Digital Portfolios: Old wine in new bottles?

First of all I can not take credit for the awesome metaphor of old wine in new bottles as a way to unpack educational change. It is a phrase I have been asked to reflect upon as part of my last (yippee, almost there) course for my MA degree in Language & Literacy Education. After tracing major developments in research and theory over the past one hundred years, Dr. Robert Tierney positions our discussion group to “explore the notion that these are not just old wine in new bottles.” Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 3.18.27 PMBeing the efficient learner that I must be balancing school, work and family, I am exploring this notion in the context of digital portfolios. As the Communicating Student Learning Helping Teacher in a district where portfolios may (emphasis on may as this is optional) be created on FreshGrade in lieu of traditional reporting methods, this is a significant topic for me.

collaboration.jpgI am choosing to share these thoughts on a blog rather than the private space of UBC connect because I believe the time for change is now and the only way to start (or keep the momentum going if you have already started) is to open the dialogue and share, share, share. I welcome and invite all thoughts, questions, concerns and suggestions. Learning is reciprocal and we are all on this journey together: parents, students, teachers and everyone else interested in relevant and effective education. Rather than debate the best option (there really is no one size fits all, so we can just stop trying) what if we start pulling together our collective understanding and paradigms to simply explore new possibilities with a growth mindset? What if we approach roadblocks and concerns with curiosity rather than fear, and allow teachers and students as learning partners, to choose a path that makes sense for their journey?

Okay so my thoughts on the wine. I love wine, like actual liquid wine, preferably red. Perhaps that is why this metaphor resonates with me but I also appreciate the complexity of this simple phrase. Are digital portfolios just old wine in new bottles or are digital portfolios new wine in old bottles? A subtle difference with the exclusion of the word ‘just.’ See how beautifully dynamic language is and how personal the event of reading/meaning-making is?  For some “old wine in new bottles” can be seen as “just old wine,” a negative or criticism of recycling old ideas. For others, and this is where I land, wine is good because of the wine, not the bottle. In turn, bad wine is bad wine even in a shiny new bottle with a fantastic label. You know how frustrating it is when you splurge on that expensive bottle with the brilliant label only to find it tastes the same as your favourite bottle for half the price?  Frustrating, waste of time searching for something new and better and waste of money.

Something new and better or the latest buzz word in education: innovation. Are digital portfolios innovative? Yes and no. The tool, as in the actual technology that allows teachers and students to capture video and picture evidence in the learning moment, communicate simultaneously with parents in an online space and collaborate with all stakeholders to document personalized, evidence based learning maps, yes. I believe the technology in this case allows for new ways to capture and communicate learning. In my experience using FreshGrade it was a much better way to document learning, engage my students in the assessment process (I am talking 5 and 6 year olds by the way) and build reciprocal and meaningful relationships with my parents. That being said, the concept of portfolios is far from new and in my opinion not innovative. For me, portfolios are like a wonderfully  balanced red wine with full flavour and deep notes. Not the cheap stuff dressed up but a good wine that stands the test of time.  Perhaps digital portfolio’s have the potential to be culmination of good wine and good bottles? Quality assessment practices supported by research meets transformational technology

I use the word potential intentionally as the use of digital portfolios, like all technology is simply a tool. FreshGrade, Quio, OneNote or any of the other options for digital portfolios do not transform learning. Teachers transform learning alongside their students. Although the Surrey School District has chosen FreshGrade as our tool this is simply the bottle, the shell. The good stuff that will really make a difference for our learners is inside. For teachers embracing the shift from reporting as an event to the ongoing communication of learning with digital portfolios I hope you find time to consider what we already know. Back to the wine metaphor for just a moment. Just as good wine gets better with time we should not be approaching digital portfolios as some new phenomenon but building on the good work that has already been done. Although some of this research may seem old and not reference the technology we use today, much of it is still good and relevant, so why would we throw it away and start from scratch?

