Excited for the year ahead (and the progress of the perfect portfolio)!

My last post in (GASP!) May was all about our school’s journey to finding the perfect blog platform to host our student blog portfolios. After encountering some hiccups and roadblocks along they way, we’ve finally nailed down a student portfolio platform that I have really high hopes for.

I am fortunate to work for a school division that is so progressive in terms of encouraging the integration of tech tools in the classroom, as well as providing the support to back their encouragement of using the tools. The 21st Century Learning Specialists in our division are truly gifted at what they do and we are very lucky to have them. A hardworking team has created a fully customizable blog platform called School Blogs for all of the schools in our division to use. While it is still in its infancy, the potential for greatness has already begun to shine through.

Today at our PL Day, I was joined by one of the Learning Specialists from our division to introduce this blogging platform to our staff. The room was abuzz with excitement, interest to learn more, questions in order to solve glitches and problems, and a little bit of confusion mixed in for good measure – but the super huge important touchstone that I took away was that everybody TRIED! They all wanted to give it a go. Even if it was foreign to them, even if they didn’t consider themselves ‘tech-savvy’, they all tried. I was like a proud momma hen watching the eggs that have been incubating for the last few months finally begin to hatch open.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that in order to learn a tech tool (or most things in our life, actually), you just have to PLAY. You don’t need someone to teach you most things. Just by playing around and figuring things out on your own, the results become that much more rewarding. And the playtime that I witnessed today during our PL Day was so exciting! We’ve created a staff blog page where people can post questions and answers to problems that they encounter, test different features of the blog out and share Ah-Ha! moments. We’ve also created individual teacher blogs that each teacher can use as their sandbox to play in or use in their class with their students. Once teachers are comfortable and familiar with the platform, we will add on the next layer and get each student in our school up and running with their own portfolio.

I feel like we’ve hit the ground running, but we’re off to a good start!

The path to the perfect portfolio

All alliterations aside (see what I did there…), I’ve spent the better part of this school year researching, testing, playing with and picking other educators’ brains about different options for student portfolios (big shoutouts especially to @Kathycassidy, @HeatherMMcKay @happycampergirl and @millerg6 for their contributions to my inquiries- as well, the participants in @Neilstephenson’s digital portfolio session at #ConnectEdCa this weekend). From Edmodo to Evernote. From Edublog to Kidblog. From Google Sites to Google Docs. From WordPress to Weebly. It seems that the options are endless. How do you choose?! I’ve had several of my colleagues try a few of the different platforms, and I’ve played with several myself as well. The time has come for the staff at our school to make a decision on which portfolio platform we will pick.

Before the big decision is made, some of the key takeaways I’ve gleaned this year are:

1) It should be simple enough that even a Kindergarten student could learn to use it to it’s full potential (i.e. uploading or embedding images, video, audio, etc.). It doesn’t need to have all of the bells and whistles. Icon based, one-click, drag and drop features are your friend in the elementary grades.

2) It should be intuitive enough that even teachers who are new to blogging and its features can, in a few short PL sessions, quickly pick up on how to use it. Because we all know that time is of the essence in the teaching world

3) It should be available to be used across different platforms (computers, iPods, iPads) to allow for greater accessibility and posting capabilities.

4) It should be long standing – this one is twofold. Firstly, I mean that it should be tied to the student, not the teacher. It should easily be able to follow the student from year to year, with little to no hassle for the incoming teacher to create their class list each year. Secondly, the PLATFORM should be long standing. How frustrating is it to create something marvelous as a teacher, only to have it disappear or go by the wayside a year or 2 down the road? If we are going to do this school-wide, we need to try to pick the best option that is established, and is pretty certain to stick around for many years ahead. (Dear Google, I’m looking at you here with this comment. This is what makes me a little gun-shy about choosing Google Sites as our portfolio platform. Google had no qualms about abandoning the hugely popular Google Reader in the blink of an eye, with no option for replacement. I’m concerned that Google Sites will be met with the same fate.)

5) It should have the option of being either private or public. One thing I’ve learned this year, is that students are far more engaged if they have a large and authentic audience that they know will be viewing and commenting on their work. I’ve seen it with my own 2 eyes in my classroom. They become more reflective about what they are putting out there; My students have been sharing weekly twitter updates about the growth of one of the plants in our room. When they snap a picture and it’s blurry, I hear them say, “Oh, they won’t be able to see it very well, I better take another picture” They know that what they are putting out there has to be of a certain level of quality.

6) It should be simple to troubleshoot, and have a good support system in place for if/when something potentially goes REALLY wrong. It’s like the old adage, ‘Hope for the best, plan for the worst’. We need to have a platform where if something does go wrong, there are people in place that we can contact quickly for technical support.

So, with those in mind, we will hopefully select our perfect portfolio platform this week, and then begin to learn all of the in’s and out’s of using it with our students next year. I’m excited for the possibilities!

What Can Twitter Do?

The notion that in order to ‘do’ Professional Learning, you have to go away to a conference or to a workshop is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Sure, those methods of PL are still useful and beneficial, but there is a Professional Learning tool much more readily available to us at our fingertips, whenever we so desire to learn. That tool, is Twitter. While many have jumped on the Twitter PL bandwagon already, most educators don’t even have a Twitter account yet. Let me share with you the Professional Learning that I was able to accomplish on Twitter within the span of an hour:

  • Thanks to @mattBgomez‘s tweet – I found a great link to 37 free online National Geographic e-books that will even read to students!
  • I followed along with an #edteach chat, where I networked with @MrDKeenan and found a great idea for modelling how to have an edchat on Twitter by creating our own private hashtag to use, to get colleagues comfortable with how to follow along and participate in a chat.
  • Thanks to @TechieAng, I found a new idea for an inquiry experience in my kindergarten classroom.
  • I discovered a new blog to follow, written by an administrator in southern Alberta, and his journey to building 21st century competencies in our students.
  • I learned of an upcoming Professional Learning/Networking opportunity in Calgary, called EdCampYYC. This is an ‘unconference’ where educators get together, and share their desires for learning by posting questions, or ideas for possible sessions to run around. There is a discussion facilitator at each session – but no “workshop leader”, it is just a group of colleagues engaging in discussion about topics or ideas that they share in common. The best part, it’s FREE! Yes, you heard me! FREE!! Not many Professional Learning opportunities come at that price (with, of course, the exception of Twitter! 😉 )
  • Thanks to @jasongraham99, I found out about the next #pypchat, where the focus will be on Transdisciplinary Learning – although, this chat is on Melbourne time, so I’ll have to read the archive of the chat the following evening.
  • While perusing @rvsed I found a tweet that linked me to Barry Allen’s blog on RVS’ Power to Enrich blog site that gave some insight into different inquiry projects taking place across grades and across the division.
  • I messaged a fellow Kindergarten teacher in the United States about setting up our next Skype visit for our classes.

That’s the thing about Twitter – You have to potential to learn something new every day, from someone, somewhere – near or far – that shares the same passion for education that you do. It doesn’t take long, it doesn’t cost anything and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your couch to ‘do’ Professional Learning.

My name is @JenFriske, and I am addicted to Twitter as a Professional Learning tool. 🙂