Digital Portfolios: Looking at the Data So Far…

I am happy to report that digital portfolios using Glogster have been going quite well so far.  Recall that I am interested in the problem of student ownership of their portfolios.  I have been trying to see if students are interested in maintaining portfolio items on their own.

To this end, I surveyed the kids (big surprise).  I also monitored their on- and off-task behaviour during 4 computer sessions.  Finally, I checked their glogs regularly for the type of work students completed on their own.

The Survey:

I was curious about what they thought of Glogster, whether or not they have worked on specific reflective assignments on their own and whether or not they would rather use their journal for reflecting on their learning.  What I discovered was that the majority of students (20 out of 30) worked on assignment pages when they weren’t even assigned them for homework.  This surprised me.

Only 3 out of the 30 students preferred their journal over Glogster.  8 out of 30 liked them both equally as well.  Those who preferred Glogster for reflective writing sited reasons such as:

  1. They found it easier to write on computers (4)
  2. They preferred online environments (2)
  3. They found it more fun (8)
  4. It made their work neater and more organized (2)
  5. They enjoyed the graphics (7)

These are all reasons they volunteered.  They did not choose any from a list.

Student Observations:

When I observed student on- or off-task behaviour, I found that the majority of students (24/30) stayed on task, writing and working to complete their reflections with little or no intervention by me.  These numbers did not significantly change over the course of the study.  Unfortunately, the students who have the greatest writing needs always found it difficult to stay focused during their independent reflection time.  4 out of 30 never successfully completed an assignment.

Most off-task behaviour was related to wait time.  Students engaged in talking or exploring online while they waited for login to occur or while they waited for the computer to complete steps such as uploading photos or text objects.

All students, without exception, created their backgrounds and uploaded photos prior to writing.  I found that students spent most of their school time on graphics. In contrast, students spent the vast majority of their journal time on writing.  They were supplied with photos (which took a couple of minutes to glue into their journals) and were allowed to decorate their pages.  All students fully complete a journal entry per week and have completed 5 journal entries since the start of the study.  Many still have yet to complete a full reflective entry on Glogster.

The difference in completion rates has a lot to do with their access to technology over the course of the week.  I give the students daily time on journals, but supply only one computer block for completing Glogster work.  I also allow students to use Glogster in their spare time once work has been completed on occasion.

Checking Their Work:

Even though most students (20/30) reported that they have worked on assignments in their own time, I found evidence that only 13 of 95 glogs on the “new glogs from classmates” scroll list were related to school work.

The quality of their work varied.  I noticed an increase in the quality of the work from two male students.  Specifically, their writing was more detailed, interesting and accurate when they used Glogster in comparison to their journal.  Most students wrote less on Glogster, although their work looked more interesting.  I noticed a decrease in the accuracy of work from 4 students, even though 1 of the four thought his work was tidier and more organized when he used a computer.  However, the quality of writing is beyond the scope of this field study.

In Conclusion:

I found that all students really enjoy Glogster, although a minority (3/30) still prefer to use their journals.  I also discovered that most activity on Glogster is related to setting up and decorating pages with graphics and photos.  Most students stay on task during Glogster work, although most students complete more writing on paper than they do on Glogster. Even though most students claimed that they worked on assignment away from school without being asked, the vast majority of independent work (82/95 glogs) were just for fun.

These are still early days for implementing digital portfolios.  I really like the Glogster platform for all of the same reasons that the students do.  I love that students can document their experiences and learning through a range of media (drawings, photos, video, writing).  I am still learning to structure the time I give students to work on their glogs.  I am developing routines that will ensure, over time, that students are able to have enough access to computers that they have a chance to complete work in good time.

Problem Solved: My e-Porfolio Platform

Yesterday, I was very unsure what I was going to use for student portfolios.  My issue was that most of my options either seemed to fussy and/or wouldn’t really engage kids and/or were too platform specific…I could go on.  I really wanted a web-based platform because all of the readings that I have done so far recommend them so that students can hyperlink ideas, work and reflections in a variety of formats.  Only, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of using blogs or wikis, two popular platforms used in a couple of studies that I read.

