Oneville Blog

These are posts from our blog, 2009-2011. We transferred them here so this wiki could be the main place to find our work.

Personalizing youth support, one text at a time

Posted: Fri, 30 Dec 2011 17:20:34 +0000

The OneVille Project’s 2009-11 pilot phase is ending, with point people in charge of completing or continuing – if they want to — specific pieces. These pieces may or may not live on titled “OneVille,” but the work we seeded will grow! We all have been working up a wiki to release our 2009-11 work and ¡Ahas! publicly. Mica has moved to a new job at UC San Diego and so, is acting as remote ally.

Notes by Mica Pollock

This year, OneVille participants have been participating in a Digital Media and Learning Working Group funded by the Digital Media and Learning Hub of the MacArthur Foundation. Our working group brings together various local people interested in how diverse, intergenerational design teams can transform schools from the inside by experimenting with technology.

Back on Nov 14, participants in the OneVille texting project at Full Circle/Next Wave, Somerville’s alternative middle and high schools, took the “stage” at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in our Digital Media and Learning Working Group, to share their past year of efforts to explore the potential of texting for supporting youth-teacher communication.

We discussed how texting can provide anytime, anywhere, rapid youth support and also glue together student-teacher relationships re. academics and school. To Mo Robichaux, Next Wave teacher and texting pioneer, the practical benefits of being able to reach people for check-ins and questions go hand in hand with the ability to build relationships outside the school day. Texting created “space for a more level relationship” in which students could discuss personal struggles and school goals, “that then go back like a rubber band, to a teacher-student relationship.”

Students and teachers together set ground rules for appropriate uses of text messaging in schools at the beginning of each year’s work. Almost everyone already had the ability to text; texting is a “common-denominator” tool that allows more people to communicate.

At Berkman, texts like this prompted lively discussion of the support relationships texting could afford. As texting teacher Ted had said, “The language that the kids are using to thank and what they do verbally is surprising”:

Teacher: Like I said, you need to get it from him. Be on time for school today 7:00 AM
Teacher: You’re doing great 7:00 AM
Student: I will and u woke me up .thanks 7:01 AM
Teacher: You’re welcome 7:03 AM

Often, we noticed, a text was really just a portal to more informed face to face conversation:

Teacher: Everything ok? 9:30 AM
Student: Ted? 10:39 AM
Teacher: Yup 11:02 AM
Student: Everythings alright I guess im gonna b in tm .. Is there anything I can do to put my grade up for your class 11:05 AM
Teacher: Be on time tomorrow, we’ll talk then.

Our next step: to work with partners at the Berkman Center to produce a teacher guide to the legal/privacy issues raised for those pioneering texting. This year, teachers, students, and OneVille texting pilot coordinator Uche Amaechi are continuing to test texting “teams.” They will wrap up that texting pilot at the end of this year or possibly, next fall, by sharing ¡Ahas! around the community to others wanting to explore texting for youth support and mentoring.

In other OneVille news: Healey bilingual parents and staff, with supporters Jedd Cohen and Ana Maria Nieto, continue to develop the efforts of the Parent Connector Network at the Healey School. They will also produce a parent-friendly “how to” guide to the puzzle pieces that work. Possibly, we will pilot and tweak our administrator and teacher dashboard views with principal and teachers.

We feel very privileged to have participated in these design innovations with the Somerville community.

Eportfolios: Sparking New Conversations about What Students Can Do

Posted: Fri, 23 Dec 2011 00:53:35 +0000 Notes by Mica Pollock

The OneVille Project’s 2009-11 pilot phase is ending, with point people in charge of completing or continuing – if they want to — specific pieces. These pieces may or may not live on titled “OneVille,” but the work we seeded will grow! We all have been working up a wiki to release our 2009-11 work and ¡Ahas! publicly. Mica has moved to a new job at UC San Diego and so is acting as remote ally.

This year, OneVille participants have been participating in a Digital Media and Learning Working Group funded by the Digital Media and Learning Hub of the MacArthur Foundation. Our working group brings together various local people interested in how diverse, intergenerational design teams can transform schools from the inside by experimenting with technology.

Last week, a group of student and teacher eportfolio researcher/designers from Somerville High School came to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, for a rousing share-out of their eportfolio project. After a year of participatory design work, eportfolios are seeding across the High School. Guests from Berkman’s Youth and Media Lab and other Working Group members from MIT, Tufts, and Emerson listened intently, as SHS young people and teachers shared their insights about the new communications about young people’s skills, talents and interests made possible when young people made and shared eportfolio entries.

