Getting ready for ISTE

In my new position this year as the Academic Technology Coordinator I have spent a lot less time focusing on portfolios as I did in the past. I have been helping other teachers, many who are using Evernote, so I am learning some really interesting things. I will be heading off to ISTE at the end of the month and wanted to make some tools available for other people who might be interested.

#1. I am really excited about using in conjunction with Evernote. While I have linked this blog as well as others to my current account, is a much more seamless and integrated tool as I can create a notebook for all my “published” notes that allow for a much more public facing, blog-like, presentation. It also affords the reader to add comments to work, something that I’ve wanted to see happen in Evernote for a long time but hasn’t come about.

#2. While working with teachers who have been using Evernote in their classrooms, it has become increasingly clear that using Evernote to create what I called “sheltered portfolios” just isn’t a great idea in the long run. (Sheltered accounts are those where a teachers makes a notebook for each child inside their own account). There are two main reasons. First, it really limits the amount of items you can upload. Even if you have a premium account, things can fill up quickly. Secondly, if you are having students access there accounts all at the same time, a lot of synching problems start to happen. Lastly, students don’t have access to the accounts from home and so they just can’t make them their own. All big issues.

#3. People often ask me about “examples” of student work. Here are two links to partial portfolios so you can see what a 9 year old and an 11 year old did with their portfolios. These were both portfolios from students who were new to my class. These are the kind of things you might expect to see kids doing in their first year(s) of use. (There isn’t a lot of reflection upon past years work).

A. An example of some of the work in a 9 year old’s e-portfolio:

B. An example of some of the work in an 11 year old’s e-portfolios:

#4. Some Generalized Evernote Information that will help you get started setting up portfolios in your classroom or school as well as a note called Taxonomy of Reflection, which we will be using during the workshop.


Presenting at ISTE


I’m very excited to have the chance to head to Atlanta Georgia at the end of June to speak at the 2014 ISTE  (International Society for Technology in Education) conference.  I will be presenting a workshop about the use of Evernote for Portfolios with a pedagogical twist.  I will link it to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The title of my hour long presentation will be: Using Evernote and Bloom’s taxonomy to create dynamic e-portfolios.  Here is the description of the session I will be supporting:

In a world of ever increasing educational accountability and with a desire to reveal both the breadth and depth of student learning more teachers, schools and districts are turning to e-portfolios as a way to document, reflect upon and assess what is happening in the classroom every day.  However there are very few tools in the e-portfolio pantheon that are at the same time easy to use for students and teachers alike, have powerful capabilities to capture, document and share work in real time, connect seamlessly with an ever growing number of learning applications and are free or inexpensive for budget conscious schools.  The power of Evernote is that it achieves all of those requirements and does a lot more.  But having a great tool is not enough.  Educators need to understand how to use e-portfolios to support the entire learning process.  Having a strong understanding of how Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used to increase the effectiveness and learning capabilities of e-portfolios is essential. 

 Participants in this session will learn how they can use Evernote to document, reflect upon, share and assess student learning.  They will learn how to view e-portfolio use through the lens of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating (Bloom’s Taxonomy).  They will learn how to access all the tools inside of Evernote as well as use external hardware to both create their own portfolios and help support the development of portfolios for their students.  Participants will leave the session with an understanding of how to go about setting up a classroom or school based e-portfolios system as well as with the skills to use Evernote to begin creating, and supporting their students in the creation of, high quality e-portfolios that begin to reveal the learning of the whole student.   

If you plan to come to ISTE 2014 please come find me.

The Power of Documentation

Screen_Shot_2013-11-08_at_8.38.46_AM-2A note from a teacher’s documentation in Evernote

Its been over 6 months since I last posted here and in the interim I have taken on a new position.  As the Academic Technology Coordinator at Catlin Gabel School I have the privilege to help oversee the implementation of all sorts of technologies into classrooms pre-K to seniors.  It’s a rare opportunity work at a school that has a very strong technical support team coupled with a desire to develop a thoughtful and cutting edge vision for technologies of all types.

Of course, I continue to develop ways to squeeze in Evernote into the work I do.  I don’t have to be heavy-handed about it (I don’t want to be that way any way) as there are so many staff members who are interested in its possibilities.  With so many great new features (including presentation mode, speech to text mode on the mac, and the deeper integration of Skitch and Penultimate)  the power of using Evernote in the classroom is constantly expanding.  I will cover some of those changes in future posts (I hope in the near future that is) but today I wanted to hit on a topic that I feel has particular power and significance for teaching and learning: documentation.