I’ve used blogs before.  I found them tricky to manage.  The kids enjoyed choosing a them and choosing widgets, but they needed to do this by using my administration password.  I found that they didn’t really take ownership of their blogs.  They couldn’t freely play with them and get them to look just the way they wanted.  Play is important to my students.

I’ve also used wikis (wikispaces).  I also found wikispaces to be a pain to set up for student use.  Plus, the kids found it hard to customize the look of their pages and had trouble uploading graphics.

I really wanted to use something like Comic Life.  My kids love Comic Life…they play with backgrounds and titles.  They love adding photos and reflecting in writing using speech bubbles.  Only trouble is that Comic Life is not web-based and only a few of our school computers have it.  The kids would not be able to access it from home and they would not be able to access it from the school lab.  Thus, they would have a hard time getting the time needed to work on their projects.

I vaguely remembered being introduced to something in the summer that resembled Comic Life, only web-based.  After a little searching, I found it–Glogster!  I played with it this morning and think it will be the perfect solution for me.  It was easy to set up student accounts and I think they will love playing around with it.  I can’t wait to give it a try this week and will keep you posted as to how it is working out!

More research on e-portfolios!

Helen Barrett seems to be the one to read when it comes to understanding e-portfolios.  I just finished reading Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios (2010), which describes really 3 stages of portfolio implementation.

The first is all about storage of artifacts.  It is a basic repository of audio, video, text and image files.  There is no sense of chronology or reflection at this stage.

The next step is about developing a working portfolio.  Barrett seems to favour blogs for this purpose.  Here, links are made from reflective journal entries to artifacts.  Journal entries are tagged for organization (and a little metacognition) and feedback is provided.  Blogs work well for this purpose as they allow for tagging, feedback and  a sort of reverse chronology.

The working portfolio is what I am aiming for.  I want the ongoing reflection and feedback.  I have had some experience with classroom blogging, and I am not terribly excited about getting into the logistical nightmare of seeking parent permission, creating 30 student blogs and giving kids the time to update them…sigh!  However, I think I simply need to bite the bullet and get the job done.  It makes the most sense for me.  The kids will be able to access them from anywhere.  I still don’t know how we are going to deal with the artifact issue, but I’ll just need to suck it up and give it a try.

My issue is that I don’t want to use Edublogs anymore.  I was shocked by the advertising that appeared on my pretty Hope Future Now blog after my year payment for advertisement-free blogging ran out.  It’s hideous and I feel like a sucker going with Edublogs now.  Wordpress has some advertising, but at least it is not completely in your face.  My Inlet Classroom blog is free…check it out.  The advertising is pretty subtle.

I checked into multiple blogs using WordPress, but was directed back to Edublogs.  I’m really not sure what to do about this.

The final face of portfolio is the presentation face.  I am not even thinking about this one, other than my own presentation assignment which is looming over me.

Implementing e-portfolios: What to consider!

So, I have been fretting away about portfolios.  Actually, the idea of e-portfolios is the one that has been getting to me the most.  I want to give them a try because, well, I believe that I need to consider technology in this final term of Learning and Teaching with Technology.  All cheekiness aside, I honestly am scared of what the artifacts are going to look like.  I am picturing myself taking photographs of the work of thirty kids and attempting to manage all of these photographs to that they can access them for their own folios.  I am also worried about managing the web tool part of the project.  My students are elementary school aged and don’t know how to do this stuff on their own yet.  I am worried that the deep reflection is not going to happen because it is going to take me so long to access all thirty different portfolios.  All of these worries (and more) have caused me to resist giving them a try.

So, again, I turn to the readings.  I need to be convinced.  I read an article entitled Researching Electronic Portfolios and Learner Engagement: The REFLECT Initiative by Helen Barrett (2007).  Barrett sets e-portfolios apart from other types of portfolios because of the use of hyperlinks.  Hyperlinks allow for connections to be made between outcomes and expectations to the artifacts themselves.  I know personally, that I make use of hyperlinks very frequently in my own e-portfolio.  I often link ideas to writings that I have done in other areas to show the depth of my reflection on those ideas.  I also link to articles.  I enjoy organizing my thoughts in this manner.  I feel like my learning is more focused and purposeful when I can pull it all together by using hyperlinks.

