Student ePortfolios in the High School Science Classroom: Q & A

Q: What’s an ePortfolio?
A: Let me start by saying that, like most of what I use in my teaching, I didn’t invent ePortfolios and I can’t answer for everyone since ePortfolios mean different things to different people. But I will define an ePortfolio as an online space that gets used to collect and showcase evidence of individual student learning.

Q: You mean its like a blog?
A: Sorta. Blogs certainly can be used to show what a student has learned. In fact, thats how my classes operated last year, with student work nearly exclusively being posted to personal blogs. But an ePortfolio is different from a student’s blog. A blog is organized chronologically by date of publication, but an ePortfolio is organized by skill and content area standards and represents an attempt to prove that those standards have been met.

Q: Why add another site for students to manage? Isn’t a blog enough work?
A: What I found with the blogs was that students worked incredibly hard and produced amazing pieces of work but often couldn’t tell me which standards their posts met. As long as I was the only one evaluating their work, the standards for the class mattered only to me. Self-reflection of learning was really missing.

Q: So how does creating an ePortfolio lead to more self-reflection?
A: For starters, students have to look through all the blog posts that they have written so far and select which ones will go into their portfolio and on which pages to include them. This leads naturally to a discovery of which standards have a lot of evidence of mastery and which have less. Furthermore, there is a page within the portfolio that is for evidence of self-reflection, either in blog posts or as demonstrated while completing the portfolio. Many students used this page to assess the current status of their learning as shown by the portfolio.

Q: You mention pages in the ePortfolio and have many references to “standards.” How are the two related?
A: Each skill and content area standard gets its own page in the portfolio, which will vary with the content of each course.

Q: How did you decide which skill and content area standards to use for the pages in the portfolios?
A: The short answer is that those are the standards that I piloted last year as I implemented standards-based grading in each of my anatomy, biology, and chemistry courses. All of my science courses share the same set of 9 major skill standards, the first of which is broken down into specific content areas for each course. The common skill standards are those things that usually get called science process skills: graph interpretation, experimental design, lab and research skills, to name a few. The content-specific standards were derived from the Colorado Community College standard competencies for each individual course.

Q: These portfolio pages you keep referring to, where are they, exactly?
A: In a student-owned Google Site.

Q: ?
A: Early in the school year, I built a template site for each subject area course in Google Sites and then shared those templates to our district’s GoogleApps domain. Students could then go into Google Sites and create their own portfolio site from the template that I had created. Since the template had pages set up for each skill and content area standard, each student portfolio site also had these pages set up automatically as well. All students have to do is edit each page of the portfolio to include their blog posts, reflections, and other artifacts such as test scores that demonstrate mastery of that particular standard.

Q: So when do I get to see one of these ePortfolios?
A: The ePortfolios live within our schools’ GoogleApps domain and are mostly set to be visible only within our district at the moment. However, a few seniors have hit on the idea that colleges and scholarship providers might be interested in their work, and so have made their portfolios publicly visible. Here are a few links that I think will work:
Steven’s A&P ePortfolio
Audie’s A&P ePortfolio
Katrina’s A&P ePortfolio
Steven’s Chemistry ePortfolio
I hope to convince more students to make their portfolios public and will add links as they do so.

Q: Ok, I’m interested enough to want to know more. Got any references for me?
A: Here are a couple links to get you started:
Levels of eportfolio development in k-12 schools
Creating student portfolios with Google Sites

Published by

Chris Ludwig

Chris Ludwig is a science teacher who teaches at La Junta High School and Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado, USA.

8 thoughts on “Student ePortfolios in the High School Science Classroom: Q & A”

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I was wanting to do something different with my astronomy class this year and really didn’t know where to go. I was thinking a site, but didn’t really know how to set it all up. Reading this made several ideas fall in to place. Probably going to steal some of your ideas!

    1. Steal away, and let me know how it goes! I’m always looking for new ideas that’ll help tweak what I do in a better direction and with more folks playing with similar ideas we can test out different ideas a lot quicker.

