This school year, one of my major goals is to improve communication, with both parents and students. My district uses Teacher Ease, which allows parents and students to view grades online at any time; however, I want to go above and beyond my district's requirements in order to boost student achievement.
The National Board process also made me think deeply and reflectively about what I am currently doing to engage parents in meaningful two-way communication, and how I can improve upon my existing practices.
After some deliberation, I've decided that this year, I am using the following tools...
REMIND 101 is a great tool for staying in contact with both parents and students. It's an opt-in method of communication; individuals choose to sign up only if they want updates. The teacher can send announcements and reminders from their computer, and then people who have signed up will receive these messages on their phones in the form of a text. Best of all, everyone's phone number stays completely private; the phone numbers of teachers, students and parents all remain completely confidential. Recipients of Remind 101 messages cannot text the teacher back, nor can they text one another. You can send messages immediately or you can schedule them for a later date; for example, you could create a reminder for semester exams in August, but schedule it to actually be sent in December.
So far this year, the feedback regarding Remind 101 has been overwhelmingly positive. I had students sign up during class time. I also sent a letter home to parents with instructions on how to sign up (which is as simple as sending one text message), and I talked about it at Open House this year, too. I am not sending reminders for every single homework assignment, but I am using it to remind students and parents about major assignments, such as tests, projects, and essays.
This year, I used Obsurvey to conduct two separate surveys: one of students and one for parents. I sent out the parent survey a few weeks before school actually started; I was able to do this through Teacher Ease, which houses contact information for parents (including email addresses). I asked parents about their preferred method of contact, as well as basic questions about their child (strengths, challenges, etc.)
I conducted the student survey in the school computer lab the second week of school.This survey asked students questions about their identities as readers and writers, and what they saw as their own personal strengths and challenges (both academic and social). These surveys were immensely valuable in terms of allowing me to get to know my students and parents early on, and letting them know that what they had to say was important.
Weebly is one of the staples in my technology arsenal. I've tried other web-creation sites, and nothing beats the professional quality and the user-friendliness of Weebly. This site was created using Weebly, and I always recommend it when colleagues mention a desire to build websites. In fact, I'm working on a presentation right now called "If You Can Use Power Point, Then You Can Build a Website." I'll post my presentation in the future once it's complete. Over the summer, I also taught a college for kids class; I led a group of students that had just completed grades 4-7 to build their own websites using Weebly, and they turned out fantastic. Weebly uses a drag-and-drop interface that makes beautiful, professional sites in minutes.
This year, I'm planning on creating a regular newsletter to send home to parents. Smore lets you create very nice-looking digital newsletters, flyers, advertisements, and announcements very quickly. They can include text, images, and multi-media content (such as videos). The only drawback is that there isn't an easy way to print the newsletter for parents who do not have computers available; however, this could probably be remedied by taking snapshots of the screen with a tool, such as Awesome Screenshot, and then pasting the images into Word or Publisher (or similar software programs). Regardless, Smore's creations are stunning and sure to please tech-savvy parents and students alike; this is a great visual way to keep parents "in the loop" throughout the school year.
Below is a document that I created and distributed to my coworkers during a School Improvement workshop on using Google Docs. This is an updated version from my previously posted tutorial; aside from the updated term "Google Drive," it also includes an introduction to the other types of files offered by Google Drive. Please feel free to print and distribute to others. Also, if you would like a copy of it in a different format (for editing purposes) send me and email. I am glad to help.
My talented colleague, Jane (left) and me.
This week, I had the privilege of attending a two-day conference in Springfield, IL, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel: the Illinois Education & Technology Conference (IETC). I was lucky enough to be accepted as a presenter, along with my super-technology partner-in-crime, Jane Zappia, who teaches sixth grade in the same district as me. We had both attended this conference two years ago, but then were not able to go last year due to budget cuts--if you teach in Illinois, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about--so we decided to attend this year as presenters* (pronounced "free").
Our presentation was on using Screenr in the classroom, a free and simple web-based screencasting program with several classroom applications. You can view our presentation notes HERE, if interested:
Jane poses for a green screen photo.
My Favorite Session at IETC
One of our favorite session at the IETC conference was a presentation put on by some teachers from Centralia, IL. The session was on using green screen software. The software wasn't free, but definitely reasonable (approximately $100 per package). The two software packages come from the same company, but one is used for still photographs, Green Screen Wizard, and the other one is used for video footage, Green Screen Zipper. With these programs, you can change the background of your video and create the effect of students being in any setting--the moon, the White House, under the sea. If you can find a picture of it, you can put your students there. Jane and I were both excited about the classroom potential for engaging students, and have put these items on our Christmas lists!
