Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hour of Code

There are so many awesome reasons to teach coding and the basics of computational thinking to students.

Here is what our team of teachers and 120 students did at our middle school.  We had them both code for an hour and then post a reflection in our FreshGrade student portfolios.

Here is our team!

Welcome to Hour of Code!

BIG IDEA - using computer to create rather than consume!
Watch: Computer Science is Changing Everything:

CREATE - your turn to code
Minecraft Adventurer -
Minecraft Designer - at the end save your design and share with others!

Make a new post in FreshGrade.  Include the following:

  1. Add a photo screenshot of your final code to show how many lines of code you created.
  2. Create a certificate for yourself and screen shot it with your name from:

  1. Post a comment with the following questions:
    1. Summarize what you learned by participating in an 'Hour of Code'
    2. Why do you think it is important for people to learn how to program a computer?
    3. What would you like to learn more about now that you have an introduction to coding?

  1. Optional - if you have social media (twitter, instagram…) send out a message with the hashtag #hourofcode 

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.