Why ePortfolios? Workspace & Showcase

If you try to follow #eportfolios on twitter, you may be disappointed. When you search and view samples of ePortfolios on the internet, you will find several schools with templates and beginnings. You won’t find many quality ones in the grade levels proceeding college. At least I haven’t yet. Many of them appear more like resumes than an instrument that not only documents learning but accelerates it, too.

This summer, our team is designing an ePortfolio for students spanning Preschool through Grade 12. The team consists of representatives from Preschool, Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School working together to create one cohesive platform. It will look a little different at each level to meet the needs of the students. For example, Preschoolers will require greater teacher assistance to curate, reflect, and upload their demonstrations of learning while Upper School students will possess greater autonomy.

Regardless of age, what is the purpose of student ePortfolios? Why do they exist? Why should they exist?

As a Workspace…

1. Document Student Learning – At a national level (and elsewhere), when we hear about the state of education, we hear about test scores. There are so many better and alternative ways to measure student growth and performance. ePortfolios lend themselves to constructed learning by design. The status quo for assessing student learning is and has been selected response learning (ex: multiple choice questions, give me four choices and I will select one. this tends to require little critical or creative thinking). Schools must employ a comprehensive and balanced approach to assessments. Teachers must design more units and assessments that encourage and require students to construct a unique and original response.

2. Accelerate Student Learning – Students who actively engage in their learning not only retain more knowledge but develop higher order thinking skills. Are we only force feeding content and standards? When do students get to choose their own learning path and pursue unique interests? An ePortfolio must include student reflection. It must include feedback from peers, teachers, parents, and external experts. It is a way to engage the greater community and inspire others to deeper learning or new discoveries.

As a Showcase…

3. Serve as a Discussion Starter for Student Led Parent Conferences – Have you ever wondered why parent teacher conferences often exclude the most important party; the student? Sometimes, it is more appropriate for the adults to meet, but I think we miss an opportunity to not only include the student in the conference, but to ask them to lead it. As they lead, students should leverage their e-portfolio as the starting point to showcase their learning and even highlight their areas of struggle, too.

4. Serve as a Discussion Starter for College Acceptance/Interviews – What does the SAT measure? And why do we care? Why do we put so much weight and emphasis on a limited tool with a narrow frame. How do we measure creativity? Ethical decision making? As a Director of Admissions, I relied on a comprehensive approach that included standardized test scores, but we did not hang our hat on them at the exclusion of other gauges including the required items (transcripts, interviews, application questions, writing samples, recommendations) and the un-required touch points (every interaction was a chance to get to know an applicant, to ask questions, observe behavior, and communicate an expectation. many team members were included in the interactions.) It takes more time to be thorough and relational. It is simply easier to pin it all on a test taken on a Saturday morning. Kinda lazy yet convenient. And a money making machine, too. I’d like to see more authentic measures begin to take over.

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What other purposes can you think of for a student ePortfolio? Also, what questions do you have? Please share.

#2 Introducing Your Newest Team Member: Gandalf

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Organizing and improving all of the goals, events, reflections, feedback, ideas, touch points, and priorities that occur in the life of a school from year to year is like drinking from a fire hose. I am constantly seeking out new ways to be more effective and efficient at managing and leading. This Spring I had a breakthrough.

In the summer of 2005, I took a week long course at Oglethorpe University through the College Board for certification to teach AP World History. The instructor was Larry Treadwell. I will never forget him. In one week, my approach to teaching was reshaped. It was a defining moment in my career as an educator.

Mr. Treadwell unchained me from the textbook and empowered me to rely primarily on primary sources. “A document a day makes the DQB okay.” He gave me permission to have ridiculously high standards for my students. I took an entire legal pad worth of notes. I retyped them the next week and shared them with my teammate Elliott Rountree (a master AP teacher, Academic Team coach, entrepreneur (ACE Quiz Bowl Camps), and Jeopardy contestant.

There were countless ideas and strategies that I experimented with and adopted that year (my first year as an AP teacher will make for a good future post – it was a year of tremendous professional and personal growth). And then there was one simple idea: George.

Mr. Treadwell suggested that we get an empty box and label it George. As we created new material and handed out copies (this was pre-Google Docs/paperless classrooms), we were to give a handout to George, too. Thus, at the end of the semester, we would have a copy of our entire work in order, in one place. Simple and genius.

