The School District of Wolf Creek Uses FreshGrade to Digitalize the Learning Journey

About Wolf Creek Public

School type:

K–12 Public School

Location:

Crestomere, Alberta— between Calgary and Edmonton

Enrollment:

+7500 students

Staff:

+750

FreshGrade Use:

District-wide since 2014

Teacher helping student

Summary

The Challenge: Wolf Creek used paper student portfolios to collect and communicate student work for over ten years. The district identified several problems with the paper portfolios: they focused on the product of student work rather than the process, they could be easily lost or damaged, and they were time-consuming for teachers. After evaluating a range of options to replace paper portfolios with a digital option, the district chose FreshGrade, a digital portfolio and assessment platform.

Today the use of FreshGrade in the Wolf Creek district goes beyond simply replacing paper portfolios with a digitalized version. The benefits include:

  • Improved lesson planning
  • Increased student ownership of learning
  • Inclusion of project-based learning and assessment
  • Improved parent-teacher relationships.

Traditionally, Crestomere has parent-teacher interviews every eight weeks. Once they started using FreshGrade portfolios and gradebook school-wide, the parent-teacher interviews became more open and relaxed. Both parents and teachers felt meetings were now quick, friendly check-ins, rather than formal directive. Receiving information over time about their child’s progress removed the shock factor and served as a continuation of an ongoing discussion: resulting in quicker visits and improved teacher-parent relationships.


Wolf Creek’s Story

Wolf Creek is a leading school district for innovation in learning located in Alberta between Calgary and Edmonton. Wolf Creek serves over 7500 students from Kindergarten to 12th Grade with a staff of more than 750. Wolf Creek Public Schools’ high-speed computer network and Inclusive Learning team enable the district to meet the needs of all students.

Wolf Creek has used FreshGrade throughout the district since 2014. FreshGrade’s appeal to Wolf Creek was largely around more secure communications. District leadership is very mindful of the privacy and protection of children under 13. Wolf Creek found websites like Google Sites or WordPress were just too public for children. They began using FreshGrade to transition from paper portfolios to digital portfolios. As is the case for many districts that adopt FreshGrade, elements of the platform were integrated into the classroom workflow gradually, allowing teachers to eliminate less effective practices. For example, Wolf Creek did not initially use FreshGrade for Parent Communication.

Elements of FreshGrade were integrated into the classroom workflow gradually, allowing teachers to eliminate less effective practices.

The FreshGrade platform is multi-functional and using it for student ownership, parent communications, assessment, and reporting all at once can be challenging. The Wolf Creek district found great success by implementing a program of incremental steps to achieve their goals. At first, Wolf Creek teachers mirrored the original use of traditional paper portfolios in the district. Teachers would build a digital student portfolio for the student and use it to discuss student progress at parent-teacher conferences. Over time, they recognized the power of the tool to help them transform instruction.

Wolf Creek started off with a small group of teachers using the platform. Some of the pilot group were interested in exploring how technology supported changes to pedagogy. Others, supported by Wolf Creek’s tech coaches focussed on smaller goals and investigated how FreshGrade can show student growth over time.

There were some challenges to implementation due to socio-economic conditions in the community. To overcome this problem, Wolf Creek invited stakeholders into the school and students were able to walk their parents through their portfolios. With the increasing affordability of capable devices and increased access to public Wi-Fi, Wolf Creek saw increasing adoption by parents. The biggest challenge was time for educators to adopt a new solution. This is where Wolf Creek’s tech coaches and dedicated professional development time were key to successful use and implementation of FreshGrade across the district.

District leaders were pleasantly surprised by the unexpected benefits of parent communication.

Wolf Creek’s original intention was to replace paper portfolios. However, the district leaders were pleasantly surprised by the unexpected benefits of parent communication. The first was improved parent communication. Parents were informed about their child’s progress, and there were no unexpected surprises at report card time. The second benefit was increased student ownership of learning which directly supported Wolf Creek’s mission to “ensure that each student is a successful learner for a lifetime.” Using FreshGrade, students were given more ownership of the learning process as they captured and reflected on learning.


Crestomere School: Changing Instructional Practice & Assessment

Within the district, educators at Crestomere School are focusing on outcome-based instruction. Using FreshGrade’s Portfolio and Gradebook has resulted in teachers effectively incorporating “backward design” into their lessons as they consider the learning goals and success criteria first. The professional learning teachers engaged in as they moved from paper portfolios to a digitalized learning solution has helped transform these teachers’ practices.

Once they started using FreshGrade portfolios and gradebook school-wide, their parent-teacher interviews became much friendlier.

