Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Digital Portfolio Tools for Education

As a former high school English teacher, then Library Media Specialist, and now Instructional Technology Specialist, I am always on the lookout for new presentation tech tools.

One of the biggest trends that I am seeing at all the recently attended ed tech conferences and workshops (including at this year's ISTE conference) is the emphasis on allowing the expression of student voice.

I was particularly touched by one of ISTE's keynote speakers,  Jennie Magiera.  I highly recommend all educators watch and listen to her inspiring words.

In her keynote address, Jennie discussed "single stories" and how we often rely and judge others on singular understandings of people based on a specific set of characteristics. The goal, she said, is to focus on addressing the untold story rather than the one that can be seen on the surface.

The mistake in making false presumptions and not looking beyond the surface is also beautifully expressed in author Chimamanda Adichie's TedEd Talk "The Danger of the Single Story."

In summation of Chimamanda Adichie's TedEd Talk:

"Chimamanda tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding."

As teachers, how can we allow students to express themselves and to let their own stories be heard?

A great way to allow for students to tell their stories is through the creation of student digital portfolios!

 Digital portfolios can serve a variety of purposes.  Students are able to make them individualistic, have control over the look and design, while including content that they write, search for, and select. It becomes a  representation of who they are  - both as students and as people.

What a great way to highlight and showcase their unique voices in the classroom!

In this post, there are two free tech tools that are perfect for creating digital portfolios.

First, there's the website Bulb.

I love the polished look of Bulb digital portfolios.  And it's free!  Though teachers can pay for a subscription (which allows opportunities for a student management system and gives students the flexibility to work on portfolio pages collaboratively), the free accounts also provide more than enough options and features for students.  

One of the great features in Bulb is the ease of using Google Drive content.  

Students can make pages private for public viewing but can share with individuals. Pages created using Bulb has a setting to allow others to comment. 

This feature provides  a great opportunity to share your portfolio pages and to receive feedback from peers.

The ability to type in content (along with the capability to stylize the font and to create hyperlinks), import Google Drive files, include embedded videos and audio, and insert images are just a few of the generous features that Bulb provides with their free accounts.

I used Bulb with the 12th grade English teachers at my school when they were searching for a new presentation tool to use for their students' Senior digital portfolios.

You can view the sample porfolio template I created for them HERE.

Interested in implementing Bulb in your classroom? 

Feel free to use my How-To Guide for Creating Bulb Digital Portfolios with your own students!

 *Note - You will need to log into a Google Account in order to access and copy this guide into your own Google Drive!

The next tool I highly recommend using for the creation of digital portfolios is Adobe Spark Pages.  

This summer, I had the pleasure of attending one'of Monica Burns's tech workshop sessions on creating classroom videos using Adobe Spark.

I was so impressed at how user-friendly Adobe Spark is  - whether you create a video, post, or page.
This is a free tool that can be easily used with both secondary and elementary school  students.  

Adobe Spark has a browser-based version and is also available as an iOS app

Interested in Adobe Spark's beta Google Play/Android app?  Register in order to use this soon-to-released version at their site.

Students can use virtually any device to create in Adobe Spark.  And it ALSO is free!

Just like the website Bulb, students can use Adobe Spark to create dynamic, polished webpages.

There are many things I like about creating pages with Adobe Spark.  First, you can choose from their theme library in order to create different looks for your page (colors, font types, etc).

Secondly, you have great options for inserting images.  Students can use their photo tool to include a photo grid - which is basically a nice picture collage of images.

You can also create a glideshow for your page background.  LOVE this!  If you include a glideshow, you will need to upload multiple images.  The resulting scrolling images give a unique panoramic look to your page.

Adobe Spark has a very clean, simple to use tool when creating content on a page.  Students just simply choose from text, photo, and video options.

Though it is very simple, the pages created using Adobe Spark do not appear to be simple or rudimentary.  They're modern and beautiful!

You check out a sample (fictitious) student portfolio page I created using Adobe Spark below: 

If you would like to use Adobe Spark in order to implement digital portfolios with your students, I recently created a resource for student digital portfolio pages that is featured in my teacherspayteachers store.

The resource is titled "What's Your Story?" and aligns with the theme of allowing student voice and providing an outlet for creative expression.

What's Your Story?  Autobiographical Project

These top two technology tools are amazing resources for any teacher and students to use for their digital portfolio platforms.

Make sure to check them both out!

Friday, June 23, 2017


It's hard to believe that 3 years have passed since I first started this blog.  I have missed blogging so much!  I'm ready to return to my roots, blog, and continue with my passion for implementing educational technology in the classroom!

So much has changed in the last few years!  The biggest change has happened professionally!  I was offered my dream job - Instructional Technology Specialist!  I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with teachers and their classes in implementing instructional technology!

I am also the 1:1 coordinator at my school!  Last year, we implemented 1:1 Chromebooks with all of our (approximately) 2400 high school students!  It was a daunting endeavor, but in the end, the process was incredibly smooth!

