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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 by Uche

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]

Innovative impacts from the ePortfolios on a classroom at Somerville High School

Posted March 1, 2011 By ONEVILLE PROJECT Innovations by Vanessa Cordeiro and Chris Glynn of Somerville High School

Post written by Dr. Alice Mello and Dr. Susan Klimczak of OneVille

A couple months into the exploratory phase of our Somerville High School ePortfolio Project, we saw the effects of the participatory design based approach with students and teachers have an innovative impact in a classroom.

Vanessa Cordeiro, one of our senior year student participants, asked her Social Studies teacher, Mr. Glynn, who is also one of the teacher participants in the ePortfolio project at SHS, if she could do a class assignment as an entry for her ePortfolio. In this class assignment, Mr. Glynn’s students write a “paper and pencil” media literacy journal over the course of several weeks and record how news stories are presented in different types of media. These journals are usually turned in and commented on by Mr. Glynn only at the end of the assignment.

After saying yes to Vanessa, Mr. Glynn had an idea: to have all his students create digital journals. He linked those journals on his web page. Now, he and his students are able to get ideas from each other and engage in daily on-line conversations about their journals during the assignment, instead of having only Mr. Glynn read and give comments at the end.

Mr. Glynn reports that students were enthusiastic about the digital process. They created their digital journals using google sites and wiki spaces, exactly the same platform used by the ePortfolio’s participants.

Mr. Glynn admits that he is not the most digitally active teacher at Somerville High School, but he was pleased with the results. Here is what he told us about his experience:

“This is great, this is so much easier [for me] than paper. And it’s alive, it’s sort of a living thing that they can keep changing and adding to. . . “

“it is something that is already on display as it is being created. . It is not only a conversation between a student and me. I have the kids. . .linked all on my page so they can look at each other’s journal entries. It makes it a bit more open forum and. . .more discussion can come from that and that is a good thing.”

There is much that can be observed as significant in this story. What Mr. Glynn told us mirrors a OneVille belief: that making communication about learning more possible among students and between students and teachers can increase student success.

Vanessa found the process of making an ePortfolio important enough for her learning to request that a teacher allow her to use it in everyday assignments. The actions of Mr. Glynn and Vanessa indicate their belief in the legitimacy of ePortfolios in education, as well as a belief in their own power and agency to initiate using ePortfolios skillfully to increase learning.

The story also highlights the possibility that ePortfolio practice can be “incorporated from below” in a school — gradually be developed as part of everyday classroom practice by teachers and students — rather than “scaled up whole from above.” Introducing ePortfolios gradually into classroom practice over time could possibly have an innovative and positive influence on school learning culture.

Finally and perhaps most significantly, this story highlights the importance of considering students and teachers seriously as sources of education innovation. In fact, the ePortfolio participatory research design was based on our belief that students’ and teachers’ contributions to OneVille’s research and education reform efforts in Somerville are so significant that they should be paid for their participation.

Bilingual parents as Connectors for other parents

Posted February 19, 2011 By ONEVILLE PROJECT

    • How can parents help other parents get the information and resources they seek?

We had a great launch at the Healey School this week, of our Parent Connector pilot. The overall idea was originally a brainstorm of Healey parent Consuelo Perez. We’re making it real with other Healey parents while she takes a break. The Connector project is now a partnership pilot project between OneVille and the Healey School.

In the Parent Connector Project, we’re working with bilingual parents to connect to other parents who speak their language. Connectors will help other parents to get information and share ideas about supporting their children in school. The project takes the idea of “liaisons” and asks parents, as friends, to “liaison” to a few other parents at a time. Connectors are co-designing and assessing the approach as we go along.

We invited parents to our first gettogether to introduce the project before Healey’s PTA night on Tuesday, and it was great. Nearly 30 parents showed up, speakers of Somerville’s 3 main languages; we ate food from Somerville’s Maya Sol (pupusas), Fiesta bakery (Haitian patties) and the Panificadora Modelo (Brazilian pastry). Two students from the Mystic Learning Center babysat for parents while they attended. Our first parent-parent communication experiment, in “robocalls,” seemed to have worked: when an invitation comes from another parent who speaks your language, perhaps it’s even more enticing. Having received many robocalls for snow closures (!) and school events in the district’s four main languages (typically English, Spanish, Portuguese, then Creole, in that order), one Connector suggested we “flip” the typical script by asking a parent to record a Spanish-only message targeted directly to Spanish speakers. It matters who uses the channel to speak to whom! So, a few parents translated the invitation into Spanish, Creole, and Portuguese and we recorded each message Monday morning in the Healey principal’s office, using his phone. Somerville’s call-home system allows for this sort of targeted messaging.

