Stowe Protean

A tale of two tech tools

Students test drive tools to enhance & amplify project work

peer PLP collaborationWhen Stowe Middle Level educators met to plan for the upcoming student exhibitions of learning, they agreed on two critical ideas. One, that their learners benefit from multiple ways to tell the story of their learning.

And two, students are in the best position to test out tech tools to share that learning.

Students as co-pilots

Stowe Middle School students were invited to participate in two opportunities to test drive some digital tools. One group of 6th and 8th graders piloted a learning management system called Protean, while a group of 7th graders tested out Book Creator to share the story of crafting and presenting their persuasive speeches.

In both instances, students, with some facilitation, drove the experimentation and provided valuable feedback to their teachers and peers.

Honoring student voice

In Life LeGeros’ recent post The Rise of the Project-Based PLP he states:

“Rather than trying to get students to care about existing PLPs, some schools are revamping their PLP process to start with what students care about. They are asking students to pursue their passions by crafting projects based on their personal interests and deepest curiosities. The new recipe that is emerging: start with a cool personalized project and then build the PLP around it.”

When Stowe educators heard from students the goals-based PLPs were falling flat, they embraced this shift to project-based PLPs two years ago and continually work to improve the experience through their Progress Committee, which includes decisions driven by student feedback gathered at the beginning and then again at the end of each school year.


One significant shift we are seeing is an intentional effort to amplify the audience for student project work, both process and product. Stowe Middle has a long history of engaging the community in a school-wide exhibitions of learning.


But the Progress Committee had noticed that in past years some students had a rich experience with lots of visitors while others experienced minimal interaction.

Last school year the 6th grade team shifted from an open gallery walk to scheduling the evening so each 6th grader had a dedicated audience of community members and peers. And each student was tasked with creating a visually appealing and engaging digital presentation.

The audience provided structured feedback based on clear learning targets to each presentation. Data gathered in the student surveys made clear this shift was well received; Stowe’s exhibition schedule for this year now includes a formalized presentation for each student in addition to the gallery walk display of student projects grades 6th through 8th.

So what did these test pilots discover?

1. Capturing evidence and reflection of process with Protean

Protean is a proficiency-based e-portfolio tool. We wondered how well it would work to support project management as well as process reflection. Learners enter the portfolio by creating a learning tile which requires alignment to a goal, evidence, and reflection tying that evidence back to a goal.



The pilot is still underway, but initial feedback from students includes liking the ease of uploading evidence, especially through the Chrome extension tool; and the social collaboration made available through sharing learning with selected mates. “I love that it’s like a social media feed, I think that having “mates” is a really fun and silly idea.”


2. For speeches, Book Creator captures a compelling narrative

Book Creator, a popular iOS app, recently launched a Chrome version. 7th graders who were finished creating their displays for exhibition night thought it might be interesting to share a digital copy of their speech-writing journey that could exist as a takeaway for interested community members.

At first, they puzzled over the contents of the book, since they had already created visual displays of their learning. What they quickly realized was the digital book could include the whole process, from soup to nuts if you will, of this project.

This pilot group found Book Creator for Chrome to be super simple to use, but powerful in its ability to display text, images, audio, and video. Since all of the 7th grade speeches were delivered earlier in the month and video recorded, the digital books contain evidence of the research process, practice sessions to demonstrate growth, reflective thinking, mini-debates, and the final product: the formal speech.

How does this connect to personalized learning?

Zmuda and Kallick define four attributes of personalized learning: voice, co-creation, social construction, and self-discovery. Stowe’s shift to student interest projects and the emphasis on student feedback through surveys and pilots go a long way to insure personalized learning is happening in the middle school.

And, the aptly named Progress Committee will continue to steer the ship toward increased student engagement.




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