I will be hosting a session titled 1:1 Win:  Tips for Transitioning to Personalized Learning with 1:1 Chromebooks at  my school district's Upstate Technology Conference!

I hope that I can prepare other teacher leaders, instructional technology coaches, and school administrators with some solid tips that will help ensure their transition will be a success!

I am ecstatic about hearing and hopefully meeting this year's featured conference speakers!

Monica Burns will be in the house! 

From her bio:

Dr. Monica Burns is a curriculum and educational technology consultant, Apple Distinguished Educator, and founder of As a classroom teacher, Monica used one-to-one technology to create engaging, standards-based lessons for students. Today she spends her time visiting schools across the country and working with PreK-20 teachers to make technology integration exciting and accessible. She also provides support to organizations using technology to reach children and families in need. Her mission is to help educators place tasks before apps and promote deeper learning with technology.

Richard Byrne will be in the house!

From his bio:

Richard Byrne is a former high school social studies teacher who is best known for reaching more than 100,000 educators with his award-winning blog, Free Technology for Teachers and two additional blogs, and

As a highly sought-after educational speaker, Richard’s work is focused on sharing free resources that educators can use to enhance their students’ learning experiences. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his contributions to the field of educational technology including being a five-time winner of the Edublogs Award for Best Resource Sharing Blog, Google Teacher certification, and the Merlot Classics award from California State University. Tech & Learning magazine recently named Richard one of the top current leaders who has been instrumental in the creation and advancement of the use of technology in education.

Why is this so exciting to me?

I love Richard's blog Free Technology for Teachers and started following his blog years ago and always learn amazing ideas about recommended sites, apps, and extensions.  He keeps me in the loop!.

I am also a recent follower of Monica's excellent Class Tech Tips Newsletter. When I first heard Monica was a featured speaker, it took me a few minutes to realize this was the very same awesome Monica Burns who pinned amazing posts to my collaborate Educational Technology Pinterest Board.

Thanks to Monica's amazing Class Tech Tips, I found the perfect tool for my teachers to use with their students while creating their senior digital portfolio.  She wrote about the Bulb app or site, and I knew I had to check it out!  I am always looking for great tools that work well with student portfolios.  Using Bulb, I created a sample student portfolio for their senior students to use.  I will include a review of this amazing app and our example of a digital portfolio using Bulb soon!

I will also be posting more about the Upstate Technology Conference in July!  Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Picture It! Inspired Picture Writing with PicLits.Com

Inspire Your Students with PicLits Creative Writing Site

As a School Media Specialist and educational technology enthusiast, I am always searching for new ways to integrate technology into our school curriculum.  PicLits is a gem of a website that I discovered in 2010 that works very well with creative writing.  I used this site with middle school students during Teen Technology Week.  

I was amazed at the quality of writing I received from students during our PicLits Poetry Contest.  Students were able to select an image from PicLits photo gallery and compose poems that were so insightful, clearly relating to the image they had chosen, and very creative in their word choice and the use of poetic devices. 

Some students even utilized word placement in correlation to further create mood and emphasize the theme of their poems.  Some student examples of creative word placement using images from PicLits photo gallery include:

                               Spiral Staircase

Swan and Symmetry


There was such a variety of submissions from students that selecting winners proved to be very difficult!

So what exactly is a PicLits?


from the PicLits website:

PicLits.Com is a creative writing site that matches beautiful images with carefully selected keywords in order to inspire you.  The object is to put the right words in the right place and right order to capture the essence, story, and meaning of the picture.

It can be a caption, a story, a poem, or even song lyrics.  The goal is capture the essence of the image with the written word.  

Anyone with an email address can create a free account by signing up.  If a teacher has students without email accounts, he/she can create gmail addresses for each class and sign up using separate class accounts. 
*You will probably want students to identify their poems by either including a byline and their name on the poem (if using the freestyle method) or identifying on a sign up sheet the poems they have written since the login for classes will be generic and not include each individual student's name.  Students also may work simultaneously under the same account login.

Once students have an account and a login, they can begin searching the photo gallery for a picture they find interesting as the subject of their poems. There are two methods of composing using PicLits:  Drag and Drop and Freestyle.  

Using the Drag and Drop method, students will choose from a list of pre-selected words and drag/drop them onto the image in order to create a story or poem.   

Using the freestyle method, students type in a text box their own words which are then superimposed onto the image they have selected from the PicLits Gallery.  In order to change word placement, students can use their space bar and return key  to move their words around.  

This site enhances student visual literacy and provides a motivating subject to help inspire their own lines of poetry.  

The only instruction students seem to need before writing is for them to just tell the story of the image!

