Back in December of 2020, I shared a brief introduction to Microsoft’s Power Platform in the hopes that school districts would more seriously consider the opportunities available to create meaningful, digital solutions that were already protected under Microsoft’s data privacy agreement (DPA) and required no additional purchases. Who doesn’t love the sound of a product that doesn’t need another DPA and is free?
Since then, educators have not been wowed or interested much beyond Power Automate (to automate time off requests, mileage claims, and much more); but just recently, I was presented a simple request seeking a solution for a single scenario, and it evolved into solution for the entire middle/high school. Incidentally, the solution could work for your school too!
Tom Simon, superintendent of Portville Central School (PCS), asked Dave Suain, the director of the Envisioneering Center (the name of the space many schools would think of as a STEM/STEAM lab) to think about a digital solution to simplify the process of students obtaining a pass permitting them to attend the Envisioneering Center. Think about what a digital solution can do to improve the analog process of getting a hall pass in this situation: it eliminates the time that it takes to walk to the Envisioneering Center, it eliminates the time to walk back to class or to the room of the teacher needing to approve the pass, it can instantly notify each teacher as well as the student, etc. Since I help provide on-demand technology integration support roughly once per month at Portville, Dave asked my thoughts about creating the best solution.
After a little brainstorming, Dave and I settled on creating the quickest, functional solution possible to show how easy creating digital solutions to workflows can be with Power Automate so we could identify whether a more robust solution in Power Apps was worth the time and effort. Essentially, we created a workflow that is automatically triggered by a student submitting a response to a Microsoft Form containing three questions (What period do you need the pass? Who is your teacher that period? and What do you intend to work on during the period?), sends Dave the data from the Form, creates an approval process that terminates when Dave denies the pass or continues when he approves it, sends the pass details to the appropriate teacher if approved by Dave, and finally creates a Chat group in Teams communicating with everyone involved whether the pass was approved or denied. In not much time at all, the workflow was tested and ready to go.
Thankfully, Mike Torrey, PCS Technology Director, was apt to make sure that the IT department was in the loop during these discussions since technology specialists Wan Leong and Nicole Ramsey provided great support in making sure the workflow runs smoothly. This process will be piloted through the Envisioneering Center with a small group of students who frequent the space after they have returned from winter break.
Without hesitation, Wan acknowledged that the workflow would not be able to handle passes for the entire middle/high school, so we discussed how Power Apps was a much more desirable solution for that context. For example, any time we work with manually entered data, we must account for user error. In the workflow mentioned above, the student manually had to type in the teacher’s name into the Form, and Dave then needed to type in that teacher’s email address correctly in the approval process in order for the workflow to run correctly. In Power Apps, we can use connectors like Office 365 Users, Office 365 Groups, and/or Azure Active Directory (AD) to retrieve both student and staff names and email addresses exactly as they appear in AD so we can be certain the appropriate people are included in any of the notifications.
The app is still a work in progress, but we made a great start. It also bears repeating that the app itself is not being utilized at this time, but it is available for future use and development. Use the how-to guide below to get started in your district, too.
Getting Started with the Digital Hall Pass Power App Template
Step 1: Create Three SharePoint ListsLists is Microsoft’s take on what were formerly known as SharePoint Lists to allow users to create lists (i.e. tables or collections of data) without having to establish an entire SharePoint site. Rather, Microsoft Lists is now its own application that can be found by signing into your Microsoft 365 home page and finding Lists in the App navigator.
Although my preferred data manipulation tool is Excel, Power Apps seems to interact with SharePoint much nicer; and since Lists is built directly on SharePoint, Lists are the recommended data source for beginners. Power Apps allows for other connections such as Microsoft Dataverse, Access, or a SQL server, but most people will not have a need to interact with these more complex alternatives. Lists is also a great application for monitoring and sharing item inventories, tasks, and more since it can be shared with viewers and collaborators in the same manner you would share a file from your OneDrive.
For the Digital Hall Passes Template, you will need to create three lists, each of which using the same column titles and column types (it will be less work if you completely establish the first list and copy it as a template):
Step 2: Create an Automated Workflow in Power Automate
In order to help the app run more efficiently, it was not designed to delete records from any of the SharePoint Lists but rather modify specific records for their respective approval statuses. Therefore, the process also requires an automated workflow in Power Automate to remove expired records from the Active MHS Passes list, delete records older than 30 days from the Last 30 Days MHS Passes list, and update the PassStatus to PAST in both the Last 30 Days MHS Passes and All MHS Passes History lists if either adult did not acknowledge the pass before it expired.
This workflow requires four steps outlined below:
Step 3: Import the Digital Hall Passes Template in Power AppsAmong the many benefits to Microsoft 365 is the ability to collaborate and share resources; thankfully, Power Apps shares this benefit making it simple for district leaders to download the Digital Hall Passes .zip file and upload it to Power Apps by selecting the “Import canvas app” option.
