3 YouTube Videos to Spark Curiosity and Set Minds Ablaze

The most memorable and impactful learning experiences tend to be fueled by passion, inspiration, and curiosity. Some of the most effective and talented educators I've ever worked with had the ability to cultivate these qualities in such a way that they actually did very little teaching. One of my favorite examples comes from educational researcher, Sugata Mitra. He's most well known for the famous “Hole in the Wall” project where a computer was placed in an urban slum of New Dheli, India.

He and his colleagues used a hidden camera to observe kids from the slum learning how to use the computer with no guidance and they even taught each other. Mitra argues the experiment demonstrated that if kids are motivated by curiosity, they're capable of learning with or without a teacher. Mitra, now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, called it "minimally invasive education."

"You can start a fire without a spark" - The Boss

Today, educators have access to a wide range of dynamic multimedia to pique the interest of students. One of the most obvious is YouTube, but there are podcasts, blogs, infographics, social media and more! Below are three of my favorite videos that get students to think deeply about the content and start asking questions they want to answer on their own. They can be used as writing prompts or a jumping-off point for activities like "take a stand" or classroom debates.

Watch the following videos and ask yourself, how could these videos be used to spark passion, inspiration, and curiosity?

Ideas for classroom use with "What if Money Was No Object? by Alan Watts

  • Writing prompts
    • What if money was no object? How would you enjoy spending your life?
    • What do you want to do when you grow up is a question we hear often. What if I asked you, what problem do you want to solve when you grow up? How would your answers differ?
  • Take a stand
    • Would you rather work to earn money, or work to do something you love?

Ideas for classroom use with "The Greatest Speech Ever Made" by Charlie Chaplin

  • Writing prompts
    • In what ways have advancements in technology contributed positively and negatively to society? List three for each and explain your choices.
    • What, if anything, do you do to try and promote good and effective government at the local, state, or federal level? (Source)
    • Most people tend to have a cynical view about politicians (ex. – “all politicians are corrupt and are in it for themselves”) – if you do have such views, what do you think we as a nation can do to elect better people to office? (Source)

Ideas for classroom use with "THIS IS WATER!" by David Foster Wallace

  • Discussion questions/writing prompts
    • What is water?
    • Do we truly have control and choice about how and what to think?
    • Give an example of looking at something in our "default setting" and another example of looking at it from a different perspective. (Ex. standing in line at the grocery store)

Passion, inspiration, and curiosity

Looking for more ideas to keep your students excited about learning? I'll be publishing a series of articles about using multimedia to engage students. There's several videos I've come across at conferences that I can't wait to share with you! In the meantime, if you have your own examples of YouTube videos that get the wheels turning, please share them using the hashtag #LearningTogether on Twitter.



Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

The Modern Challenges of Formative Assessment

Guest Post by Shawn McCusker

In just a few short years, strategies for Formative Assessment in the classroom have changed dramatically. Where teachers once had relatively limited options for conducting Formative Assessment, today there is an abundance of simple, effective and free ways to collect information for learning in your classroom. A new challenge that these tools confront us with is whether we are making the most of the formative assessment data that we collect. Are we using this information effectively to inform our choices about the learning opportunities that we provide for our students?

To begin with, we are not talking about information that is shared to the school or the district here, but rather the information that each individual teacher can gather and review within their own classroom. This is powerful not for the data alone, but also because the classroom teacher gets to know each learner better. What can be incredibly powerful is the ability for a teacher who knows each of their kids very well to pair their understanding of students with THEIR data (0 steps removed from where it was collected) to reveal how learning is happening, what challenges students face and how to best adapt to these challenges to make learning happen.

Teacher Efficiency

Early in my teaching career, formative assessment in my classroom consisted mostly of small quizzes and exit slips. I remember getting praise from my first principal for checking understanding twice in one class period. Often though, those exit slips would sit on my desk due to the challenges of time. Sometimes I would take them home only to return them the next day still unread. I’m not proud to admit that on occasion those exit slips became too old to provide meaningful feedback, and defeated, I threw them away. I believe a vital part of the learning process is that the students receive quality feedback in a timely manner, but I also know sometimes that quick turnaround can be really hard.

