A picture says one thousand words while a report card says less than half of that! Fresh Grade is a free and secure online student portfolio service with apps for many devices. Their goal is to "Make Learning Visible" and they succeed very well at that goal. This blog entry is a personal reflection on my first sixty days of using the service.
Modern assessment practices demand higher quality information sharing with parents and students. No longer is an 87% or B+ sufficient feedback for learners and their guardians. Modern assessment insists that students are informed of their strengths and weaknesses specifically indicated in a snapshot of their learning. New Brunswick along with many other provinces and states are getting rid of grades in K-8 education and replacing them with scales of mastery (sometimes from 1-4) for each skill area in each course. For teachers this results in parents and students asking a lot of questions. "What does a 3 mean?" "How can my student get from a 3+ to a 4?" If teachers aren't prepared these questions can take a lot of time to answer and sometimes may never be resolved.
"Triangulation of Data" is one suggestion with huge traction in modern assessment practices. It recommends that teachers form a final consensus mark based on Observations, Conversations and Products. This is where Fresh Grade becomes the saviour for all teachers. Fresh Grade allows a teacher to quickly and securely capture images, audio, video and text notes specific to a student's work. Audio can be used for conversations and conferences. Observations can be captured with text notes and pictures. Video can be used when reviewing products submitted by students, perhaps even as the assessment rubric is being used. Fresh Grade has a built in grade book that allows a teacher to assess and store grades for each student. It also has a sharp multimedia presentation option that allows teachers to create music-backed slideshows of students' exemplar work for parents. The real gem of Fresh Grade is how it builds school communities by giving students and parents unprecedented access to the learning experience.
Students and parents (through the web or separate apps) can view, add and comment on content added by teachers. Students feel empowered by being able to see what teachers have gathered in their snapshots of learning and by being allowed to upload examples of their own work to their portfolios. Parents are appreciative because for the first time ever the school has invited them to share in the learning experiences happening in classes in a way that feels natural and least invasive. Finally, parents can receive updates weekly (or even more frequently) compared to the standard 6-15 week printed report periods. Fresh Grade gives families topics to discuss over dinner and removes the mystery of what happens in school each day. Here is an example of a student finishing her robotics project on a day I was away on professional learning. She shared it to her private and secure portfolio, I commented and then her mom commented as well. Fresh Grade is strengthening school communities every day and taking the pain and confusion out of assessment and feedback.
I teach over 200 students weekly from grade 6-12. Some classes I only see once a week for 50 minutes and learning student names becomes nightmarish. Fresh Grade has allowed me to take the needed time to conference with each student and my ability to really know each of my students has improved dramatically. Fresh Grade gives me a specific reason to touch base with students as much as possible about their learning which is just solid education practice.
If your district is making the move to modern assessment practices there is no reason to fear thanks to Fresh Grade. The navigation allows for very fast learning evidence collection which you will truly appreciate come feedback and reporting periods. Encouraging mass adoption of this service among your peers will lead to stronger school assessment practices and stronger school communities once you allow parents to participate with students in the learning. After 60 days of using Fresh Grade extensively I can see clearly my students' weaknesses and strengths and come reporting time weeks from now their entire learning journey can be recalled for a more accurate assessment of their skill mastery. Also, I have visual evidence of learning for each parent and for those already involved in Fresh Grade we have something specific to speak about at parent-teacher conferences! Substitute teachers love the class lists I provide via Fresh Grade complete with student pictures which I obtain primarily from the previous years' yearbook to save time and to be ready for the first day!
Fresh Grade has a great Champions Program so when you experience the benefits of Fresh Grade reach out to them to join the team.
Minecraft Education Edition can be used to teach many 21st century skills outside of standard curriculum documents. Empathy is a powerful skill for our students to develop and projects like the "Extreme Minecraft Makeover Home Edition" help!
In this project my students randomly draw a scenario involving a Minecraftia family who have experienced difficult setbacks or barriers in life. Students are presented with some information about the family's hardships, interests, members and other pertinent details. Minecraftia families like "The Enderson Family" below are introduced with this information and a family picture or two.