E-portfolios also allow learner to archive artifacts and reflections over time.  I have done this as well.  I constantly reorganize my portfolio to allow my most recent reflections to be the first thing that I see and I reshuffle old “pages” to for easier access to old ideas and information.  I also like this about my portfolio.

Collaborating, publishing and story-telling are three other specific benefits of e-portfolios.  I have not yet collaborated using my portfolio and I do not really see myself getting my students to do so at this point.  I am currently working on the story-telling component of portfolios, as I am in the final phase of Learning and Teaching with Technology.  I am pulling out essential themes in my learning from my well-organized portfolio in order to create this story. I can see the story as a short film.  I only hope that I can make the film happen.

So…why I am worried about my own students giving this a try?  Well, I just have this feeling that they will not take such ownership of their portfolios.  I am worried that I am going to be the one to manage them…that they will need me at every step.

Bennet (2007) also makes the argument that the artifacts and reflections contained within e-portfolios (and really any portfolios, I argue) do not constitute legitimate assessment on their own.  Well developed rubrics and external feedback are completely necessary for evaluating the quality of each artifact and for ensuring that the student is able to purposefully take steps to improve.  Although I knew this in my gut and have  begun creating such rubrics already, it is nice to have it confirmed by both articles that I have chosen to read thus far.  I find it interesting that in my graduate studies, I have not had this feedback and have never seen a rubric that I might use to help me assess the quality of my work. Is this because SFU believes in the constructivist portfolio approach (as opposed to the positivist approach) and trusts the learning perspective of the student, or is it because there is no time or resources to dedicate to such feedback?

Ideally I would like students be able to use portfolios not to provide evidence of performance (although I need it for that), but instead to provide them with a context for learning and improvement.  I am thinking more and more about how I can get the kids to own their portfolios as I own mine.  I know some kids will love developing something that looks like a scrapbook…I know that I would.  They would love to create something that they could be really proud of, that they can hold and touch.  I also know that some kids would have a tough time with this.  That they would be more proud of something tidy, graphic and web-based.  So…obviously I need to give my kids some choice.  I want them to love it and own it, but it needs to be for science, right?  Or can I allow them to use it for more personal expressions with some science mixed in?

Again, Barrett makes the argument that in order that we not lose student voices and the stories of their learning we need to make sure that elements of a portfolio are not just checkmarks on an accountability sheet.  Her research into the REFLECT initiative with high school-aged students was all about this.  Like me, she was interested in the conditions under which students take pride in and ownership of their portfolios.  The article stopped short of giving any findings.  She just set up the research methodology…lots of schools involved, lots of teachers, lots of kids from lots of backgrounds.  Appears I need some updates!

Anyway, I am feeling a little better about this.  I’ll follow up on Barrett’s research because she wants what I want.  From what I have read, it seems that portfolio assessment…if you would like to do it well…is no simple task.  I think I was worried that everyone was finding it easy.

Implementing Portfolios: The Essential Question

I have struggled the past little while with a field study that I have been undertaking.  I love the study, I just don’t love the digital components of the study.  I have met with experts, contributed to a new blog on classroom activities related to the project, and have generally chugged away at developing the skills my students need to approach the project like real scientists.  However, I have stalled on the implementation of one of the most important parts of the project: portfolios.

Portfolios are critical for several reasons.  First, I know they are the perfect vehicle for self assessment and evaluation.  Second, they are my data for the study.  Well, they will be.  I won’t know how effective my project is without them.  Third, they represent needed growth in my practice.  But here I am, fretting and horribly stalled.

My issue is that I am afraid that I am not going to do them correctly.  I want my kids to become really good at adding to them and reflecting on the elements of their learning.  I have been working towards giving them a good understanding of what the essential elements of their science should be so that they can identify what they are doing, why they are doing it and how well they are doing it.  I think that I over-think things sometimes.