There are many popular assessment tools available to the classroom teacher today that make that process easier. One of the first that captured my attention was Socrative. This quickly became a powerful tool in my classroom and I used it often to check in with my students. It was fast and effective and allowed me to check for understanding more often. It could give students immediate feedback on their performance.

Results from the first Socrative Pre-test in my first ever 1:1 Class (The color-coded answers led me to learn and explore conditional formatting.)



Eventually I started to leverage tools like Google forms to not only gather formative assessment, but by using the branching feature, create differentiated lessons that could identify learning needs, create a path for students to get more practice, and deliver alternative teaching materials. One upside of the process was that all of this could happen automatically. The student did not need to ask. I did not need to intervene. I just needed to plan ahead.

(The branching feature allows you to direct students to a section of a Google Form based upon an answer, a need, or a preference.)



Example of a Branching Google Form for Differentiation and Personalization Build


In the case of both tools, Socrative and Google Forms, I began downloading the results of quizzes and exit slips and saving them into a folder.  Later that year I took a course on using spreadsheets and I used the results I had downloaded to practice. I was learning to add columns, collect information across many sheets and employ conditional formatting to color-code the information. Somewhat by accident, I was able to use the reports to reveal a problem that my students were facing.  One of my classes performed significantly worse on any activity that involved reading passages.

The difference wasn’t obvious on any one assessment but became clear over time. After looking into the whys behind the problem, I realized by a simple twist of fate and scheduling, that the class had a really high number of high achieving but challenged readers.  It led me to follow up and find that the class was spending significantly MORE time on readings and homework. Rather than my immediate hypothesis, that they were not working as hard on the readings as other classes, I discovered that quite to the contrary, they were working harder than other classes but struggling under the time of the work, which was completely arbitrary on my part.  I slightly modified the readings and extended timelines just a bit and the problem was resolved. More importantly, I helped to resolve the real issue. It was time, not understanding that they were struggling with.  

Making Sense of Information

Today gathering that is even easier since so many of the powerful tools for formative assessment allow you to download the results in the form of a spreadsheet. In addition to Google Forms and Socrative, Kahoot, Go Formative, Microsoft Forms and Poll Everywhere work in this way.  

So while managing data, which if done right is really a snapshot of student needs, can be daunting, it can yield incredible results to those who can manage the information available.  

This is also true on a larger scale, where districts need to manage and make sense of information that can be incredibly powerful if it can be used to provide guidance for teachers to improve learning, but incredibly overwhelming if it can’t be made manageable and accessible to teachers.  

How might you benefit from looking at your formative assessment over time? What information from your classroom would be valuable to you? 

Shawn McCusker is a Senior Instructor with EdTechTeacher.  He specializes in transformative instruction and meaningful technology use.  Shawn is also the host of the “So We’ve Been Thinking…” podcast and is a columnist for Digital Learning Magazine. You can find more of his thoughts and writing on his blog “Go Where You Grow”

More on the topic of Innovative Formative Assessment:

Photo by Frederick Medina on Unsplash

5 Ways to Crush Back to School Night with Otus

Back-to-school night (open house) means it's time to meet your students' parents. This is your opportunity to make a great first impression and boy can it feel stressful and overwhelming! But don't worry, Otus has your back. We're going to cover a few ideas to connect with parents and show them you truly care about making this the best year yet for their student.

Before Open House

Planning is the key here. It's easy to get caught up in conversations and before you know it parents are out the door. Ask yourself, what are 3-5 things you must cover because of their importance to the school year? It's not a bad idea to provide a brief presentation so here are a few things specific to Otus that we recommend:

  • Thrively
  • Recognitions
  • Secure Texting and Email
  • Otus App
  • Classboard


During the first two weeks of school, get to know your students by giving them the Thrively Strengths Assessment. It measures 23 different strength factors and takes an inventory of your students' career aspirations and extracurricular interests. The assessment is perfect for getting to know students and use during genius hour or passion projects. It also conveys to parents that educating the whole child and helping them reach their greatest potential an important focus on open house night. They can find their student's assessment result under the "Learning Profile" tab.


