Organising the STUDENTS’ toolbox

organizedphoto © 2009 Melissa & Bryan Ripka | more info (via: Wylio)

We have gone to a 1-1 program and to make a statement of the obvious THINGS HAVE TO CHANGE. Through this Coetail course I have been exposed to what can only be described as way too much information, BUT I LOVE IT. In the last 2 weeks I have probably attempted to use every piece of software that I have come across in the classroom somehow. Some might call this the shotgun approach but I am seeing which aspects I think can work in class/school and which I need to work on more. Having used so many pieces of new technology I do tend to get a bit distracted and have things all over the place. The more I think about it, I am exactly like most of my year 7 students. I read the blog post from “Free Technology for Teachers” in terms of keeping my RSS reader and articles organised and tactics or programs that can help with that however my question is how can we help students to stay organised when they are receiving as much information as I think they are going to get.

The following are my thoughts and opinions only, I am NOT in a position of responsibility that would allow me to implement these strategies nor have I thought about the change management that would need to occur. My thoughts and ideas are based on Grade 7 (transition from elementary school) and would be implemented at the start of the year.

POINT 1: ALL students will have their OWN blog/e-portfolio. This of course would be able to be viewed by all staff/parents/students and would be suitably organised to contain tabs for each subject. Each subject teacher would be able to upload to their students blog (ONCE for each class) thought provoking and topic related extra thinking questions/ video’s/ podcasts/ blogs that would purely be to increase a student’s interest in that subject area. For example the Math problem of the week or the random scientific fact/discovery/ this week in history etc etc. Of course if teachers were so inclined they could easily have their regular classwork uploaded to this.

Point 2. This blog is used as an e-portfolio. Students will upload (using all the wonderful tools that are available youtube, scribd, slideshare,) samples of work for each subject under the relevant tab and of course reflect on this work, have others comment on this work, all the things that blogs are supposed to do.

In MY head and I think this is the purpose of these blogs, we can get a little out of control with the blogging aspect in school. In Elementary it works FANTASTICALLY in Year 5 and 6. The class teacher manages a class blog and keeps track of the 23 ish blogs/e-portfolios in their class. Check out a great example from a Year 6 class here. Come Secondary school students will have close up to 8 different teachers and for them to visit each teacher’s blog I think is a bit much for an 11-12 year old student. Much easier for them to have their own.

Photo credit: seanmcgrath

Point 3. ORGANISED NOTES. I am a firm believer in all students having the same setup for their organisation of notes. I am only just discovering the beauty of One Note (as well as the frustrations) in terms of students keeping their class work organised. It seems that the process of organising student notes and summaries and ideas and reflections is lost in many of the edutech discussions, but I think for the moment the one book per subject is still important. Whichever tool is used for organisation it must be the same across all subjects and staff must be given time and professional development to ensure that access is universal.

This is just a brief outline that I think should be incorporated into any school’s laptop program. Here is a helpful link to a teacher who has set up 1 to 1 classes successfully in the past STRATEGIES FOR 1 TO 1 CLASSROOM. Five great, clear tips to manage this implementation.

Transition is a difficult process for most students going from 1 elementary teacher to 8 in high school. Having a process of organisation in place would help to ease the stress in this process.

With this post I am attempting to harness the power of blogging and social networking. I am looking for constructive feedback that offers alternatives or additions or ideas for improvement.

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11 Responses to Organising the STUDENTS’ toolbox

  1. Neil Commons says:

    So I completely agree with the idea that students each have their own blog which they use to represent their professional/ academic identity and the term e-portfolio captures this idea well. However I have some issues that I want to sound out.

    1) Is an e-portfolio the right forum for regular classwork/ or teacher questions? I think those features would detract from the fact it is a representation of the best of a student.
    1+) Surely a better place for those student passion or related teachable moments would be a learning blog related to that class as it could be used to promote discussion amongst peers – which seems to be one of the most powerful and rewarding features of a blog environment
    1++) I n a world of social bookmarking and our own reliance on a internal portal page to access the majority of content are we not already setting them up with 8 different sites – we should not hide from this reality but better train them to cope with it using the technology tools available.
    2) Would this be the right location to highlight learning goals and document the efforts a student is taking to achieve them.

    On the organised notes front I am incomplete agreement. I think it is useful, when laptops are rolled out or in year 7, for a school to select a method of organisation and model that. This will provide a consistency and set up the required expectations. Further down a students career they may find/ select a more suitable method but until they have a basic grasp of something they do not have any foundation to build on. So I vote for initial school consistency with the promotion of a standard best practice policy.