Not only have teachers’ professional practice benefitted from the adoption of FreshGrade but students have also benefited. As learners are given opportunities to upload and reflect on the process of learning, as well as showcase the products of learning, they gain an understanding of themselves as a learner and take greater ownership and pride in their work.

Many teachers have created their reports cards using FreshGrade and enjoy how neatly organized their observations and notes are. Teachers look for learning evidence differently using the tools that FreshGrade offers. Instead of using a test to capture learning, teachers can see opportunities to capture learning in new ways. They are more mindful of the methods and materials they use for formative assessment and as such are better meeting the needs of all learners. As a result of using FreshGrade, teachers at Crestomere are doing more project-based learning and project-based assessment. It is much easier to reference evidence that relates to student outcomes and assessment.


System Implementation & Quality Parent Communication

Mark McWhinnie, Assistant Superintendent Technology Services, used paper portfolios for over ten years before using FreshGrade. He was interested in using the platform for communicating more regularly with parents and for authentic assessment. He implemented FreshGrade by taking a grassroots initiative, rather than mandating from the top and encouraged teachers to start using the tool with the purpose of improving parent communication.

A key benefit for Mark and his team was FreshGrade’s Student Information System integration. “Connecting with our SIS was key, so teachers didn’t have to manually put in all the data around students and parents. The integration of Clever and FreshGrade was a big win for us.”

As a district, helping teachers manage and adopt that was a challenge. If a teacher perceives this as more work on their part adoption doesn’t happen. We let teachers know how to get set up quickly and easily. We encourage our team to continue asking questions and staying focused on the product and being focused on communicating student learning and making learning visible.”

Mark Mcwhinnie 8

I saw a lot of activity on Twitter about how excited parents were to see inside their child’s day. That was neat to see to see the parents champion the use of this in a very public way so that other parents can see and ask questions about getting access to their child’s work.
Mark McWhinnie, Assistant Superintendent Technology Services

Mark has put together a website for staff, parents, and students to help everyone understand and access the tools they use in the Wolf Creek District. He uses a blanket permissions letter for all the technology they use.

Parents who got started with FreshGrade early were more engaged and involved with FreshGrade. Now, when a student’s teacher doesn’t use the platform, parents are starting to ask for it. Mark was pleasantly surprised by how positive parents were about embracing FreshGrade. “I saw a lot of activity on Twitter about how excited parents were to see inside their child’s day. That was neat to see to see the parents champion the use of this in a very public way so that other parents can see and ask questions about getting access to their child’s work.”

Mark found that capturing learning moments was easy. “Rather than using Google Docs with permissions, you can very conveniently upload materials to FreshGrade directly. We also provided our classrooms with a device for the teacher or the education assistant to use. Walk into our Pre-K or 1st Grade classroom, and there will be a device there for them. Teachers also use their own devices.”

Mark Mcwhinnie 8

When we start giving control to students to showcase their work, we see greater engagement. We see an impact when we get students excited about their work and taking pride in it.
Mark McWhinnie

The biggest issue Mark wanted to solve was communicating each child’s understanding of a concept or skill. He recognized that rich media assets, that capture the process of learning over time, is much more informative to parents, than a parent portal with a grade in it. “The reporting function helps make FreshGrade more than just a communications function for us. It allows us to create summary reports and parents no longer get the dreaded surprise report card.”

At the beginning of K and 1st Grade, FreshGrade in Wolf Creek is largely student-led. In a 1st Grade classroom with Chromebooks, students are opening the Chromebook camera and uploading images to their portfolio. Students ask classmates for help if they needed and the teacher acts as the facilitator. “When we start giving control to students to showcase their work, we see greater engagement. We see an impact when we get students excited about their work and taking pride in it,” Mark said.


Meeting System Goals Through Teacher Professional Learning

Technology Integration Director Greg Esteves played a crucial role in FreshGrade’s adoption in the district. One of the things that attracted him to the School and District solution was removing the administration workload from teachers. “The ability for us to integrate with our Student Information System and to remove the need for teachers to maintain class rosters and class updates helped ensure adoption of the solution,” he explains. “When teachers have to manually update things and make sure they are up to date, that can stop adoption from happening.”

To ensure that educators in the district started using FreshGrade, Greg created a communications plan about the rollout and use of the learning solution. “We’ve had a solid partnership for adoption and training. We’ve found true adoption comes from allowing educators to connect with the purpose and the why of something.”

