Tag Archives: portfolios

Using Seesaw with Google Classroom for PLPs

How can educators manage PLPs in remote learning? What goes into a Learning Management System? And what does it look like to effectively tie the two together in a smooth workflow? Seesaw + Google Classroom is one increasingly popular combination.

SeeSaw is in heavy rotation as a platform for Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) and portfolios. It’s kid friendly and excellent for connecting families to the learning process.

SeeSaw can complement Google Classroom, which excels as a day to day home base to keep the classroom workflow organized.

While the functionality of these two platforms overlaps considerably, they are potentially most powerful when used in tandem.

Playing to strengths

Google Classroom is a fairly simple, generally effective, and free LMS. It allows teachers to push out work, collect it, provide feedback, and track completion. It works seamlessly with other Google tools such as Google Docs, Google Drive, etc.

Comparing the two side by side?

Google Classroom Seesaw
  • Home base
  • Day-to-day workflow
  • Assigning tasks/work
  • Collecting work
  • Grading and feedback
  • Artifacts & reflections
  • Choice in how to reflect
  • Share work with families
  • Receive comments on work
  • Tagging (folders)
  • Student-led conferences

Families can sign up to receive weekly emails from Google Classroom that summarize the assignments completed and owed by students. But families can’t access the details or see their student’s work inside Google Classroom. That’s a serious drawback.

SeeSaw, in contrast, excels at bringing families into the learning cycle. It’s built on the premise that sharing student work with families will deepen connections and ultimately help the work be more meaningful to students.

(I’ve experienced this with my own children. I get notified when their teacher approves work and I get to check it out and comment on it. Sometimes we have a back and forth exchange via comments (text or audio). And this can also lead to conversations at home.)

The other major thing that SeeSaw does really well is provide kid-friendly tools for posting in a variety of modalities. Students can easily explain or reflect upon work via drawing, audio, video, text, or combinations thereof.

The interface is quite clean and straightforward, with posts organized chronologically from top to bottom that families can scroll through. Students can post spontaneously or in response to teacher assignments, with the stream representing an ongoing cumulative portfolio of their work.

SeeSaw as a PLP

Middle school teachers can use SeeSaw as a PLP portfolio with key artifacts and reflections, separate from the day to day assignments in Google Classroom.

At Lyndon Town School, in Lyndonville VT, for example, middle school teachers have agreed that students will post at least one artifact per unit into SeeSaw. This will include a piece of evidence (for example, a performance task) and a reflection.

Students can tag their posts so that they can access them in an organized way. Tags are called “folders” in SeeSaw, and teachers can set up a classroom to include folders such as subject, transferable skills, or other organizational schema.

For a PLP, the folder system may include things like “About Me” or “Goals.” And perhaps most importantly for typical PLP workflow, there would be a folder/tag for curated work. For example, the Lyndon Town School teachers have a folder for “Conferences” that will include work to be shared during Student Led Conferences.

SeeSaw with Google Classroom
These are the categories Lyndon Town School chose for organizing student work in SeeSaw.

So from a students point of view, they will regularly use SeeSaw to post evidence and reflections related to class work and goals. And occasionally they will go back through their stream to mark work that they want to share during their conferences. Families would be able to engage with work along the way and then see how students synthesize their learning and reflect on patterns.

Just what a PLP is supposed to do.

Keep it simple

The most straightforward way to use SeeSaw as a portfolio is to create one class called something like “Portfolio and Reflection.” Each teacher of a student would be co-teachers in the class.

Teachers would use assignments, called “activities” in SeeSaw, to keep themselves organized. For example, at the end of a unit a music teacher could create an activity called “Music Artifact 1.” When they log in they can review student work from that activity in order to give feedback and approve posts. They can ignore work assigned by other teachers.

Seesaw with Google Classroom

Since folders sit within classes, this allows a student to use the “Conferences” folder in their “Portfolio and Reflection” class to curate their work. In theory, if a student wanted to pull in work from another class, they could grab a link to that SeeSaw post. But keeping the PLP in one place streamlines the workflow.

This is especially useful for teachers who are new to SeeSaw. Teachers who want to use it more extensively could potentially create a separate class.

Start and end with Google Classroom

For teachers who want to use Google Classroom to stay organized, they can have students access SeeSaw activities through Google Classroom assignments. Students will click on a link and be taken to their SeeSaw account where they can complete the activity (without needing to sign in again). Then they can mark the assignment as complete in Google Classroom.

Chrissy Park, an educator at Burke Town School, in East Burke VT, does an excellent job of illustrating how Google Classroom and SeeSaw can work together in this screencast.