Most impressive of all is the involvement and enthusiasm of the site creator, Terry Friedlander!  He took the time to comment on several of our student PicLits that were submitted during Teen Technology Week.  His comments were always positive, specific to the poem, and encouraged the student to keep writing - as you can see in his comment on the poem below:

There are so many great free lesson plans available on the site for teachers to use that allow for differentiation with students who are beginners, intermediate writers, or more advanced.  These ideas for using PicLits with students are available under the Learn It tab.

I also have five original sample activities, handouts, and grading rubrics available using PicLits in your classroom for sale in my Teachers Pay Teachers store:

I recommend educators give PicLits a try!  This is a perfect digital resource for teachers to find stimulating writing prompts to use with their classes and to motivate students to find an image and tell their own stories!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Animoto for Social Studies

Animoto for Education

Tinker vs. Des Moines School District

Topic:  Landmark Court Cases

Another Animoto video!  This is a sample video I created for a Social Studies teacher who wanted to give Animoto a try.  The topic for students will be landmark Supreme Court Cases.  Animoto really is a technology tool that can be used with ANY content area!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Using Blendspace with Nonfiction Books (formerly Edcanvas)

Recently, our media center students used Blendspace to showcase their knowledge on a nonfiction book they recently read.  Blendspace is a free educational tool for teachers and students.  Teachers register with their email address and receive a class code for their students to use.  This makes it much easier to assess student projects using Blendspace because you can access all of the presentations under your teacher login once students register (with the class code) and join your class.

What is Blendspace?  Blendspace is a presentation/curation tool that stores various type of texts and media files in a modular format.

One of the things I really like about Blendspace is the ability to easily search, access, drag, and drop content within the Blendspace application itself.  It has a great toolbar that accesses Google image and web, Flickr, and YouTube videos.  Blendspace users also can access Google Drive and upload their own files. Additional options include linking to other webpages.  Students have the ability to annotate resources by adding comments (either by recording their own audio file or by typing in notes or comments).  There's even a thumbs-up "Like" that can be added to Blendspace tiles.

My media center students enjoyed using Blendspace.  I like giving them the capability to create a presentation that can include several different types of media and text (audio, text, pictures, website links, video, ppt. slides, etc).  This projects supports CCSS in its emphasis on including different text types and digital media to represent information on the same topic.  Students are analyzing the content and subject of their nonfiction books and curating different types of resources that relate to their nonfiction reading.

Personally, Blendspace interface seems to me a bit boring.  I would enjoy seeing more interactive elements as you play the presentation.  The students, however, really seemed to enjoy it.

One of our students, who frequently doesn't complete assignments, loved working on his Blendspace!  We all know technology can be a great motivator.  This student, however, even seemed reluctant to work on a music video using Animoto.

Why did Blendspace, specifically, appeal to him?  I am not exactly sure.....

BUT it definitely convinces me that it is also a worthwhile educational tool to use with secondary students.

You can find Blendspace projects completed by our students below:

Check out the lesson American Indian Mythology on Blendspace:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reading Rocks~! Animoto and Nonfiction Texts

Animoto in Education

Using Animoto to Promote the Reading of Nonfiction Texts

I love using Animoto to showcase student learning!  Recently I posted about creating a music video on a fiction book using Animoto.  An English teacher at my high school recently came into our media center and asked about ideas for student book projects.  I suggested to her that the students could read a nonfiction title instead of fiction.  As we all know, CCSS emphasizes the reading of informational text.  The more students read nonfiction, the better they will be at comprehending, analyzing, synthesizing, etc.these texts types that are typically also written at a higher lexile level.

The project was a success!

We started out with a library activity where the students chose one book from each division of the Dewey Decimal System and described why it was a title they found to be interesting.  This activity helped students see the variety of high interest books and topics that are available in each area.  It helped dispel the notion that nonfiction = reference materials, textbook-y, dry, and boring academia books.

I also did a booktalk and used a variety of nonfiction books to showcase - such as the following:


I also showed students a sample of their assessment - a music video with texts and captions featuring a nonfiction book in our media center.

I chose No Choirboy:  Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin as my video topic:

The students enjoyed reading their nonfiction books and loved creating a music video with Animoto.  Animoto allows them the chance to upload and include their own visuals, graphics, and images in their final video.  They also can demonstrate their learning by including relevant texts, keywords, and vocabulary all relating to the topic and subject of their nonficiton texts.

Here are a few student examples of our music videos made in Animoto on nonfiction books:

I wish I could post all of the videos, but this teacher's class was very large!  I am adding more of the music videos on nonfiction books to a Symbaloo

New to Animoto?  Just apply at the educator's site for the free Educator's Account in order to obtain a classroom code!

This code will allot you 50 student accounts with full access - full length video productions!  Your account will expire in 6 months.  Re-applying under your account settings, though, is easy and fast.

Animoto is very user-friendly.  You can find tutorials on their website that will guide you through the video-making process.

This is really a great tool to use with students - particularly those who tend to be hands-on learners.

Digital Portfolio Tools for Education

As a former high school English teacher, then Library Media Specialist, and now Instructional Technology Specialist, I am always on the look...

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