Last year, as I worked at a Reggio Emilia inspired elementary school I came to appreciate the power of really watching and listening to children.  The role of documentation at Opal demonstrated what we can learn as educators when we really slow down and listen to children.   I am still a strong advocate for having students develop and control their own portfolios, but documentation, with a tool like Evernote, provides us a great opportunity to see and hear more deeply what is going on in the minds and hearts of our students.  Having a separate notebook for each student within a teacher’s Evernote account makes this possible.  The great thing about Evernote is that at the end of the year the teacher can download any and all notes they made that should be uploaded into a students personal portfolio. This year I have supported many teachers in doing just that.  They download a series of student notebooks onto their computers, put them on a thumb drive, and either upload them into individual student accounts or into the accounts of the new teachers. It works brilliantly.

In the photo above you will notice one image and short contextual documentation of what a teacher here at Catlin saw happening with a kindergartener in her class.  There is a strong image showing what is happening, a short explanation to give context, and the actual words of the child.  While this photo and text was part of a series of pictures in one note about this particular project, you can begin to see how even just this single example can begin to paint a picture of what is going on with the child.  This note was then shared with parents, providing an insight into the life of their child at school.

Of course this kind of documentation takes time but the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to happen all the time to be powerful.  It is the beginning of November and the series of notes that are part of this context (the child working in the studio working with paper) are the first sharing of this portfolio work.  But because the series of notes (there are a total of 4 notes in this paper making series) are so thoughtful they reveal so much about what is going on for this child.

In the photo below you can see the teacher revealing the results of further paper exploration and some thoughts from the  child about what might be explored next.  All of this documentation was done quickly with Evernote and then shared with parents and colleagues.

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 9.08.59 AM



Another Great Story of Transformation using Evernote

The greatest personal reward I can receive as an educator is to know that I have really helped someone. For the most part that “knowledge” comes from personal observation and on occasion from the parents of my elementary aged students. Of course it is most satisfying when it comes from a student directly either in the moment or years later. Those are the experiences that really remind me why I love my work so much and why it is still so important.

Over the years, often because I write this blog, I have had the great fortune of corresponding with many educators from around the world. From small villages in Canada, to large cities in Europe, Asia and South America. From preschool teachers to university professors. Mostly these correspondences are a few emails to support educators as they explore Evernote for their schools. Occasionally, however, I have the privilege of hearing over a whole year about how a teacher or a school has transformed the learning landscape of their students using Evernote for Portfolios. It is so satisfying to know that my work, my ideas and my writing has had some small part in that transformation.

Below is an email that I received this week from Keleen Kaye, a teacher at the Hartland School of Community Learning in Wisconsin, describing how Evernote for Portfolios has had a transformational effect on her students and their learning. The email is the greatest form of flattery for me as a writer of this blog, but more importantly it is a great example of how a teacher, with a few good tools and the determination to do something powerful, can help her whole school move in a new direction. Thanks for sharing your story Keleen.

“Hi Rob!
I am SOOOO SOOO SOOO sorry that I am awful at keeping in touch with you but I do have to send you another update for how stumbling across your blog and discovering evernote portfolios for our school has completely changed and enhanced our classroom and school!

We did have some conversations in the summer about setting up accounts for my kids where I discussed with you how important the portfolio and especially digital portfolio process is in our setting. We have a 3-5 multiage, constructivist environment focusing on a generative curriculum. There are so many beautiful pieces to what we do, but one constant headache was keeping track of and sharing out what 26 different kids are doing when they are all working at 26 different things all of the time. Evernote has changed all of that.

I recently gave my students a checklist of the Common Core State Standards and had them use their evernote accounts to go back through their notes from the year and link them to the things that they have done that meet each particular standard. After doing this, instead of holding traditional conferences, we were able to hold small group meetings teaching parents about Evernote accounts and showing them how we use them. It was EXTREMELY powerful and since then we have shared our notebooks with our parents and the feedback I have gotten has been just awesome!
One parent wrote me:

Also wanted to say that we are loving Evernote, we are now all on it and I am journalling with the kids so we can read each other’s entries! So fun!
I had another parent tell me that since their 3rd grader taught them about Evernote, they got an account and now use that exclusively in their work place! So cool that a 3rd grader could have that impact!

Because our school is different from most, we have many, many visitors coming in each week to learn about what we do. Over and over again, I am asked about management, documentation etc. I grab a few of my students and have them talk through Evernote with the educators or parents that come through, and I get the same feedback everytime. They all think this is such a powerful tool, and they all say that my 3-5 graders sound like college students while using Evernote to discuss their journey of learning. My students have also made connections with other classrooms in the building, sharing how they set goals and write reflections and keep track of their journey in Evernote. Each of the teachers of the classrooms that my students have mentored have also foudn this to be a transformative tool.

