Friday, August 5, 2016

Student Portfolios with FreshGrade

Why ePortfolios?

As a teacher, I have always valued student portfolios.  For me, ideally, portfolios are a place where students create a multimedia rich story of their learning.  They can showcase their highlights along with areas of growth.  Students and their parents can view and reflect on work and experiences in the classroom and beyond.  Learning over a school year or many years can showcase the growth and development of a learner.

While there are plenty of educational reasons to develop portfolios, it can take a lot of time and effort to create something of quality.  This past year I tried out a new platform called FreshGrade.  It has been an excellent overall experience with great feedback from students and parents.

How FreshGrade works

FreshGrade is a multimedia repository of photos, videos, documents and notes about a student.  There are many ways to contribute to the portfolios.  I can post through the website or on any Android or iOS app.  At the middle school level, many of my students have wifi enabled personal smartphone devices and laptops.  Using their own devices, they do most of the posting.  Take for example a common experience such as a school assembly.  I can quickly snap a photo of a performance and then students all provide their personal reflections and notes.  Parents then get an email to view the photo and reflections where they can add a comment.

Here is another example.  Let's say in our PE class we are working on our dance unit.  With a few clicks, I can capture and upload a video of the student performing their creative dance.  The student and parent can see and enjoy the video and post comments.

Ways Students and Parents interact with me via FreshGrade

Student reflection has become a core part of my practice.  Students can post notes and reflections on everything from results on a math test to a field trip in the forest.  Other portfolio tools are very public and can be viewed by anyone on the internet.  FreshGrade is different, only students, their parents and their teacher can view the portfolios. This means that the adults that are there to support the student are the only people who can interact with posts.  This has lead to students being open and transparent having the confidence to post their honest thoughts and opinions.

Feedback from parents and students has been outstanding.  Parents are constantly thanking me for providing a window of insight into classroom activities.  Even a simple photo of a student during the school day provide an opportunity to connect parents to the learning activities.

How I've changed my practice

A common hesitation to trying a new tool in the classroom is the time it takes a teacher to learn and manage.  The advantage I've discovered has been how much FreshGrade has changed my practice.  There are a number of other tasks that FreshGrade has allowed me to stop doing.  For example, I used to have a public teacher website where I posted lessons, a calendar and assignments.  I've now moved all the notices and assignment descriptions into FreshGrade.  This allows students to login and review criteria whenever they want.  I no long need a paper gradebook of marks.  I've exclusively used the mastery scale for student work and assess with language like fully meeting, exceeding and meeting expectations.  I can also give meaningful feedback to help students improve on future assignments.

Final thoughts

This coming school year I'm again going to use FreshGrade right from when I meet my students.  I will be sending home a welcome email with a introduction on how I use FreshGrade.  In the past parents have completed a paper form to introduce their child.  Now this will be done entirely on FreshGrade this year.  I find that the sooner that I reinforce the use of FreshGrade the easier it is to engage students throughout the year.

I'd be interested in comments below to learn how other educators are using FreshGrade.  Leave a comment!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Curriculum Unlocked

As you are probably aware, the BC Ministry of Education has released a bold new set of curriculum documents.  What I have found is that the reduced number of curriculum outcomes has 'unlocked' the possibilities in the classroom.  There is now more time and flexibility to focus on topics that best interest students and teachers.

Competencies Matter
What I find most striking is that they have separated the curriculum topics and the processes of learning.  Competencies are the new skills and processes of learning that are highlighted in the new curriculum.  As teachers, we know that there are special skills that the best students already have.  What is excellent in this curriculum revision, is that by making the competencies overt, we can help all students improve in the areas of communication, thinking and personal and social skills.  Taking the communication competency as an example, there are now eight levels of communication that students can identify with and improve on.  They range from profile one where students identify with 'I statements' such as 'I can respond to peers' up to profile 8 where students communicate with statements like 'I seek consensus and focus on collective results'.  What I really like is that the profiles are linked to specific age or grades of students but provide a continuum that students work through.

I really like this quote from the Ministry of Education website, "British Columbia’s curriculum is being redesigned to respond to the demanding world our students are entering.  Transformation in curriculum will help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students. At the heart of British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum are core competencies, essential learning and literacy and numeracy foundations."

Opportunities for Inquiry
There are many ways in which teachers can use the inquiry model of learning to with our students.  Once they students have an overview into the content of the big ideas, they can then spend time further wondering about related topics that matter most to them.

Inquiry has become a core process for learning and part of the lexicon of how I approach my instructional planning.  I would encourage other teachers to consider how they offer inquiry opportunities for their students.

Connect, Wonder, Share
Here is a process of student learning that highlights the key aspects and opportunities in the revised curriculum.
Connect: Students make personal connections to their peers and to the curriculum. 
Wonder:  Student then wonder and investigate through a process of inquiry to topics that most interest them. 