In a diverse group of Healey parents and the principal Friday at our multilingual coffee hour, we shared some information needs immigrant parents had expressed at our launch event (How do I get my child tutoring or help with homework? How do I find scholarships and slots for afterschool? How do I enroll my child in an afterschool sport?) and brainstormed ways Connectors could respond. One goal articulated was to make all parents feel more comfortable approaching school staff themselves, with interpreters as needed.

We want to offer running posts on “ahas” from this project, since we will be talking all spring to immigrant parents about their information needs. (The key question of the OneVille Project right now is “who needs to share which information with whom, via which media, to support young people in Somerville? What are the barriers to that communication, and how can those barriers be overcome?”) Stay tuned!

Data display: working to show what administrators, teachers, parents, and students need to see

February 16, 2011 By MICA POLLOCK We’ve prototyped a dashboard data view tool that would be a free, easy-to-use, and privacy-protected display of students’ basic info and progress on key benchmarks. Here’s an example of a view for an administrator (this is all fake data!). While this is a screen shot, the actual tool lets you sort the columns by language group, homeroom, etc. This was based on an initial Excel spreadsheet made by a Somerville resident, Greg Nadeau:

In the dashboard project, I’ve been thinking lately about one communication act technology affords: examining patterns (“sorting” the data), with the click of a button. Sorting children is always a fraught thing to do (a child is far more than the characteristics officially recorded in a district database!). But privately, administrators often need to sort basic data to find basic patterns to target interventions. Who is not coming to school? Who is struggling with math as measured on tests? What’s the correlation between students who aren’t coming to school, and those struggling with math on tests? Now, what are we going to do in response to the pattern we’ve found? One elementary school teacher looking at this prototype made a great point about a teacher’s similar information needs: a teacher at times also needs to sort his data to find patterns. (He wondered: which of my students are struggling with both attendance, and reading test scores? Or, which of my students are doing fine on grades/class assignments, but not on tests?) It’s this act of sorting that technology particularly makes possible. This teacher is technologically savvy, and so he already prints out spreadsheets on his class’s attendance, test scores, and more from Somerville’s current student information system. He does the math by hand to show changes in test scores over time (our next revision will do this too, and we’ll add/delete fields based on teacher/administrator/parent/student feedback). He colorizes these spreadsheets on paper with a highlighter so he can consider patterns. But he wants to sort the data from his class way more easily. We’re working to create a free tool that would make that quickly possible for him. (Most such tools cost districts lots of money.) And of course, what really matters is what people DO with data. That’s why we’re focused on the parent-teacher-student conference as a key moment where data would be discussed. We’re designing other data displays further with teachers and parents, to co-create tools useful for each partner. One is a multilingual, individual view of each student’s attendance, grades, test scores, and more. Another is a live version of Somerville’s elementary “report card,” with notetaking sections for teachers and parents. We’re asking: what information on student progress does a parent or student need to see privately, and how could it be displayed most clearly? How could data display tools go beyond just “showing” progress, to also allow partners to take notes on their plans for student success? This also relates to the eportfolio pilot project underway at Somerville High. (More on that soon.) An eportfolio can communicate “the whole student” in ways that more basic data display of test scores, grades, and attendance never can. So ideally, someday — here in Somerville, or elsewhere — these communication tools and strategies would all be linked together.

Co-designing communication solutions

Posted December 10, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

A few nights ago I went to a great Literacy Night at my child’s school. It was organized by literacy experts at a local university. I got some really good reading tips. But there were hardly any other parents there. It’s true that people are particularly tired right now — tons of parents are working constantly on school redesign, for example — and that night was particularly cold. But did that paper handout in the backpack get missed? How about the fact that the school listserv gets info only to some?

Since that night, school parents have started working more rapidly on a solution for getting every parent an email account. How about school-home texting? We’re asking parents if they’d want it. Could we video the next workshop and put it online? Or are literacy tips best shared face-to-face? A teacher, another parent, and I brainstormed together about turning a typical parent breakfast into a Literacy Breakfast that would get the reading tips directly to parents who could ask immediate questions of teacher and literacy coach. And how about the same literacy night in Creole? A young Haitian-American woman pursuing her MA in Education just happens to be an afterschool tutor and is interested in exploring the possibility of leading the workshop.

