Posted by: jwhiff | September 22, 2010

Preparing Portfolios and Building Understanding

Even though I have yet to take my students out to the Inlet, I am attempting to prepare them for the project by helping them set up portfolios.

I am very certain that portfolio assessment will be a great fit for this project.  I do not simply want my kids to participate in fun, hands-on studies of the Inlet.  I want them to be able to explicitly understand how they are behaving like scientists when they’re out in the field.  I also want them to be aware of what quality science looks like and whether or not they are engaging in it.  The best way to make them aware of this is to have them reflect on their activities and sort evidence of their scientific work into various categories of their portfolios.

So far, I have helped them build up their understanding of what scientists do by exposing them to readings and videos of scientists in action.  We have read whale watcher diaries and forensic science articles.  We have also watched video clips of Jane Goodall when she was working with chimps in the field and watched Bill Nye to determine to what extent he really is a “science guy”.  Next, we will proceed to interviews of actual scientists.  After all of this front-loading, I am hoping that my students will be able to knowledgeably contribute to the development of good, sound portfolios.

I have also worked at building understanding of a couple of key learning outcomes which will hopefully become a useful set of lenses when we actually get out in the field.  I’ve tried to make this fun so far because I don’t want kids to tune out right at this point.  We have played around with the concept of food webs and food chains.  We will embark next on physical and behavioural adaptations.  Generally, the kids are enthusiastic, but I long to “get out there”.  Parent criminal record checks are going slow (need ’em for field trips now) and the days are packed with school events that I simply can’t skip.  Such a busy time!

My thought is that I need to Skype one of our scientists.  I skyped a group of teachers working at Winslow Center yesterday.  My students presented writing and answered their questions.  It was easy and worked very well.  I am keen to try it here.  It might be a powerful example of how technology allows us to “reach beyond the walls of the classroom” when reality keeps us from being able to knock the walls down and escape to more exciting learning environments.  I’ll let you know how it goes.


  1. Hi Jen,

    Tom Fullerton sent me the link to your blog and I am really interested in hearing about your classroom experiences. I also emphasize students being scientists rather than just knowing about science in my classroom and would be interested in sharing ideas. I’ve attached my blog (which I have just started) address, but would also be interested in emailing to share some more specific ideas about science and the use of technology as well. Have fun in the flats.

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