Share: Student design ways to make learning visible.  I'm a huge fan of student portfolios of learning over time.  This year I'm trying out the tool FreshGrade.  So far I've had nothing but positive feedback from parents and students.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Social Media and Teens: Advice for Parents

For anyone with a teenager at home, they know that social media is a big part of their daily routine.  Here are some things to consider when discussing the use of social media.
  1. It is important for parents to be part of their son's/daughter's social media platforms.  Follow them to see what they post but avoid interfering. 
  2. Ask your son or daughter to share who they are talking to online.  It is a reasonable request to have them only chat and interact with people they know in person.
  3. Remind them that anything they post online is part of their digital footprint.  Once something is posted, it is out of their control.
  4. Busy teens need and want time to connect with their friends.  Social media is how they accomplish this.
  5. Teens feel a lot of pressure online.  Encourage an open dialogue with your son or daughter would feel comfortable to get your support when needed.
  6. Keep it positive.  Remind your son or daughter that written posts can easily be taken out of context and be hurtful to others.  The best way to avoid hurt feelings is to only post comments that are positive and encouraging.

This article is adapted from Edutopia's article looking at a Digital Youth Think Tank where teens were asked to share their experiences with social media.  See the article:

I'm interested to get comments and ideas from other parents.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

BC's New Curriculum - a plan for the middle years


As you might have heard, the BC Ministry of Education is in the process of revising the curriculum for all students from grades K-12.  As you can imagine this was a huge undertaking and not without its challenges.
Our local school context is that we have a middle school organized into teams.  Each team has students in grades 6 to 8.  Our goal was to find a way to spread the key concepts over three years and connect science and social studies along with the competencies which include personal and social, communication and thinking skills.

Key Features of Draft Plan

The plan that is shared below is designed to bring together the curricular and learning compentencies.  Teachers will be able to use this a one-page visual guide to assist with planning lessons.  The socials and science plans run in parallel to make is easier for teachers to plan integrated units, teach with themes and big ideas. You'll also notice that the rows below the 'concepts and content' incorporate our school community priorities.

BYOD and Technology Integration - we are a 'Bring Your Own Device' school and most (80%+) of our students have a digital device on a daily basis.  We have adopted two initiatives for this year: FreshGrade student portfolios and Microsoft Office 365 as our collaboration and communication space.

Environmental Connections - the school has an amazing natural setting surrounding the school so it is appropriate to find ways each year to integrate environmental science into the curriculum.  For example this year we will look at the science concepts around survival needs of organisms through the study and observation of our local ecosystem with includes several major, salmon bearing streams.

Sharing of a Draft Plan

Thanks to Barb Buczewski for kicking off this process being willing to share with other teachers.

Feel free to share the plan with others that would find it useful.

Science years ABC plan

Comments and Suggestions?

I fully accept that this draft is a work in progress and revisions are needed.  My hope is by sharing, others will do the same and together we can find ways to engage all our students!  Leave a comment below to join the conversation.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Improving How Your Children Use Technology for Education

Do you ever have conversations with your adolescent child about what they did at school and get little or no information?  It is possible that when you ask them about what they are doing with their personal technology at school you may get even less information.  This might be because children perceive adults of 'not knowing how to use technology'.  While it may be true that children are very capable at tasks like gaming and instant messaging, there are lots that we as adults can offer them.

One of the frameworks that is provided by the BC Ministry of Education is called the ICTI Performance Standards.  This stands for Information and Communication Technology Integration.
"The ICTI Performance Standards focus on four aspects of how students use information and communications technology to gather, organize, and present information and to analyse and interpret information. The emphasis is not on information sources or software applications associated with specific technologies but on the student’s representation of their learning and the steps they used to construct their knowledge."

Here are some questions to consider asking your son or daughter on their use of personal technology at school.  These examples fall under the heading of collecting information and resources.
  • How do you make decisions on how to select the best tool to use?  When is it better to find a print resource or digital resource?
  • How do you know if the information you have selected is accurate and appropriate for the lesson or task at school?
  • Can to work with other students to socially gather and construct information such as surveys or mind-maps?

Consider supporting your son or daughter to help identify their strengths in these performance standards and ways in which they can practice and improve their achievement. 

The ICTi Performance Standards website can be found:

Feel free to share ideas/thoughts/comments below!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Proposed BC Curriculum Revision

Here are some thoughts and ideas connected to the proposed changes to the BC curriculum.