This is the sort of community co-design of communication solutions that the OneVille Project is all about.

We’re doing what you might call participatory design-based research (building on Dede 2005). Students, teachers, parents, mentors, technologists, community organizers and researchers are co-designing strategies for getting the people in young people’s lives to communicate information, ideas, and resources that can support young people’s success.

We consider this work successful when a tool or strategy does the following:

helps ensure that sufficient communication occurs about every young person, regardless of income or social status; helps to work toward the high level success of each young person; helps ensure that more people have access to information that can support youth and families in the schools and community, across existing boundaries of tech access and tech knowledge and language. unites people in new collective efforts to support young people. It’s an honor to do this work here in Somerville.

Information + sharing = community

Posted December 2, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

In the OneVille Project, partners of all ages are exploring the role of commonplace technology in improving communications about and with young people so they succeed.

Here’s a core question guiding our work:

Who needs to communicate what information to whom, through which media, in order to support youth in a community? Which barriers are in the way of such communication, and how might these barriers be overcome?

Here’s one thing partners of all ages in Somerville have been saying. To support young people in a community, people need to share various forms of information about students’ development and progress. That ranges from the data on test scores, credits, grades, and attendance that could be made available to parents and students on an easy-to-access “dashboard,” to the evidence of student interests and skills available only in a student-made “eportfolio,” to the updates about personal life perhaps available most easily through text messaging. They also need to share information about opportunities and resources available for young people and families. That ranges from event info that gets emailed out by the district or service providers, to afterschool enrollment forms given parents on paper.

I personally have come to see a community as an ecosystem of information — where all sorts of people need to share necessary information to support young people.

OneVille efforts, 2010-11

Posted November 4, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

We’ve been busy! Here’s a public community report on the work we’re doing this year. It reflects ideas and efforts from people of all ages, and across Somerville.


Posted in About OneVille, Frequently Asked Questions, Introduction to OneVille, Reports and Research | Tagged community, OneVille, report | 1 Comment October 1, 2010 Supporting communication that can increase student learning and success By MICA POLLOCK A core goal on the OneVille Project is to encourage running communication that can improve student learning. After months of prep, we’re working to support a group of teachers and students at Somerville High this fall as they design and make ePortfolios. Last year, the Somerville High School Improvement Council revised the school’s Portfolio Policy to expand and update portfolio assignments. Developing digital portfolios was one strategy identified and the OneVille Project is excited to support this work. On our end, we imagine an ePortfolio possibly becoming part of a dynamite trio of tools to support the success of each individual young person in Somerville (see “supporting individual students” post below, September 7.) We’ll see which tools eventually come together in Somerville!

An ePortfolio can be a tool used by young people (and teachers, if they develop their own teaching ePortfolios) to display their actual work and skills. It has the potential to allow educators and students to communicate details of learning and growth, as well as to assess learning and development on multiple measures.

An ePortfolio can also support family members and even mentors, tutors, college representatives, and potential employers to check out specific examples of student work. This is part of the overall OneVille vision: to widen the number of community members who are well informed about ways to support student learning and engaged in young people’s development.

So, the ePortfolio project hopes to create a comment and assessment “team around each youth” that includes student and teacher participants, and the potential for including parents and any mentors that each student wants to include. (At OneVille, we are also developing a strategy for a rapid response “support team around every student,” in which youth and supporters, including teacher, could contact each other to jumpstart “anytime” personal and academic support.) In addition, two public presentations of in-progress portfolios will pilot ways of communicating publicly about what each youth (and possibly teachers) have accomplished.

A group of teachers representing the range of Somerville High School departments have already met and expressed enthusiasm and a very dynamic vision for ePortfolios. They are identifying a group of diverse student participants. A first meeting of the entire ePortfolio project team of Somerville High School teachers and students with our OneVille team is anticipated by mid-October 2010. We’re thrilled to get started!

Some things we learned this summer about supporting youth

Posted September 24, 2010 By ONEVILLE PROJECT

One of Oneville’s core goals is to empower young people to be active agents in their learning and education. Another is to engage people throughout the community in supporting young people. So how can young people stay “in charge” and feel supported at all times?

One promising approach may be to engage young people in establishing and tapping their own team of supporters. Lots of schools have support teams for some students; these teams meet face to face to discuss student progress. But what if every young person had a team of supporters, and could help choose members for that team? What if team members could be reachable at any time to provide ideas, guidance and resources as needed? Would the young person actively engage these people on her own behalf – or serve on the “team” of someone else?