SHS presenters described how over a year and a half of careful groundwork with the School Improvement Council and then critical participatory design research with dozens of students and teachers at SHS, SHS’s own students and teachers led a transition from the school’s prior portfolios to vibrant online “eportfolios” sharing students’ full range of learning products and accomplishments in and out of school, organized by 21st century skills rather than only in subject areas. From paper folders “locked in a cabinet,” student portfolios by spring 2011 included videos of students narrating their original poetry, solving math equations, and doing physics; interviews with teachers evaluating students’ negotiation skills, and videos of students’ efforts to learn to skateboard; photos and commentary on students’ original art and work experiences; and class assignments students found particularly valuable to their learning. As a student put it, an eportfolio allowed her to “show all of the sides of who I am, in one place,” to share “little cool things about me” as well as evidence of “being a good student.” Teacher Chris Glynn noted that if students entered his class at the beginning of the year with eportfolios communicating their skills and interests, learning would be “so much more individualized!”

Student researchers/eportfolio designers were chosen purposefully to demonstrate a full range of achievement levels and student backgrounds at SHS. As one student put it in the presentation, portfolios supported each student to show themselves as “exemplary,” by encouraging students to consider, document and post their best work done both inside and outside of school. “Every student can shine at this if they put in the time and effort,” a teacher said. “We are representative of the potential that everyone has,” a student agreed.

The energy to make eportfolios is spreading virally across the school, as teachers show each other how to use software and students who see others’ work get excited to post their own.

Now that the OneVille pilot phase of eportfolio design is over, students’ and teachers’ next plan is to make a Somerville High School eportfolio website created to support next schools exploring eportfolios!

Let’s Spark Family-School Conversations about Student Data

Posted: Wed, 24 Aug 2011 06:08:31 +0000 By Jedd Cohen, Seth Woodworth, and Josh Wairi

Getting “On the Same Page”: We can all see the data together, from any location

Update December 2011: this post was written this fall, when we expected to pilot the three dashboard views. Due to an undesired lag in final technological development, the “individual view” pilot has been delayed; we may do a small pilot of the “admin view” and “teacher view” this winter. Regardless, code has been created that pulls data out of Somerville’s Student Information System for quick viewing and can be put to use in any such “dashboard” project.

An idea common across Oneville’s projects has been: “A communication gap equals a gap in student service.” In diverse districts across the country, educators are often unable to share comprehensive student data, due to the high cost of cutting-edge student data systems. Families, for their part, are often unsure how to find all the relevant data on their children, and how to communicate with schools about it.

Over the past two years in our “dashboard” project, we – local technologists, teachers, researchers — have been working with families, afterschool providers, principals, and central administration in the Somerville School District to help make sure that key people can go to a single place – on the web – to find comprehensive data (as appropriate) for each student, class of students, and the entire school. We’ve been working together to design tools that not only display data, but also launch a focused conversation among stakeholders involved about how to support each student.

Three resulting dashboard views are open source web applications designed to link the family, teachers, principal, and afterschool providers to support each student’s success. Considering who usefully sees what data on children has been core to the dashboard project. We’ve created three views: an “admin view” for principals, which shows data on all students in the school; a “teacher view,” which shows each teacher data on the students in his or her class; and an “individual view,” designed to link teachers, afterschool providers, and families in communication about the details of an individual student’s profile. We’ll pilot each of these views at Somerville’s Healey School this fall: We’ll pilot the individual and teacher views with 5th grade teacher Josh Wairi and his students, and we’ll pilot the admin view with Principal Purnima Vadhera.

Details: What do the dashboards look like?

The admin and teacher views appear in the form of a colorful chart that allows sorting by up to four columns at a time. Original design model: an Excel spreadsheet made for the Healey School by Greg Nadeau, local parent! Based on feedback from former principal Jason DeFalco, we added: years at Healey, score growth on the MAP, ELL status, MEPA scores, IEP status, and afterschool program name:


Based on conversations with new Healey Principal Purnima Vadhera, we’ll also add average attendance over the past several weeks, to compare to the current week’s attendance, and 504 status. We may still add MCAS score and growth, MAP writing score and growth, and DIBELS and MELA-O scores. The updated admin view also creates scatter plots and bar graphs to display the relation between demographics and other data, i.e., achievement or attendance.

The admin and teacher views look like charts, displaying the same types of data for many students. The individual view is organized like a slideshow: Clicking on different tabs at the top of the page allow the viewer to see and comment on different parts of each student’s profile.