Greg Esteves 8

We’ve had a solid partnership for adoption and training. We’ve found true adoption comes from allowing educators to connect with the purpose and the why of something.
Greg Esteves, Technology Integration Officer

Greg saw primary and elementary teachers embracing FreshGrade right away as they could see the value of replacing paper portfolios and communicating with parents. “Moving to the cloud makes it easier for parents to access that information anywhere anytime. Our stakeholders can access, review, and update everything that is on their servers. We appreciate that FreshGrade understands the unique needs of Canadian educational institutions including privacy regulations and regional requirements.”

As one of FreshGrade’s early adopters, Wolf Creek had the opportunity to test the platform and request new features. “We’ve been very pleased with the support and communication from the FreshGrade side. If we have feature requests or issues, we appreciate that FreshGrade works very hard on our requests and needs. FreshGrade’s communication helps us to communicate with our stakeholders.”

As a parent, Greg saw first-hand the benefits of using FreshGrade to communicate learning. “I received a message about my 2nd grade child’s 100th day of school with a video of students celebrating 100 including counting to 100. I appreciate as a parent being able to see the different learning opportunities students have. Sharing this out to our community including parents and stakeholders beyond allows those stakeholders to understand what we are working to teach their students. Parents are far more knowledgeable about what’s happening than before. This also means they can help.”

Since partnering with FreshGrade, Greg is more aware of the district’s progress towards their goal of demonstrating authentic examples of growth and learning. “FreshGrade provides a signal to us that we are on the right track, says Greg. “The number of schools who are looking to make a change in how they assess has increased greatly with the option and opportunity to use FreshGrade to provide a common platform to communicate to parents and create report cards. This has increased the conversations and coordination between teachers and schools about how reporting can best be done and how well those items are aligned across the district. We are creating a common understanding across our schools and district because we are using a common platform. This kind of data is available through a cloud-based platform like FreshGrade.”


Assessment: Beyond Products of Learning

Showing Student Learning

2nd Grade teacher, Jared Webb started using FreshGrade in 2015 to replace paper portfolios. Every day, Jared seeks out evidence of student work to share with parents. In his class, students who are learning to write take pictures of their work. They make videos, or record audio files on their Chromebook and upload them to FreshGrade.

Jared Webb 8

It goes beyond the product of learning and shows me critical thinking and cognitive skills. It shows student’s growth over time differently and in a variety of ways.
Jared Webb, Grade 2 Teacher

Capturing learning with FreshGrade has allowed him to diversify how students get to the end result and is an effective way to record the learning outcomes. “It goes beyond the product of learning and shows me critical thinking and cognitive skills,” says Jared. “It shows student’s growth over time differently and in a variety of ways.”

“It’s so much easier for students to demonstrate what they are doing and learning in a multitude of ways. This allows me to open up what I allow them to do.”

Empowering students by getting them to upload and self-reflect on their work has also reduced Jared’s workload. “I can see 21 students have uploaded their work,” he says, “then it takes a matter of minutes for me to go in and assess student learning.” FreshGrade’s suite of apps also allows Jared to work wherever he has access to Wi-Fi. “Mobility is key. I’ve sat in a hallway waiting for a meeting and used FreshGrade. Now I can do assessment anywhere.”

Once Jared introduced FreshGrade to parents, they quickly began to adopt it. Parents often comment about how it has changed the conversation at home between them and their children. Webb finds that he is now able to talk with parents about the direct tasks and examples of learning and is delighted to see students commenting and interacting with their parents through the platform.

Using FreshGrade to Supplement Formal Reporting

Principal, Penny Mueller started using FreshGrade in 2015 to replace physical portfolios. There has been a lot of learning, but she is now comfortable using the portfolio and assessment platform and is using it for reporting for the second year in a row. In February, teachers generate their reports and send them to parents via FreshGrade. In June for the final reporting period, they use a physical report card.

“We’ve been using a four-point mastery scale for the last ten years,” says Penny. “Report cards were very time-consuming for our teachers. Teachers put so much work into the report cards, especially with comments. We brainstormed creating a better report card. FreshGrade did almost everything except for the grade-making.”

Pennie Mueller 8

You need to get on this! It was a big shift for parents moving from the big binder to the digital method, but FreshGrade gives parents the opportunity to see what was happening in classrooms like never before.
Pennie Mueller, Principal & Teacher

“In elementary, parents are seeing everything: videos of kids reading, making things, etc. We communicated to them that everything would be happening in FreshGrade. You need to get on this! It was a big shift for parents moving from the big binder to the digital method, but FreshGrade gives parents the opportunity to see what was happening in classrooms like never before.”

Students that are now in their third year with FreshGrade are loving it, and elementary students are uploading work themselves. “The kids are more proud of their work,” says Penny. “When they know it’s going on their portfolio, they make a lot of extra effort. Students will ask their parents, “Hey, mom. Did you see my FreshGrade today?”

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