This summer we started exploring the model of a “support team around each young person” in two summer school classrooms of insightful young people and a teacher from Somerville High. We wanted to find out who the students would want on such a support team and how they would want to interact with team members. Since both students and teacher agreed that no one had enough time to meet in person, we all agreed quickly that technology — such as a “social network,” email or texting – could include team members who couldn’t make face to face meetings or scheduled calls. In fact, what if team members could reach out to each other – and respond — whenever they had a free moment?

From a mixture of group conversations, individual interviews, and surveys filled out by the students, we arrived at some very interesting findings. Some affirmed beliefs we had going in and others raised new questions and redirected our efforts.

One repeated finding was that in addition to valuing parents, guardians, same-age peers, and key school personnel as “go-to” supporters, many youth particularly valued older “buddies” — often cousins, friends, and sometimes siblings, in their late teens or early 20s — who advised them on homework and graduation and got them through emotional rough spots. Many spoke of older buddies who inspired them to think big, reach goals, and stay focused.

Young people also spoke of needing regular access to information (many wanted to check up more regularly on their attendance and assignments, for example). But many also valued familiarity and trust over the obvious resources or information that a person could provide. For example, one youth sought out a prior history teacher rather than a current one to help out with history class. Another student looking for information about a potential college major relied on a serendipitous conversation with a sister of a friend instead of reaching out to less-familiar teachers or other school staff. Youth spoke of particularly valuing teachers who made the extra effort to forge personal connections to them, though never being just like “friends.”

Another major finding was that students preferred to use different technology with different people. Texting, talking on the phone, and meeting in person were the preferred methods of interaction, ranked above email, IM, and social networks even while the majority “had a Facebook” (even those without a home computer). Texting was used most with other young people (some reported receiving hundreds of text messages daily); many also texted at times with parents. Students were at first skeptical when asked whether they’d like to text with teachers, as they considered texting more of a peer to peer communication. But upon further discussion, the young people said that they’d be fine with their teacher texting them to offer supports (homework or test reminders) if the more social, anytime conversation aspect of texting was left to peer culture (no one wanted a teacher “blowing up” their phone). As opposed to a computer, a phone was “always in my pocket,” making it the communication tool most likely to succeed. On a final survey, a number of students said they’d even welcome daily contact from or with a “support team.”

So, we’re now hoping to pilot a model where “teams around kids” text each other as needed, in one classroom of people excited to try out the approach. We’ll keep Somerville young people, teachers, family members, and “buddies” in the driver’s seat of designing a structure and process for these “teams.” We’ll keep you updated on our progress.

Some of our work from last year

Posted September 11, 2010 By ONEVILLE PROJECT

In Somerville, many people are working really hard to support young people’s success. How could some new communication tools and strategies help the people in young people’s lives talk and work together more easily? That’s what we want to know.

Since fall 2009 on the OneVille Project, we’ve been talking to people about existing communications and student support needs in Somerville, and testing tools and strategies to support communication between the people in young people’s lives. For example, in an afterschool club, we began to test a private social network allowing students to communicate about school with friends, teachers and supporters outside of class. We piloted multilingual parent dialogues and coffee hours, designed to get diverse parents talking to one another across boundaries of program, income, and language about shared issues in their schools. We piloted academic “reading night” events as a strategy for getting parents and young people together to build collective spirit and share strategies for improving skills. We have sparked discussions across the community about improving translation, tech access/training, and public information so that more families can access information about their children and engage in public discussion. This summer, with a teacher and two insightful classes of summer school students, we explored the concept of convening a support team around every student, using social media to communicate about the student’s progress. The natural use of texting in everyday support conversations, and the role of both in-school and non-parental supporters in youths’ existing support networks, has risen to the top as an issue we plan to explore further in a next small pilot of a “support team around every student.”

Somerville has much to say. We’re very happy to be partnering with young people, families, educators, and youth providers in figuring out how to support communication for young people’s success.

Communicating about the success of individual students

Posted September 7, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

On the OneVille Project this fall, we’re piloting three tools that can support communication about individual students. We’ll report on each one as we go.

