Monthly Archives: October 2011

Portfolios at Trillium: Introducing Evernote

The year that the Apple Ipod touch came out with a camera I also decided to get the Iphone. It has changed the way I view technology but for this posting I am going to stick with how it made Evernote possible in my classroom.

What I really liked about Evernote from the beginning was that it was accessible from so many different types of technology. My laptop, the internet, a variety of smartphones and even a simple telephone with camera and emailing capability. I had been playing around with Evernote for several month before I moved into using it on a mobile device. When I got my iphone I immediately began to use the Evernote App to begin recording my students work. If I was going to be asking my students to use it I wanted to be pretty clear about its functionality. I really liked the fact that I could photograph, record and document with the word processing feature.

Because the mobile application of Evernote is so fast I began to record much of what I saw the students in my class doing. I would take pictures, type a few comments or make an audio recording. Many people ask me how I find the time during the day to do those kinds of things. I work really hard to build an atmosphere where kids are fairly self directed which gives me time to meet one-on-one a lot, or document what is happening in the class.

The images below are some examples of work that I documented. It might have been a particular strategy a student used (such as Morgan’s strategy), it might have been a whole group project (such as the list of favorite books) or it might have been an artifact like the script by Felix. I wanted to really see what I could record and how the kids might to it similarly. Along the way I began to realize that I was not only learning how to document the students work individually and in groups, but I was also having a chance to really look more closely at a student’s work when I needed to.

I also began to send parents information about their kids by immediately e-mailing the note about their child.

This was something that went over very well with families. While I do keep a blog about my classroom to keep the parents informed, they loved getting to see what their children were doing, thinking and learning in real time. In the first month or so I was making so many notes that I had to move from the free version to the Premium account just to have enough room.

During the conference that we had in the fall I was able to introduce parents to Evernote and show them what their children were doing and what I had been documenting. The SEARCH feature was priceless for this work. During the conference I could type a student’s name and everything that I had done with that students name would show up. What impressed me the most was that Evernote technology was able to search through photographs as well. Below you will see that when I typed in “DAHLIA” it was able to find her name and highlight it on a photo I took.




Portfolios at Trillium: a brief history

Before I dive into talking about portfolios I wanted to give a brief overview of the school. If you want to learn more about Trillium follow the link to the right.

Trillium opened its doors 10 years ago in North Portland in a effort to create an environment where students and staff had a greater power to shape the curriculum. The school is a public K-12 school that additionally houses a pre-school in the same building. The school purposely bought a building in North Portland to attract a more diverse and urban based population.

Based on democratic education, constructivism and service learning, the school, from its first days has always tried to find ways to put the reigns of education where it belongs, in the classroom with the students and teachers. The staff and students created a constitution which outlined the powers of the students, the staff and the administration. Additionally systems were put in place for kids to have a major role in decision making in the school.

On an academic level project based learning and thematic projects have been the core of how students engage with the content areas. The lower school (primary and secondary) is made up of advising groups with 23 kids. These groups spend most of the day together working on whole class, small group and individual work and projects. The middle school and high school have advising groups as well as subject based classes.

Demonstration of student learning has mostly been done through project presentation, whole school project fairs, performances, role plays, publishing parties, assigned lessons, and on-going assessment by the staff. The middle school and high school does use subject based testing as well. The students from 3rd grade to high school are given State Tests in math, reading, writing and science by computer from one to three times per year.

In the original charter of the school we committed ourselves to portfolios as an authentic way for kids to preserve, reflect upon and share their work. Unfortunately for many years it was never a significant part of the educational conversation. Some teachers used them some didn’t. Most portfolios were hard copies of kids work stored in boxes or filling cabinets in the classrooms of the school. While in the intermediate class where I teach (students 8-11 years old) we used them as a source for reflection, for most of the students of the school portfolios meant little more than the work they kept at the end of a unit, a project or a class.

In 2005 I began to investigate the possibility of online portfolios. I believed that it would be a way to do away with all the paper and storage issues. Looking around the internet I found many online websites that had portfolios schools to pay for, but they were really out of reach for our school. $30 per student per year was typical. With a school of 360 kids that just wasn’t financially viable.