This feature in Otus enables teachers to cultivate a classroom culture based on recognizing appropriate behaviors and sought after character traits. Teachers can capture positive instances like a student helping another student. They also have the ability to record negative accounts like off-task behavior. Recognitions also provide you an opportunity to record instances of social/emotional learning that you want to track. Explain to parents that students and Family members will be able to see the recognitions that you assign.

Secure Texting and Email Messaging to Students and Families

Strengthen your relationship with parents after back-to-school night. Send an email or text message to students and parents/guardians from within Otus while keeping your personal number, personal.  You also have the ability to send to a message to an individual student or a group of students and Otus will keep a running log of these communications for future reference.

Otus App

Whether you're implementing a standards-based grading initiative or use a traditional points-based grading system, our phone app makes information about students available to parents at all times. The app includes information on assessments, standards, and recognitions.

Leave parents with something actionable. Share this article for parent use of the app. For student use, click here. For teacher use, click here.

iPhone App

Android App


The Class Board has two sections that are customizable. This is where you post general announcements, homework or projects that are due and it can even take the place of a classroom newsletter.  The Classboard will help you stay on top of things by keeping a running list of communications that are sent to all students and families.

Learning Together

Do you have any favorite open house activities? How do you calm your nerves before meeting parents for the first time? We would love to hear from you! Tweet us at @Otusk12 and include the hashtag #LearningTogether to share your responses. Thanks!

Five Reasons to Share Student Work with the World

What is an Authentic Audience?

First, let's unpack a common scenario in today's classrooms. "Charlie" is a 6th-grade student and it's his turn to give a presentation on photosynthesis in front of the entire class. Needless to say, Charlie is a nervous wreck! He walks to the front of the room, connects his laptop, opens his slide deck, and delivers the presentation. With a great sense of relief, he anxiously walks back to his seat and asks the girl sitting next to him, "How'd I do?"

Even if Charlie completely bombs the presentation, she is likely to say something like, "Nice job, dude!"


Odds are that the student is friends with Charlie. After all, kids usually attend the same school since the early grades of elementary school. Charlie probably plays on the same sports team as some of his classmates. Or, they may ride bikes together and play video games with one another after school. With that being said, who would tell their friend the presentation stunk?

In my experience, an authentic audience willingly provides feedback without hesitation because there is no fear of "making your friend feel bad". I don't mean to suggest there isn't value in peer feedback. When used in the right context it can be just as valuable to the learning experience, but it does differ from an authentic audience in a few ways.

Five Reasons to Share Student Work with the World

  1. Students have much greater clarity about the goal of their work because there is a specific audience and purpose.
  2. The person receiving feedback is not judged based on appearance, reputation or the number of friends they have. When the reviewer can only comment on the quality of the content, it changes the dynamic of the interaction.
  3. A student creating the content knows someone other than their teacher is going to view it. As Ruston Hurley says, "when students publish their work online, they want it to be really good. When they turn it in so only the teacher sees it, they usually just want it to be good enough."
  4. It makes the learning experience relevant and students connect the dots between their work and the real world. It also ensures the feedback the students are receiving is credible and actionable.
  5. Students work harder with a much greater focus on what they're trying to accomplish rather than worrying about a grade.

How to Provide an Authentic Audience

My favorite example of providing an authentic audience is student blogging. There's an amazing website that helps teachers get feedback from students in classes around the world. Quadblogging.net was born in 2011 and since its conception, over 750,000 students from over 75 countries have taken part. The concept is simple, once signed up, teachers are allocated a Quad containing 4 classes, including theirs. Every Quad has a coordinator who is responsible for contacting and connecting the other 3 teachers. Each week one class blog becomes the focus with the other three blogs visiting and commenting during that week. In week two, another school/class blog is the focus with the other three visiting and commenting. This was repeated until each of the classes/schools has had their week in the spotlight. The cycle is then repeated thus guaranteeing an authentic audience for students.

Here's an example of what Quadblogging looks like in the classroom.

Looking for more ideas to publish student work online? I've compiled a list here.



Lesson Design Ideas: Using Technology in Physical Education

Do you want to enhance your Physical Education program? Let’s explore how to take best practices and amplify them with technology. The result is an evolved next level PE experience!