OneVille’s first fundamental idea is to create an intergenerational support team around each young person. We are convinced that technology can help, and we’re working closely with the Somerville Public Schools on three specific tools. In partnership with the Schools, we’re lining up three working groups of people who live and work in Somerville to design and test the following three tools for supporting individual students. Our vision is that these 3 tools could eventually fit together in a dynamite student-support approach! We want each tool to support speakers of languages other than English and to be accessible by a cell phone, so people who don’t own computers can participate:

Working Group 1: “Team around kids.” Goal: test ways an on-call support team around every young person could communicate at any time. Lots of supporters help out students in Somerville. But what if a team of supporters was on call at any time to support a young person’s progress? Since this summer, we’ve been working with Somerville youth and educators to explore how texting and other social media could help every young person stay in contact with a “team” of supporters of the young person’s choice (eventually including parents, other relatives, and key friends, as well as educators, mentors/tutors, and program staff). We hope to pilot a “texting support team around every student” approach in one classroom this fall. We will ask students to list a parent/guardian and an out of school “buddy” or adult supporter who they’d want on their “team.” We’ll then test ways the student, teacher and “team” could text and communicate when the student needs support. We will add other team members (particularly, tutors and mentors) as we go. “Teams” will also talk face to face as needed about specific things that can support young people and their learning. By the end of the pilot, we want to know how an on-call support team could assist each young person in Somerville. Working Group 2: Dashboard. Goal: create a tool showing youth and parents a simple, clear view of individual students’ progress, so that every student can plan for graduation and college. To support young people, people need to stay informed about how young people are doing. “Data” needs to be clear and accessible to families and students themselves. A group of Somerville programmers, youth, and parents is designing and testing out a multilingual, community-friendly “dashboard” (a quick data view) that families and youth could use to discuss and easily keep track of how each young person is doing on getting to graduation and college. (“Teams” could meet in person to look at the dashboard to plan for the success of individual students. Community groups could also look at larger data patterns, to consider ways of supporting lots of young people.) Working Group 3: Eportfolio. Goal: create an online place to privately display each student’s learning and work. Somerville educators and youth know that tests aren’t the only way to demonstrate student learning! Teachers and students at Somerville High, along with other respondents chosen by students (such as parents and mentors), will be working together to design a multimedia eportfolio for each student that will help students show what they can do — and support informed conversations about sparking and supporting young people’s learning. (Eventually, teams could look at these together.) Somerville High already wanted to expand its portfolio work. We’re just supporting that desire! OneVille3supporttools

OneVille’s next steps, fall 2010

Posted August 30, 2010 By ONEVILLE PROJECT

OneVille is a pilot community project pursuing a vision already shared across Somerville. How can people across this diverse city work together, to support the city’s young people to pursue their potential? We have an additional question. How can people in Somerville share resources, ideas, information, and effort to support young people, and each young person? How can basic technology help? We’re here to figure out strategies in Somerville that can then go anywhere.

Lots of people in Somerville already work very hard to support young people. But people are also calling for more ways of working together to support young people individually and community-wide. They’re also increasingly saying that basic technology can help. So, for the next year, in community working groups, we’re testing and designing community communication tools that can:

1. Help supporters pay close attention to the learning and development of every young person in Somerville.

2. Help more young people and families tap local resources, events, information, skills, and programs already in the community.

3. Help share more ideas citywide, about supporting young people’s success.

More soon on each piece!

Upcoming event on July 22nd for Somerville online media makers

Posted July 13, 2010By AL

OneVille is hosting an event for Somerville online media makers on Thursday, July 22nd from 6:30-8:30pm at Design Annex in Union Square (60-70 Union Square, above Precinct). The goal is to discuss how to work together to make sure information that supports kids and families reaches everyone who wants it. Snacks and refreshments will be provided. If you are interested in attending or would like more information, visit the event info page or contact us at You can also call or text us at 617-299-9308.

Posted in Events | Tagged Community Events, Design Annex, Media Makers, Somerville | 3 Comments May 27, 2010 Future of the Healey: frequently asked questions and their answers By ONEVILLE PROJECT The OneVille project has been supporting dialogue about the future of the Healey School in Somerville. Many Healey parents have told us that they quickly need some basic questions about their school answered before they can really talk about the future of the school.

In the spirit of improving communications between school and home, we gathered questions that parents had asked at our forums. We brought the questions to Mr. Sabin, the principal of the Healey School, at a recent Multilingual Coffee Hour and taped the conversation with participants’ permission, so we could share the information with other parents.

We have the responses from Mr. Sabin, along with some other voices of parents discussing the same issues at other parent dialogues attended by or sponsored by OneVille. We hope this helps. View the document to read the frequently asked questions about the future of the Healey.

