Pre-Order Digital Student Portfolios, Receive $2 Off

The landing page for my first book Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment is up and running! The PLPress staff was remarkably efficient in getting this ready.


In this book, I share my school’s story of integrating and embedding digital tools such as iPads and Evernote into our daily instruction. This was not a linear process, and there were definitely ups and downs. But I think that is what makes this resource unique: A realistic look at the rewards and challenges in our attempts to make school a rich learning environment for everyone, both teachers and students.

Save with this code
To celebrate the upcoming launch of this exciting book for educators, Powerful Learning Press has extended a $2 discount through July 15. Use the code PORTFOLIOS at checkout to save $2. Go to the PLPress online store to buy now.

I look forward to discussing with you the advantages technology and connectedness can bring to our learning endeavors!

Another Five Cool Things You Can Do on Your MacBook Air


photo credit: ldandersen via photopin cc

1. Send content from your MacBook Air to another iOS device

I used this feature when planning a family trip to a new destination. After creating the directions in Maps, I clicked the arrow and selected the device I wanted the map to be sent. You can also use AirDrop for this, although I have found that application to be a bit buggy. I am sure Apple will improve upon it.

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2. Pause music with your Apple ear buds

Okay, not revolutionary, but very useful anyway. I knew I could do this on an iPad and iPhone, so I just assumed…

3. Access applications in the top toolbar

These are more useful than the extensions you might use in your Chrome broswer. For example, you can clip a screenshot or take audio with Evernote, check your feed or send out a tweet on Twitter, and write a new journal entry in Day One.

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4. Tag files in Pages, Keynote, and Numbers

I didn’t really understand why this was helpful, until I opened up Finder to look for a file. Below the different locations for saving content, each tag you have used appears. Click on one, and all files with that tag from the iWorks suite pop up. That can be very useful when working on complex projects.

5. Bring up Notifications with a swipe.

Take two fingers, swipe from the right side to the left on the Touch Pad, and your notifications menu shows up on the side of your screen. This allows you to see all alerts, emails, and updates. You can also engage in any applications you have set up for notifications, such as Messages and Twitter.

How Should Keyboarding Be Taught in Elementary Schools?

In this recent article for Ed Tech magazine, I share our district’s process for bringing keyboarding back into the K-5 setting.

Yes, this was prompted by the upcoming computerized tests next year. But what about the benefits we can gain from these mandates? For example, our fifth graders and their classroom teachers were introduced to Google Drive. The keyboarding teacher infused many tips and tricks for using Google Apps in the classroom while teaching this skill. By the end of the year, our students had greatly improved their keying skills. It most definitely helped that they learned this skill within the context of authentic literacy work, such as collaborative writing.

If you are at the K-5 level, how have you addressed keyboarding in preparation for these tests? Please share in the comments.


Google or Evernote: Which Tool Do You Prefer for Capturing Student Learning?

This question, in so many words, was asked by Cathy Mere. She is wondering about the same thing that I am, and maybe you are too. Here is my response:


photo credit: melenita2012 via photopin cc

I have three reading interventionists in my building. One of them started using Evernote with her iPad this year. Her goal was to capture her students’ learning both with audio and images. She had a couple of challenging learners, and was looking to help them identify their own progress through self-assessment. She had her students listen to themselves read after recording them. This teacher also shared her students’ notebooks with our district’s lead interventionist via Evernote as an accountability piece.

She used Evernote because, I believe, that is what our building is using. Several training sessions were provided for all staff on this tool. When she shared a note with another teacher, everyone was using the same tool. I share this because when thinking about a digital tool to capture student learning, I believe it is important that the collaborators are at least familiar with the medium. However, we also have to use the tool that works for us, especially when trying to document learning in the middle of instruction.

I like Google; don’t get me wrong. It is such powerful technology for professional collaboration and documentation. Our whole staff uses Google Drive for meeting minutes and for our digital data wall. Many of the 4th and 5th graders also using Google for writing and presentations.

But I think the efficiencies only go so far with Google. Great for storage, creation and collaboration, but does it provide a way for teachers to methodically go back through student artifacts and find themes and patterns? Evernote does, because of it’s ability to tag notes and to put several related artifacts within one note.

At the same time…

I felt like our digital portfolios were really helpful with students assessing their own work, and parents seeing their work throughout the year, but what about staff being able to use these artifacts for their own learning?

To sum up, whatever tool we use to collect, organize, analyze, and reflect on student learning has to be meaningful and essential for all those involved in the process. This includes teachers. Our goal as reflective practitioners is to become better at our profession. It happens when we become students of our own instruction.

Four Middle Level Books I Would Like to Read This Summer


This title won the E.B. White Read Aloud Honor in 2011. It chronicles the friendship between a group of mice and a cat during the time of Charles Dickens. In fact, the author himself frequents the inn where this novel takes place. An initial listing of characters with names such as Pip alludes to the possibility of many Dickens references throughout the story. My favorite so far (on the back cover): “He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms.”


