Digital Portfolios

Well, I have been loathsomely neglectful of this blog over the past few month. This is just due to the busyness of school and life, but the technology is still going strong in Grade 4. Our current challenge has been in starting our digital portfolios. At our school all students in the lower school create a portfolio, which they present in a portfolio conference with their parents at the end of the year. These portfolios have gone through various iterations over the years, and now that we are 1:1 with iPads in Grade 4 we had a strong desire to move to a fully digital portfolio. What we have found in our research over the past couple months, though, is that making this transition has been far more challenging than we expected.

One of the first things that we wanted to do was to find the right platform to publish our portfolios in. This had to be something that played well with the iPads, would be easy for students to use, and would allow students easy access to their work and data after they leave for the year (and for some students, after they leave the school). We considered a number of options, from iPad apps (Evernote, Three Ring, Book Creator) to our learning management system (Haiku) to Google Sites.

Unfortunately, after looking at all of them, the only clear thing was that none of them were the perfect option. Given this, out of five teachers in Grade 4, we have portfolios being made in a number of different ways. This seems like the best option, so that we could further explore and try to really find out which might be best for the future.

My class will be using Google Sites. I love the look and the layout options, along with the ability to interact with Google Drive and Google Docs, as much of our written work is there. Since we’ll have to do all our work and creation through a web browser, I am wondering how easy this will be. We already had to get out the laptops in order to start up our sites, as some of the things are just too tricky to do on Safari on the iPad.

Not a perfect solution, but I guess nothing ever is. I’ll be interested to see how easy the students find this. My hope is that they’ll be able to navigate the controls easily, and will feel confident in the fact that they are building their own website from scratch.


My example portfolio using Google Sites


Exciting Connections

One of my big themes this year for technology use was making connections. Technology allows us to easily connect with other people and experts around the world. We’ve started by doing a Mystery Skype with a classroom in New Jersey (another coming soon) and also Skyping with a partner school in India, The Nirvana School. Those were two really exciting things, but I had been feeling a little bad with my lack of writing on the blog, and disappointed as this would limit some of the global connections we could make. And then … all of a sudden … in the span of just a few days I was contacted by some very interesting people, which might lead to some special connections.

The first connection came to my Twitter feed and shortly thereafter, my email.


I was contacted by an employee from Skype who said that she had seen read my blog post about our Mystery Skype. We conversed over email a little, and what is exciting is that there is going to be a visitor from Microsoft (who owns Skype) who will be coming to watch us do a Mystery Skype. He is the “Global Senior Director of Brand Experience of Consumer Apps and Services at Microsoft.” Sounds important!

Hearing that someone out there was reading my blog inspired me to get some new news up right away. I wrote a simple little post about using Book Creator in Social Studies. And do you kn0w what happened just a bit later? I got an email from Dan from Book Creator asking if they can use my blog post on the Book Creator blog? Amazing! So, my blog post should be coming soon here:

It’s amazing how these connections can pop up when you least expect it. Here’s to the power of technology! I’ll be interested to see if these connections lead anywhere!


Data Dashboard & the Meaning of Life … I mean Technology

A colleague recently shared an article that included this graphic, which reminded me of my love of the visualization of data (I know … I’m a cool guy …):



Can you figure out what it shows? Check out the short article from the Guardian to learn more (hint: it’s about multiplication facts).

But the point is that when I saw this, it reminded me of previous attempts at gathering and organizing data into a data dashboard. I know that I am not the most organized when working with paper, but when I can keep data electronically, I am much more adept at making it meaningful. I always feel like this has potential for the way that I work with, teach, and assess my students, but I’m never quite there.

Thus, I set out again to try to imagine and create a place where I could easily gather and display data that I might gather in class. I sketched this as a starting place:


Click to see a larger version


It shows a data dashboard (really), that displays a few simple data points – things I might want to look at frequently if my iPad is in my hands. It would tell me information like:

  • Who filled out their reading log last night? Did everyone read for at least 30 minutes?
  • When’s the last time I had a conference with each student? What did I teach them during that time?
  • How many books has each child finished this month? How many pages has each read this month in total?
  • When’s the last time each child took an AR quiz? What was their score?


I set off into Google Drive to determine if I could do any of this. My first attempt was at creating the following to gather reading homework data:


1. Google Form: The student visits the form in the morning and enters information about their reading homework from last night – the date, title, time read, page started, and page ended. (same information we currently record on a paper form)

2. Google Sheet: Collects all the data from the form. On a separate sheet, displays the most recent record for each student, organized in alphabetical order by student name. In other words, for each student, show only the information for the last time they filled out the form.

3. Google Site: On a webpage, displays the data from the Google Sheet.


Numbers 1 and 3 above were quite easy, but number 2 was not. If you don’t believe me, give it a try.

But here’s the point, it took me about two weeks to figure it out, and I finally did it. I didn’t get any instruction from anyone. I didn’t have any professional development. I just had to do it. I searched, I read, I asked a question on a Google Forum, and I tested, tested, and tested some more. It didn’t work, and I gave up … then I came back and gave it another go. I made a mini-version with three sample students. It worked. Then I hooked it up to the Google Form, and it didn’t work. I created a new version, and then finally I think I got it.

To me, technology is the ultimate inquiry. You don’t learn by being told or getting instruction or professional development; you learn by doing. If you need to find something, search it (you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can find an answer out there). And test, test, test, and test some more.

That’s why I love learning with technology. You only learn when you try, and when you try you always learn.

More on my data dashboard if it continues to work. I’m sure I’ll have some failures, but I that’s part of the fun.


Here's what gets me excited on a Saturday afternoon. Check out that query!

Here’s what gets me excited on a Saturday afternoon. Check out that query!


iPads in Zurich

Zurich International School was featured in an article on Slate, the excellent online magazine. The article, The Smart Way to Use iPads in the Classroom, describes how the school has used the technology to “capture moments that told stories about their students’ experiences in school. Instead of focusing on what was coming out of the iPad, they were focused on what was going into it.”

An interesting read, and nice to see a fellow international school get some positive press on their technology use!