    • Simone says:

      I agree with Neil’s idea that each discipline could have a blog where resources/ideas/random facts/assignments are placed.
      The e-portfolio should be a place where students wish to demonstrate their learning and growth.
      Consistency is key and building on the students’ prior knowledge, experience and skills is vital.

  2. Hi Jace

    I am in a school that is nearing the end of its 5th year with a 1:1 program in the HS, and fewer years with 1:1 in the MS. I totally agree with your ideas re student blogs, and think we missed the boat with this. Am working to start this next year.

    With the power of all using OneNote, we did get this right. We all use it at my school (UNIS) and it is great. Last year I heard the saying “computers makes the organised more organised and the disorganised more disorganised”. Sorry I cannot remember from whom. I feel this is so true, and also having a naming convention so even for the kid who just chucks all stuff in my documents, they still end up with them organised alphabetically and this is so important. At my school all subjects use codes such as subject and year – unit – specific task name. An example is Sci09 – cells – cell memebranes & solutes. Then by alphabetical sorting, all is instantly organised. Disorganised kids are also organised by default. We take this so far that if a kid hands in work named incorrectly, straight to the rubbish bin and they are late. This sounds draconian, but since instructions are always “download task, save with its name, but with your name as a suffix”, then it works great.

    • Jason Reilly says:

      First of all Wayne thank you for being the first person to post that does not work in the same building as me!
      We recently had a school PD day where this topic was discussed, and discussed and discussed. The things that you mentioned in terms of a protocol for naming pieces of work was brought up and something that will be added to the transition of students into yr 7. HOW that work is handed gave me a great insight into how hard it CAN be for some students when they move to secondary school. Even as teachers we couldn’t come to an agreement on what the best way to hand in assignments, distribute assignments, record students work digitally was as within our school we have multiple different ways to do all of those things. So as an old coach said to me once “control the controllables” and another senior teacher suggested to me “Whatever you do, it’s good” (implying doing something is better than doing nothing).
      I am going to suggest to our year 7 teachers in this first transition year that we keep the protocols and skill sets for yr 7 simple and we build from there. Blogs will be setup but will definitely be a work in progress through out the year and I have a feeling that experimentation with these will eventually find the best use for them. As my learned colleagues in other comments have suggested there are lots of ideas of how to use these tools, using them as a powerful tool and in a collaborative manner is going to be a good challenge.

    • Sandy Dodd says:

      Wayne, I think UNIS had an advantage getting in early as there wasn’t so many options making it perhaps easier to have a consensus on these things. I think it is so true about the organisation –
      default alphabetical filing has saved me so many times when I just throw files into my document folders. If i do this (and I have a librarian’s over-organised mind!) I’m surprised teenagers cope – still they would have better search skills than me to find those wayward files.
      I think a lot has been learnt over the 5 years on ways to organise one-note in particular and perhaps the hesitation to encourage blogging (and the frustations we encountered in the elementary) gave time to get these aspects sorted.

  3. Linc Jackson says:

    I am with you on this blog per kid idea… but I am just trying to sort out which classes should be all in one and which need more separation. I am a tech integrator so I work with all ages. If you read this, let me know what ages you think are best for the blogs. How young would you go? I love Wayne’s quote above and his reflections give me some interesting food for thought.

    • Avatar of Jason Reilly Jason Reilly says:

      Thanks Linc for the feedback. Yes organised students do get more organised and disorganised students……….As far as what ages to get started I am not entirely sure what the BEST age is. I know that every CLASS in elementary has a blog that is kept up to date by the teacher.
      In my opinion, and I haven’t done this yet, I think a year 7 blog could be used as an extra learning tool and separated into either home groups or class groups. At our school we have the class structure of 7A-E a blog setup with that structure could enable simple but higher order thinking tasks to be completed. I personally wouldn’t have them assessed as such but would be used in parent teacher interviews as evidence of their thinking.
      We are still in the very early stages of planning and what happens next year with blogs is definitely going to be a work in progress. I will try and keep track of this process on the blog as best I can.

  4. Jason,
    Before I comment, I want to thank you for the time you have dedicated to and commitment you have shown for the issue of student organization. I know firsthand how much you have grappled with this topic both in school and during NISTech sessions.

    Student organization has been a perpetual issue and now with computer technology the issue is amplified for all students (those that were organized before, are more organized now, and vice-versa). Given that the elementary school at NIST has promoted the skill of writing and maintaining a blog, most do not have trouble sharing their thoughts about their learning. I have heard and read many a wonderful story about how students have taken their learning outside the classroom and mentioned as much in their blogs.

