Reflection and Refraction in The Classroom

If reflection can only happen in learning ecologies where learners are given time and direction, refraction can only happen in environments where we believe in transparency, networks and perspective. Schools and societies need both.

I believe that portfolios/blogs are a wonderful way to bring refraction and reflection together.  In a recent post about the power of reading for thought leaders, I came across the following:

I’ve long been a fan of Goodreads as a tool to make our reading habits more transparent and our love of learning more visible (I reflected on this years ago),  and I continue to follow #IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) on Twitter with delight.  One of my favorite mentor texts for both reflecting and refracting learning comes from our acting Head of School, Nick Alchin, because he often updates his learning community on his reading (see here for just one example).  What makes his example even more relevant for me,  is that I’m able to make connections between his reading reflection and refract it with another member of our leadership team’s reflection, Stuart MacAlpine (see an example here).

experiment flickr photo by uberculture shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

School culture is built both intentionally and incidentally.

When members of the community share their learning processes, make connections amongst their inquiry, and collectively consider resources we see another opportunity to enhance our culture.

Could we do more to intentionally synergize our reflective practice? Yes.

The philosophy behind our use of digital portfolios speaks to this, but we need to build and seek out opportunities to bring it to life. In part, I believe it starts with carefully crafting questions which will be creative catalysts for conversation (I tried to do that here). But we also need to schedule sharing.  Where can we make time not just to record and reflect, but to respond to the reflection of others, thus refracting a network of inquiry?  Much has been said about blogging to develop voice, but I think we need to stop underestimating blogging as a tool for better listening, George Couros has commented on this here:


Is your school culture the product of reflection and refraction?


Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr


Portfolios and Science? They’ve got Chemistry.

noun_814667_C82606What role can portfolios play in a chemistry classroom?

The author of the amazing CHEMJUNGLE Youtube channel is just three floors away from me at an amazing school we share.  I finally got to catch up with her to talk about portfolios, reflection, and community.  This post is meant to help explore options for blossoming Chemists.  That’s where you come in, if you reader know of other great #ibchem teachers out there, please pass this on and ask them to recommend their own catalysts (see what I did there?).

First things first, let’s look at what other chemistry teachers do with portfolios as a platform and resource to curate thinking and compound learning:

Meet: Dr. Jay

aka @Doctor_Galactic

 Curator of .

His portfolio is rich with posts about Chemistry in the Kitchen like this one and a really great initiative to host a live Chemistry Journal on Twitter, check it out here.

MEET: Kaye Chem

aka @chemDrK

Here’s the link to her portfolio. Here’s one of my favorite of her posts on ‘Threshold Concepts,’ and also this post on her school’s Science Journal Club is worth the read.


If you are looking for a broader list of chemists on twitter, check out this resource via @sksilverman

What could we expect from student chemists in the making?

Let’s start with a grade 9 unit.  Here are the Essential Questions:

  1. Why is it necessary to use models to explain the structure of the atom?
  2. How can all matter be made up of so few elements?
  3. Why does Mendeleev’s periodic table prevail?
  4. How do you tell the difference between elements, compounds and mixtures?
  5. Why are chemical equations useful?
  6. What determines the way elements react?

Can we extend their learning and ask them to build community whilst practicing curation and creativity skills?

Here is a series of prompts meant to help students use a wide variety of portfolio post techniques:


Made with Padlet
Documenting our learning serves as a heutagogical tool. Capturing artifacts that demonstrate the process of learning as well as a product, need to be able to be stored, archived and displayed somewhere. Blogfolios give the self-directed learner a hub to document their learning and to make it visible for others. Where have they been? What steps did they take along the way? How are these learning artifacts connected with each other? Documentation OF learning can grown into documenting FOR learning and documenting AS learning, when strategically embedded into the learning process. (Read Silvia Toscano’s Full Post Here)


What could a Worldwide celebration of Chemistry look like?

What if students from around the world were asked to share a post inspired by Chemistry with one another?

Could we ask groups to rethink the way we organize the elements? Ala this example.

Could we ask students to reflect on the year in Chemistry news?

Could we ask students to document their process in designing innovative experiments like this one?

What if we asked students to make key concepts visible, like this example?

In this project we have combined interesting and striking photographs of familiar objects with representations of some of the molecules they contain, which contribute to their properties and uses. The photographs have usually been taken in a laboratory environment, allowing us to contrast everyday items with the utilitarian environment in which we “do” chemistry.