For example, I found an article published almost 20 years ago to be incredibly relevant to the discourse of digital portfolios today. In Portfolios: Assumptions, tensions, and possibilities Tierney (1998) discusses the potential for collections of student work in ‘learner-centered portfolios’ as a vehicle to transform the practices and goals of assessment. This is long before the advent of mobile tablets where teachers (and students) could quickly snap a picture, take a video or record an observation with ease and have it uploaded to a student portfolio immediately. Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 7.07.07 PM.pngBefore wifi was commonplace in schools and parents could have a virtual window into the classroom through blogs, portfolios and websites. Yet the possibilities for student engagement, meaningful descriptions of the learning as a process and the potential for teachers to use assessment to move learning forward remains the same. Why are we still talking about the fallacy that standardized tests, comparative assessments and weighted grades measure learning? Perhaps because some of the limitations with paper based portfolios left educators with few other options?

As we work towards the implementation of digital portfolios in our school district the same questions and concerns exist as with paper portfolios. What does a learner-centered portfolio include? In the early 1990’s portfolio-based writing assessment attracted the attention of several literacy scholars including Kathleen Yancey  and Rick Stiggins. Much like the discussions I have with teachers today around the shift from reporting to communicating student learning, Stiggins (1994) describes portfolios as a collection of learning rather than an assessment of the learner. Yancey (1992) defines a “portfolio pedagogy” where reflection and inquiry are foundational concepts to help teachers avoid the creation of a scrapbook. Her concerns align with the thoughts in a post by my colleague and friend Kelli Vogstad titled Digital Portfolios: Moving beyond the Glorified Scrapbook. When I review the big ideas with paper based portfolios as described by researchers such as Tierney, Stiggins and Yancey the foundation is the same for digital portfolios: learner-centered (even our youngest students should have choice & voice), reflective, inquiry based, formative, quality over quantity and designed to make learning visible (the process and connections, not the product).

Here are a few quotes that resonate for me from Tierney’s article (1998).

Learner-centered portfolios are:

  • a movement from summative to formative
  • sites for reflection and inquiry
  • a way to capture the unique patterns of learning by individuals
  • an opportunity for teachers to assume role of participant-observer
  • sites for growth in self-assessment (for teacher and student?)
  • an opportunity for teachers to use professional experience to guide learning 
  • sites for collaboration designed to support students, teachers and caregivers as they engage in conversations around curriculum and development
  • a place of exploration where students try out, try on, and test possibilities of who they are and who they might become

This aligns with my views of a quality digital portfolio. I believe this is the good wine that we can showcase in a new bottle. I am curious to know what other teachers using digital portfolios would add to the list above? What do you consider when designing and building your portfolios? What role do parents and students play? I believe we need to continually ask ourselves these questions to avoid a collection of work, much like the bursting pages of a paper folder, at the expense of an excellent opportunity to build on existing research and make a profound difference for our students.  

For teachers using digital portfolios I invite you to consider the 13 principals suggested by Tierney (1998) in Literacy assessment reform: shifting beliefs, principled possibilities and emerging practices and how they might be reflected in your practice.

  1. Assessments should emerge from the classroom rather than be imposed upon it.
  2. Effective testing requires teacher professionalism with teachers as learners.
  3. Assessment practices should be client centred and reciprocal.
  4. Assessment should be done judiciously, with teachers as advocates for students and ensuring their due process.
  5. Assessment extends beyond improving our tests to the purposes of assessment and how results from assessment are used, reported, contextualized, and perceived.
  6. Diversity should be embraced, not slighted.
  7. Assessment procedures may need to be non-standaridized to be fair to the individual.
  8. Simple-minded summaries, scores, and comparisons should be displaced with approaches that acknowledge the complex and idiosyncratic nature of literacy development. Straightforward comparisons across individuals are usually arbitrary, biased, and narrow.
  9. Some things that can be assessed reliably across raters are not worth assessing; some  things that are worth assessing may be difficult to assess reliably except by the same rater
  10. Assessment should be more developmental and sustained than piecemeal and shortsighted
  11. Most interpretations of results are not straightforward. Assessment should be viewed as ongoing and suggestive, rather than fixed or definitive.
  12. Learning possibilities should be negotiated with the students and stakeholders rather than imposed via standards and assessment that are preset, prescribed, or mandated.
  13. Assessment should be assessed in terms of its relationship with teaching and learning, including the opportunities learners are offered and the rights and respect they are accorded.