    So the key is harnessing the skills and energy cultivated in the lower grades so that they continue to flourish in the middle and upper years. Having an individual, student blog should be easy enough as the students could continue their current blogs making sure to tag them with the year level for each post. Thus, when it comes time to consider whether a post is worthy of being included in their portfolio, they can simply tag it or categorize it with ‘portfolio’ and the job is done.

    What you didn’t mention was how students keep up with peers or teacher material. Here I think it might be prudent to introduce RSS readers. Given that those in Year 6 at NIST already know how to set up, manage, and maintain a blog, this would be a natural next step. I would suggest Netvibes, but there are a number of others and perhaps some are more student friendly. If the only feeds they were to have were from the 8 subject teachers they have, then checking the RSS feed would be a simple addition to the daily routine. In fact, I would suggest that Secondary Notices (currently an email announced by homeroom teachers) be posted as blogs and thus the students would have the feed available to review after homeroom.

    Perhaps the only missing link here is the commitment of teachers to use this medium effectively enough to warrant student interaction. Many teachers, including me, are a little late to the blogging game. No teacher has the desire or the time to add another task to their day UNLESS it takes something else away. I know that some teachers are very relieved that we rarely use text books and are moving towards digitizing notebooks because there is no longer the excuse that the resources are missing or in total disrepair. But blogging takes time to get used to and often the learning curve is quite steep at the beginning. Blogging cannot just be sold as another word processor because it isn’t. It has its joys (interactive, multimedia, etc) and its frustrations (why does this theme not let me include an RSS feed or photostream?). Some still have trouble formatting text properly in Word, so support for students and teachers is crucial.

    Regarding organization, as mentioned above, there have been some huge benefits to having material digitized. It is far more flexible, transferable, and current than the curriculum based on text books and accompanying notes. I am in total agreement that we, as teachers, need to have a plan so that students are guided through the middle years with a consistent way of managing materials. There are dozens of ways to do this but our job, in Year 7 in particular, is to cultivate good habits when it comes to recording and revisiting learning materials. For most subjects, OneNote does this job quite well, but it is not perfect.

    We might also want to do some digging to find more information about how students organize themselves in our digital world. I found one commercial site, The Middle Schooler’s Guide to Ruling the World (link to, that lists some key aspects of staying organized. No doubt there are other organizations that write and advise about this topic with specifics on 1 to 1 programs. Perhaps consulting a counselor or two would be prudent.

    Thanks for keeping the conversation rolling with this post, Jason. As you can see by other comments, this topic is on the minds of many.

  5. Avatar of Julia Simens Julia Simens says:


    This has been an interesting blog to follow with all the comments. I just want to remind you all to include the parents into the “why” so they can support their child at home. I would like to help them not get in to that argument of what is school work and what is not school work. Parents are often unsure on what homework looks like now. We need to give them concrete examples so they understand before they blast their child for ‘messing around’ or let them get so far off the correct path that they have trouble doing it right.

    This does not have to be face to face time but screen shots of what a certain class or teachers work will look like. Examples of what a student’s blog would look like and what the time expectations would be will be very helpful for parents.

    Thanks – this is a great topic.

    • Avatar of Jason Reilly Jason Reilly says:

      Thanks for the comment Julia,
      there are a few things that I think need to happen in terms of transition. High on the list is to spend more time with the counsellors and determine what the major obstacles or concerns for students are when they move up. I know these transitional stresses have been well highlighted but these issues can be different year to year and it’s nice to get a handle on things early. We subscribe to this magazine and this months is totally devoted to different transitions that happen all through students lives and some aspects to keep in mind. This had some great tips (there are MANY floating around but this happens to be in my hands) “Movin’ up to the middle” a good friend and old colleague of mine spent a great deal of time this holiday discussing the issues associated with Middle Years Schooling and ways that our respective schools attempt to engage students. We both see these times at school as a great oppurtunity to involve students more in the hidden curriculum and reduce the subject specific content that these students are also bombarded with. It’s a fine line to balance these 2 aspects of schooling but getting organised I think has benefits from both sides of the fence.
      The next priority is to try and get some time in a year 6 classroom to see how ALL of these topics relate to them. Of course this would include what role parents play in the students online lives at year 6 and perhaps finding what they are expecting next year. We do forget that it is not only a transition for the students but also for parents as well.

    • Sandy Dodd says:

      A good point Julia and something we need to consider as we move quickly into a technical world that a lot of parents still have little experience of. I often hear students say “I’m not allowed to work on the computer” at home as many parents still don’t consider this “real” homework. Now with the blogs being such a fundamental part of the elementary students life this must have changed somewhat but I wonder what sort of “introduction” to this and guidelines the parents are given. Are they coming to terms with computer time is “real work”?

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