The narrative structure, as well as many decisions about exactly what to display in this view, came out of numerous brainstorming meetings last spring with author and Healey teacher Josh Wairi. We’ll pilot the individual and teacher views in his class in the fall. The individual view presents data such as attendance, grades, MCAS and MAP test scores and growth, and teacher comments – each type of data on its own page accessible by tabs at the top. (Most of this data is in Somerville’s “student information system,” just more scattered; we wanted to get it easily all in one place for a teacher and family/providers to see.) We’ve also created an interactive online version of Somerville’s K-6 report card, which parents are used to getting on a static piece of paper. We plan to add each student’s yearbook photo and data on allotted support services. Next to each ‘chunk’ of student data, “comment/question” boxes provide a space for the parent or afterschool provider to comment on the data by entering text that gets sent to the homeroom teacher’s email:

Report Card.png

On the “Comments” page, the parent or afterschool provider can request that the teacher reply to their comments or make an appointment with them. Parents can specify any new contact info and convenient meeting times. After receiving these comments, the homeroom teacher can forward any relevant parts to the appropriate subject area teachers. (Josh feels that homeroom teachers would like to take the lead in responding to and informing other teachers about families’ comments.)

The Parent Connectors will help to make the user interface available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole (and we’ll use the district’s own translation for the report card). For more ongoing translation (email messages sent to and from parents, parent-teacher conferences, the summary comments on the dashboard), we’re adding links to Google Translate and to the Parent Connector calendar for setting up meetings with interpreters.

Knowing all the work that families and schools face on a daily basis, we’ve designed these tools to spark specific kinds of interaction around particular chunks of student data. How people use the tools will be up to them – but rather than have the tools just “display” data, we wanted the individual view, in particular, to also prompt and encourage communication about data.

Feedback and next steps:

We’ve asked for feedback on the tool throughout, showing it to administrators, families, and afterschool providers, including focused interviews with parents and students from Josh’s own class. In recent interviews, several immigrant parents emphasized the way the individual view dashboard sparks parent involvement: Smiling, one said, “Parents are not just left out of the school. With this, you are bringing them in, sucking them into the school curriculum!” When asked whether the dashboard might feel like extra work, another parent articulated his/her vision of parent involvement: “Not extra – you have children, you spend time to communicate. The more time you spend, the better students do.” One English-speaking parent with three children at the school explained that the dashboard’s comment and scheduling features solved a long-standing problem for her: After being a Healey parent for 11 years, she has only ever had time to meet with each of her children’s core academic teachers during PTA nights, but never the specialty teachers, e.g., music, art, support room teachers. Our dashboard enables and encourages parents like her to submit their questions, requests for meetings, and updated contact info to the student’s homeroom teacher, who will forward it to the specials teachers. Another parent was especially enthusiastic about online access: “I do everything on the computer now.” And another immigrant parent said he does “everything” on his smart phone!

In a recent meeting with OneVille staff, Principal Vadhera described the potential value of the integrated dashboard tools, in contrast to the old system of requesting info from many different people: “Right now, in just five minutes, I have seen a complete picture of the kid. Without even checking in with folks [other staff]. Normally, I would have to wait for them to get back to me, and bring charts and graphs to meetings. What a great way to launch conversation.”

Online access to this data could also help close an even more basic communication gap, as Vadhera noted: “Even having this [family dashboard] up there [online] for parents to go back to,” helps when “the report card didn’t get in the backpack, or whatever.” Clearly, no proverbial dogs will eat it once it’s online.

Students with IEPs and 504 plans sometimes need accommodations on the MCAS, and Purnima often spends “hours” going over the paper lists and checking with the teachers that students’ needs have been met. Our tool allows her to sort by IEP and 504 plans, so that all these students appear together, “so we don’t have moments when things fall through the cracks.”

Purnima and Josh both suggested that the dashboards could enhance teamwork among educators at Healey: In staff team meetings, access to each view could allow teachers and administrators to collaboratively assess a student’s needs, design targeted interventions, and, if desired, record their plan by submitting it as subject-specific comments that get archived in the homeroom (lead) teacher’s email. Such team conversations could involve the school’s “student support team” – a standing group of educators that evaluates struggling students – or each student’s individualized group of supporters, e.g. their homeroom teacher, Special Ed or ELL specialists, and reading/math resource room staff. Josh explained that another advantage to the individual view is that it could allow him to present a single student’s data in one of these team meetings without revealing all the other students’ grades unnecessarily (a breach of confidentiality).

We hope that these dashboards could be useful enough to help ensure that students’ needs are met, spark collaboration among educators, and catch on. As Principal Vadhera explained about our dashboards, “A lot of ideas start like THIS (gestures big with hands). And then they fail. This is a guinea pig, Josh can always share back, move forward in small increments. Maybe teachers would just want to get on board with this!”