“Assessment practices should enrich teaching and learning” Tierney 1998




Suggestions moving forward?







Stiggins, R. J. (1994). Student-centered classroom assessment. New York: Merrill.

Tierney, R. J., Clark, C., Fenner, L., Herter, R. J., Simpson, C. S., & Wiser, B. (1998). Portfolios: Assumptions, tensions, and possibilities. Reading Research Quarterly33(4), 474-486.

Tierney, R. J. (1998). Literacy assessment reform: Shifting beliefs, principled possibilities, and emerging practices. The Reading Teacher51(5), 374.

Yancey, K. B. (1992). Portfolios in the writing classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.


Digital Images:




21st Century Learning: Beyond Consumerism

As a global community, we are immersed in a profound and transformative period in history. How can schools play a positive role in this significant shift?

technology image 

Although technology provides us with unprecedented connectivity and access to information, the fundamental skills required to be successful, both socially and in the workplace, are increasingly ambitious. This leaves educators in a complex quandary. While we grapple with the details about best practice and how to integrate digital literacy and technology into existing curriculum, our students continue to use technology in more and more areas of their lives. They also seem to have a minimal learning curve and quickly acquire the skills to navigate new technology. Seem is a critical word here. We must consider how our students are using technology and the impact of this use in their lives and the world around them. The digital world that we find ourselves in is fast paced and ever changing. How long can we wait to support our youth to make the adjustment positive and meaningful? I believe we cannot wait another day.

Canadian youth are highly connected to digital media. This connection is often outside of school and largely unsupervised. Media Smarts is a Canadian organization for digital and media literacy ( Their vision is “that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens. The results of a national study indicate that the majority of our youth have access to the Internet through personal and portable devices. Top websites include Google, Twitter and Facebook. The most frequent activities include streaming music, social media and playing online games (Media Smarts, 2014). We certainly have a generation of technology consumers.

I often encounter educators who are concerned about how they will ever catch up to the ‘digital natives’ or ‘technologically savvy’ students that they are supposed to teach. Another common reason for resisting technology in their practice is the belief that students get enough technology outside of school. As I reviewed the results of the Media Smarts survey I began to wonder, at what point did we decide mass consumerism indicates a high level of skill or thorough understanding worthy of a title such as digital native or tech savvy? The vast majority of today’s students are comfortable with technology and they are using it. This is something we know. It remains unclear how well they are using it and what potential is lost when educators fail to realize the powerful role they can play.

The Information and Communications Technology Council and MediaSmarts facilitated a one-day Symposium to discuss digital literacy and the critical issues facing Canadian Youth (2014). Participants included students, teachers, researchers, policymakers and other representatives interested in promoting a digitally literate population that can compete in a growing global economy. Although responsibility for supporting essential digital literacy and skills does not land solely on educators, participants agreed that schools play a significant role. This does not imply that teachers must become experts in using the plethora of digital devices now available. The teachers role is much more significant and varies little from the description of an exceptional educator who makes learning accessible, relevant and engaging for each individual student. Educators can support digital literacy as a facilitator, activator and motivator to move learning forward in a meaningful way. I believe that making this shift in our classrooms will help to move students from simply users of technology to producers who know how to learn and can use their understanding to create, collaborate and communicate in new and profound ways that will have a positive impact for them and their global community.

globe hands

Works Cited:

Steeves, V. (2015). Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Trends and    Recommendations. Ottawa: MediaSmarts. Retrieved from:

Use, understand and create: A digital literacy framework for Canadian schools (2015). Ottawa: Media Smarts. Retrieved from:

Youth and Digital Skills Symposium: Preparing young Canadians to make social, economic and cultural contributions (2014). Ottawa: Media from: Smarts. Retrieved from:





Engaging students and parents in authentic assessment with FreshGrade

I enjoyed presenting at ERAC IL4K12 today with Wendy Hall and Laura Warkentin, here on some of the thoughts I shared:

Thinking about how much teaching, learning and the world has changed over the last decade I am honestly shocked that we have not seen a universal and radical shift in the way teachers communicate with parents and engage our learners in their own education.