Upon importing the app, you will need to update the import to create the file as a new app, and after minimal processing the open will be ready for a few final touches to make it operational:
Before sharing this app with students and staff, I would recommend making several other adjustments that may not be necessary but will give the app the personalization it deserves for your district. I have listed only a few, but don’t let your imagination stop there.
Beyond that, I say we should go to the drawing board and think of all the ways we can create in-house, digital solutions that require no additional purchases or DPAs.
By: Mark Beckwith, CA BOCES Professional Development
Many adjustments and new learning experiences came into being in classrooms since March 2020. One of those new learning experiences came in the form of virtual field trips. So many more virtual field trips were added in response to safety guidelines and the ease of connecting to an expert or an educational experience, like a museum or zoo.
In response to the changing learning experiences available to classrooms we have added programming from Virtual Field Trips: Explore the World without leaving your classroom. Virtual Field Trips has pre-recorded videos in the following content areas: social studies, geography, life science, and ancient civilization curriculum that are standards aligned, span grade levels from Kindergarten through 9th grade and offer additional resources like worksheets, printables and assessments with each video.
Each video is narrated, some are even available in a world language! Videos range in length from 5-35 minutes in length. Since the videos are pre-recorded they are NYS Education Law 2d compliant and can easily be added to the district platform that is used to communicate to students about learning experiences.
This will be a value add feature to the Distance Learning CoSer 420. This is offered at no cost to your district classrooms if you are in the CoSer. We are finalizing access to this new offering so it will be easy and useful for educators. Please don’t sign up for an account on the website. We would like all CA BOCES accounts to go through our program for cost as well as data privacy concerns.
You can learn more at the website: virtualfieldtrips.org
By: Karen Insley, CA BOCES Learning Resources
It is not uncommon for educators, particularly those with a keen focus on teaching and learning (as opposed to maybe business or technology), to analyze education through three lenses: curriculum, instruction, and assessment. As Thomas Guskey (and others) have noted, what is missing, however, since “few leaders have training on effective grading practices” is a fourth lens of grading and reporting. Although, I have been quite encouraged over the last several months of working in the CA BOCES region to be involved in numerous conversations focused on this fourth lens with a variety of school districts.
The emphasis of these regional conversations has been standards-based grading (SBG), and I would say naturally so. For example, how do curriculum coordinators and other educational leaders typically audit or analyze curriculum, instruction, and assessment? It is from a standards-based approach. Why, then, should grading and reporting be any different? Furthermore, SBG has presented many benefits that are often neglected in percentage-based practices, and those percentage-based practices have many pitfalls that need to be addressed.
What’s Wrong with “Traditional” Grading Practices?Before I present several concerns that arise with traditional grading practices, I need to mention that these practices aren’t completely flawed and do have some merit. For example, teachers can and have gained much insight into what students know and do in analyzing summative assessments through item analysis and more. I am not saying that these practices have no good or merit; I am, however, saying that these practices need dramatically improved.
1. Percentage-based practices aren’t the only traditional practices.
Thankfully for me, my mother decided to gift me with my first-grade report card for my birthday this year, and I was intrigued by the categories used to identify the learning I had demonstrated. For instance, when I observed an S-, S+, or an O on the report card, the legend clarified whether I was working toward satisfactory progress, I demonstrated satisfactory progress, or I had demonstrated outstanding achievement, respectively, in the areas shown. The competency- or proficiency-based model shown here (such as what we see in SBG) has also been around for three decades or more.
2. Averaging scores is an inaccurate reflection of what students know.
In ninth grade, I refused to study for a geometry exam because I “knew” the material, and I also “knew” my time that week would be better spent playing my favorite Playstation 1 game. When I completed the test, I also “knew” that I failed it. Thankfully, I was 0 for 3 in being right that week, but I did end up with a 66% on the exam; I remember that vividly not only due to the conversation I had with my teacher upon her handing back my work but also because she allowed me to prepare for a substantially more difficult assessment in which I received (I think) a 98%. The real question, then, is which score should go in the gradebook? 66%? 82%? Or 98%?
In my experience, I find that most teachers would submit the 82%, a decision that is both inaccurate (since the student has evidence to demonstrate they achieved a 98%) and a disservice to the student who met the goal that you wanted them to meet in the first place: they have the knowledge and skills you wanted them to have for that assessment.
3. Averaging scores does not accurately represent how evaluating and reporting works in most real-world environments.
Nearly every example that I can think of when trying to determine how people are evaluated is based on a proficiency model, typically either pass or fail; and for each example, if someone receives a passing rating or a highly proficient rating, then that is their evaluation, not the average of the previous evaluations.