One lingering question

And that is: how to support spontaneous SeeSaw posts.

The vision for authentic student-centered portfolios is a world where students are learning, in and out of school, and they throw evidence in their PLP whenever they are inspired to do so. But if there are a bunch of co-teachers in one class, they will likely have notifications turned off, so how will they know? If they are using Google Classroom and relying on activities in SeeSaw then there’s no loop there. Students could send an email but it would be nice to automate it.

Are you using these two tools together? What’s been your experience so far?

4 for the Door:

Personalized Learning in the Middle Grades

How do educators personalize learning to engage, inspire & motivate students?


"Personalized Learning in the Middle Grades: A Guide for Classroom Teachers and School Leaders" by Penny A. Bishop, John M. Downes & Katy Farber

We’re pleased to share that our new book, Personalized Learning in the Middle Grades: A Guide for Teachers and School Leaders, will be available beginning May 7th.

It’s available now for preorder.

Teachers in grades five through eight can use personalized learning plans (PLPs) to increase student agency and engagement. PLPs help students establish learning goals aligned with their interests and assess their own learning. This particularly improves essential skills that cut across disciplines.

Drawing on our research and work with 50 schools in Vermont, we show how personalized learning aligns with effective middle grades practice. We provide in-depth examples of how educators have implemented PLPs in a wide range of schools, representing different demographics and grade configurations. Grounded in experience and full of engaging examples, artifacts, and tools (generously shared with us by Vermont educators), this book builds on the emerging field of personalized learning. It connects personalized learning with the developmental needs of middle schoolers to provide a valuable resource for classroom teachers, teacher teams, school leaders, teacher educators, and others.

Advance Praise for the Book

This book blends theory with practice, weaves what we know about young adolescents and best practices in middle grades, and gives specific, detailed descriptions of every aspect needed to implement personalized learning. Personalized Learning in the Middle Grades provides theory, tools, examples, and insights to develop an exemplary middle school. As a middle grades advocate, I love how this book details how we can meet the needs of young adolescents using this practice. — Nancy Ruppert, professor and chair, Department of Education, University of North Carolina, Asheville, and past president, Association for Middle Level Education

Personalized Learning in the Middle Grades is a must-have guide for anyone wishing to implement or improve personalized learning in the school or classroom. It is chock-full of vignettes, research-based rationales, and practical how-tos that give middle level educators a clear picture of personalized learning as well as the tools and strategies needed to create a student-centered culture that fosters academic learning and personal growth in the best way possible. — Patti Kinney, National Middle Level Principal of the Year, and past president, Association for Middle Level Education

List of Chapters

  1. Personalized Learning for Young Adolescents
  2. Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs)
  3. Laying the Groundwork for Personalized Learning
  4. Launching PLPs with “The Learner Profile”
  5. Designing Flexible Learning Pathways for Young Adolescents
  6. Scaffolding for Equitable, Deeper Learning
  7. PLPs and Proficiency-Based Assessment
  8. PLPs, Goal-Setting and Student-Led Conferences
  9. Sustaining Innovation in Your Classroom, Team or School

Supported by and for the #vted environment

We have spent the last 10 years talking to teachers and students about their amazing work. We’ve been guests in your classrooms and helped you tell your stories. We have seen what it takes to make student-centered innovative school change possible. And we are incredibly thankful to those teachers and students, without whom this book would not have been possible.


Peer collaboration on PLPs

Peers partner on portfolios

peer collaboration on PLPsStudents at two Vermont schools have begun working together as “Portfolio Partners” to curate evidence, reflect on their growth, and prepare to share their learning with a wider audience.

Here’s how it works.

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Learn Like a Pirate: Key takeaways

Katy’s 2016 Summer Reading

reflection for educatorsSomething about this book title and summer reading fits perfectly. The open ocean, pirates, and fierce independence. I’m hoping you have a bit of time to settle into some reading for fun and some that inspires you in the classroom to have students take on more leadership and develop their own independence.

Continue reading Learn Like a Pirate: Key takeaways

Negotiated curriculum and project-based learning

Building a democratic classroom at The Edge

negotiated curriculumPart of the power of implementing a negotiated curriculum is that it doesn’t just center student voice, it actually moves the learning space towards a democratic classroom, a place where students can advocate for themselves and their learning interests, goals and styles. It’s an important piece of the personalized learning plan (PLP) picture.