Eventually I stumbled upon E-PEARL a electronic portfolio project that was started at Concordia University in Montreal. E-PEARL is a piece of software designed for schools in Quebec to allow their students to have a robust and thoughtful portfolio experience. The software walks students through goal setting, assessment and documentation. It also allows for teachers and parents to provide comments and feedback. The software was free and was installed on our school server.

With great enthusiasm I jumped into learning about online portfolios with my teaching colleague. At this point only a few teachers had the interest or ability to begin to make online portfolios a part of the students experience. I have found that without a basic culture of the use of portfolios in hardcopy, it is really difficult to take that next step. Nonetheless a few of us plowed ahead and began to use E-PEARL to document what the kids were doing. We gave them mini-lessons on the software, we had parent nights to introduce the parents to it, and we tried to provide the students many opportunities to be on the computer to upload work and reflect upon it. This project lasted about two years but was doomed to failure by a few things.

#1. It required a tremendous amount of time and effort to upload the students work. Photographs needed to be uploaded to a web-based storage site, then downloaded onto the school’s server then, uploaded to E-PEARL by the students. Paper copies had to be scanned and saved to the school server and eventually uploaded by students. SO much of the work was required by the teacher. It wasn’t sustainable.

#2. The time between the work being completed and the students uploading it to their portfolios was often weeks. The school has a computer lab, but it isn’t always accessible, and the few computers in the classroom weren’t enough to be effective. This long period of time between completion and uploading/reflection made the reflection process ineffective at times. The students found it hard to remember exactly what they had done.

#3. Because of the scale of work required to make the portfolios happen it scared away most of the staff, especially those who don’t feel comfortable using technology. THIS is what really eventually killed the project. If we in the lower grades spent a lot of time creating portfolios and it wasn’t continued into the older grades it lost its strength and purpose of “long term” documentation.

#4. We realized to make any portfolio system work it needed to be driven mainly by the students themselves. With the support from the staff the students should learn to document, reflect upon and share their work. They needed to become self-sufficient in this work and E-PEARL was never really going to make that happen, especially the younger students.

#5. The storage of the portfolios was to be done on our school server, which wasn’t always reliable. If the system went down, we could not access the portfolios and/or information could be lost.

After we realized that E-PEARL was just not going to be successful I started to look around for other possibilities. I wanted something that was easy to use, made it easy to access and upload work, could be done by students, staff and families, and could be used with a number of technologies. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon Evernote. It seemed like it was a system that could work well for our needs. The only problem was there wasn’t a mobile device (what I thought was essential to get the students to really have fast access and easy control) that was cheap enough. I was excited by the Iphone, but it was too expensive. I was excited by the Itouch, but it didn’t have a camera, something that I see as essential for documentation.

Then, in the fall of 2010, Apple introduced the Itouch with a camera and the whole game changed. It was time to start experimenting with Evernote and see what it could do.

(to be continued)

Posting ideas

As I stand waiting in line to get my deli sandwich I wanted to list several of the topics I hope to cover over the next few months. Ideally I will create a FAQ page for those frequently asked questions and links to sites I find particularly helpful. But I also want to dive into some very specific topics as well.

Likely Topics

-Why use Evernote with so many available portfolio systems?
-How to set up accounts for students.
-How I use Evernote enabled and linked technology to ensure speed and efficiency. Including smartphones, itouch, iPad, classroom scanners, student phones and the school’s Internet linked photocopy machine.
-How do kids use the technology?
-Getting parents on board and fully involved.
-Using Evernote as portfolio at for ages 3 to 18 and beyond.
-Teacher created portfolios: How Evernote can improve your teaching.
-Getting other teachers and schools involved.
-The basics for those teachers that are feeling uneasy about technology.

Just a first hello

I am a teacher in Portland Oregon who has been working to create e-portfolios in my classroom and at my school for over 6 years.  Until 14 months ago I didn’t feel that things were really getting off the ground in a way that was supportive of kids learning, easy to use and fairly inexpensive.  Then along came the Apple Itouch with a camera and a whole new world opened up.  The merger of smartphones/itouches and other mobile technology with Evernote has completely transformed how students and teachers use portfolios at my school.  This blog is an effort to share my work, my trials and tribulations and open up the world of electronic portfolios for everyone.  Sure I am biased toward Evernote.  It is what I have been using and what works well for me.   Tune in..