particular concepts through worksheets, usually categorized as unit assessments.  Many times this is mandatory, in the form of district summative testing or state-wide standardized assessments.  Students should be afforded the opportunity to showcase their learning beyond worksheets. Technology devices and apps offer presentation tools that didn’t exist before.  These student content creation tools also give students opportunities to infuse their projects with voice and creativity. This aspect brings student ownership and an opportunity to extend their learning beyond the requirements.  I’ve found that student content creation can showcase learning while providing a lead to engage students in their own curiosity regarding a particular concept. With flexibility and clear expectations, this  type of product can show learning and at the same time be a publishing opportunity for students.

photo credit: Jamais Cascio via photopin cc

Math Conversations with Tellagami

Using Tellagami in Math Class

Having intentional math conversations in the classroom can play in important role in the learning process.  These conversations involve students explaining their mathematical thinking while working with others to complete tasks.  It’s been a beneficial activity and helps students develop confidence while communicating their thinking.  In addition, I’m finding that students are becoming better at explaining their math reasoning in written form.

A few weeks ago I was reading a comment by Mary about possibly using Tellagami in the classroom.  I’ve used Tellagami for an AR scavenger hunt but haven’t yet put the app in the students’ hands.  After researching this a bit and reviewing a few Tweets related to the topic, I thought that the app might have potential in having students explain their mathematical thinking. I made an examples and present it the class earlier this week. I thought that with a few tweaks the project could help students practice having math conversations, while at the same time provide opportunities to create digital content.

The focus of this project was on math vocabulary. The students would be emphasizing math vocabulary for the current unit and use it in a practical situation. The students and I created a rubric for the project. The students added that the background should be related to the math vocabulary word and a minimum time limit be established.  The class came to consensus and decided to use this rubric going forward.

Students were then given about 15 – 20 minutes to create a background for their Tellagami project.  Students were given the opportunity to use the classroom resources to create a background.  Depending on the math vocabulary, students used whiteboards, base ten blocks, student reference books, geometric shapes, coordinate grids, and other math manipulatives in the classroom for their background. The next step in the process was to create their Gami. This didn’t take long as limited clothing and accessories options exist.  Students then wrote out a draft of what their Gami would communicate.  During the next math session students used their draft to record their own voice or used one provided on the app .  Once finished, students then reviewed the rubric, saved the project to the camera roll and uploaded the project to Showbie.  The next step is to move the projects to YouTube or Vimeo.  Overall, I feel this was time well spent and next week the class will be presenting their projects.


Open House and Augmented Reality

Using Aurasma to Showcase Learning

This past week parents were invited to my school’s annual Open House.  During Open House parents visit classrooms to view student work and to briefly chat with teachers.  Students  often showcase their work and become a tour guide for their parents for that night. The night is designed to strengthen the level of community support and bring awareness to student learning in the classroom.  The parents tend to look forward to this event every year and this year was no different.

Over the past month I’ve been experimenting with using augmented reality (AR) with elementary students.  During the last week or so I was able to share the Aurasma app with different staff members.  The teachers and I started to think of ways students could use AR in the classroom and possibly highlight student work for our Open House night.  The teachers brainstormed and came up with a few different ideas. One of the ideas revolved around incorporating a book recommendation component. After much trial and error we came up with a solution.  See how it was implemented below.

Augmented Reality Book Recommendation:

Students picked one of their favorite books and created a book recommendation video.  Students were asked to indicate the title of the book, author, main characters, short summary, and recommendation.  Students then used an iPad to video record each other recommending the books.  The teacher then uploaded the video and trigger image using the Aurasma app. The trigger image was the cover of the book.  When parents hovered over the book cover their child’s book recommendation video appeared.

Student videos appear after cover is scanned with Aurasma app
Student videos appears after cover is scanned

Parents were excited to see their child’s work and I believe the students were proud to show it off.   This project was definitely worthwhile and helped the parents of the community become more familiar with some of technology that the classrooms are using.  I saw this event as an #eduwin in my record book.

How do you use augmented reality in the classroom?

Twitter in the Elementary Classroom


Using Twitter in the Clasroom
Using Twitter in the Classroom

A few years ago I was encouraged to set up my classroom Twitter account.  Shortly after looking at a few different examples and researching possibilities, I decided to create a class account.  During my school’s back to school night I mentioned to the community that they could follow the class on Twitter.  I was excited as a few parents followed the class account that evening.  Throughout the rest of that year I Tweeted out different happenings of the class.  More community members, including those with students not in my class started following our classroom account.  The feedback that I was receiving seemed positive so I decided to continue to use the class account for another year.