I look at these report cards from 1915, 1985 and 2013 and wonder how much has really changed? It is still a summary report written by one individual about another individual and passed on to a third party who presumably reads it. We do not know how they interpret it and questions need to be asked at a later date where the author of the document will attempt to validate their evaluation with notes and assignments that could be months old. 1915-2013… almost 100 years. We do see improvement for sure but is it enough? Given the technological advances, and the amount of research done in the field of education, I argue absolutely not. It is not a significant enough change for my students or my children. Especially when I consider the world they will be living in and the skills and qualities that will define a successful adult at that time.

In my consideration of the changes in report cards I decided to ask my grade one students a question. I asked them, “what are report cards and why do we use them in school?” Hands shot up immediately and many kids were eager to share their answer. Most of the responses included words like “bad” and “good.” Most of them agreed that “report cards tell my parents what I am doing good and bad at.” This really broke my heart. It makes me sad to think that these 5 and 6 year old innocent little beings come to the big world of school full of hope and with complete trust in us as teachers to help them and end up thinking that it is all about what they are good or bad at. I never want my students to think that after months of their hard work, and I believe they are all doing the best they can with the skills they have, all their drawings, creations, thoughts, all the ways they have grown and contributed to our classroom community will be summarized on a piece of paper ranking their level of good. I want to change that perception.

My personal motivation for change came last year when my children in grade one and two brought home their report cards. Although my son has always been a very bright and curious boy, school has never been on the top of his favourite activities. He would much prefer to be fishing or exploring the world around him, as is the case for many boys. Learning to read was a struggle for him and although he made a good effort it would take two years of LST support and getting eye glasses before he was reading at grade level. The first few months of grade two he worked incredibly hard and we saw wonderful progress. My daughter on the other hand has always been incredibly studious and like many girls loves to learn. She started her first term in grade one reading and writing well above grade level expectations. Before opening their term one report cards I asked my kids about what they learned. My son was able to talk about reaching new reading levels and learning to read and spell new words. He was quite proud of his progress and rightly so. This changed after we opened the report cards. After comparing all the ‘approaching expectations’ boxes checked on his report to the many ‘exceeding expectations’ checked on his sisters he was very frustrated. Although I read the comments highlighting his progress he was left with the impression that he did bad and his sister did great. The reality is that my daughter really did not learn anything. This is not a reflection on her teacher but the reality that she entered grade one already meeting the prescribed learning outcomes. My son learned a great deal and made excellent progress yet this was not reflected in the report card. I could almost see the confidence leave his little body. He was absolutely crushed and discouraged. He could not look past those check marks. He just looked at them and said “oh great, I am still only half as good as everyone else.” Again, this is not necessarily a reflection of the school or his teacher, rather it is, in my opinion, the result of an inadequate reporting system.


My daughters report card highlights all the learning outcomes she had met before school even started.


My son’s report card is not an accurate reflection of his achievements and growth as he is still not meeting prescribed learning outcomes.


So what are the possibilities for change. For example what can a reading assessment look and sound like? Using a digital portfolio like FreshGrade I can track an individual students reading progress and provide meaningful feedback to parents and students.


The pictures above represent video recordings of a grade one child reading to me. Parents can read my comments and suggestions for support but they can also hear the progress themselves.The videos for reading assessment are just phenomenal. I believe it really takes our comments as teachers to another level. When I talk about expression or fluency it makes so much more sense to parents when it is tied to a video where they can actually hear what I am talking about.

An unexpected bonus I just realized is that it is also providing me with an opportunity to model guiding reading to a parent. Although sending home suggestions and decoding strategies may be helpful for some, it is so much more valuable for parents to hear how teachers help emergent readers and then they can use the same strategies. I love the consistency that offers my students.

I appreciate the depth of my comments and suggestions on FreshGrade. An important example for me is in the realm of social responsibility because I believe social and emotional learning are the foundation for academic success. As teachers in BC, we are required to make one social responsibility comment in each report. It usually becomes a frame sentence repeated for everyone. Your child is ‘learning to follow the classroom rules and expectations,’ for example. How well does a statement like this really inform parents and students? In my mission to be a confidence builder and encourage a love of learning, I appreciate that with FreshGrade I can pair what is perceived as negative with some genuine suggestions and a positive picture.