As teachers, we want to equip our students with a variety of resources that provide guidance and knowledge to assist them in their learning journey. One resource that goes untapped is our students perspective and their resources. Our students possess insight that provides us a valuable look into what is working for them and what is not. They also will unveil resources that we do not always gravitate to or even know exist. Let’s explore a few examples specific top physical education that provides you with a clear and concise way to harness and display student created resources to work in concert with the resources you already have provided.

Collaboration Activity

The collaboration activity is straightforward using a google slide presentation for your students to work synergistically in creating a student-driven resource. Our students are not only a valuable resource and sounding board for us as teachers but also for each other. First, open a new google slide presentation and title it however you would like. I find putting collaboration in the title makes it easier for the students to find it amongst all the resources we provide them. Here is an example of the slide I used for a collaboration activity during my physical education and technology presentation at the Illinois Computing Educators (Now known as IDEA) conference this year. Feel free to utilize any format you would like. Remember to keep it simple and functional!

An important question that needs to be answered is why? Why would we utilize this activity and how does it benefit our students? First and foremost as I mentioned earlier we want to provide our students with a plethora of resources to guide them on their learning journeys. A student perspective is another way. Our students possess a viewpoint that we cannot fully grasp and that is okay. Lastly, learning together is something we already know is a catalyst for growth. When students share their learning tools it creates dialogue and camaraderie amongst and across the class.

Fitness Terminology

Vocabulary integration is a best practice that empowers our students with not only a cognitive understanding of fitness terminology but a chance to apply them in PE class. In other words, the students have the opportunity to make them come to life and experience it on a physical level creating a mind muscle connection. This is a powerful, personal and authentic learning experience.

In the creation of this activity, I amplify what could be a pedestrian vocab activity into a meaningful and choice filled experience. I use Otus to create my lessons. Within Otus’s lesson structure I embed/integrate the authentic learning experiences I create in quizlet to provided students with a multitude of learning opportunities. The students can access and engage the quizlet activities without ever leaving Otus. 

PE Journals & Goal Setting

My students are for the most part on the move in PE class. This is PE and I love it! However, this class structure does make it more challenging to get a clear picture of where my students are at in their learning journey. After reflecting for a time the idea of creating a PE journal popped into my head. I utilized google sheets to create a PE journal that would capture and give me a perspective of where my students were at. The journal also allows them to set personal goals to achieve throughout the quarter. The ability to harness and analyze our student’s mindset/perspective is paramount to delivering authentic feedback and give our students a voice. 

The PE journal building process was very straightforward and can be customized to fit your students' needs. I want my students to be able to share where they are at in their fitness journey and what their mindset is. When students have ownership in their learning it is very powerful. I want my students to know I value their voice and want to partner with them to create the best learning journey possible. I want authentic data/feedback to make student-focused decisions to increase my student’s knowledge and increase their health.

Next year, I’m going to explore using the blog feature in Otus for our PE journals. Each student's blog would be accessible by me and allows us to keep a running record/journal of my students’ fitness journey. The best part is that we’ll have all of this information available in one sport, Otus, and students could even add a blog post to their portfolio! 

Using Video for Analyzing and Assessing Skills

“There is something about seeing myself improve that motivates and excites me” Jackie Joyner-Kersee 

We can use technology to watch ourselves on a video to analyze our progress in a matter of seconds. This is such a valuable tool in physical education. To create this learning opportunity  I use Otus and Wevideo. Students have their partner's record videos using wevideo. The videos are loaded up to Otus where I provide a rubric to share what constitutes mastery as well as criteria that share what developing skills look like. 

In PE my goal is to impart fundamental skills to all my students so they can confidently participate in a variety of activities to improve their health. When developing and analyzing skills we take a few videos to show the growth process. Students can reflect on their growth over time. They can also see what they need to work on as well as celebrate the skills they have already mastered. Students thrive when they have a focused goal and learning opportunity to make them better. 

Remember Your Why

Learning approaches for physical education are evolving and it is vital that we offer a variety of opportunities that allow our students to share learning and improvement in their health. Technology allows us to deliver many different learning opportunities. Remember to explore and always answer why you are using a particular learning approach and do not forget to include student feedback. Technology amplifies best practices and levels up your physical education class.