I followed Mr. Treadwell’s instructions and was pleased at the end of the semester to have all of my work for the course in one mostly organized pile. I was then able to develop it, improve it, add to it, delete from it, etc.

This Spring, I adapted and welcomed George to the 21st century. He is now a Google Doc named Gandalf. He is not longer a student in my AP World History classroom who receives handouts. He is now a member of my leadership team who serves as a calendar, curator, and administrative assistant for the rest of our team. Gandalf solves problems.

Interested in having your own Gandalf? Here’s what you do…

1. Create a blank Google Doc and paste all key dates for 2013-2014

2. Go through your endless list of Google Docs (if you’re like me, you receive 2-3 new ones each day from creative team members)

3. Link every single Google Doc to a specific date on the calendar. (ie – Orientation, 1st Pep Rally, Faculty Meetings, etc.)

4. Share the document with your leadership team. Ask them to add their documents by linking them to specific dates.

5. Sit down and review/revise the document with your team to make sure all is included and accurate. 

6. As new documents arrive, you must link them into Gandalf or delete them. No stray documents.

Presto! You have just organized your entire upcoming school year in a collaborative way. 

* It is a living, organic document whose maintenance is never complete.

Gandalf Screen Shot

#1Taking the 60-60-60 Challenge

Several times I have created blogs with gusto and enthusiasm only to neglect my posting duties after a few posts. Here I go again. This time, however, I hope to break the cycle of neglect thanks to the inspiration of my new friend and teammate, Bo Adams. Also, thanks to another friend and teammate, Mikey Canup for setting up this new blog for me and getting it linked to my longstanding singer/songwriter website domain.

You can read about Bo’s 60-60-60 Challenge and perhaps dare to take part, too. Follow my progress on twitter #60-60-60Challenge.

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Tear Down Classroom Walls With Learning Walks

One of the most untapped and useful resources available to us is the experience, practice, and expertise of the professional colleagues on our own campus. Learning Walk are a fun, inexpensive way to immediately impact your own educational practice. As lifelong learners, we seek professional and personal growth through many avenues including conferences, webinars, articles, in-service workshops, presentations, twitter, blogs, etc. These are all elements of our PLNs (Professional Learning Networks). Learning Walks are another powerful, yet underutilized element. This practice is one key towards establishing a professional learning community. Each teacher is expected to complete one learning walk per semester as part of their professional evaluation, but we encourage you to conduct as many learning walks as you would like/as your schedule permits.

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What is a Learning Walk?

A learning walk is one part of a multi-faceted, professional learning approach designed to give educators access to their peers’ expertise in short, focused observations. It is an opportunity to unashamedly borrow or steal the best ideas, strategies, and inspiration from our colleagues next door. It brings down walls.

What are Learning Walk norms?

Before

  • Learning Walks are not about criticizing the teachers you visit, but rather about growing yourself and seeking to glean insights from the experience and expertise of your colleagues. It’s about you directing your own growth through observation and reflection. You are there to learn.
  • Plan your walks in advance, put it on your calendar, coordinate with your Head of Grade.
  • Decide on your specific focus in advance – what are you looking for? (ie – one of the standards of professional excellence or how your vertical team members teach a specific math learning outcome, essential outcomes, assessments, use of technology, etc.). Limit your focus to 1-2 specific practices.

During

  • Learning Walks should take 20-30 minutes max. Keep each visit brief – 1-5 minutes in each classroom.
  • Observe an entire hallway, building, or vertical team, not just one or two people.
  • Learning Walks may or may not be announced in advance. If unannounced, when you enter, you can say, “I’m on a learning walk – just ignore me.”
  • If you are being observed, keep teaching. Don’t stop.
  • Quietly observe and ask students questions – look for student learning.
  • Take notes on what you discover/learn, especially about your specific focus.
  • Take a picture. (If you plan to share it on twitter, etc. – make sure it represents the School in a positive light (Be a raving fun publicly).

After

  • Within 24 hours, email the teachers with positive, specific praise about something you learned and took away from their practice.
  • Tweet about what you see – try to share useful, applicable practices to other teachers who follow…
  • #learningwalk  #MVMiddle  #MVPSchool (use these hashtags in your tweets so we can all benefit).
  • Implement something specific that you learned in your own classroom.