I have also shared this process or recording learning with college students that our school has partnerships with, and got this feedback from their reflections to their professors:

“It is all trial and error, which could be frustrating, but also exciting because there really are no limits to what you can do! Just seeing a sampling of the websites Keleen and Becky used was also useful too, especially after hearing how they have used each one. The tool only means so much until you have found a successful way to use it. I really think I am going to work on using Evernote as a part of my final research project. My goal is to create a collection of tools and ideas specific to career exploration in the elementary classroom to share with my classmates, and this just sounds way more fun and practical than a PowerPoint or packet of handouts!”

another student wrote:

“It is essential for educators to utilize meaningful methods of communication because communication is what makes family partnerships work and grow. This helps reinforces to students that it is important to develop a connection between home and school, which will then extend to connections to their larger community and world. Without continuous and effective forms or communication, parents and teachers miss opportunities to learn with and from one another to better meet the needs of their students.”

I have just been using Evernote on a basic basis, as I studied a lot on your blog during the summer and have had limited time to learn more and implement more as the school year has gotten off the ground, but even the small pieces that we have incorporated have been transformative! I just today went back to your blog and saw the penultimate stuff as well as the note links and portfolio checklist and I am so excited about these pieces that I feel as if I need to take a week off and figure it all out ASAP! 🙂

I keep telling my principal that on my bucket list is visiting you and your school and learning even more from you! Thank you for sharing all you do! It has truly transformed my classroom! I saw on twitter that you just wrote a book! Congratulations! We will be getting copies for our entire charter team!

Keleen Kaye

AudioNote, the best of Penultimate and a Livescribe pen


One of the things that I do more now than ever is to take notes of the conversations that my students are having throughout the day.  I have always seen documentation of what is happening on any given day as a vital way for me to track and share what is happening in my class.  This documentation used to take the form of mostly photographs.  These photographs would help me create a narrative of the day’s or week’s activities for my classroom blog postings.

At my new school, Opal Charter School (located inside the Children’s Museum here in Portland) I have learned about the power of actually documenting the conversations that students are having with each other and using those conversations to help me better understand them as learners but also as a means to drive the curriculum.  Opal’s work is based on the Reggio Emelia approach which relies heavily on the documentation of conversations of children and the reflection of those conversations by the teaching staff.

Finding a tool that could make this kind of documentation easy and accurate wasn’t easy in the past.  When I came across the Livescribe pen it seemed like a perfect fit.  The Livescribe pen allowed me to take notes and record conversations at the same time.  I could always go back to these notes and re-listen to the conversations if I felt like I missed something.  With the creation of the Livescribe Sky pen (which is fully integrated with Evernote) I felt like I had found an ideal documentation tool.  At the same time I began to use Penultimate to take notes when I also wanted to add photos (something that Livescribe pens don’t allow).

Using both of these tools has been helpful, but also a bit cumbersome.  I don’t like to have to have a lot of different tools with me.  I want everything to work together in one place, preferably my ipad.

Recently I discovered AudioNote.  AudioNote allows me to write on my ipad like I would in the Livescribe notebook and it synchs my writing with the audio recording that I am doing so I can go back later, click on the writing I did, and hear exactly what was being said at the moment I was writing.  This is the brilliant feature of Livescribe but in ipad form.  Additionally I can take photographs of what is going on and have that part of the documentation (just like I did with Penultimate).   Unlike Penultimate, however, I can also use the typing feature, which is a nice option.

With AudioNote I can also us the Wi-Fi network I am on and send the note to another teacher or even student using a set URL.

While at the moment AudioNote doesn’t synch with Evernote automatically I can Open In… Evernote, which allows me to easily transfer notes to Evernote.  I can also open it in Dropbox and Google Drive.

audionote use

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 10.53.58 AM

Using Note Links to get Organized

This year I am working with a new portfolios system. My students still have individual accounts but at my new school (Opal Charter School) we are also using grouped accounts. Each graduating class is grouped together under one account. This grouped account is where each child has a formal, presentation portfolio. The school is using this presentation portfolio as a way to move away from very large narrative report cards. The school has set up a list of almost 20 portfolio entries for each student. These portfolio entires are based on the learning goals the school has created for students. The list of required entries contains everything from reading evaluations, to writing samples, to photographs that show a student working with an artistic material they are skilled with.

Another big change with the group account portfolios is that they are much more teacher created. Whereas in the past (in my previous school) the work of uploading portfolio artifacts rested mostly on the shoulders of my students, at Opal the teachers have a responsibility for uploading student work.

With 29 students and a long list of required artifacts I was finding it difficult to keep track of what items I had uploaded and what students still needed artifacts. I was using a paper spreadsheet but that kept getting misplaced. At the same time my teaching partner wanted to upload work into accounts or at least see what each person had accomplished.

To make this whole process easier I decided to use the Link To Note feature found in the desktop version of Evernote and create a link-able table or spreadsheet.