I see this title frequently mentioned on Twitter by other educators. After picking it up at my local book store, I sent out this tweet:

It resulted in at least half a dozen replies, all highly recommending it. This fantasy novel pits four orphans against each other in a deadly competition to impersonate the king’s missing son, in order to avoid civil war. After an initial preview, I get the feeling it is The Hunger Games meets Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The False Prince is part of a series, like the other two books mentioned.


My kids have checked out this title as an audiobook on Playaway a few times from our public library. Their frequent laughter while listening has piqued my interest. A girl’s “hippy” parents have been kidnapped by foxes. She hires two rabbits (hence the title) after learning she can speak animal. Also fun is that the author, Mrs. Bunny, has a blog.


Although I cannot say for sure, this second book in The Sixties Trilogy appears to combine primary historical documents from that time period with a narrative of kids experiencing the Civil Rights Movement. It almost has the feel of Brian Selznick’s books The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Thunderstruck. The difference: The artifacts and photos support the story with both imagery and facts.

What is on your reading list for middle level titles this summer? Please share in the comments.

Learning is Messy


Learning is Messy

My son and daughter, ages seven and five respectively, wanted to help me put together this garden last night. My son’s job was to assist me in stacking and sliding the cedar boards together. My daughter distributed the screws to me, one at a time, when I was ready to drill the boards together.

This set up worked fine, until my son decided to chop off the tops of some of the bee balm growing by the house with his toy sword. This led to my daughter, in her attempt to redirect her brother, dropping one of the wood screws. My wife saved the day, finding it in the grass later that evening.

It would have been easier if I had just built this raised bed by myself. I really didn’t need the help. But then again, my son would not have been exposed to 90˚ angles or dovetail joints. My daughter would have been deprived of appreciating the initial fruits of our labor, even if they would result in “yucky” zucchini. In the end, we did achieve our goals. It took a little bit longer than anticipated to get there, but we arrived together.

Three Ways to Use Evernote in Action Research

We are very familiar with Evernote in our school. Our staff collects, organizes and shares out student work in the form of digital portfolios with this application via iPads. Parents can see their son’s or daughter’s progress as it is happening. Our portfolio night in April has now become a Showcase Night. Evernote’s ability to easily capture images, audio, and text makes it a necessary tool for ongoing assessment, student reflection, and responsive instruction.

But what about our own learning as professionals? Can the data and artifacts we collect help us become even more reflective about our practice? These are some of the questions we are trying to answer, in lieu of Wisconsin’s new Educator Effectiveness Plan. While teachers’ Student Learning Objectives will be measured by local and state quantitative assessments, the Professional Practice Goal is based more on qualitative data.

I was introduced to the book The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research: Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn Through Practitioner Inquiry, 2nd Edition (Corwin, 2009) by Nancy Fitchman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey from the Connected Coaching course I took last summer with Lani Ritter Hall. The authors provide a clear template of how teachers can become students of their own practice. They include several reasons for action research, such as being a powerful tool for professional development and expanding the knowledge of teaching in important ways.

In addition, Dana and Yendol-Hoppey see action research as an important vehicle for raising teachers’ voices in education reform. “While both the process-product and qualitative research paradigms have generated valuable insights into the teaching and learning process, they have not included the voices of the people closest to the children – classroom teachers” (3).

To measure one’s own practice and make improvements, several pieces of artifacts are needed to reflect on the day-to-day instruction. The authors offer several strategies for capturing our own instruction and student learning. The first strategy, Field Notes, involves scripting dialogue and conversations, recording questions the students and/or teacher asks, or noting what students are doing at particular time intervals.

Where Evernote Comes In

For scripting dialogue and conversations, I would use a Moleskine Evernote notebook. The advantage is, once you have scripted what you hear, you can scan in your notes into a specific Evernote notebook. Your handwriting is then readable if searching for specific terms. These notebooks can be assigned to a student, or to a subquestion from a teacher’s main wondering in their action research.

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The second idea from the authors when taking field notes is to have some sticky notes on your lanyard with a pen. If you want to capture student learning while teaching and don’t have a notebook around, write down what happened on the note. Evernote and Post-It have teamed up to create scannable stickies. When using an iPad or iPhone, there is an option to take a picture of a Post-It Note within Evernote. Just like the Moleskine notebooks, what you write becomes readable and searchable.

A final strategy for field notes is recording audio of students having a conversation and/or of yourself teaching.

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The authors recommend that whoever is being recorded is comfortable with the process. When this was written, iPads were not in the picture. That is why this tool, along with Evernote, can be so powerful. Students are very comfortable with these devices. Plus, the microphones are hidden.

For a more comprehensive field note, a peer observer could record audio of student conversations, while he/she also scripted specific parts of the dialogue, such as coding the level of questions asked by each learner.

How do you see technology such as Evernote augmenting action research in the classroom? Please share in the comments.

Note: All notes derive from the aforementioned resource and were written in a Moleskine Evernote notebook. All doodles are from yours truly.