Questions asked and answered include:

What are the four programs at the Healey? What IS the difference between the four programs? Is there a different kind of TEACHING in the Choice program than the Neighborhood program? Learn more about the future of the Healey School: Read the FAQs document. (click to open the document) When they get to middle school, how does it work? Do the Neighborhood or Choice kids seem to have had a different education from one another? Why did most of the Choice program children leave the school before 7th and 8th grade, before this past year? Enrollment: What’s the process for getting admitted to the Choice program? Field Trips: Several parents raised issues of field trips that end up being mostly Choice or Choice-only – local field trips and particularly, Nature’s Classroom. Is the invitation to “Neighborhood” extended and rejected? Not extended? What is the process of determining the Healey’s future?

School Committee Timeline for Future of Healey School

Posted May 27, 2010 By ONEVILLE PROJECT The OneVille Project is testing ways to communicate information to all necessary players in kids’ lives.

This is a copy of the public document distributed by the school committee listing the timeline about the decision-making process about the future of the Healey School.

Monday, May 24, 6:30 PM at Healey School Cafetorium:

School Committee Long Range Planning meeting Presentation of the three options to the School Committee from instructional and organizational points of view. Updates from Healey School groups. Discussion groups facilitated by School Committee members to hear from the public.

Tuesday June 1, 6:30 PM at Healey School Cafetorium:

Public hearing on the Future of the Healey School Speak your mind! Read the flyer to learn how you can share your voice and be heard. (click to open the document) Superintendent makes his recommendation to the School Committee, followed by questions and discussion by School Committee. Any member of the public who wishes to speak will have an opportunity to do so. Each speaker will be given a maximum of two minutes. (No elementary school students will be permitted to speak.)

Monday, June 21 (or Wednesday June 23):

School Committee Long Range Planning meeting to discuss the future of the Healey School. Monday, June 28:

Final scheduled School Committee meeting of 2009-2010 school year Wednesday, June 30:

Deadline for School Committee decision on the future of the Healey School

Bringing families together at reading night

Posted May 25, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

The OneVille Project is working to support people in Somerville kids’ lives to communicate and collaborate about strategies for student success. One of our pilot efforts is to hold academic family events where parents and young people get together to share strategies for improving kids’ learning.

In monthly Reading Nights we’ve held at the Healey School in Somerville, we get parents and kids together who share a Kindergarten hallway (3 different programs) to talk and work together on specific tactics for helping kids read. (We just attended an annual Math Night at the Healey that is a great model of getting kids and families together to enjoy math!) We build community by eating pizza together, learning skills together in some creative way, and then talking, as parents, about how our children are doing with reading. (Planning the Reading Nights has also created a diverse team of parents working together on OneVille and schoolwide efforts.) We invite teachers to share tips with us, and as parents, we share strategies that are and aren’t working in supporting our own kids to read better. Meanwhile, kids do fun reading activities.

We held a Reading Night on May 18, 2010. Children enjoyed a multilingual scavenger hunt for words in the Healey School’s garden (compost/abono/composto; soil/tierra/terra). Everyone then went into the school library to watch a video of a Healey K teacher guiding one of the K kids through reading. Older kids then read books to younger kids, while parents shared ideas about strategies and struggles with young kids’ reading. Parent-to-parent tips included: if the child can’t sound out a word, look at the pictures for clues. Read the pictures before they even start the book. Alternate: let the child read one sentence or page, and you read one sentence or page.

At the April 13th Reading Night, children from a K class performed a book about penguins, driving home the early reading skill of telling stories. Parents watched a video about phonemic awareness and then shared strategies that parents had seen work for kids’ reading.

Parent tips included:

Play games with the sounds in words (pig! dig! fig!) and spell words you find around in everyday life. Tell kids long words they are struggling to read. Break words into syllables. Find your child books that he really is interested in. To end the night, one dad shared a Nigerian folk tale that he was told as a child to help him learn early literacy.

OneVille Report From Healey Parent Forum at Mystic Activity Center

Posted May 11, 2010By ONEVILLE PROJECT

Changes are happening at the Healey School in Somerville, and this is an important time to seek out and carefully listen to parent opinions. A new principal, Jason DeFalco, arrives at the Healey School on 1 July 2010. Important decisions about the structure of the Healey School are being considered by the School Committee this month.