The Edge Academy at Essex Middle School, in Essex Junction VT, has been doing project-based learning alongside negotiated curriculum for the past six years. Facilitators Lindsey Halman and Phil Young explain what makes it work and what makes it especially powerful for middle schoolers.

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Screencast-o-matic on the Macbook

A step-by-step tutorial

Tarrant Institute tool tutoriallsWe helped one of our partner schools, Wallingford Elementary in Wallingford, Vermont, get set up with screencasting for their MacBook-based 1:1 environment, and they taught us a ton about the tech tool decision-making process along the way.

So here, soup-to-nuts is a step-by-step tutorial for using Screencast-o-matic on the MacBook for recording screencasts for Google Site e-portfolios. With bonus screencast!
Continue reading Screencast-o-matic on the Macbook

What makes for good goal-setting in a PLP?

Life’s four guidelines for goal-setting

what makes good goal-settingIn my experience as a teacher and administrator, I noticed a pattern to goal-setting in my school and classroom. We would do some good goal-setting at the beginning of the year and then at some point during the dark depths of winter I would realize that I was too overwhelmed or embarrassed to try to resurrect them.

There were some notable instances when goals were powerful for students, though.

In those cases I saw the potential of goals to cultivate so many important things in my students: self-direction, a sense of efficacy, and a connection to schooling, to name a few.

Continue reading What makes for good goal-setting in a PLP?

Vermont Fest 2015

Heading to the slopes for Vermont Fest

Vermont Fest 2015The lifts are open, but the lure of first tracks is not what is prompting educators from across the state to head to Killington this week. Vermont Fest will be in full effect on Thursday and Friday and educators will be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to exchange ideas and practices around PLPs, goal setting, gamification, student-led conferences and the list goes on.

We are especially proud of our partner educators who have been selected to present at this year’s Vermont Fest.

Continue reading Vermont Fest 2015

I is for Identity

3 tech-rich strategies for exploring identity with students

identity in PLPs

“Who am I?” is the question at the heart of the adolescent mind. Almost all challenges, tests, and dilemmas relate to the central theme of identity.

Young adolescents seek to find answers to questions like, “Where do I fit in?”, “What makes me different or special?” and “What do I believe?”

Continue reading I is for Identity

4 educators reflect on personalized learning

Setting goals for summer learning and beyond

reflections by middle school educators
Welcome, Mill River Union! We are very curious as to what you guys are up to.

It’s Day 3 of the 2015 Middle Grades Institute, a gathering of more than 200 Vermont educators all passionately invested in technology-rich, student-centered educational change. And with the Act 77 deadline requiring a Personal Learning Plan for every student in Vermont grades 7-12 coming up in November, talk around personalizing learning and capturing evidence of personalized learning are at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Let’s hear from four schools attending MGI about their engagement with the personalized learning process, as they spend their first week of summer planning for the coming year.

Continue reading 4 educators reflect on personalized learning

Professional development through Google Hangouts

Two years ago, our middle level team undertook a pilot project to begin work on personal learning plans (PLPs). Under the guidance of James Nagle, professor of education at St. Michael’s College, Team Summit teachers and students initiated the process of creating personal learning plans as mandated by Act 77 and the state of Vermont. The work progressed through several stages of development. Initially, students created their personal learning plan using a template created through Google Sites. Soon after, students began using the PLP as a record of growth and reflection, goals, personal strengths and challenges, and as a multimodal platform to demonstrate their learning.

Continue reading Professional development through Google Hangouts

Personalized STEM learning at Essex High School

New podcast episode: Essex STEM Academy

student-guided stem learningIn this episode, we talk with math educator and STEM Academy leader Lea Ann Smith about Essex High School’s STEM Academy and take a look inside a program that lets students pursue projects in medicine, engineering, computer science, mathematics or biology — by working with community partners during the school day.

Continue reading Personalized STEM learning at Essex High School

Digital Display: add Credly badges to Google Sites

100 years of Girl Scouts can’t be wrong

Add Credly badges to Google SitesDigital badges have potential to serve as both markers of achievement and as a vehicle for those of us who assess students’ learning for a living to think differently about our current practices.

Many students do the work of examining their own learning through collecting artifacts, reflecting on evidence of learning, and displaying the results of that learning on their digital portfolios.  As Act 77 in Vermont encourages us to open multiple avenues for learning opportunities, it also demands of us multiple ways for students to capture, reflect upon, and display their achievements.

Continue reading Digital Display: add Credly badges to Google Sites

Storing digital badges for portfolios

What are some mechanisms for keeping track of digital credentials?

storing digital badgesAs we work with schools who are piloting digital badge programs on the BadgeOS platform, we need to start thinking through what some options are for students to store, keep track of, and display the digital credentials they earn.