This is a sample from a portfolio of a boy who is ‘learning to follow classroom rules and expectations.’ He is a boy who has a lot of energy and is learning to use self-regulation during group conversations and work time. The positive side to his energy and imagination is the many amazing things he builds with his peers during creative times. With FreshGrade I can share this with parents and students. I can also provide meaningful suggestions with an image to clarify if necessary. We can not assume that parents understand the many terms that become common place to us as educators. The wiggle seat mentioned in the comments above, for example.

So what do my parents think about this new way of communication and FreshGrade in particular? Someone asked me a few months ago if I had considered the idea that a digital portfolio is too much information for parents and perhaps they do not want to become partners in their child’s education. First of all, I disagree and find that no one is more invested in their child’s success than parents. Unfortunately teachers often put up a wall and fail to utilize the valuable resource parents can be. Furthermore, when you become a parent it is your job to facilitate the growth and development of your child so sometimes teachers may need to rise up to our role as advocates for our students and get those parents on board in whatever capacity they can. This is an email I received after sharing a FreshGrade video of a student reading.


I truly believe it is time for educators to re-evaluate our goals. We need to consider the world our students will be living in, and are living in, and how we can best support their growth into successful and fulfilled members of society. We can start by replacing term end summaries that encourage comparison over personal growth with a tool like FreshGrade where students are empowered and all of their successes recognized.

There are several excellent educators in Surrey that are happy to share more on FreshGrade.
Find them on twitter:

Also check out for another great blog post about FreshGrade

Visit for more information





Using QR Codes in Grade One


QR is short for Quick Response. A QR code is a digital image that can be scanned, much like barcodes. Once scanned with a smartphone or mobile device the code will direct your device to a website or reveal a text or voice message. I have been using QR codes in my grade one classroom for the last year and have loved the experience!

The possibilities are endless! In some situations the QR codes simply increase student engagement or just make a lesson more fun. Although I am always looking for new and meaningful ways to incorporate technology in my classroom, I am not sure when it became a negative to get kids excited about learning. While it is true that we can have our students participate in a scavenger hunt with written or picture clues or simply give them a web address to type in and get them to a specific website why not make it more fun with QR codes? They truly are simple to make and kids love scanning them. QR codes have many other uses as well, many that are really opening new doors and giving students, parents and teaching a whole new experience.


So what tools will you need to get started using QR codes?
– to scan a QR code all you need is a free scan app from the App store
– to create a QR code on an iPad you can use QR Creator or any other QR generating app
– to create a printable QR code you can use a free site such as Kaywa


Here are a few of the ways I am currently using QR codes in my classroom. I have many other ideas and hope to learn about even more as I know there are some fantastic ones out there!

Sharing Photos
One of my favorite uses of QR codes is to give my students access to the many photos I take with my iPhone or iPad. Once photos have been uploaded to an online site such as Dropbox you can make a QR code from the link. Students then scan the code and can save the photos to their own device. I leave QR codes from field trips and various activities up on a wall and students use them for various things such as making books or writing journal entries on an iPad.

Easy access to websites and information
Asking primary students to type in a long URL is very time consuming and can be exhausting for the teacher as we rush around trying to help those who missed a letter or added an extra space.
If you have a website such as Canadian Geographic Kids that you would like all your students to go to, simply copy the web address in a QR generator. You can do this on a computer and print a QR code for students to scan. If you have a projector you can make the QR code on an iPad and students can scan it directly from the screen.

If you have a school or class website, blogs or any site that your parents visit posting a QR code in the window or sending home a copy of a QR code makes it easy for parents to access sites.
QR codes can be scanned with any smartphone or mobile device.

A fun way to give your parents a sneak peak into your classroom is to record an activity such as shared reading or painting, upload it to an online site then create a QR code with the link.
Parents can scan the code and have a look at their child during a school activity.




Scavenger Hunt
A QR code scavenger hunt is a great ice breaker activity with big buddies and a fun way to help younger students explore their school. I challenge students to take pictures of certain things with their iPad. I create QR codes to reveal clues such as ” this is where we go to read books” and have students take a picture of the library. These pictures can be used for various writing activities later on. All students love this activity. It is a great way for buddies to get to know each other and their school.