This year I had a conversation with parents about our classroom Twitter account during back to school night.  I also increased the visibility of the school account with specific hashtags and added video components.  So, now that there’s only about two months of school left I’m reflecting on what to keep for next year.  Here’s my review:

Students are now writing down their tweets and I’m sending them out

I started this activity back in November.  Every week I ask assigned students to create a Tweet that explains what we’ve learned.  Students can also mention activities or events that occur.  Students write out their Tweet on a separate sheet of paper and I send it out.  I find some students find it challenging to write down their thoughts in limited characters. This is a classroom job that students look forward to and I feel like it’s also empowering.

We are using a specific hashtag to track our Tweets

In order to better track our classroom happenings, I decided to create a tag for just our particular class.  My school doesn’t have a Twitter tag so the class decided to use #sllearns. For the past few months the class has used that tag to document our learning and activities. The tag also comes in handy to compile Tweets and pictures before school events.

Students now video record themselves and others using the Vine app.  

Using the Vine app, students record themselves in different activities in the classroom.  This is another assigned job that the students perform.  I find video to be a powerful tool in communicating different activities in the class.  This has been especially helpful when showing math manipulatives and student presentations.  You could also use Instagram for this job.

Post newsletters or calendar events

This was how I originally started using my classroom Twitter account.  I Tweeted out school calendar events and classroom links.  My school account still does this, just not as often as last year.

Connect to and follow other elementary classrooms

It’s been great to be able to connect with other classrooms through Twitter.  Our class has connected with other elementary and middle school classes this year.  Mystery and Number Skypes have been possible by connecting with other classes through Twitter.  Periodically, my class will review happenings of other classroom accounts.  I’m hoping to expand this and somehow collaborate with other classrooms on some type of project in the future.

Answer questions or redirect

Eventually I’d like to be able to use my classroom Twitter account to answer questions from members of the community.  I don’t necessarily think that Twitter should be a one way communication method.  This is a work in progress, but I’m hoping to use this more next year.

Embed the Twitter stream on the class website

In an effort to increase the visibility of our class Twitter account and to show the value I decided to embed the Twitter stream into my class webpage.  This has been beneficial as photos, videos and Tweets can all be viewed directly on the website.  The community visits my website so this is an easier way to reach the class Twitter stream.  Also, when students write up a Tweet or record a video for the class, they can easily access their production on my class website.

Twitter Thread


photo credit: ~Ilse via photopin cc

How do you use Twitter in your classroom?

Math and Augmented Reality

Photo Apr 04, 9 10 38 AM

Many second grade classrooms at my school are finishing up their unit on geometry.  The classrooms have been reviewing math vocabulary in preparation for an upcoming math task activity.   While looking for ways to review math terms I came across the word augmented reality (AR).  For a few months I’ve heard the term AR being used sparingly at Edcamps and through different Twitter chats.  I decided to do a bit of research and thought it might be useful to use in the classroom.  I’m finding that students are becoming more familiar with using QR codes, so I thought this might be an extension to that concept.  While taking a look at my Tweetdeck columns I came across a few different Tweets by Erin and Todd.  Erin and Todd’s Tweets about AR peaked my interest. It seems that both were using AR in their own elementary classrooms and having success. Erin used the app Aurasma in her own classroom and has some great resources (1)(2) for AR beginners.

After reviewing a few of of Erin’s resources I decided to create an Aurasma account.  It took a bit of practice, but I ended up creating a few different Auras.  A colleague and I started to think of different methods to combine the geometry unit and AR.  I ended up using the app Tellagami to record videos with different characters.  Each character represented a specific geometric shape and guided students to the next shape.  The shape cards were placed all over the classroom.

Augmented Math

Students scanned the shape cards and worked in groups to find the next shape.  All the auras are public so feel free to use them for your own classroom by clicking here. You will need to register and follow sl math replacement (the icon is a cube) to access the auras. You can follow my channel by scanning the QR code below.

Scan to follow classroom account
Scan to follow classroom account

You can preview the auras by just scanning the image right from your computer screen.  If it works for you, print out each card and then place them around your classroom.  The entire activity took about 40 minutes and it seemed to be a worthwhile learning activity.  It was great to see students describing the next shape by using the words sides, faces, edges, closed figure, vertices and polygon.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Afterwards, students started asking questions about how they could use AR in other content areas.  I’m thinking of even having the students create their own for a school open house occasion.

How do you use AR in the classroom?