For the past couple of years, part of my middle school teaching assignment has required me to teach an engineering elective, even though my degree is in biochemistry, not engineering.
In any event, when I first began to teach this class, I did it armed with just the NGSS engineering standards and much determined Google searching. As a direct result of all this Google searching, I came across several websites that became my go-to places for units and challenging ideas – places like Teach Engineering and Engineering Go For It.
There, I was able to piece together enough content to keep the students engaged and learning. Of course, I also took the liberty of making sure that the scientific concepts that went along with the design challenges were solid. After all, I am a science teacher.
As this elective continued to evolve, it soon became apparent that simply having the students take on various engineering design challenges was not enough.
Often times, the students would work on something for a while and later discover that their “answer” did not work. And when I asked them to go back to their list of brainstormed ideas we had spent days on, they would answer things like “I threw those out.” Other times, students would present finished work, but where clueless when asked about the process to reach that point. I had failed to convey the importance of documenting the process as a powerful learning experience.
Musing over this problem, I spent the summer of 2016 revamping my units, creating discrete sections in each of them (problem analysis, learn/research, brainstorm, design, prototype, test, redesign, etc.).
Then in the fall of 2016, I asked my students to blog at least once a week (engineering blog assignment, student work sample), identifying the step of the engineering design process they were on, including a summary of their work with links to relevant documents they created and images of their work in progress.
Although this definitely improved the learning that took place, and they did create a portfolio, I was still relatively unconvinced, and so I continued to explore different digital tools in the hope that they could give me the answer I was seeking. I needed something that could be evaluated and shared more effectively.
Engineering design challenges, although relatively “messy” in their approach, are still linear in their development.
Towards the end of the 2016/17 school year, one of my student teams approached me to ask if they could use Sutori during their project presentation. I gave my usual response, “Whatever you think is best to showcase what you learned,” and left it at that.
On presentation day, as that group of students showcased their work I had that wonderful “a-ha” moment. The students had come up with the answer to the question that had been plaguing me for a year (Sound Amplifier Project on Sutori).
Now, my first instinct was to spend the summer of 2017 creating templates for each of the different units I teach, and I went as far as developing one of our Roller Coaster project.
However, as the summer caught up with me, I decided instead to simply create one template that could be used for all units. By this time, I also had taken KQED Teach’s Digital Portfolios with Maker Ed course.
This course provided specific tips on how to manage this assignment more effectively. For example, making sure there is a designated photographer/videographer on each team to record the group’s process.
Now, by this point you may be thinking I have not shared much about Sutori itself.
Sutori (formerly HSTRY) was initially marketed as a tool for viewing and creating interactive timelines, but is now positioned as a tool to create interactive stories.
It is incredibly easy to use, as explained in this tutorial, and their free package includes all you would need to get your students to start creating and collaborating their own project digital portfolios.
I hope I have encouraged you to explore the world of digital portfolios for documenting the learning process that occurs during project work, and I cannot wait for you to share your own stories.