Add voice to non digital work
There are a few ways to create a QR code that will reveal a recorded video or message.
If you use an app like Audioboo or a site such as Croak it you can copy the link into a QR generator.
If you record a message using your camera you need to upload it to a site such as Dropbox and get the link from that site. You can also use an app like QR voice to type a message and create a synthesized voice message.

After reading Aaron’s Hair by Robert Munsch I recorded a short video of students describing their work, uploaded it to Dropbox and created a QR code to the link. The QR codes are attached to their work in the hallway and can be scanned by parents, visitors and other students to reveal their video.


This is just a few ways I use QR codes and this is how I make them :

Creating a code on an iPad from Dropbox
If you have something such as pictures and you want to create a QR code, open Dropbox and upload pictures. Open the file on Dropbox, copy link to clipboard and the paste in QR Creator.



Printable QR codes

There are many QR generating sites but I prefer Kaywa. It is a free site with options to upgrade so you can save your codes.
If you want to link to an online source you need to copy the link, paste it in the space provided and click on generate. If you have trouble printing try clicking permalink and print from there.
If you want to type a message click on the text option, type your message and click generate.



I would love to hear how you are using QR codes in your classroom. Happy scanning!

iPad in the Primary Classroom – Go for it!

I feel very fortunate to be teaching at technology rich school. In my grade one classroom I have a document camera, projector, apple tv, teacher iPad and access to a class set of iPads several times a week. Although technology is not an area that I have ever been particularly fond of or knowledgable in, it has become an integral part of my teaching over the last two years. I have found the iPads in particular to be a very useful tool.


I value differentiated instruction. Having students that are engaged and active participants in their own learning is important to me. I cringe at the thought of teaching a lesson that will frustrate some, bore others and hopefully meet the needs of at least some of my students. Handing out the same math questions or reading response to 24 individual people and expecting it to be meaningful to everyone is just not realistic. That being said there are only so many hours in the day and as a working mom I have always struggled to find the time to meet the individual learning needs of all my students, all the time. This is what sparked my passion for integrating technology into classroom learning. I embraced the iPad as a tool and have found it allows me to provide each learner with activities suited to their learning needs. It also allows me to do my job more efficiently. I find myself spending less time creating and managing activities and more time with my students.


When the Surrey Primary Teachers Association asked me to host a workshop dedicated to the use of iPads in a primary classroom I was quite surprised. I really did not consider that some teachers had access to iPads and were not using them. I was curious to know what teachers would be hoping to gain from an afternoon at my school so I sent the participants some questions using Survey Monkey.

The results are very interesting. Teachers who are obviously passionate about their craft (since they have registered for an after school workshop) are not using all the available tools to enhance their lessons.




Technology is such a new concept for so many people and it seems like people worry they do not have enough baseline knowledge to bring it into their classrooms. I honestly believe that teachers wanting to explore iPads need to make a shift in their thinking. As teachers, we do not need to know everything about iPads. You can bring them into your classroom knowing very little, as I did. Our role is to provide the learning environment and curricular goals, from there we can simply facilitate and learn with our students. Using technology such as an iPad is not a new ‘subject’ that we need to teach. It integrates nicely into all areas of the curriculum and serves to facilitate the learning process. It is quite a powerful experience to learn alongside a 5 or 6 year old. Just put an iPad in their hands, give them a few guidelines and watch as they explore, create and learn.


If you are a teacher who has been hesitant to bring iPads into your classroom I really do encourage you to just take the plunge and go with the flow. For those who need a more structured approach here is a play by play of how I get iPads going in my grade one classroom and some of the things we do with them.

~ I bring iPads into my classroom during the first two weeks of school.( We have a cart that holds 30 iPads and is shared between 13 classes. All teachers sign up for one 45 minute block per week and open blocks can then be reserved on a weekly basis.) At first, an adult will be responsible to take them out of or put them into the cart but I eventually pass this on to my students. Before I hand out iPads for the first time we meet as a class to talk about our experiences with iPads. This year almost all of my students had used an iPad at least once and many had one at home. We talk about taking care to only touch the screen with the pad of one finger and other considerations such as no water bottles on desks with the iPads and carrying them with two hands. The only thing I talk to them about the first time is the home button and tell them they can touch it to get out of an app. Other than that for the first couple of times we use the iPads it is all about exploring and sharing. Allowing the students to explore on their own gives me time to assess their comfort level and knowledge of the technology.