Throwback Post: My Big Break on 99X

chip 99X my big break
Barnes & Leslie – The Morning X – 9/18/2001

Originally published on blogger.com on August 2, 2005.

It was September 10, 2001; the eve of the first terrorist attack on America. I had long hair and was a regular attendee of Eddie’s Attic, usually 3-4 nights a week. I had managed to overhear that John Mayer (who was just on the verge of celebrity, but still a local musician) was performing a private gig for close friends and family. My friends at the Attic got me in to see the show.

While there, I ran into a friend of a friend who went to my high school who was married to 99X DJ Steve Barnes. Barnes was a famous radio personality on the most popular morning show in Atlanta radio. It was fun to meet him and I enjoyed chatting with them both. I thought nothing of it and after John’s show was over, I went home. (Home, by the way, was a basement apartment in a family’s home, but that’s a story for another day)

The next morning I awoke around 9AM. I checked my phone messages only to hear the two most incredible messages of all time. First, came the message from Barnes.

“Hey Chip, this is Barnes. I enjoyed meeting you last night and got to thinking that you should come in tomorrow morning and play live on the radio. We have a program called ‘My Big Break’ and you need to be one it. Call me around 5am if you want to come in.”

AGHGHGHGH! I had totally slept through it! I missed a chance to be on the radio. This would have been huge. After all, it had only been 4 months since I quit my job to become a full time songwriter. This was my chance to be heard by the world. Or at least Metro Atlanta.

Then, the second message:

“Chip, this is your mother. We’re under attack. Wake up and get to a television!”

What!? There was my mom overexaggerating some story again, waking me up too early. I couldn’t have even imagined what I was about to discover when I turned on the news. I saw the second plane hit. I felt desperation and rage all at once. I was stunned, paralyzed, mouth gaping, motionless on the edge of the couch. Disbelief. Vulernability.

At some point during the hours of the day, I returned the call to Barnes. He told me that it would be at least a week or two, but that he would make arrangements for me to come in to the station to perform. Meanwhile, he said, “We’ve got to deal with this.”

The morning arrived for “My Big Break.” I rose early, warmed up my vocals and made my way to 99X. It was all very exciting as I felt privileged to see the inner working of such a popular radio station, much less to share one of my original songs with my hometown. I played “Aimless” and did a brief interview with Barnes and Leslie. Jimmy Barron was absent that day. Leslie asked me how committed I was to this life of an independent musician. I told her that someone once told me “it takes 10 years to become an overnight success” and that’s what i would give it. The feedback was immediate and large. There were many phone calls to the station and I got to talk to lots of cool folks. My email was flooded when I got home with congratulations from friends and family and praise from total strangers. I even had an email from an A & R rep with Warner Bros. Nothing ever came of it, though. I had taken a huge step forward, but I was still very green as a songwriter/performer. In many ways, I still am.

Looking back now from the vantage point of 4 years later, “My Big Break” was really more like “My Little Gig,” but it gave me a great boost of confidence to keep going. As Barnes said, consider it like a “spot” given to a weightlifter. It’s just one step in a series of many intended to spur my growth and strength in the business. I’ve got 6 years to go before I become an “overnight success.”

Return to Eddie’s Attic

chip eddie's w: willi boos

Originally posted on blogger.com on Friday, July 29, 2005 at 1:43 p.m.

Return to Eddie’s Attic

Last night marked my return to Eddie’s Attic, the premiere acoustic venue in the Southeast, if not the nation. Having said that, I’m not sure what I was doing on the stage, but life is full of little mercies and graces.

I played a 45 minute, solo set to an intimate crowd of about 50. The feeling was that of a homecoming. Not only because it was my first gig in the Attic in 12 months, but also because there is a new owner, Bob Ephlin, who has the vision and the ability to bring the “magic” back to Eddie’s and take it to new places. In a stroke of pure genius, Bob’s first act as new owner was to hire former owner and namesake Eddie Owen as the Director of Operations. Wow!

Back in the heyday, I thought of the Attic as my own little tree fort. John Mayer used to work the door for $40 in 1998. Shawn Mullins and Josh Joplin were our own little-known, local discoveries before they were signed and put into heavy rotation on the airwaves. And the smell of Eddie’s pipe permeated the patio where you could count on meeting a number of interesting acoustic music lovers and players.

Anyway, it is good to be back. I wish Bob and the Attic great success!