I stopped and did some reading to help me out with the muddle I find myself in.  I read an article entitled The Use of Portfolio to Assess Student’s Performance (Birgin and Baki, 2007) which, although it was awkwardly translated from the original Turkish, was helpful in helping me see that I’ve been taking steps in the right direction.  Birgin and Baki explain the need for students to clearly understand the purpose of the portfolio, to contribute to building their own portfolios by choosing containers, and to help determine components and criteria by which they will be assessed.

It is taking me a while, but I am definitely trying to set up the necessary background for the students to meaningfully contribute to conversations about what kinds of criteria are needed as they set up their portfolios.  I have been working hard to build up their understanding of scientific literacy so that elements of this literacy can become the lens through which they view their learning.  So far, we have covered observing and “knowing stuff”.  We have yet to tackle essential components such as data collection, asking questions and setting up experiments.  It is such a huge job!

I am pushing ahead with setting up portfolios as the background knowledge part is coming along so slowly.  I have to, or I’ll have nothing to show come reporting time!  I am so inefficient sometimes!  I am going let my kids choose their containers this week so that they can begin to reflect on their skill building around observing.  I think that I will just slowly move along and add organizers as we engage in other aspects of scientific literacy.

Birgin and Baki (2009) also review various methods for assessing portfolios.  Teachers can grade each item in a portfolio and average out their marks to come up with a single grade.  They could also create several grades to match essential components of a portfolio instead of averaging everything to create a single one.    The third approach is called the “focussed holistic approach”, where a single score is reached by after focussing on several dimensions of performance.

In order to grade my kids in science, I am going to need to come up with a single grade, not many.  I would love to have many to give students credit for their strongest work, instead of having it averaged out.  Better yet, I would like no grades at all!  Alas, I have no control over this.  I have to work within the boundaries.  So, I am now going to create a rubric for assessing the observation component of my students’ portfolios.  I will do this for each of the components. Then, I will artfully (not mathematically) piece these assessments together to determine their letter grades for the term.  I believe that this constitutes the focussed-holistic approach.  I like the sound of it, to be sure!

What is Literacy Today?

Before we get started, you need to know that I think of literacy in a very broad sense.  To me, literacy goes beyond simply being able to functionally read and write.  Literacy is not simply about interpreting and producing text.  It can involve text, but does not end at text.  It can involve video.  It can involve web technology.  It can involve group dialogue.  It is about collecting, sharing, analyzing, and synthesizing information from all of these sources (and more).  Literacy is what allows you to participate in a realm of learning or citizenship in a critical, purposeful, and contributing manner.

At school, we have focused on a developing the portion of literacy involving text interpretation and production.  This is a necessary part of literacy as so much information and critical human thought is communicated in text form.  If one cannot read or write, then it follows that he or she will not be able to participate or contribute to many (if not most) realms of learning and citizenship.

However, as a result of the advent of computer technology, participating and contributing has moved beyond simply being able to interpret or produce text.  Now, much information is communicated in video format, or through dialogue on social networking sites.  And really, a lot of the text that you access online is written by any one who wants to write about any topic, no credentials needed.  This means readers need to be heavy skeptics and good at sourcing out ideas and opinions.  The good old days of teaching children God’s word from a single text are gone.

It is interesting to be witnessing this revolution in literacy.  It makes me wonder how everyone felt back in day when bound books were invented and eventually produced on mass.  Did they know they were witnessing a society-shifting revolution in literacy?  Did they resist giving up their scrolls?  Were they concerned about putting information into the hands of the many?  It puts me in mind of  a funny little video that I watched a couple of years ago:

This video reminds me of an important aspect of computer literacy: play.   It makes me wonder if it applies to other types of literacy as well.  Without the ability to just fearlessly dive in and try things out, it is very difficult for people to get started in the realm of technology, let alone keep up with all of the changes.  I personally believe that play is a huge part of mathematical literacy and scientific literacy as well.  I have noticed just how stuck kids (young kids!) become when they are worried about making a mistake.  It is the first step in developing number sense, a sense for how things work, a sense of wonder and curiosity, and a sense of connection to a realm of learning.  This certainly applies in writing, art, and music as well.  Play is foundational.