~ One of the first things I introduce to my class is the camera. They love taking pictures with the iPad and once we get into creative apps knowing how to take and edit pictures is very useful. When I do have something specific to demonstrate I do so before students get their iPads and use my iPad connected to my projector (this is now a breeze with apple tv). The iPad cover can sometimes make it difficult for kids to take a picture so I show them how to fold it up and hold it or advise them to ask a friend to take the picture as they hold up the iPad. I take a picture with my iPad and then show them where the edit button is. I show them where the rotate and crop buttons are and then give them time to take a few pictures and practice editing them. We also learn how to take a screen shot.


~ The second thing I like to have kids practice is working with the keyboard. Here is one simple introduction to the keyboard that also uses their new camera skills. Using Skitch I ask students to take a picture of a classmate (with their permission) and write the sentence “This is my friend …”


I find the iPad keyboard to be very user friendly and students need minimal directions before they feel capable to type on their own.

~ From this point I usually introduce one new creative app a week such as Scribble Press or Book Creator. Although we use the iPads to practice our math and language art skills I find these apps to be very self explanatory. Apps that are in the folder I label ‘creative’ can be used for a multitude of projects and we visit them throughout the year. I like the kids to feel comfortable with these apps because later on they can demonstrate their learning using whichever one they want. Here are a few examples of books my students made using Book Creator:


For teachers sitting on the fence and waiting to take the plunge with iPads in their primary classroom – just go for it! I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you will learn with your students and what this wonderful tool can bring to your classroom.


Technology in a Grade One Classroom

I am far from a technology expert. In fact, I do not even have a home computer and I got my first cell phone (at 36 years old!) just over a year ago. I was however very excited to start the 2011/2012 school year with access to a class set of iPads. I had no idea how I would incorporate them into my teaching practice but I knew my students would be eager to use them and  we could set out on a journey of teaching and learning together.  Over the course of the year I became passionate about integrating technology into the grade one curriculum in meaningful ways.

Although I do not have a smartboard I am a primary teacher who utilizes technology in my classroom every day. Teachers often ask me exactly what type of technology I am currently using in my classroom. I love to share what I am doing so I decided to start a blog and this post will highlight a few of my favourite devices.  In the future I will post more about the why, when and how I use these things but for now here is the what.


So nothing new here. I am sure most teachers have this or a similar facsimile. I only use this slow and frustrating machine to print and give my kids access to our blog site. Students put their magnet name tags on the whiteboard if they would like to post on the blog and then they take turns writing throughout the day.

iPod docking station

This is a simple one and not expensive so do not be shy to ask your administrator for an upgrade. It is so fantastic to have all your music and audiobooks organized on this little device rather than cluttering your classroom with baskets full of cd’s and dare I say, tapes? Yikes, not sure if kids these days even know what tapes are.

Student iPads

Projector, document camera, teacher iPad and small speaker.

These are my favourites. As I do not have a smart board I bounce back and forth between the document camera and iPad. I will create a post soon detailing how I use them but trust me, this is an awesome little set up for any primary teacher.

A couple of simple examples for now are guessing jar and sharing. My students place their sharing, unless it is huge, under the document camera and I snap a picture. At the end of the year I just press the slideshow button and we try to recall who brought in what. The kids love this. For math I use the Skitch app to make a guessing jar with student names and project it on the whiteboard. I love to de-clutter so this is a great alternative to the large jar many teachers make and laminate so they can write the kids names on it.

I would love to hear about what devices other primary teachers are using!

iPad Cafè



Consider sharing your students learning with parents a few times a year by inviting them to your classroom. In my class we set up an iPad Cafè where parents came in for a sweet treat and kids chose items from the menu to share their learning. Items on the menu included apps like Skitch and Book Creator, QR codes and iMovies.