We face the same challenges with the individual view as anyone working to enhance collaboration around students across barriers of income, racial/ethnic background, language difference and tech literacy. Not all parents have home access to computers and internet (though phones with internet access are increasingly popular), and some parents are not functionally literate in their home language. The same work schedules that make parent-teacher meetings hard also make it hard for some parents to coordinate their schedules with the computer labs at local libraries or in the housing projects where some families live.

We hope to work with the PTA this year to create basic computer and email training for Healey parents who need this support. We’ll be reaching out to parents in Mr. Wairi’s new class about how to support them to access the Internet. Several years from now, the proliferation of smartphones and iphones will likely shrink this challenge dramatically, making it easier than ever for partners to join the conversation about student data.

Figuring out the infrastructure for interpretation and translation: The Parent Connector Project

Posted: Fri, 03 Jun 2011 14:25:10 +0000

A parent recording information for other parents on the "Healey Hotline"

By Mica Pollock, Gina D’Haiti, Tona Delmonico, and Ana Maria Nieto, for the Parent Connectors


We had one of our Multilingual Coffee Hours with the principal on Friday, May 20, at the K-8 Healey School in Somerville. Over some Portuguese bread, and coffee supplied by the PTA, we shared some of what we’ve been doing and learning in our Parent Connector project, and brainstormed next steps. The Connector project is a parent-led effort (in partnership with the school administration) to support translation and parent-school relationships, by connecting bilingual parents (“Connectors”) via a phone tree to immigrant parents who speak their language.

We see the Connectors as one component of the “infrastructure” for translation and interpretation in a multilingual school. There are other pieces. We’re prototyping a hotline (using open source software and the Twilio API) allowing volunteer Translators of the Month (also bilingual parents, and maybe, students) to verbally translate information all parents need to know (in Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish). Bilingual parents have noted that translating material into their languages verbally – so, speaking it on to a hotline — is easier than doing it word for word from paper to paper. So far, we have parents coming to speak into a computer (see photo!). We hope to hone the hotline so that translators can record to it from home.

We’re working on other components of the “infrastructure” for translation and interpretation: a Googledoc as one organized place where principal and others put info that most needs dissemination/translation each month; Google forms for Connectors to record parents’ needs; Google spreadsheets for lists of approved parent numbers. Robocalls home, using the district’s existing system for school-home calls, but targeting the calls to be specific to language groups and at times, recorded by friendly parent voices.

Small infrastructural “moves” can help: one parent noted that at another school, they put information at the top of every handout indicating where you can go to get a translation (over time, our hotline).

The principal made clear that he needs to think in terms of “systems” for translation. Otherwise, disorganization means that things don’t get translated! Commitment to fully including all parents is key, but glitches certainly can block communication too. One example: because our Connector project started mid-year, we had no beginning of the year form for all parents, saying “do you want a Connector? Check here to release your number to them!” So, it took us weeks to work through the Parent Information Center (PIC) to get parents to release their numbers to other parents! (School staff had to figure out how to download a spreadsheet of language-specific numbers for PIC staff from X2, the district’s “student information system”; then the PIC staff had to make the calls home to get parents’ permission to release numbers to the Connectors; then, finally, Connectors got lists and could start calling.)

A key issue we’re trying to understand is where the line is between translation/interpretation that bilingual parents can/will do as volunteers to serve their community, and when the district has to pay professionals. A parent in a federally funded district has a civil right to translation and interpretation if she needs it to access important parent information (including at parent-teacher conferences). But all districts are strapped for money and bilingual skills are true community resources. Some of this may be simply about organizing resources most effectively. Turlock Unified School District in California has a model where parents are trained and paid as professional interpreters and translators. Somerville’s Welcome Project already trains young people this way in their LIPS program, to translate at public events ( Which communications could trained adults handle particularly effectively, and at a lower cost than sending everything to the PIC?

Research Day: Exploring the Potential of Texting for Student-Teacher Communication

Posted: Fri, 06 May 2011 01:52:06 +0000 On Saturday, April 21 from 10-1, ten young people and two teachers from Full Circle/Next Wave, Somerville’s alternative high school and middle school, came to a classroom at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. They joined Uche, me, and four other graduate students from the Ed School in “Research Day.” Our goal: to analyze texts students and teachers have been sending each other since the winter, in OneVille’s pilot of texting as a channel for rapid youth support.

We’ve been talking to students and teachers all year as co-researchers, about their experiences testing texting. We’d analyzed specific texts before with Ted and Mo, our teacher participants. But this was our first time sitting together with young people analyzing actual data. Reading transcripts taken from Google Voice (with participants’ permission and anonymized for analysis), students were immediately perceptive about “patterns in the data.” We talked in small groups, and then we shared ideas across the room. My small group included Mo (our Next Wave, middle school teacher), Shelia, Obens, “Juan,” and “Dan” (pseudonyms for initial blogging purposes!).