Calling all Chemists–please make suggestions in the comment section below: how would you harness portfolios to have a powerful reaction within their chemistry studies?


Portfolios for Geographers: Mapping out the Mindset


What is the potential for portfolios in a geographer’s world?

Let’s look at samples of Geographers preserving, curating and collecting insight in their virtual worlds:

1. Jeremy Crampton   University of Kentucky Prof in Geography Dept. Originally from the other UK.

“Open Geography”

2. Dominique Moran Reader in Carceral Geography, University of Birmingham

“Carceral Geography”

3. Mark Purcell Political theorist, urbanist, democrat, communist, anarchist, libertarian, and geographer.

“Path to the Possible”

How could we provoke geographers to curate their first post?

Made with Padlet

Which styles of posts work best?

do we need to be one another’s audience?

If we believe that learning happens best in connected communities, we need to be intentional about building bridges in our virtual spaces.  Commenting takes practice.  Here’s the advice I usually give my students:

If your comments are meant to help with the structure of posts, use this as a way to organize your comment:

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 2.39.27 PM

If your comments are meant to help with the critical thinking behind the post, use these prompts to fuel your comments:

Thinking Moves for Blog commenting – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

All comments should follow the guidelines you set up.  These are mine, feel free to borrow/adapt.

What are the most important lines of inquiry we need to continue to pursue and preserve?


WHAT happens when we create content for a broader community?

Made with Padlet

Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr and

Richard Allaway“Coastal Landform – Sea Cave. Pembroke, South Wales, UK”

Curate better questions: construct stronger communities


Why has the portfolio persisted as a powerful tool in today’s classroom?

Teachers and students have been blogging/using digital portfolios for over a decade now.  So why does it continue to feature at conferences, as a topic of online discussion, and in education-themed podcasts?

Perhaps because it is the perfect blend of personal reflection and communal inquiry.

What helps a newbie or a novice develop the craft of community building via portfolios?

1. Spend a little while thinking about your why

(Simon Sinek on why the why is the heart of the start)

Philip Bruce, a fellow teacher-blogger suggests two potential ‘why’s’ in a recent post:

Personal perspective: To reflect by organising and crystallising your thinking on your chosen topic(s), over time, accountable to a public audience.

Community perspective: To build connections and contribute to conversations with a wider, public audience, over time.

Accountability to a wide audience may not be as important to you or your students as their own self-engagement with learning is.  It is worth stating that sometimes an audience can be a group of peers, or just a future-self rendered capable of returning to thoughts/ideas/questions by the portfolio itself.

2. Be intentional about commenting/feedback practices

If you are using your portfolio/blog to generate further lines of inquiry or to promote a sense of community, give think time and guidance to commenting procedures.  I recommend you change up these practices from time to time.  Here are a few options I’ve had success with:

Thinking Moves:

Thinking Moves for Blog commenting – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

Focus on being constructive

Constructive Commenting – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

Evaluate the use of a ‘checklist’

Blogging Steps editable

3. Pivot Points

Blogs are being used as agents of change.  I’ve curated 44 ways to connect your classroom with global initiatives in a post here.

Of course, you are always able to go ahead and create your own event.

If you or your students need a few good role models, start here:

Made with Padlet

4. Set the Tardis for 2025

So what do you need to work on to be marketable in 2025? Here are six skill areas that the experts recommend, as well some of the strongest job-growth categories, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and other sources—that relate to them.

Read the complete text from Fast Company here.

If you love to devour readings about ‘future-ready’ skills, this Forbes piece is by online standards already a bit dusty (from 2014), but I find it highly relevant today.

In her Harvard Business Review post, Dorie Clark suggests that “… for organizations and individuals that want to be known for their ideas, the clearest — yet most underrated — path is through blogging.”

Providing students with an opportunity to gain confidence with a ‘public voice,’ is likely to help them out down the road.

5. The power of choice is real

Menus, menus, menus.  Whether or not you develop them with colleagues, students, or all by yourself, be sure to provide options. Here is a sample menu for a grade 9 Global Perspectives unit on Popular Culture:

Made with Padlet

For a more general set of prompts, here is my menu of 50 ways to start a post.

Portfolio curation is a human skill at its heart.

Don’t believe me? Check out this post AND read through the comments.

If we want portfolios to fuel our community with conversation and creativity, we need to be patient, give ourselves time to process, and to ask for help.


Thanks Flickr for providing Creative Commons images like the ones featured in this post

Pablo Fernández