Every family in Minecraftia has a story that tugs at the heart strings. Students genuinely want to help these families and critically and creatively design solutions to help. Some families may have lost their jobs (Librarian and Blacksmith) and with many kids in the family they need a larger space to live. Others have suffered injuries (Creeper Explosion or Spider Bites) and need homes that consider accessibility. Allergies, fears, loss of jobs, crowded homes, aging in-laws, and physical or mental illnesses as seen with "Steve Sr." below plague the village and students must design Homes and Surrounding Amenities in a charitable way to help these families.
The homes students build are only limited by their creativeness. With this unlimited budget project terraforming and the finest materials are all covered through charitable donations from Minecraftia Corporations such as "Acacia Hardware." Students can focus on what really matters and that is listening to their families and providing them a solution that makes their lives easier in an enjoyable way. The homes that can be built are incredible. Fenced in security yards, access ramps, novel bathroom design, large pathways throughout the home and other accomodations really help. Take a look at these potential dream homes.
Students create their own marking criteria when they determine what solutions best fit the family and then set out to provide these solutions. Much like a science teacher would assess the scientific method, teachers should be looking for evidence of critical thinking, creativity, communication skills, collaboration (when allowed) and of course empathy. Developing the tremendous citizens of tomorrow is in part the responsibility of the school system and through projects like The Extreme Minecraft Makeover Home Edition we can say we are doing our part to help. Consider running your own version of this engaging and important project and I would love to see/hear how it went via Twitter or email!
Cyber Security is a topic lightly touched on in K-12 education. Maybe we talk about password strength, maybe online footprint, maybe cyber bullying, but we hardly ever explore the skills in the field that translate into lucrative and important careers for students. Salaries in the industry can easily and quickly reach over $100,000 annually and with the scarcity of talented workers it is said there are two or more jobs available for every single employee in cyber security. I was privileged to be asked to take part in our province's first ever attempt at digging deeper into these skills that will help students fill an industry pipeline demanding over 1500 employees locally per year!
The Cyber Patriot National Youth Education Program offers engaging explorations into cyber security skills at all levels of K-12 education. There is the main grade 6-12 cyber security competition, Air Force Association Cyber Camps and an Elementary level cyber education initiative. I got to see first hand how the competition works as I watched my team from Canada enrolled via Cyber Titan complete an authentic practice round recently. What I witnessed was incredible.
The Cyber Patriot Competition has both a middle school and high school component. Students can choose between Microsoft Windows and Ubuntu Linux operating systems. The sponsors for the event include The Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defence, Cisco, AT&T, Microsoft and of course Facebook. This is not only engaging competition but the biggest names in the business are supporting the event in I'm sure a talent hunting capacity as well.
Teacher (coaches) download an image file for a virtual machine which has numerous vulnerabilities security wise. in teams of 4-6 students use ample resources to fix vulnerabilities scoring points as they go. Executing solutions that further complicate the image result in penalties which can be removed by correcting the error. The fixing takes several hours as students troubleshoot what could cause a Windows or Linux platform to be less secure than ideal. Some user accounts may have weak passwords, the firewall might be off or a whole other range of issues can appear on the virtual machine. In the end students receive a score out of 100pts and submit the score before the image times out.
The competition begins locally with 2 rounds before expanding to state and region finals and winning teams are brought to Maryland to compete in the finals. If you are a teacher who wants to offer a deeper cyber security education for your students because either they want it or you recognize the immense opportunity for student success in life please consider becoming a coach for a team in the competition rounds or exploring the AFA Cyber Camps and Elementary School initiatives available. If there is nothing there for you please consider sharing this resource with a teacher who may be interested! This contest looks to be worth every cent of the $200 entry fee per team and the organization showed major class by allowing Canadian schools to have an extra day for round #1 in order to avoid National Remembrance Day.
You can visit the Cyber Patriot website HERE and follow them on Twitter @CyberPatriot as well as New Brunswick's CyberEDU.ca site adding educational content often.
I'm an experienced Global Minecraft Mentor, Published Educational Researcher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Apple Distinguished Educator and grade 6-12 technology teacher. @BBTNB