Read comments and feedback shared at the May 1st forum in the PDF Report prepared by OneVille. Twenty parents and community members came together with Spanish, Krèyol and Portuguese translators to discuss the future of the Healey for three hours at the Mystic Activity Center on Saturday, May 1, 2010, over a homemade meal. The meeting was friendly and comments seemed frank and sincere. Parents took full advantage of what they expressed was a rare opportunity to talk across lines of Healey programs, race, class, and language; they noted that many misconceptions they had about one another were raised and discussed. After an introduction activity that had us declaring roots from across the country and world, we mused about the absence of parents with long generational roots in Somerville. Several noted that the forum would have been made even better by a stronger showing of parents whose children attended only the Neighborhood program (many parents in attendance had children in both the Choice and Neighborhood programs).

Parents offered opinions about the kind of school they wanted. At the same time, they expressed confusion about the difference between the Healey’s programs, and concerns about an uncertain future for the school and the impact of this moment’s instability on children. Three issues that generated spirited and varied responses were:

parent involvement and outreach opportunities that increase children’s academic success; access to activities and field trips across programs, along with the parent resources required to make them happen, and teaching an array of skills that children now need to handle diverse 21st century environments, especially communication skills and the capacity to speak a second language. The meeting ended with a straw poll about the three options for the Healey School that stirred strong emotions among participants. The majority of participants felt that the options to either maintain and/or combine the Choice and Neighborhood programs would benefit children most. Only one participant chose having a separate school for the Choice program as one of the two options marked on their poll. Most participants felt they could not be sure about which option was best for children until they had more particulars about how the Choice and Neighborhood would be blended and whether or not some important practices in the Choice Program would be maintained after the merge.

Key questions raised at this parent forum were passed on to the Healey’s principal, Mr. Sabin, who answered them by invitation at the OneVille bi-monthly Multilingual Parents’ Coffee Hour held on Friday, 7 May 2010.

Presenting the words of parents

Posted May 11, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK We’re about to post ideas from parents, collected at our parent forums. As a team composed of researchers, community workers, and media people, we’re experimenting with different ways of presenting this data to the public online. We’d like your feedback as we begin to present.

On the OneVille Project, we believe that education will work better for kids if people 1) talk specifically about what is helpful/harmful to them, rather than generically. We also believe that education will work better for kids if people 2) come together as a community to assist kids collectively.

So, how best to present people’s words after the fact? A whole transcript of uncategorized ideas is hard on the brain trying to analyze. So, we’re slightly categorizing people’s suggestions. That way, readers can walk away with a sense of specific things to think about.

At the same time, the human, community-building aspects of a face to face forum are hard to convey if you just categorize people’s “data.” When you read the entire transcript of a forum, you see people’s comments one after another and see diverse people sharing and struggling with ideas. That might better convey the sense of community-building that really did occur in our forums.

We’re also considering how best to present even critical feedback on improving schools in a way that clarifies Somerville parents’ deep desires to be partners with schools in children’s education.

So, let us know what you think when we post! Tell us how the presentation works for you – and let us know what you think of the actual ideas raised.

21st century parent dialogues, continued

Posted May 4, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

How can community dialogues go from face to face to online, and back again?

On Saturday from 1-4 at the Mystic Activity Center, OneVille held a parent forum designed to support Healey parents to communicate their ideas for the future of the Healey. Our goal was to gather parent input face to face, and then share it out online so others can engage it. Translators from the community helped everyone express their thoughts.

Thanks to everyone who attended and participated on a beautiful day! We had a very productive event and will be posting all input from our parent forums this week. We’ve been considering best ways to format the input for others to view and respond online.

21st century parent dialogues

Posted April 26, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

Communications between parents, and between parents and city decision-makers, are key to student success.

Throughout April and May, the Somerville School Committee is waiting to hear parent opinions about the future of programming at the Healey School, which has long contained four programs within its walls. The School Committee is deciding whether the programs should remain separate, or combine. The Healey has also just selected a new principal for the coming fall, who will implement the decision.

We went to a School Committee meeting April 5 and noticed some communication issues that affect any diverse community:

parents who were on a listserve found out more easily about the School Committee meeting. Others relied on paper in backpacks. The former group came to the meeting in large numbers; the latter group didn’t. parents who went to the School Committee meeting got great information (verbally and on paper) about the options facing the school. That information was all presented in English, however. To date, many parents attending the school don’t know about the options facing the school.