AUTHOR: Jon Szychlinski
You can connect with him on Twitter at @JTsunami78

Otus Design Ideas: Blended Learning

As a former educator and instructional technologist, I'm always on the lookout for new technology. The opportunities to amplify our craft as teachers and the learning for students are seemingly endless.

For example, students working in stations (also called centers) is an effective instructional strategy. It's often used in elementary classrooms and but can even be found in some upper grades. This approach allows teachers to provide activities at each station according to a particular skill or academic level. It's especially useful for differentiation and formative assessments.  However, learning opportunities can sometimes be limited to the resources available in the room e.g. textbooks, maps, etc. Enter blended learning.

Amplifying Teaching with Technology

When a teacher has access to new technology in their classroom, it opens the doors to a whole new world of exciting possibilities. In the case of stations, also known as blended learning when technology is infused, technology amplifies a teacher's ability to create more engaging and personalized activities at each center. This is because of the dynamic resources available online. There's YouTube videos, podcasts, primary source documents, text-to-speech, 3D maps, augmented and virtual reality, real-time data from formative assessments. Additionally the fact that language can be translated for ELL students and reading content can be differentiated according to Lexile level. That's not to mention the hundreds of tools for students have for creating new evidence of learning.

Blended Learning: The Station Rotation Model

The modern approach to stations/centers fits under the umbrella of blended learning. It is commonly known as the Station Rotation Model. This model is often a good place to start when integrating new technology in the classroom because many educators are already familiar with rotating students through stations. The main difference here is that at least one of the stations has an online learning component to it. If you would like to learn how educators are using Otus to implement this strategy, I've created an Adobe Spark page with a practical example and additional resources to get you started!





Personalized Learning with Otus and the Thrively Strengths Assessment

Student strengths, interests, and passions survey

To Otus, personalized learning happens when instructional practices, content, and learning environments are tailored to the unique needs and learning preferences of individual students. We’ve partnered with Thrively to provide each child with a strengths profile and a playlist of curated resources that engage them in learning activities that are of interest to them which is perfect for use during genius hours or for passion projects. This assessment and the full features and functionality of Thrively are available to Otus teachers and students.

The Thrively Strength Assessment

The Strength Assessment is the foundation for your classroom’s Thrively experience. After completing the 80-question assessment, you and your students receive a personalized profile. Furthermore, The Strength Assessment measures students against 23 different strength factors. Additionally, it takes an inventory of your student’s career aspirations and their extracurricular interests. Together, this information gives you and your students the guideposts for discovering true passion: an uplifting evaluation of the student’s innate strengths; motivating future career goals; and tangible interests that students can pursue to connect their present to their future. Meanwhile, as a teacher, you’ve accepted the calling to educate the whole child and help students reach their full potential. With Otus and Thrively, you now have an online platform to help make it all happen.

Connecting the Strength Assessment to the Classroom

The Strength Assessment is the starting point for Thrively. For one, It gives the student greater self-awareness and a confident foundation from which to explore. Additionally, it unlocks the rest of the Thrively platform. Based on the results of the Strength Assessment, educators can deliver project-based learning and “genius hour” projects. Students can access enrichment opportunities, activities and educational content recommended by the platform. Likewise, they can also connect to a broader community of friends who share their interests. Finally, all of this activity is tracked by each user’s Digital Portfolio, which students build over time to showcase their accomplishments.

The Focus on Strengths

Parents who founded Thrively, like thousands of educators and families across this country, felt the traditional, high-stakes, deficit-model of education wasn’t serving their kids. With that initial impetus, we worked with renowned pediatric and adolescent neuropsychologists, Dr. Jonine Biesman and Dr. Jayme Neiman-Kimel, to develop Thrively’s strength taxonomy. The taxonomy is based on decades of the doctors’ combined experience studying the mind and working with children and families. It reflects a commitment to incorporating a broader definition of personality and character that is typically measured in standardized tests or physical competitions. It encompasses attributes such as focus, social justice, appreciation, and social acumen among many others. However, no strength is more important than any other, and the strength profiles we generate capture a very broad, non-judgmental picture of each child taking our assessment.