Practices that I value as a middle school educator:

  • Integrated learning of multiple subjects and topics
  • Co-teaching and planning using common preparation time with other educators
  • Outdoors and environmental education with an emphasis on active scientific work
  • Technology infused learning: digital environments that expand learning beyond the pencil and paper and beyond our the classroom walls
  • Flexible timetables and schedules that allow the learning to continue across long blocks of time
  • Reconfigurable learning spaces.  IE the classroom, a double classroom, hallways and meeting spaces for various group sizes
  • Inquiry based learning using the framework by the BCTLA called the ‘Points of Inquiry’
  • Math instruction that is hands on and strengths student core competencies
  • Taking time to create and foster a learning environment that meets the social and emotional needs of young adolescents
  • Having a students and teacher shared responsibility for assessment/planning/learning (personalized learning)

What I Like about the revision:

  • That the curriculum overview is one page for easy scanning
  • That there are BIG ideas for teachers to connect to themes at the school-level
  • 3-way alignment of competencies/curriculum/assessment

Don’t like:

  • Science proposed curriculum is far from complete.  The dramatic moment of topics between the various grades needs a re-mapping between the current and proposed curriculum.  
  • Science curriculum needs to have connection to environmental themes. 
  • Science is missing outdoor education opportunities
  • The heavy emphasis on mixtures (grade 6), mixtures and substances (grade 7).  Seems to have a connection to BC’s new industries of LNG and pipelines but would like to see more natural science
  • That a revision of Math curriculum that takes us away from WNCP 2007 protocol will isolate BC teacher from the excellent resources used in other provinces. From the curriculum site: “While the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol K–9 curriculum (WNCP, 2007) remains an important resource, it has been aligned with the goals of the curriculum transformation, making it concept-based and competency driven.”
  • Assessment information on Ministry site is too vague to understand what is being proposed.  Can we get concrete examples of report cards to understand what parents would see related to the process of their son/daughter?

What is Missing:

  • Digital literacy and digital citizenship are key issues of 21st century learning and should be stand-alone competencies.  There is some integration of technology into Identity and Communication Competencies.
  • Resources to support the implementation of the curriculum.  Doesn’t need to be a traditional textbook but teachers shouldn’t have to be content creators.  We need ‘Lit Kits’ that match the outcomes with material written at the appropriate reading level of our students.
  • Cross-grade ideas.  IE. How to implement this proposed curriculum in a blended 6/7/8 classroom or team that many teachers now find themselves.
  • SD43 issue: implementing a new curriculum without staff development department educators.  Without support there is too much onus on classroom teachers to figure it out on their own.

This blog post is meant as the beginning of a discussion.  I'm looking forward to new thinking on this curriculum revision and hope to gain new insight through feedback.  Leave a comment below.

Monday, November 11, 2013


smallThe reason I do inquiry in the classroom is for the students.  I know is seems obvious but implementing inquiry has taken lots of time and planning but the results and positive feedback from students has made it all worthwhile.

Here are things to consider along with your first classroom inquiry:

Why do you want to try Inquiry? 

When planning your first inquiry be sure to ask yourself what it is that you want to achieve and how you will know it is successful.  This is an important first step that is easy to overlook.


Find another teacher (or two) to join you on this journey.  At a middle school we are fortunate to have a common team preparation time to meet and plan on a weekly basis.  Inquiry is such a dynamic process that requires tweaks and check-ins with students and co-teachers to keep everything on track.

Make time

Inquiry is interdisciplinary by definition so you need to find time and lots of it for you and the students to get lost in the process.  When inquiry is going well it is extremely engaging for the students and they will likely be able saying, “we need more time to ______”.  While this is a good thing for teachers to hear, it requires time to be set aside to allow for this expansion.

If you only have a small amount of time then consider just a few classes where a new unit is started with a thoughtful question to engage and hook the attention of students.

Consider the role of technology

Technology can play a powerful and engaging role at all stages of the inquiry from mind-mapping, collaborating to presenting.  It can also be very distracting for students.  Decide on a role for the technology that is meaningful.

Pick a BIG idea

Last year our team used the theme “What would happen if everyone cared?”  There are obvious ties to social justice and the environment that connected students to their own personal inquiry topics with both historical and current events.

A broad theme can then be used to tie together the curricular connections to the subject outcomes.  We like to talk about teaching Social Studies or Science through Inquiry.

Scaffold the process

Students needs support all along the way to be successful with Inquiry.  It is easy for them to pick such a large inquiry project that they get lost in the process.  Have constant check-ins with various graphic organizers so that you and they know how they are doing.

We also used a process of designing 12 ‘mini-courses’ for students to learn more about themselves as learners and about inquiry itself.  These included: learner profile, Bloom’s taxonomy, Myer Briggs personality, learner style, multiple intelligences and more.  We felt that having this foundation of knowledge about inquiry would help students throughout the process.

Choose a single model and stick to it.

Our team decided to use the framework offered by the BC Teacher-Librarians called the ‘Points of Inquiry’.  There are so many great models out there that it can be confusing.  Having a single source really simplifies the process when designing the inquiry.  Other sources to further explore include: Alberta Education “Focus on Inquiry” [pdf], Mindshift Blog, BIE (Project Based Learning) or Edutopia.


I’m happy to share any resources that were created through the process.  Let me know what you what to know more about!

Thoughts and Comments

I’m sure there are glaring omissions and suggestions from other teachers.  I’d be interested in learning from others.  Post your comments here.