What does it look like to use Credly.com to create and manage a portfolio of digital badges? How does this differ from other Mozilla Backpack solutions?

Continue reading Storing digital badges for portfolios

3 tools for interactive timelines

Find new uses for data visualization

3 tools for interactive timelinesFree, online timeline tools allow students to break free of the traditional two-dimensional timeline and create highly customizable multimedia projects to showcase research, serve as digital portfolios, manage projects, guide gallery walks or form study guides.

And yes, they can also be used for book reports.

Continue reading 3 tools for interactive timelines

Links Round Up: Goal-Setting for Personalized Learning

Give your students ownership over their learning through goal-setting activities

Goal-settingHappy New Year! With school back in session and a new year upon us, why not use this time as an excuse to take a deep breath, reassess your goals, and refocus on what you and your students are striving to achieve?

As your students are creating their typical New Year’s resolutions of being nicer to their siblings, being more creative in their twitter posts, and vowing to clean their room at least once a month, why not encourage academic goals? When given a chance to take ownership over their learning, perhaps students will be more committed to the steps needed to achieve in the classroom.

Continue reading Links Round Up: Goal-Setting for Personalized Learning

Multiple learning pathways with MOOCs

What does change really look like?

multiple learning pathways with MOOCsI’ve been on the search for examples of teachers creating multiple learning pathways in middle level classrooms.  I need concrete examples of what one might look like to wrap my head around this change agenda. Today, I’m looking at massive open online courses (MOOCs); are there multiple learning pathways with MOOCs?

Continue reading Multiple learning pathways with MOOCs

Innovative learning shared at Nashville conference

Music City learns a thing or two about Vermont ed tech

Innovative learning shared at Nashville conferenceHalf of the Tarrant Institute staff and a special guest headed to Nashville last week to present at the Association for Middle Level Education Annual Conference. We set out to share with middle grades educators from around the world the incredible, tech-rich teaching happening in Vermont schools. As we always conclude after visiting national conferences, Vermont really is on the cutting edge. Here’s a roundup of our presentations about learning management systems, authentic assessment and augmented reality.

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Personalizing Vermont’s education system

Move to implement PLPs reflected at two local conferences for educators

Personalizing Vermont's education systemFall in Vermont features two amazing local conferences for educators: VT Fest and the Rowland Foundation Conference. And at both these events, one of the hottest topics was personalized learning.

As Vermont moves to implement Act 77, Flexible pathways to secondary education completion (pdf) there ‘s a lot of discussion on the best way to implement personalized learning plans, or PLPs.

Luckily, some schools are already diving right in.

Continue reading Personalizing Vermont’s education system

4 ways personalized learning plans are taking off in Vermont

Educators are embracing digital tools for planning and sharing

4 ways personalized learning plans are taking off in VermontPersonalized learning plans, or PLPs, are non-traditional pathways by which students can navigate from entrance to graduation in a way that’s personally meaningful. By studying topics they’re passionate about, students continue to stay engaged; by collaborating on the plans with educators and family, students’ passions can be translated into real-world learning that oftentimes exceeds standards for learning.

But where do digital tools fit into this conversation?

With all schools in Vermont being required to begin implementing PLPs for grades 7-9 by 2015,  let’s take a look at 4 ways personalized learning plans are already taking off in Vermont.

Continue reading 4 ways personalized learning plans are taking off in Vermont

ePortfolios with Evernote at Harwood Union Middle School

Students are creating narrated, curated and portable evidence of their work

Back in November, a group of educators from Harwood Middle School, in Mooretown VT, headed down to the iPad Summit in Boston, to talk about how Harwood has revolutionized ePortfolios, by making their production part of graduation requirements. They’re asking students to document their artifacts using Evernote. Use of the app in this way allows each student to graduate with a fully annotated, personalized digital portfolio, demonstrating what they’ve learned and how it satisfies Harwood’s graduation requirements.

And if that’s not enough to entice you, there’s 8th grade science educator Brian Wagner dressed as the Wicked Witch from Snow White. FOR PEDAGOGY.


iPad how-to: saving auras to your Evernote portfolio

saving augmented reality "auras" to your Evernote portfolioA 1-minute iPad how-to from Harwood Union Middle School science educator Brian Wagner, showing you how to save augmented reality “auras” from the popular mobile app Aurasma, to Evernote.


Wagner used Aurasma with his students this past spring in creating an augmented reality periodic table, mounted in the community gallery space at their school.