I think that it is easy to kill play.  All you need to do is put a little pressure on someone to “get it right” the first time and play is thoroughly defeated.  Pretty much all of the adults that I know are afraid to learn and try out new things because they were marinated in a type of schooling that never even considered play.  The right answer was either given to them to memorize or they were asked a question that demanded the right answer.  Which leads to me to the next important facet of literacy today:  there are many right answers.  Infinite numbers of right answers.  Trick is knowing which are more right than others or which right answers are downright wrong!

What a job we have ahead of us, we educators!  It is a very exciting time.  So much debate, so many opinions, so much room for self doubt.  This blog really amounts to me seeking some extra shoulders to help me bear the weight of the pressure of such change.  We’re all in this together, right?

What we lose when we gain…

Like so many parents, I am constantly questioning whether the life I am providing for my children is going to help them become the caring, confident, contributing citizens that I want them to become.  I think about this as a teacher as well.  I have come to see that so many of the benefits that I carefully provide for all of my children all seem to come with a cost and I am left feeling frustrated and unsure of myself.

Let me be more specific.  I provide my own children with a comfortable home, good food, and clean clothes.  My children are loved, never spanked, provided with travel, playtime and opportunities to develop their skills and passions.  In my classroom, I work hard to engage my students, build their self-esteems, and provide them with opportunities to develop their passions.  I teach so that they might love learning.  I never want any of my students or my own children to face hardship in the form of unhappiness, lack of confidence, stress, boredom, or cynicism.  I want them to grow up to be happy and empowered adults.

However, I am regularly faced with moments both with my own children and my students that fill me with doubt, panic and dread.  Moments when it is so obvious just how spoiled and entitled they have become.  Moments when it is clear just how unappreciative they are of all of the precious gifts they have been given.  Moments when they completely throw them right back in your face.  At such times, I revert to angry lectures and am moved to deprive them of something…anything to make them aware of how good they have it.

You give your children everything in pursuit of joy and contentment and ironically get an insatiable desire for more.  Maybe I need to stress my kids out a little, allow them to experience boredom, make them feel unhappy.  But it is so hard to do this on purpose!  I personally would not trade a single moment of “hardship” in my life (and my hardships are nothing like the hardships of others around the world, let me be clear ).  I know that, in spite of how painful they were at the time, they have helped me see the value in everything good I have in my life.  The million dollar question is, how do you expose your children to pain and hardship in a loving and nurturing way?

My grandparents and my husbands grandparents faced some pretty terrible situations, from economic depressions to disease to world wars.  They are tough, hard-working people who see the value in every penny they earn.  They are incredibly generous and resourceful.  They all hate the thought that they would ever burden anyone by asking for help, but they expect that we seek them when we need help.  I love them and I would love my children to inherit their work ethic, generosity and gratitude.  I feel we have lost some of what they have.  But how do we replicate that?

However, I know my grandparents suffer from other issues that I know that we (as a society) have tried to solve over many decades.  Problems such as bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and blind obedience.  I know that this entry has been a bit of a ramble, but I feel like I need everyone to know that I am always wrestling with the nature of the cost of every decision I make.  I want to be able to nurture all of the best characteristics from from generations that have come before in a way that aligns with my values today.

I will be writing a series of entries on this topic as it relates to education.  My first stop will be the study and memorization which was a major feature of classrooms for years, but may be in the midst of change as a result of unparalleled access to information on the web.  What do we gain and lose in an environment where we are faced with such a wealth of networked knowledge?

Finally Taking on Portfolio Assessment

I feel like I have been on the right track with assessment for a few years now.  I regularly view assessment as a process of providing ongoing feedback.  And my students learn, over the course of the one or two years that I have them, that this feedback is worthwhile to digest.  It takes a lot of work on my part, but it has become a habit.  Kids hand in incomplete stuff at regular intervals (writing, science projects, math work…)and I look for strengths and areas for each student to target for improvement (usually only one at a time).  The kids look forward to my feedback and many adjust their actions accordingly.  Those who don’t get a little more feedback, this time face-to-face, and some extra follow up.

