In the March installment of TeachOntario Talks we are profiling and celebrating the project "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – Using iPads and ePortfolios for Pedagogical Documentation and Parent Communication" from the Kindergarten team at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Petawawa Ontario.
The Kindergarten students at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School have more in common with one another than your average four- and five-year-olds in Ontario. Over ninety percent of the students in the school have at least one parent working in the Canadian Military. This can weigh heavily on young minds and it presents unique challenges for the educators at the school when parents may be away for extended periods of time.
That is why the project developed by Julia Graydon and Alison Radley-Walters and their Kindergarten colleagues as part of the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) is so impressive. Not only did they add a tremendous digital resource that would heighten student engagement and foster curiosity, but it also proved to be a very successful way of reaching out to parents deployed all over the world.
At the beginning of the project, Graydon and Radley-Walters set out to bring the school’s four teachers of the Kindergarten classes to form a solid team that would plan and assess together. In working as a team, they could collaborate to create a cohesive, technologically-infused, play-based literacy and numeracy program.
The team, including Chloe Tate Marion, Holly Elliott, Kyle Gleason, Andrea Chartrand and Jennifer Slight along with Graydon and Radley-Walters, selected mentor texts on a new BIG idea and Catholic theme each month. This would help drive instruction, while at the same time allow students to use inquiry-based learning in each classroom in divergent ways.
The plan also included creating a new and innovative way to track student learning using iPads and software on MacBook Pro computers. Each Kindergarten classroom was equipped with two 64 GB iPads for teacher and ECE use, 5 iPad minis for student use and a flat screen SMART TV and Apple TV. The original plan included the use of SMART boards, but it was decided that the combination of flat screen TVs and Apple TVs was less expensive and better at allowing teachers to instantly mirror videos and photos of students.
Unlike many other classrooms that use iPads, the focus was not about teaching students how to use apps to consolidate learning, but rather, how to use the camera, video and audio features to document their own learning.
During the Sharing/Consolidation Circle Time at the end of each “Play-Based Inquiry Centre” block of time, students loved being able to show their peers and educators the things they were most proud of by taking a photo of their creations, and adding their name tags alongside. They also liked explaining their thinking to their friends when given a task like “Show us three different ways you can make ten using the manipulatives and then take a photo.” All of these photos were easily shared with the group by mirroring the images up on the big flat screen. When the image was displayed, each student explained to the group why that image was selected and what it meant to the student.
As the project progressed, the team began looking for ways they could share the students' learning with the parent community. They struggled with finding a secure server with enough storage space to hold all of the wonderful photos and videos. Their quest led them to the Ontario Ministry of Education's endorsed Desire2Learn (D2L) blended learning classrooms with ePortfolio capabilities. This discovery led to the creation of a blended learning classroom space for each Kindergarten classroom. The teachers used this space like a blog, detailing all of the important events that happen in each class, as well as posting newsletters and photos from class trips, guest speakers and day-to-day occurrences.
From the blended learning classroom site, parents were able to access a secure password encoded link that took them to their own child’s ePortfolio. In this space the classroom teacher selected specific photos, videos and audio voice-overs that highlighted the learning that a particular child had demonstrated, along with positive feedback from the teacher. Parents could access this ePortfolio anywhere they could access the Internet.
The result of this form of communication was exciting. Parents who needed to be away for long periods of time could see what was happening day-by-day in the classroom and could see their child interacting with the learning environment. As a result, parents could see a reassuring slice of their child's learning, progress and life at St. Francis of Assisi.
Needless to say, the enthusiasm for this type of blended learning environment is growing. Many of the teachers from the primary and junior divisions at St Francis of Assisi and across the Renfrew Catholic District School Board have started using blended learning environments and the Ministry's D2L ePortfolios. Parents and teachers alike love the consistency in delivery and practices.
As a result of these enthusiastic interactions between students, parents, and educators, the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board has begun to craft a plan to have the same technology available to all of the Kindergarten classrooms across the Board, and has moved to bring this 21st century model into many of the primary classrooms, with an aim to expand into higher grades in the coming years. The local news station requested to come into the school to do a piece on the Kindergarten program. The teachers are now receiving invitations from teachers and superintendents from other school districts to share their learning and to help them develop plans to implement similar programs at their sites.
Also, since its conclusion, the project was granted a Provincial Knowledge Exchange (PKE) and the Renfrew County CDSB received funding for continued professional development surrounding technology and pedagogical documentation in its Kindergarten classrooms.
Overall, the Kindergarten team at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School grew and learned together in the area of pedagogical documentation and collaborative assessment, formed a closer bond with the parent community, and transformed their Kindergarten classrooms into places where kids can show, and feel proud of, their work.
Patrick does a show-and-tell about his dad in Kuwait
The local news picks up the story...
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