What we talked about most was how texting can enhance student-teacher relationships and so, students’ engagement with school.

Reading the transcripts, the students noticed first that students and teachers were noticeably polite to each other, texting “thanks and you’re welcome” after texts about permission slips, reminders, and personal check-ins on grades or life.

“The kids haven’t been crossing boundaries in any way – no one has been inappropriate,” Mo said later. Students agreed, saying that with texting, you’d just “give the teacher the same respect you’d give them in school.”

Over and over, students noted that texts demonstrated caring. And that students were grateful for it: “it shows you appreciate the person and you’re thankful they helped you out,” Shelia said. Mo added: “They appreciate (Ted, our Full Circle teacher) taking time out of his own private life to send these texts.” Obens said that texts from Ted had gotten him to school on time.

Wielding her highlighter, Shelia selected another text from Ted to a student as important evidence:

“you need to be in school way more my friend.” “I feel like it’s genuine concern,” she explained. “It shows connection,” Obens added. “It also shows courage.”

He pointed out that the teacher was “taking time to text people about stuff – taking time to get a person to school on time. That shows courage on the part of the teacher. Also on the student, by replying back.” Shelia agreed, adding, “It takes the courage to make that bond – from the teacher — and also for the student to participate in the bond.” Juan added, “Who would want to text a teacher – there’s a lot you could be doing at that time. A lot of people won’t do it – that they do it means they really care about what they are doing.” As evidence, he pointed out a text he himself had sent back to Ted: he had “put in the effort” with responses, like “fine” and “I’ll make it [to school] by 8:10.” “I sleep a lot – but I made it before 8:10. It did help. I was used to coming in around 8:30,” he explained.

Ted highlighted this same point later in the research day: student texts to teachers

“show a level of investment. Even if (the text is) not school related, the student is checking in, making that contact, when they don’t have to. It’s really important to understand – the value of doing things not only when you have to do things.”

Looking again at Ted’s text “you need to be in school way more my friend,” both Mo and Shelia noted that texts put students and teachers “on the same level.” Shelia pointed out Mo’s own text to a student as similarly important: “worried about you.” “It shows that she really cares,” Shelia explained. “You had a bad day yesterday” was pointed out as a particularly caring teacher “check-in.”

Mo then pointed out a student request for information that had happened via text: “hey do you think they’re gonna extend the add drop period?” In class, Obens explained, “I don’t feel like bothering (Ted) w/ those types of questions.“ With texting, relationship-building could continue after the classroom day:

“It definitely strengthens our face to face, day to day relationships,” Ted added. “When you’re texting you feel like you’re close to your teacher,” Obens summed up.

Relationship. Built and strengthened in this private backchannel between people who share a classroom, in a medium more comfortable to students of 2011. “Some people might feel more comfortable saying it via texting more than face to face — because in person you might feel shy, awkward and not know what to say back,” said a student from across the room.

We might chalk this up to a modern aversion to in-person communication: “I’d rather text my parents than call them,” a student added. But reading the actual texts, we saw certain communications that texting may particularly make possible. Joking. Banter. The quick check-ins of care that simply don’t happen in person during busy days.

“She’s making sure the kid doesn’t get in trouble – she asks him to call his mom and stuff,” Juan noted of another of Mo’s texts. “She couldn’t do this face to face b/c he wasn’t in school.”

Pointing out uses of humor in the texts, Juan made another point about how texting could add to student-teacher relationships: people could communicate even if a student was in a bad mood. A face-to-face conversation might end with the student “shouting” out of anger, unable to help it; with texting, you could “be mad” and still “send a funny text.” Another student elaborated relatedly from across the room: with texting, you could overcome the “intimidation” of possible “rejection” by the other person, by sending lighthearted texts across the private channel that did not have to be responded to immediately. Emotion was “easier to handle” via texts, another student said.

Students noted that texts could get a student to come in on time; to focus on his classes; even to care. Obens summed it up, arguing for “continuing” the texting the following year:

“it shows connection. It’s really helpful — it gets you like focused in school. It puts your mind on something and gets you focused. I’m passing (Ted’s) class – it gets you focused on the schoolwork. Like when Ted told me [via text] that I gotta come to school on time, get some reading credits – I started pushing myself, getting credits. That really helps.”

Over and over that day, we talked about how texts showed not just “connection” but true caring, in both directions. Mo pointed out that one student had asked Ted “how was your weekend.” Students pointed out texts from Ted and Mo like “you made 1 day last week” (“I like the encouragement,” said one student) and “you’re a smart kid” (“That’s really nice because some kids might feel doubt and don’t get many compliments from people,” another student said.). Shelia pointed out that overall, the texts could build relationship and simultaneously, the motivation to try.

