Prior to using ePortfolios in the classroom, I was notorious for teaching a lesson, having the students complete an activity, and quickly moving on to the next lesson without taking much time to allow my students to think about what was just learned. ePortfolios force me to slow down, give the students an opportunity to explain what they've learned to me in writing, and create an emotional attachment to that learning by explaining what was easy or difficult, fun or boring, familiar or foreign to them.
Because everyone's ePortfolios are public, students have the opportunity to look at a respected peer's work, and use them as a model for future posts. We can call this "silent collaboration" (a 180 degree turn from the days of calling it cheating)! I want my students learning together, modeling behaviors after each other, and learning from each others' mistakes and successes. Not all collaboration has to be done verbally or include back-and-forth dialogue.
I hope you will take a moment to watch the video above where I show dozens of examples of ePortfolio entries that my students have completed over the past few months (the first few minutes are hard to follow, so I recommend skipping ahead a bit!). Another suggestion I have is to check out a few of my students' ePortfolios by clicking on the links below. You can also view all of my students' ePortfolios by clicking here.
The rest of this blog post is dedicated to showing you the value of Reflective ePortfolios through examples. Each example is titled with the guiding question for the activity and contains links to all of the related resources. To get the most value out of each example, you should visit the entire blog post by clicking on the link titled, "____'s entire blog post explained to the right."
How have humans adapted to life on earth?
Our class tried to identify various characteristics and adaptations of humans that describe our species (we walk on two legs, we breathe air, we drink water, etc.). We thought that a fun way to continue that analysis was to look at characteristics that make up an alien on a different planet!
We spent time on this website trying to create aliens that would survive the unique environment that they posed to us. Then, we analyzed those adaptations that made survival possible.
Can you "up" your Observing and Describing skills by looking at an apple?
Careful observation can be difficult for children - they are constantly ready to move on and don't like to focus on one thing for too long.
This activity had students looking closely at an apple (something they see all the time) and asked them to describe new sensory details that they've never experienced before.
Where do you think all of the organs of the human body belong?
Prior to beginning our human body unit, I had my students trace the outlines of their bodies and draw in approximately 20 organs (I gave them a list here). The organs needed to be in approximately the right place and approximately the right size. When their poster was finished, they needed to record a video explaining each organ's placement to the best of their ability. They got to work in groups of three to do this activity.
What warning signs does our body display when it's being exerted?
In order to find out what some signs of distress our bodies display when we're pushing it past its limits, we decided to do as many jumping jacks in the classroom as we could handle. We then wrote down everything we observed in ourselves and others. As a class, we tabulated all of our notes and created a graph to represent the data.
Can reading your story aloud demonstrate the components of a personal narrative better than if in print?
Sometimes, it's hard to show a character's expression in writing, especially for a 5th grader. So we decided to record our personal narratives on GarageBand and post them on our ePortfolios! This should make it easier to show thoughts, feelings, and emotions of our characters to our "readers."
What were some of the similarities and differences between Illinois and Boston during the Revolutionary War?
My students and I participated in a simulation where we traveled back to 1775 and became apprentices in Boston. We did this to better understand and experience life during the Revolutionary War time period. Our district is also very fortunate that we have a local group of re-enactors who provide our 5th graders with a free field trip to experience what life was like for people living in Illinois during this time. This activity asked students to compare and contrast the two experiences.
How did America win the Revolutionary War?
Our students spent a few months learning about the causes of the Revolutionary War, but only a few days learning about what happened during the war. It was important to me that my students synthesized what they learned and explained to me why they thought America won the war, when so many things were stacked against us! Here is one student's post:
Which materials make the best conductors of heat?
In order to learn about the properties of conductors (and eventually insulators), my students took part in a demonstration that used butter pats on the ends of rods made of five different materials set in a jar of water being warmed by an electric hot plate. In theory, the butter that slid first did so because of the material's conductive properties and the one that slid last stayed on longest due to the insulating properties of that material. We used a fun tool called ThingLink to make the graph at the right interactive!
Who can design and build the best insulated bottle in class?
In order to prove that students understand the ideas behind insulating materials, I had them choose three materials from my stash (based on a fantasy draft-style format) and wrap a plastic bottle with them before enclosing it in a Ziploc bag and submerging it in ice water. We tracked the temperature over 15 minutes and the bottle that lost the least percentage of heat, won the contest! It was quite fun!
What are some arguments for becoming a patriot? A loyalist?
Some students are unable to understand why anyone would have wanted to be a loyalist during the Revolutionary War. Since that is true, I have them read a chapter in our social studies books that clarifies the position of loyalists and poses strong arguments against becoming a patriot. This blog entry asks my students to identify a few of those arguments and describe which side is easier to debate.