Monday, April 26, 2021

Spaces Digital Portfolios Emphasize Feedback and Growth

Disclosure: Spaces is an advertiser on this blog. 

A couple of months ago I published a detailed overview of a digital portfolio platform called Spaces. In that blog post I emphasized the capability of Spaces to be used for Asynchronous breakout sessions. Those asynchronous breakout sessions are great for students to give each other feedback. Today, I’d like to highlight another aspect of Spaces. That is the ability for teachers to give individualized constructive feedback to their students through Spaces.

Purposes for Portfolios
From documents to presentations to videos, you can have your students add just about anything to their digital portfolios made in Spaces. I’ve even had students add samples of code they’ve written into their digital portfolios. The type of material or artifact that students add to their portfolios isn’t nearly as important as the process of building their portfolios. Though it used a relatively small sample size, this study by Clare Kilbane and Natalie Milman found that using digital portfolios had a positive impact on students and teachers. In particular, it had an impact on relationships and how students learned academic content.

Over the years I’ve had students create digital portfolios that contained artifacts from just a few weeks of the school year. I’ve also had students build portfolios that covered a semester and some that spanned the whole year. In all cases, the point of the portfolio was to have students create something that they could look back on to see growth. Likewise, their parents could see growth.

It should be noted that there are some other purposes for digital portfolios. Those include showcasing examples of work for potential employers or to represent mastery of specific skills. While those are great uses of portfolios, this article is focused on using portfolios for documenting reflection and growth.

Implementation of Individual Digital Portfolios
Spaces provides a safe, private space for your students to create their own digital portfolios. Within their private portfolios students can upload documents, write text notes, upload videos, upload audio recordings, upload presentations, and share links to just about anything that they have created online.

Students should be given some direction as to what they should add to their portfolios and when. For example, the students in my Intro to Programming class need to add snippets of their code at the end of every week. In other classes, I’ve been a little less specific in giving directions. For example, when I taught U.S. History I simply told my students that they needed to add an artifact (other than quiz/ scores) every two weeks that they thought demonstrated their understanding of key concepts and or events.

Probably the most important part of implementing the use of digital portfolios is providing students with feedback on the items they add into their portfolios. Spaces provides teachers with three ways to deliver feedback to their students. Feedback can be provided via video comments, audio comments, and written comments.

Offering feedback to students through video, audio, and text increases the opportunities to reach students where they are. A struggling student writer might be better off getting feedback in video than in a text comment. A student who has difficulty accessing audio may be better off getting feedback in written form. Spaces provides those opportunities for all students.

The ability to add comments to work shared in Spaces isn’t limited to teachers. Students can also add comments to their own work to gather information from you. A study by Kate Wall, Steve Higgins, Jen Miller, and Nick Packard found that the process of providing feedback through digital portfolios was helpful in aiding students’ ability to understand learning objectives and who are responsible for participating in their own learning. The video, audio, and written feedback mechanisms available in Spaces can help you help your students better understand learning objectives and become responsible participants in the learning process.

Parent Involvement
Spaces digital portfolios can be kept private between the student and teacher. Parents can also be invited to view their child’s portfolio. In fact, I’d encourage you to invite parents to view their child’s portfolio as it provides a great opportunity for them to see their child’s progress throughout the year rather than just at parent-teacher conference night. Inviting parents to view their child’s portfolio also provides them with the opportunity to talk to their child about what they’re learning in school.

Getting Started With Spaces Digital Portfolios
I published a detailed overview of the features in Spaces here. A couple of tutorial videos can also be found here and here. In short, the quickest way to get started is to sign-up at then create an account using either your Google account or email address. After doing those simple steps you can create a class roster and invite your students to join. Once they’ve joined, from your teacher dashboard you can quickly generate individual spaces for them to use. Again, this video walks you through the process of creating spaces for your students and this video shows the students’ perspective.

A digital portfolio can be what you and your students want it to be. Spaces gives you and your students all the tools they need to make a portfolio and gives you the tools you need to give your students meaningful feedback.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Ten Google Workspaces Features for Teachers You Might Be Overlooking

Google Workspaces (formerly known as G Suite, Google Apps, and just plain Google Drive) has a lot of great features for teachers and students. Some of them are obvious while others might be considered "hidden" features. Those hidden features are often little things that make using Google Workspaces a little easier than faster. In this video I highlight ten of my favorite Google Workspaces features that are often overlooked.