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for months now and because of your work and all that you share, I have completely changed my 8th grade science classroom around to SBG (in a non-SBG district) and started requiring my kids to blog in each science unit (first in district for blogging as well). I’m not there yet, but we’ve taken baby steps and what the kids produce is AMAZING!

    Yet again, because of you, I’ve been toying with the idea of a 100% digital classroom but my principals are hesitant any time I drop the phrase. This article just makes me want to figure out a way to make it happen even more. With your changes this year, how has your classroom changed from day to day? Do you have to devote more time to creating the products during class or is it largely completed outside of class? Any tips for my convincing my administration to let me try it?

    A lot to ask, but figured I’d throw them out there! Can’t wait to see what you’ve learned next!

    1. @1:1Frustrated:
      First of all, thanks for the testimonial about using SBG and blogs. I’m glad some of my writing is helpful for someone other than just myself!

      As for the 100% digital classroom, I’m going to interpret that as having a device for each student (1:1 or BYOD) and having most every aspect of the class online, including activities and assessment. With the exception of labs, I’d have to say that my classes are nearly there, but that really wasn’t the goal. The goal was to have students have access to all the resources on the Web and to be able to use a variety of tools to create evidence of learning. Without 1:1 internet-capable devices of some sort, our students are limited to the old school lectures, textbooks, and worksheets.

      It does change your classroom immensely, putting lots more responsibility on the student, if done well. With so many resources available to them, students have no shortage of learning tools available. In fact, our job as teachers switches over to being what some are calling “curators” of information, pointing students to some of the best resources. That’s how I see my role at this point in time.

      The digital classroom does require a lot more time with students using their devices, and for me at this point that means a lot more class time devoted to student artifact creation, blogging, and portfolio writing. I “cover” way less material than I used to, which is not a bad thing in my opinion, just different. I do need to allow students time in class with the devices because we are not truly 1:1 in that students don’t take most of the devices home with them and work on them only at school.

      I’ve often wondered over the last couple years if I could teach the way I used to, without every student having some way to create and write online about what they are learning. I think I’d have a really hard time switching back to the limited range of assessments that I used to use, the one-size-fits-all lame worksheets and the quiz-test-quiz-test cycle of marching through a curriculum. At this point in my career I’ve seen what students can create when given the tools and the time and I know what I’m doing now is so much more meaningful than how I used to do things.

      So tell your administrators that its not necessarily about being “100% digital”, its about not being trapped in a textbook-driven lecture mode that doesn’t really give students a chance to learn in different ways, create artifacts of learning, and share their work.

      1. Chris, you said:

        The goal was to have students have access to all the resources on the Web and to be able to use a variety of tools to create evidence of learning. Without 1:1 internet-capable devices of some sort, our students are limited to the old school lectures, textbooks, and worksheets.

        and

        So tell your administrators that its not necessarily about being “100% digital”, its about not being trapped in a textbook-driven lecture mode that doesn’t really give students a chance to learn in different ways, create artifacts of learning, and share their work.

        This is practical, yet brilliant at the same time. I admire your writing because you share not only what you’re doing, but why. It’s easy to get caught up in the “21st century learning classroom” phenomenon without first taking a step back to define what it is and what it isn’t. You’ve created a school-within-a school through the use of digital tools and SBG. You’re a model of no excuses incremental change for us all.

        Keep on keepin’ on!

        1. Thanks for the comment Matt. Remember, you are largely responsible for getting me started down the SBG road, since most of what I do started as some nugget of an idea that I read on your blog and the early SBG carnivals. Thanks again for the nudge in the right direction!

  3. “In fact, our job as teachers switches over to being what some are calling ‘curators’ of information, pointing students to some of the best resources. That’s how I see my role at this point in time.”

    This line is brilliant. I’ve had to explain what I think learning is several times recently, and what you just said explains it all.

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