I created a new note in the graduating classes notebook (below you see the 4th grade graduating class. I replaced their names for generic ones for this posting). In the note, which I titled 2013 Portfolio Checklist, I created a table. This table has all the students names vertically and all the required artifacts for the year horizontally.
I then went to each students notebook, opened up the notes I wanted to add to the table individually, copied them as a link, and pasted them into the table. In the picture below you can see each artifact in green. I just tap on the green artifact title and I go directly to the students artifact.
This is a great strategy for those teachers who want to really stay organized with their students portfolios and have easy and quick access to them. This only works, however, if you have group account portfolios not individual ones. You can't create a link to a portfolio or artifact outside of the account.
While going back and creating this table takes some time (its a lot of pasting) it well worth it in the long run. Now I have one place where I can quickly access all my students work. It is a hyper linked table of contents for my students work.
This kind of process could also be used for individual accounts. A note could be created that was called Final Portfolio Presentations and a student could make a table of contents of all their best work. In that way, they could more easily access their artifacts when they did a presentation.

A portion of my Required Student Artifacts table



Penultimate and Noteshelf: great tools for documentation

One of the issues that I have had as a documenter of my student's work is that its always a struggle to find the right tools for the job. As a technology buff I am always on the look out for tools that have multiple uses, are easy to use, have design elegance and allow me to integrate them into my work flow. Over the years I have used photography (and in the last few years video) as a quick solution for documenting what is happening in my classroom. I have moved from film based cameras, to digital aim and shoot ones, to smartphones which allow me to easily upload to Evernote, Dropbox and the cloud.

While taking, storing and uploading pictures has become really easy, the same can't be said about an equally powerful tool, the narrative handwritten note. While a photograph can set the context and even record the evidence of a piece of work and learning, I always want to have a record of the conversations or the observations that I have made. Over the years I have tried notecards, notebooks, typing apps, photographing my notes into Evernote with the Moleskin notebook, and a variety of handwriting apps on my iphone and ipad. Nothing has stood the test of time because all of these solutions tend to “stand alone”. I want and need something that is a combination of documenting solutions.

I have been aware of Penultimate for many years and never thought much of it. It is touted as the “most popular” handwriting app but handwriting apps on the ipad always seem great theoretically but when you start using them, they have a major drawback, most styluses on the market are terrible. They are too fat. The rubber sticks so it feels like you are pulling a rubber thimble across the screen. It is hard to not have horribly messy handwriting. This all changed for me recently when one of my students gave me a stylus that her father was given to review for the New York Times but since he didn't have a tablet he had no use for it. The stylus, from Justgosmart, has the best “pen-like” feel of anything that I have used. It has a funny looking tip that gets a lot of attention when I use it but it is well balanced and even is magnetized so it stays in place when I set it on my ipad. The best part is that it writes smoothly. This great stylus opened up a new possibility for me in terms of using handwriting apps.

Justgosmart stylus

Once I had solved the stylus issue I started to experiment with Noteshelf, an app I found in the Evernote Trunk but hadn't done much with. I like its robust features. It has a multiple of pen color choices (you can even create your own colors), pen nib sizes and types of pens. Additionally it has a lot of paper templates that you can use. You can also send pages to Evernote. All great features. As an app it fits my needs in the classroom to document student work and conversations. With Noteshelf you can add photos as well, a big plus. This feature allows me to not only take notes but I also allows me to add context making images.


I really like all the options that Noteshelf provides, except one feature. I don't like how it integrates with Evernote. I can upload notes and notebooks to Evernote, but once they are there they can't be changed or added to. I have to import the entire notebook again if I added anything to it. This might seem like a small thing, but it isn't. I want my notetaking app to be fully integrated with Evernote. I love all the features of Noteshelf, but this was a deal breaker.

Penultimate, because it is now owned by Evernote, has the advantage of being fully integrated with my Evernote account. Every time I make a change in my Penultimate notebooks, they synched in Evernote. This is a vital feature when documenting my students work. While it doesn't have the same robust features as Noteshelf I don't find myself needing an unlimited supply of pen colors and nib sizes. I have found a work around to be able to make my own page templates as well.

Recently I have been using Penultimate to document the work and discussions that I have been noticing in my math classes. I can quickly snap a picture of work and make a quick note about it for later review. This has been invaluable when going over a lesson on my own or sharing thoughts and ideas with parents and other colleagues. (These notes can also be sent to my students portfolios by email). As the Evernote Education Ambassador I am also able to test out the latest Penultimate Beta apps that are in the works. This has been great because I get to offer feedback and also see what Evernote is up to as it improves Penultimate's usability. The next feature I would love to see is the option of adding audio recording as well. In that way I could photograph work, record conversations and make notes about what I hear and see. This is an amazing tool that I imagine will only get better.

A template I created using a screenshot and Skitch


An example of how I document student work