“You need to know [teachers] care in order to do stuff. Otherwise what’s the point in trying. If a person is ‘I’m here for you’ – you feel someone else cares, I should care too.”

Furthermore, Shelia added, texts kept that relationship around with you, for later viewing. “With a phone call, it’s out of your head,” Shelia explained. “With a text message it’s still there when you turn on your phone – it still reminds you. You have to delete it if you don’t want it – it’s there to remind you.”

We left sure that texting had “helped” with “connection” in these teachers’ classrooms but unsure how it might work in “a school of like 600,” as someone put it. Full Circle/Next Wave are particularly “personal” schools, some pointed out: “in other schools it’s less personal, you get five minutes with that teacher,” Shelia said. We left with a question: does that lack of “personal” face to face attention in other schools make something like texting more likely to help, or less?

“Have good conversations,” Juan advised others considering texting with students. “Like don’t just talk about school. Also talk about how your day’s going, stuff like that. Don’t just keep it about school.” Ted finished our Research Day with more overall advice: “It’s up to both people to enhance the texting relationship. If the student is just responding “ok” or “yes” or “no,” that doesn’t allow the texting relationship to develop and to go towards communications that aren’t just ‘be on time.’”

The Little Things Revisited: The Importance of Connectedness

Posted: Tue, 12 Apr 2011 19:18:03 +0000 by Uche

In the last blog post I talked about the importance of the low-level support communications between teachers and students at the Oneville site. I posted a few short excerpts in which a teacher was texting students before school in an effort to motivate otherwise disinclined students to come school that day. Such communications, while low level, were nevertheless important because they had an immediate impact– the student in question ultimately came to school–but they also had the simultaneous effect, as the teachers and students told us and I’ll detail below, of strengthening the relationship between teachers and students.

Both parties (students and teachers) maintain that the strengthening of the non-academic aspects of their relationships is essential to supporting and nurturing the academic relationship and communication. When discussing the ‘low level’ nature of some of the conversations with the two teachers, they both claimed that these conversations were important and essential because they helped them build stronger relationships with the students. This strengthening occurred, they maintained, because they got to see the students in a different light than they would normally during the school day through conventional methods. One teachers noted that “the language that the kids are using to thank (them) through texting” is significantly different than what the students use in verbal communication, and that “the difference is surprising. It’s refreshing to know that (the students) have that capability”.

Students also found the texting communications useful in building relationships with their teachers. One student, who admitted to not responding regularly to texts from his teacher still found them useful” “I find it helpful, but I just don’t want to text back”. Moreover, the students suggested that he’d engage with the teacher more over text if “maybe during the weekend (he’d) hear from the teacher about how his weekend is going”. He wanted to learn more about the teacher outside of school. He’d like that, he claimed because “if (they) talk about outside (of school) stuff, (our) relationship will grow even stronger”.

This sense of connectedness described by teachers and students jibes with much of motivational literature that highlights relatedness–a sense of being connected to a larger group–alongside autonomy and a sense of competence, as an essential component of motivation. If we are to be successful in motivating the students not just to come to school, but to become actively involved in their schooling and education, then we, as the supporting community, must acknowledge and respond to their (identified) needs. These low level communications may not be sufficient for helping the students become successful in school and life, but as teachers and students have expressed, they are necessary.

The Little Things

Posted: Tue, 12 Apr 2011 03:07:20 +0000 Sometimes it’s the little things that matter the most in education: the moments that create and nurture relationships. When I first started with the Oneville Project, I believed that using the medium of texting would allow teachers, students, family members, and other stakeholders involved in the students’ lives to engage in crucial, in depth, involved, and sustained conversations about big picture issues affecting the students’ lives. The sky was the limit, I believed. The texting medium would allow students to get more one on one support from teachers than they would have otherwise received from a distracted teacher, in a crowded classroom, during a busy school day. Students would seek and receive the help they needed from their teachers at a time and place of their own choosing. In some ways, this has all turned out to be true: Mo and Ted, teachers at Full Circle/Next Wave who wanted to see how texting could support their communications with students and students’ supporters, have been texting when and from where they can; students are responding in kind. Communications that couldn’t happen before are happening now. But in many ways, these communications are about things that to an outsider, might seem “small.”

In these early stages of our texting pilot at Somerville site, we’re finding that teachers and students are regularly using texting for what might seem low level interactions — such as nudging students to get up and come to school, in real time:

7:01am TEACHER: Hey (STUDENT), rise and shine!!