Where I fall short is in evaluating student work for reporting and allowing my students to think about their work deeply through ongoing self-assessment.  I don’t tend to develop rubrics or criteria with them.  I have attempted portfolios at a minimal level…simply having them collect work without much reflection.  I have always felt that my classroom culture suffers from not having adequate student participation in assessment.  Too much of the burden and power resides with me, and this will never help in making my kids thoughtful, independent learners (McGrath, 2003).  Plus, I have not found an adequate way to rate my students demonstration of learning such that I might assign them a fair letter grade come report card time.  So…time to take on portfolios!

I am going to try my best to take baby steps in portfolio implementation.  I have decided that I will begin this journey in Science, where I am undertaking a rather large study of a local mudflat ecosystem with my students.  In my exploration of what good portfolios should look like, I have determined that some of my best resources have always been there for me to use…I just simply haven’t looked at them in a while!  I started with my curriculum documents.  First, I looked at recommended portfolio set-ups and then I looked for characteristics of scientific literacy and mastery of the outcomes I intend to target.  This was quite useful, as I feel like I have an idea for how the portfolios can be organized so that the kids can reflect on their work and what it demonstrates that they are able to do.

Next, I hit the journals and blog sites.  I am curious about digital portfolios, although am scared to take this on with a large group.  I feel strongly that some kids will benefit from a digital option, but I would like to have other “containers” available as well.  There is nothing worse than feeling like a critical project component (such as assessment) has not been executed well simply because I have been unable to access appropriate technology at the best time.  I am afraid to let my kids choose their containers, especially digital ones, to a large extent.  What if I cannot manage them well?  What if this all becomes a big pain and I avoid dedicating enough class time to make this work well?  Anyway, I need to jump in!  I am convinced that portfolios are the most effective way to assess (and evaluate) project based learning, as they reflect most accurately how students are questioning and analyzing, synthesizing and solving problems, creating and evaluating (Yarron, 2009).

I have determined that I need to front load my project with an exploration of what scientists do in order to give my students an awareness of scientific literacy.  It will help them have some idea as to what might be an essential indicator that they are demonstrating scientific literacy in their portfolios.  We will create the organizers together.  Then we will look at possible options for what their portfolios might look like.

The final step will be to generate the rubric that will help me evaluate the contents of the portfolio.  I think that I will take this task on by myself after the essential components have been determined.  I want a chance to research what levels of proficiency might be.  I won’t keep this a secret once I have done it….the kids will have a chance to understand the rubric enough that they can work to their highest potential.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted throughout the process.  If there are any experts out there, I would love to connect with you!

Doppelt, Yarron (2009). Assessing creative thinking in design-based learning. International Journal of Technological Design Education. 19: 55-65.

McGrath, Diane (2003). Rubrics, Portfolios and Tests, Oh My! Assessing Understanding in Project Based Learning. Learning and Leading with Technology. 30(8): 42-45.

A Place for Testing in Creative, Project-Based Learning

Back in May, I had made a discovery about the benefits of testing.  It was a real epiphany for me.  What follows is a somewhat abbreviated version of my original post, Between Play and Creation: A Place for Testing.  I hope it is beneficial to you…it has certainly resulted in a major shift in my thinking.

I have always been uncomfortable with a model of teaching which requires that, in any given subject, students “learn” the material by completing a series of exercises that ultimately are only for the purpose of preparing them for a final test.  This test often largely determines their mark in the subject.  Then, regardless of whether or not the student really gets the material, the teacher moves on to a new subject.  Unfortunately, this seems to be quite a common model.  I know of teachers who use this model even at the primary level!