Since the OneVille Project wants to support Somerville parents to communicate and collaborate to support the success of every young person in the city, we wanted to help out. So, we’re holding face to face parent forums about the future of the Healey School (our next one is May 1) and inviting all parents on to an online community forum that allows people to review each other’s ideas. The OneVille team will actively train any parent who wants to use the OneVille online forum to share their thoughts in any language.

We also walked around the Mystic Housing Development and taped fliers above mailboxes, a key communication tactic designed to reach busy people checking their mail!

In these efforts, we are asking parents a broader question: What kind of education do you want for your kids?

We will collect parent feedback through all of these channels, and present it to the School Committee. After that, we hope parents will stay on the forum as another site to share ideas about education in Somerville. 21st century communication for parents: face to face, plus paper, plus electronic.

Related events: April 27, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Training, to use OneVille’s online forum Healey Library

May 1, 1 pm to 4 pm Healey parent forum Mystic Activity Center

21st Century Community Collaboration

Posted April 23, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

I’m a parent in the Somerville public schools, and a professor. I’ve worked for years on helping people talk about educating young people in diverse settings. Now, I’m learning how technology can help. On the OneVille Project, our hunch is that supporting kids in the 21st century takes an ecosystem of communications between the folks in a young person’s social network. It takes face to face communications (like a parent-teacher meeting or parent coffee hour), print communications (like a handout in a backpack), and electronic communications (imagine a student emailing his teacher about an assignment, or a basic social networking tool supporting students in running communication about homework.).

As a research team, we’re trying to understand the existing ecosystem of such communications about kids in Somerville. And, we’re testing new tools and strategies for supporting communication and collaboration between key folks in kids’ social networks. Check back in with us regularly to see what we’re finding out!

It Takes A Network to Raise a Child

Posted April 23, 2010 By MICA POLLOCK

Every young person has a social network made up of the key people he or she knows. Friends; family members; teachers; coaches; mentors; all the folks whose actions matter.

On the OneVille Project, we think that if the folks in any young person’s social network communicate regularly about how the young person is doing, and collaborate to support the young person’s success, every young person can succeed.

In Somerville, MA, we’re learning how people who share kids’ social networks can communicate and collaborate on a daily basis. We’re particularly interested in how basic technology can support people to do this. Stay tuned!

OneVille: Community Cooperation in Young People’s Success

Posted January 15, 2010 By ONEVILLE PROJECT

We’re writing to introduce a community project in Somerville called OneVille. Our goal? Uniting people in our vibrant, diverse city around pursuing the success of every young person. How can we work together so that every Somerville student graduates from high school college- and career-ready, and also intellectually, creatively, and civically engaged? How can we make the resources, knowledge, and skills available in Somerville available to each young person and family? No city in the country acts this way. We think that Somerville has the energy to try.

We believe strongly that to pursue young people’s success, people who share communities need to communicate about how young people are doing and work together to provide opportunities to every child. Right now, we’re learning from folks across the city about existing communications and relationships affecting young people. Mica Pollock, a Somerville parent and faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, started us off and now leads our research. We are now a community research team supported by a two year planning grant from the Ford Foundation, to pilot projects in partnership with the school district, the city, and Somerville’s rich network of young people, agencies, teachers, families, and volunteers. Over the next 1.5 years, we hope to make recommendations for tools and strategies that support ongoing conversation and partnership among the people in Somerville young people’s lives. We also hope to offer other cities ideas for how diverse communities can partner in student success in the 21st century.

We are assembling a “toolkit” of face to face strategies and simple, free communication tools (using cell phones and computers) that would support everyday communication and partnership between the people in each young person’s life. Such tools could include:

• Multilingual events and community dialogues, designed to build community face to face;

• e-portfolios, designed at the High School, which would support students and teachers in running conversations about improving student learning;

• “teams” and mentoring partnerships for every young person, with mentors using private social networking tools to communicate with students about students’ ongoing progress and learning experiences;

• a multilingual community dashboard that could show community members and educators a quick view of student progress;

• online forums engaging community members of all ages in naming specific experiences affecting young people positively and negatively;

• a community search engine (or merger of listserves) allowing people to search for opportunities available for kids in the community.

Put together, we hope these tools would support people of all ages to rapidly meet young people’s needs. We’re committed to figuring out how people could participate if they don’t own computers, and how to support communication across language barriers.

Connect with us at to share your ideas, or to volunteer as a computer trainer, dialogue leader, translator, or mentor. You can also contact Mica Pollock at 617 290 9903 (, or Consuelo Perez, OneVille’s family outreach coordinator, at 617 669 8598 ( We look forward to working with you.