7:08 am TEACHER: Hey, you getting up!!

7:36 am STUDENT: You up

7:39 am STUDENT: I made a pancake =D lol

7:41 Eww wait it came out nasty

7:27 am TEACHER: Hey, I’m late

7:27 am TEACHER: Time to get up!!

7:27 am TEACHER: Got a nice flatbread for you!!

7:28 am STUDENT: Ok, I’m up

In these two exchanges we see the teacher prodding and then coaxing the student to get up and come to school. This is not a reminder sent the week or the night before, but a real time push to action; the first and second exchanges are within a 40 and one-minute time frame, respectively. The text based communication modality allows the teacher to reach through her phone and into the students’ house. And in both situations it seems to have worked! Another student recently told one of our research assistants – HGSE students themselves starting to text with students as college mentors – that he was coming to school more often because of these texts. Could the same exchange have happened over the phone? Possibly. Would it have happened? Unlikely. The student would have most likely silenced the phone. But texts are extremely insistent. The only quick way to stop them from coming in is to turn off the phone–which is akin to cutting of an appendage to most students. They could always ignore the phone and not read the message, but how long can/will a teenager ignore their portal to the world?

Although we’re seeing the beginning of larger forward looking conversations – reminder statements about homework, supportive statements about motivation and students’ intelligence — a more startling and significant finding so far is that little communications about little things — like pancakes — could be important to building a relationship, possibly the ultimate need of good teaching. More pragmatically, a teacher can have no impact, and the student no learning, if the student doesn’t show up to school. And while there are sometimes complex and intractable reasons why a student does not show up for school–problems at home, bullying, (arguably) more appealing and remunerative options – sometimes, smaller and more manageable causes are at the root of frequent tardiness and absences. Sometimes the students are just too tired – or too alone — to get out of bed.

Of course the example above raises many obvious questions that are fundamental to anyone exploring uses of social media in education today. 1) What about boundaries–the teacher reaching across settings, into the student’s home? What boundaries of privacy and trust need to be in place for such communications to be okay? 2) Do teachers really have time to do this one on one check up on students? 3) How often should such “wake up calls” occur, before they become demotivating or infantilizing? We’re exploring all of this with students and teachers at Full Circle/Next Wave, and we’ll address these questions in future posts.


Posted: Wed, 06 Apr 2011 21:15:10 +0000 OneVille’s mission is to facilitate collaboration in young people’s success by co-creating communication solutions linking the people in young people’s lives.

ePortfolio Reflection from Mike M.

Posted: Tue, 29 Mar 2011 10:03:45 +0000 I started using online portfolios for my AP class last year. When I became part of the ePortfolio project at SHS, I saw what could be done with a ePortfolio and I decided to go farther. What started as a simple online file cabinet for students to store lab reports, became a place for students to reflect and help each other. It also became a place for me to share not only paper solutions and documents, but video to help students work through issues.

It then went further to include how-to videos for other new teachers on how to use lab equipment, and video tutorials for any students on how to use technology like Excel, and some of our digital lab analysis software.

I plan I adding a lot more, and turning my ePortfolio site into a place to share information with my students and fellow teachers. I think having the students make their own sites to post images, labs, reflections etc was invaluable and definitely added to their experience.

In the future I hope something can be put into place that will allow all freshman to develop an ePortfolio that they can utilize throughout their high school career to not only store examples of their best work, but help them organize and prepare for college or jobs, share things they are proud of with their teachers, family and fellow students and express themselves in a way that is actually valuable to their education and become a better human being, as opposed to something limited like twitter or facebook which well, we kind of know what those things are most useful for.

Check out my ePortfolio site at my official site at

Communicating the Whole Student – and Teacher

Posted: Wed, 09 Mar 2011 02:44:10 +0000


Innovations by the Somerville High School/OneVille ePortfolio team, above

Notes from the audience, by Mica Pollock

Last night, the Somerville High School/OneVille ePortfolio team gave a presentation of their work developing ePortfolios since October 2011. Up in front of an audience of nearly 30 from the superintendent’s office, school committee, school improvement council and community, 11 young people and 6 teachers shared how they went about creating their online portfolios and what they learned about themselves in the process.

Somerville High School has a paper portfolio tradition that has been, as one teacher put it, “a cumbersome collection of paper four times a year.” On Monday night, students and teachers discussed the ability to show themselves and their skill sets in multimedia – to colleges, employers, and one another.

As one student put it, the ePortfolio shows “a more accurate portrait of myself.” I was struck by this very thing overall: the rare chance for a student or a teacher, in school, to show other people one’s full self — and the ability of ePortfolios to make this a normal thing.