Consider a sports analogy here. Imagine your favorite college basketball team is an 11 seed in the NCAA Championship Tournament with an 18-15 (wins-losses) season record. Because they managed to achieve more wins than losses and have found their way into the NCAA tournament, you rate their success as a B going into the tournament. However, to your amazement, your favorite team wins the tournament and is titled this year’s NCAA tournament champion (congratulations!). Unfortunately, when averaging the wins and losses for your team, they still only receive a B. See the problem here?
The same holds true for occupations such as doctors and attorneys and even educators. We are assessed regularly; we are given opportunities to demonstrate proficiency and improve if previous attempts are not up to the established standards; and we receive proficient ratings, obtain medical degrees, and licences to practice law if we meet those standards.
4. Zeros are debilitating.
In many ways, zeros glorify failure and do not accomplish what many educators claim they intend to. Educational Partnership’s Research Brief and The Case Against Zeros in Grading both point to how we, as educators, need to more greatly scrutinize assigning a score of 0 in percentage-based systems. In essence, a 0% or a score of zero communicates “this student knows nothing here,” and in most instances, that simply isn’t true.
5. Percentage-based practices are highly subjective.
The next time you are looking for an experiment during a staff meeting, have your staff write their answers to the following questions on Post-Its and have them review everyone’s answers. You are likely going to get nearly as many answers as you have staff, and you will likely find that it is difficult to achieve consensus in response to each question.
Notice how a student in Classroom A and Classroom B would fail whereas a student in Classroom C would pass the course when the teacher set up the gradebook to disassociate what the student did from what the student knew.
Why Does SBG Have More Appeal?Like my disclaimer for percentage-based practices, I need to add one for SBG as well. I do not think SBG is the only pathway to improve educational practices, nor am I convinced that it is necessarily the best way (consider A New Kind of Classroom, A Crusade to End Grades in High School, Schools and Grading, and The Case Against Grades), but it does seem evident that SBG has more merit than traditional, percentage-based practices.
1. SBG is a proficiency model.
The major benefit to this point is the shift in philosophy and thinking. In a traditional grading model, if a student receives a 78%, the emphasis is “here is what I did wrong,” “I messed up,” and “this score has finality to it.” In SBG, however, the emphasis is always placed on specific goals and growth. Furthermore, there is always opportunity to do just that, grow and improve.
2. SBG emphasizes quality over quantity.
I think it is most common to use a 4-point scale in SBG models (although it isn’t necessary), so we will use that model for our foundation. This scale is qualitative, not quantitative, since each identifier (1, 2, 3, and 4) represents a category. When a student receives a rating of 1, they understand that they do not yet possess the knowledge and skills to demonstrate proficiency on the intended learning target even with support from the teacher; receiving a rating of 2 they understanding that they are working toward proficiency; receiving a rating of 3 they understand that they have demonstrated proficiency with the intended learning target; and receiving a rating of 4 the student understands they have exceeded the proficiency expectation for that target.
3. SBG clearly communicates students’ content knowledge and skills.
As stated in the point above, parents also are able to state what a 1, 2, 3, and 4 represent whereas it is left partially to the imagination to establish what something like an 85% means (since it depends on any number of variables and scenarios). In essence, when seeing a 1, parents and guardians should acknowledge that their student needs substantial support; seeing a 2 means the student is working toward proficiency; seeing a 3 indicates the student has met proficiency; and seeing a 4 means the student exceeded expectations. Furthermore, these indicators are also associated with specific standards to provide additional context and clarity.
For the student, communication also includes clear expectations on learning goals and assessment measures (see the ELA, Math, and 3-8 Performance Level Descriptions for examples).
4. SBG disassociates academic achievement and student behavior.
Because SBG requires clear expectations and assessment criteria, student behavior is clearly distinguishable from academic achievement (as opposed to most percentage-based systems). I would like to point out, though, that opinions here start to diverge depending on which proponent of SBG you follow. On one hand, some contend that student behavior should be absent from a gradebook, whereas others argue that behaviors should be measured according to explicit targets but reported separately from academic performance.
5. SBG is more “valid, reliable, fair, and useful.”
Thomas Guskey states that “reporting must be valid, reliable, fair, and useful.” Others such as Rick Wormeli and Robert Marzano agree due to SBG’s increased focus on descriptive feedback and an emphasis on mastery learning.
What Do We Do Now?Minimally, I hope you more thoughtfully consider how you and your school and your district implement grading and reporting practices, and I hope you tackle some of the hard questions. Questions like, “What about the transition from high school to university?” and “Can we convert from our SBG scale to a 4.0 GPA?” Then, I hope you work toward more effective grading and reporting practices, and hopefully, I will be able to help along the way.
By: Mark Beckwith, CA BOCES Professional Development
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