For more information on having your students complete the Thrively Strengths Assessment, check out this article in our collection of advice and answers from the Otus team.

Thanks to Thrively for writing this article. You can find the original post here.

ISTE 2019: It Might Be Cheezy, but Otus Loves Educators

City of Brotherly Love

In the spirit of Philadelphia, we want to show the educators attending ISTE 2019 some love! You're invited to stop by the Otus food truck parked in front of the convention center throughout the day on Monday, June 24th.

Just bring your badge from the conference and stop by for FREE coffee in the morning, authentic Philly cheesesteaks at lunch, and refreshments in the afternoon. First come, first serve so don't delay!

8:00 - 10:00 FREE Coffee to the first 300 people

11:00 - 12:00 FREE Cheesesteaks to the first 500 people

12:00 - 1:00 FREE Cheesesteaks to the next 500 people

2:00 - 4:00 FREE Iced Tea and Mint Lemonade

Thanks for everything you do to support and empower students!

Meet Otus

Improving educator efficiency.

Integrated classroom tools for students and teachers. Powerful transparency for families and school leaders.

Because we're better when we're learning, together.

Learning Management

Assessment Management

Data Management

Did you attend ISTE 2019 and want to learn more about Otus? Sign up for a free teacher account or schedule a demo today!

We'd like to thank SIIA for recognizing Otus as the Best Administrative Solution of 2019. Onward and upward!

Why Otus is Partnering with Project Unicorn on Interoperability

This is a joint blog post between Otus and Project Unicorn, an educational advocacy initiative dedicated to the secure, controlled interchange of data within K-12 education. Earlier this year, we partnered together around a common goal of interoperability.

Whether we’re teaching our students or developing the technology they use in the classroom, our goal is the same: we want to see students succeed academically, cognitively, and socially. With the edtech landscape maturing, we have new tools to help us get closer to achieving our goals, but unless those tools work together and responsibly share their information, we won’t get there. In order to develop a technological ecosystem that teachers can navigate to unlock the insights and potential of their classroom data, we need interoperability. In this article, we’ll work through what this term means to educators and district leaders, why blended and personalized learning is so important, and ways that you can move towards interoperability in your district. Data will never replace great teaching, but it can help our educators and district leaders understand and bolster their students’ paths to success.


The term interoperability is confusing or unclear to many people so much so that the word itself can be somewhat of a deterrent to realizing its importance in education. The official definition of interoperability, according to Project Unicorn is the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications.

In other words, having interoperability (in the classroom) ensures that all of your learning, assessment, classroom, and data management tools talk to one another – which means running a classroom is easier for teachers because the relevant tools, resources, and student learning information can be accessed in one place. This degree of accessibility saves teachers time (which, in a non-interoperable classroom, is wasted on managing multiple applications and portals which have nothing to do with one another) that can be better spent helping their students.

Defining interoperability is the first step, but the greatest challenge is not getting educators to understand what interoperability is. Rather, it’s convincing them why interoperability should matter to them personally.


When a teacher’s learning and classroom management tools talk to one another, the teacher has greater capacity to create a personalized learning environment for their students. Most of the time, information about students is scattered across a disparate platforms – grading and homework platforms, attendance trackers, behavior and performance gauging systems – all of which must be accessed individually for each and every student.

Not only this, but the information we want to know about students (strengths, passions, interests, purpose) isn’t readily available to paint a holistic picture of who are students are! An enormous amount of effort is required for teachers to fully understand the academic, cognitive, and socio-emotional status of every child in the classroom. And teachers, more often than not, must gather all of this data from the various locations. What if there was a way for teachers to access all tools, all systems, and all data in the same place? There is a way, and it is through interoperability.

Project Unicorn’s Interoperability Rubric ensures easy assessment of interoperability in classroom tools. On a 1-to-4 point scale, a teacher can determine where his or her edtech tools fall – earning one point means the tool is not interoperable at all, while earning four points means the tool is completely interoperable. The rubric is unique in the industry, and we encourage all educators to use it when researching edtech tools, as it is designed to make their lives easier in the long run.