However, I have lately discovered (for myself) a good place for testing.  I have been engaging in a really great human body unit which I call “The Human City”.  Here is an excerpt from another post on this project Immigrants vs Natives: What Needs to be Considered to give you the basic idea:

I had given my kids some very basic information on cells…they are like little rooms in which all work in your body takes place, that these room need to be told what to do in order to work, that they need food, water and messages to come to them, and that certain types of rooms group together to form certain kinds of “buildings”.  These building are your organs.  OK…nice analogy.  But here is the great part.   My students needed to use this information to help them create a city.  Everyday, I presented possible options for buildings and infrastructure in their cities.  Each option came complete with a detailed description of its functions.  What made it interesting is that I always created bogus options and I even threw in descriptions of diseases and allergies that they were best to avoid.  I priced every building (and piece of infrastructure) carefully and linked it to math by requiring that they purchase the rights to the buildings that they chose.  They needed to keep a running record of purchases and left over cash.  They could receive refunds for bad purchases so long as they did extra research (they had to figure out the real names of the buildings on their own).

During my euphoria, thinking that I had created the greatest human body unit ever, one of my students approached me and informed me that she was really confused by the whole thing.  I was a little taken aback, but decided that what was needed was some basic study of the systems, so I created a series of pencil and paper activities to figure out where the problem areas were.  Once I had done that, I realized that many of my kids needed to study these to get them clear in their minds before they could take on the project of actually creating their cities.  So, I created some study cards on “Quizlet”, gave them a practice test and a “real” test.

In all of this, I believe that I have figured out a genuinely helpful purpose for “the big test”.  In this case, studying helped to clear up any confusion experienced during the very constructivist phase 1 component of the project.  The student who came to me with her problem performed very well on the test and no longer feels confused.  She is now ready to engage in building her human city.  And hence, I have found an excellent purpose for testing: to prepare them for big projects that require a lot of thinking.  The testing helped my students acquire the basic, foundational understanding of the functions of the human body needed to do really interesting work on their city.

As simple as this seems, I think that this learning is really pivotal for me.  One of the reasons that I can be creative in many areas is because I understand the basics of the curriculum so well that I can draw creative connections to other areas.  I want to give my students the opportunity to do the same kinds of things.  Therefore, it makes sense to engage in testing after letting them “play” and before letting them create.  It is a perfect place for testing.

Imparting Values: Is it our job as educators?

I just engaged in an interesting discussion with my graduate studies group about the purpose of education.  Within this discussion, I mentioned that I thought that part of the purpose of public education was imparting values.  By values, I meant the values and ideals of the society in which one exists.  Hopefully, one’s own personal ideals are somewhat aligned with this, but I suppose that it is possible that this is not the case.  Anyway, many people disagreed with me.  They felt that it was definitely not a part of their job description and never had been even mentioned as a facet of their teacher training.  I never would have guessed that any teachers could think that their teaching is disconnected with their values.  How is this possible?

I think perhaps that we might be on the same page in reality, but that perhaps our views on what values actually are is different…although maybe not!  I know that in my classroom I never really think of myself as providing specific lessons in values and that there is no values curriculum and that I do not grade my kids on values.  However, everything that I do is filtered through my values.  So what are my values?  Well, I value tolerance, kindness, respect (for others, for oneself, for the environment), hard work, creativity, perseverance, open-mindedness, second chances, and and curiosity, for starters.  The ways I deliver lessons, the ways I discipline my kids, the ways I expect them to behave and the ways I expect myself to behave all support these values.  I have great difficulty doing things that go against my values.  I feel that my values are not specific to me…I feel that I am aligned with the good of our society (even the future of our society), even if some people feel differently.

Values are tricky things, I realize.  What if I value sustainable living, for example, but little Joey’s mom does not?  What if I think that kids should be able keep learning and overcome failure, but my colleague down the hall does not?  Are my values somehow more valuable than the values of others?   What about racism?  That was once acceptable.  Once it was reinforced in classrooms…I’m thinking about Nazi Germany, for one.  Perhaps it can be dangerous to impart values!  What if our values are bad??

I truly believe that imparting values is an incredibly important part of what I do.  I think that our society will develop in a better way if my students understand what is valuable.  In the case of the environment or the social fabric of the world, this is incredibly important.  I think that we are on the cusp of great habitual change in these areas.  It is important that I help lead the way because I believe that it is possible to live more respectfully on the earth and with one another than what we currently do.  It is only through the development of habits of mind and body that are based on values that will make this possible.  So kids need to live them in school.  They may not be getting this stuff at home.  It takes a village to raise a child, right??