Zoe showed her mathematics equations, and her participation in the Boston Children’s Chorus opera. Sergio demonstrated his award-winning children’s book, and a gear shift he made by hand in the shop for his own car.

Astrid pointed out that ePortfolios allowed students to get closer to teachers they didn’t know as well; “it allows you to see the background of a student, and you can express yourself.” Clicking through videos on a school SmartBoard, she demonstrated the digital story of a poem she wrote in El Salvador from a hammock, on her iPod; it was the first time presenting her work this publicly, she said, as she had always been shy about sharing her poems.

A teacher, Mr Glynn, noted that he himself had approached the project from the perspective of a learner: what would a teacher need to know to help all students use wiki spaces and google sites? Students using the media had become more critical and self-reflective about their learning, he said, and were taking more control and ownership of it. ePortfolios also had the potential to show both growth and continuity in student skills over time. “These are so much more alive than the paper version of our portfolio,” he said. And his other conclusion about the technology itself: “a freshman in high school can definitely figure this out.”

Doug, a student, pointed out that ePortfolios let students interact with their teachers online, and “get critique” from peers; “students are always in search of some constructive criticism,” he added, pointing out as well that “Somerville High has a diversity of cultures; media and technology cross those boundaries.” As he clicked to some of his essays, a teacher called out that he was an excellent writer and an audience member commented on his large vocabulary; “there are some things that you can’t see that you can show on your ePortfolio,” he finished modestly.

Rocky showed his programming efforts in Java, next to his wacky chicken graphics; online images he had posted demonstrated both his lifelong curiosity about how food gets made (bubble tea was one example) and a long line of successful Somerville report cards. “EPortfolios are to show your improvement over life,” he finished.

Samantha, who said with a smile that “I hate technology,” showed herself as an award-winning dancer, an avocation she said she wanted to combine with a medical career; the ability to “show colleges what you can do,” rather than “just show people a piece of paper on yourself,” made tech “worth the struggle.”

Susan Olsen, a teacher, spoke of engaging a full range of students in the project, students both struggling and already succeeding academically. Mr. Maloney wowed the audience by showing his class website for AP Physics, which he had redone for the project using “the free tools the kids are using.” He showed us how he could communicate ways of solving physics equations online to students; he also was making and posting videos online that communicate to other teachers how to create physics equipment for a low cost. He also participated in blog community discussions sharing ahas with physics teachers across the world. “I didn’t collect one piece of paper this year from my students except for tests,” he said, and students were online regularly commenting on each others’ assignments.

David showed a video of his persistent skateboarding, and his sketches of animals and plants. His teacher Michelle Li pointed out that ePortfolios could personalize learning more effectively with students like David, and, that these could be accessed “any time, from anywhere.” (She showed us how her website also linked to the Somerville Public Schools calendar and daily bulletin, and to X2, the student information system, so students could check up on their grades.) Her “vision”: to have each student make an eportfolio that she could link to her own class website. This would allow her, her students, and even her students’ parents to have “meaningful conversations with kids.” (Another student, Sonam, has already been presenting his ePortfolio efforts to her class, and now lots of kids want to make ePortfolios!)

Mr. Petriv, a computer hardware teacher, had made the leap from his typical “shrink-wrapped programs with a manual” to experimenting with various free software for the project. He showed us pictures of the lilies he loved, the beetles that he hated, and his expertise in home repair, then talked about the potential for ePortfolios to show both the “filing cabinet” of all student work and the “best work” for graduation or career.

Sonam, an avid video game enthusiast, showed how he learned computer programming through an application called Scratch and created his own game.

Vanessa showed a physics video and online diary. “I lost my (paper) portfolio folder in sophomore year and nobody ever said anything,” Vanessa added, to laughs from the group. “If I had gotten this when I was a freshman, I could have linked to it on the common college application. . . .We are the new tech generation. Kids will lie to you and tell you they can’t make a website, but they can; we all have Facebook!”

Kamilla closed the evening with a photo of a chemistry class in Brazil, her paper drawings of flowers, her experiments with hair dyes, her hand-designed dresses from Brazil, and her dreams of being a chemical engineer.

The whole teacher, the whole student. The library glowed with pictures of lilies, of skateboards, next to drawings of physics and algebra equations and Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution plans; photos of hand-designed dresses posted next to dreams of becoming chemical engineers, next to poems written in hammocks. Students and teachers themselves, up in front, flowed back and forth between describing all parts of themselves, with equal interest; a love of chemistry and blue hair. When, in school, do we get to communicate who we actually are and what we can actually do? And what might happen if we did this all the time?

[ePortfolio Final Presentation]