Here at Otus, we’re approaching the obstacle of interoperability by building a “pre-integrated” student performance platform. Rather than using 6-8, or sometimes as many as 12, individual edtech solutions, Otus takes the best of each and puts them into a single platform. This is Otus --- Data Management, Assessment Management, and Classroom and Learning Management, all together. Moreover, Otus helps teachers email or text parents, create student portfolios, and compile a student profile created through our partnership with Thrively and your district’s academic data.

Teachers and administrators are freed up from the tedious work needed to maintain multiple systems so they can spend more of their valuable time engaging the students and learning together. This is why our work and partnership with Project Unicorn is a top priority for us. We both agree the lack of interoperability can be a barrier to good teaching and the overall learning experience for students. In accordance with the mission of Project Unicorn, Otus is simplifying working with data and technology for teachers so they can do what they do best: teach.

Project Unicorn does not endorse a specific product or data standard but instead is an educational advocacy initiative dedicated to the secure, controlled interchange of data.

Student-Led Conferences in the Digital Age of Education

Despite many efforts to make education more student-centered, there’s one aspect that has remained mostly unchanged until recently: parent-teacher conferences. Some schools are moving away from the traditional one-sided discussion led by teachers, explaining to parents/guardians their student’s performance, grades, and behavior. The new alternative is a student-led conference (SLC), and the benefits are many, including increased attendance by parents and students taking a greater sense of ownership in their learning. And with advances in technology making it easier to capture and organize evidence of student learning, it is simpler than ever for students to showcase dynamic examples of their work.     

In our fast-paced and over-scheduled modern society, getting parents to attend parent teacher conferences can prove to be challenging. Especially if conversations are one-sided and parents are simply receiving information on the progress of their student. Parents are far more likely to attend if their student is presenting because they get to see them perform. It has the same effect as a school play or music recital. Patti Kinney, the associate director of middle-level services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, says that SLCs overall were a very positive experience at her school — and parents seemed to agree. “When we started, we had 40 to 45 percent attendance rate [for traditional parent-teacher conferences], but when we moved into SLCs, it shot up to 90 percent,” according to Kinney.

Another important feature of this approach is students taking ownership of their learning. In this format, teachers should be doing much less of the talking and the students are taking the lead. When students reflect on their performance in class, it requires them to think deeply about their actions and often results in an increased sense of accountability. Ultimately students have to ask themselves the crucial questions:

  • How am I doing?
  • What are my short term and long term goals?
  • How will I accomplish these goals?

Additionally, students are able to convey to the teacher the ways in which they like to learn or the types of projects/assignments they like to do. The feedback is invaluable to teachers and can be incorporated into future planning. Last but not least, students are given the chance to share their developing passions and interests. Few things are more motivating to a learner than learning in the context of what they are passionate about.

Student-led conferences are also picking up steam in education due to the ease with which students and teachers can use technology to aggregate dynamic digital content like blog posts, assignments, assessments, etc. into a digital portfolio. In the past, this may have been done with a folder of messy papers or poster board with 30 of the exact same artifacts for each student that only partially portrait student learning. Today, it is far simpler to pull together relevant and unique work from each student to discuss in a conference.

With Otus, educators can take SLCs to the next level because of the new enhancement to our rubric-based assignments enabling teachers and students to compile, reflect, analyze, and set goals. Teachers can bundle assignments and assessments into “mini-portfolios,” where students can submit a variety of work to demonstrate their level of understanding.

The beauty of this is that one student could submit a blog post, an image, and a video reflection, while another student submits a screencast, an infographic, and a short animated film. Teachers can then provide their own feedback in the same variety of ways.

These mini-portfolios can later be added to a more comprehensive digital portfolio to be used in a student centered parent-teacher conference.

Technology is an amplifier of teaching and learning. This type of conference is possible without technology, but the ease with which Otus allows teachers and students to collect snapshots of learning amplifies students’ ability to tell their own story and enhance the parent/teacher conference experience. While education is no stranger to pendulum swings from one opinion about what’s best for students to another, my hope is that student-led conferences are here to stay. Have you used SLCs? We'd love to hear about your experience!