Featured in the video:
  • Google Docs: new document shortcut.
  • Google Slides: specify video start and stop time.
  • Google Forms: set default point value.
  • Google Sheets: apply a theme.
  • Google Meet: blur your background.
  • Google Classroom: copy an entire class.
  • Google Jamboard: duplicating objects.
  • Google Drawings: hyperlink elements of a published drawing.
  • Gmail: schedule sending of messages.
  • Google Keep: set reminders based on time and place.
This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Writing, Rain, and Logic - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where my school vacation week is winding down with a return to some typical spring weather. Earlier this week I used a vacation day to go for a long bike ride to the Height of the Land overlooking Mooselookmeguntic Lake. It was fun for the first 60 miles, the last 24 miles were not fun. If you're interested, you can read the whole story on Instagram. Fortunately, today is going to be warm and sunny. I'm heading out for another long bike ride. I hope that you also have something fun on your schedule for the day. 

This week I announced that I'll be hosting the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp again this year. There will be a session in June, one in July, and a session in August. Last year nearly 200 people joined me for one of the sessions. I hope that you'll join me for one of the sessions this year. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Tools to Help Students Analyze Their Own Writing
2. Build Your First Google Site With the Help of These Tutorials
3. Five Tools for Staying On Task
4. Thousands of National Parks Pictures and Videos to Use in Google Earth
5. A Handful of Resources for Learning About the Start of the American Revolution
6. 48 Videos and a Poster About Critical Thinking and Logical Fallacies
7. How to View Timelapse Imagery in Google Earth

On-demand Professional Development
Other Places to Follow Me:
  • The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter comes out every Sunday evening/ Monday morning. It features my favorite tip of the week and the week's most popular posts from Free Technology for Teachers.
  • My YouTube channel has more than 35,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of educational technology tools. 
  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for fourteen years. 
  • The Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page features new and old posts from this blog throughout the week. 
  • And if you're curious about my life outside of education, you can follow me on Instagram or Strava.
This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Blackbird Fills a Gap in Programming Instruction

Blackbird is a new platform for teaching programming to middle school and high school students. Blackbird is positioning itself as a platform that fills the gap between using a blocks-based service like Scratch and writing code in an IDE. Blackbird doesn't use blocks or even offer any blocks. Instead, Blackbird provides a series of interactive lessons in which students write JavaScript. 

Blackbird lessons are arranged in progressive units. From the first lesson students are building a game they can customize to their heart's content. When they've finished all of the lessons students can move onto a "workshop" where they can work on independent projects that you can observe from your teacher dashboard in Blackbird. 

There were a few features that stood out to me during my first run-through of Blackbird. First, students can get choose how much guidance they get on each lesson. Second, students' progress is locked in place as they go. Third, from your teacher dashboard you can see how much time your students spend on each activity. 

Students can use just the basic instructions for each lesson or click on the definitions and "deep dives" embedded within the instructions. Those definitions and deep dives give students an explanation of what they're writing and puts the explanation into an applicable context. 

Blackbird units are composed of progressive lesson sequences. When a student completes a lesson with 100% accuracy the code they wrote for that lesson is locked. It's locked because the next lesson will build upon their correctly written code. Locking the previously written code in place prevents students from accidentally changing their existing code and thereby impacting what they're currently working on. 

Blackbird - How It Works from Blackbird on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
While it's helpful to have some prior coding experience, Blackbird can be used by teachers who don't have any prior coding experience. Blackbird provides detailed tutorials and lesson guides for teachers who don't have coding experience. Furthermore, teachers can do the exact same lessons and activities as their students to learn alongside them.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. 

DIY Wind Turbines and How They Work

Earlier this week TED-Ed published a new lesson titled How Do Wind Turbines Work? The video covers the basics of how the turbines harness the power of wind to generate electricity. The basic math of wind turbine design is also explained to viewers of the video. Overall, it's a fine lesson but not the most detailed of lessons. If you want students to learn more about how wind turbines work, consider having them build their own small wind turbines. 

Microsoft's Hacking STEM website offers a detailed project guide for building model windmills and wind turbines. Not only will students build the windmills, they'll also capture data generated by their windmills. The data is captured in real-time through the use of Arduino and the Data Streamer add-in for Excel. Students then analyze the data to evaluate the effectiveness of their windmill and wind turbine designs. 

Microsoft's Hacking STEM windmill activity is great if you have the time and resources required to do it. If you don't and you'd like a little less in-depth windmill project, take a look at Instructables. There you will find dozens of windmill and wind turbine projects ranging from relatively simple cardboard creations to full-fledged turbines capable of powering appliances. 

Finally, if you haven't seen the TED video of William Kamkwamba sharing his story of building a windmill, you need to watch it. It's the basis of the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Featured image taken by Richard Byrne while driving between Amarillo and Abilene, Texas in June, 2016.