NOTE: As my brain continues to process all of the things that I learned while at IETC, expect for more blog posts...
Were you at ICTE also? If so, what was your favorite part of the day? Answer in the comment section below.
As a teacher, I know that it's important for my students to be reading nonfiction as well as fiction. One great way to incorporate nonfiction is by having students read online news articles. I like to use The Week, The Huffington Post, and the NY Times. I'm also a frequent visitor of Kelly Gallagher's Article of the Week archives. While all of these websites offer great news articles, printing nice "clean" ad-free copies for student use can be a bit of a hassle. That's why I recommend the following web tools:
Next Vista for Learning is a growing website that offers access to hundreds of FREE videos created by and for teachers and students. The videos are acquired through ongoing contests held by Next Vista, so it is constantly expanding and promises to grow with time.
One thing that I really like about this site is that it promotes students are creators, and not just consumers, of digital media, which can be very empowering. If students already possess the knowledge that needs to be taught, then let them design videos based on how they would want to learn. Kids know how other kids want their information delivered, so it makes sense to put them in the driver's seat. Video production could be easily modified depending on students' comfort level with technology. Beginners could use Web 2.0 tools, such as Animoto, or could record their videos with a camcorder; more advanced students could edit with programs such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker to create transitions, animations, and themes.
I could see myself having students create videos for Next Vista for Learning, and then embedding these videos or linking to them on my classroom website. Creating these videos would be a great way to review content for exams, and these videos would become great anticipatory activities for following school years.
Note: Contests are held in the category of teacher-created, student-created, and collaboration videos.
So, this is long overdue. But now you can follow my on Facebook and get regular updates on my blog through everyone's favorite social network!
Just click here: http://www.facebook.com/MeAndMyLaptop
"Lifeless Face #045" by nottsexminer
Do you see a face? Look again at the picture on the left. Look very closely. Now do you see a face?
Recently, while perusing the gift shop in my local art museum, I discovered a create collection of photography in a book called Found Faces. Immediately, I thought "This is the result of very careful noticings and creativity! This is what I want my students to do!" Of course, the book came with a $15 price tag, which I did not have in my budget that day, so I was more than a little disappointed that I'd have to go home empty handed. My next thought (which quickly followed by my initial excitement and the subsequent sadness due to lack of funds) was to purchase the book used on Amazon. (The current price starts at only $4.86 as I'm posting this.) I was really happy to find out it was cheaper online, but my happiness did not stop there...
A quick Google search revealed that there is an entire collection of these "found faces" on Flickr containing literally thousands of images similar to the photo above. Now, before you go copying photos and pasting them into Power Point presentations--or photocopying them by the thousands--do be aware that each photo in the collection has its own license terms; some have "all rights reserved," while others have only ask that you give credit to the photographer or that you do not use the photo for commercial purposes. Before you "borrow" a photograph, be familiar with its license terms and know what those terms mean.
So, how can "found faces" be used in the classroom? First, I love the idea that these photos are great examples of finding the extraordinary in ordinary places, and of really approaching the everyday with a careful, watchful eye. How many times a day do we walk past a hidden face without ever seeing it? It would be a great exercise in observation to have students locate their own found faces in their schools, homes, or communities. Additionally, I see huge potential in terms of narrative writing and descriptive writing in response to these faces. I think students would enjoy viewing some of these faces and writing their background stories. This would also be a great anchor activity, or a springboard for even richer narrative and descriptive writing experiences.
Click image to enlarge
To the left, you will see a simplified version of Bloom's Taxonomy, one that I intend to use with my students during the upcoming school year. I wanted a visual that had an inverted-pyramid shape because the standard pyramid shape (with higher order thinking skills on top) seems to suggest that "creating" gets the least amount of attention, with more time given to more basic skills, such as remembering and understanding. I wanted to make sure that my visual aid did not suggest this; if anything, this chart might suggest that lower order thinking skills deserve less class time. I wanted something that grouped higher order thinking skills (the top level, shown in warm tones) and lower order thinking skills (the lower levels, shown in cool tones). I also wanted a chart that clearly explains what each level means. For example, what does it mean to "analyze" something? Finally, I wanted a visual that took out the bulk of the verbs that my freshmen won't be familiar with. It's not that I don't think my students should learn what it means to "scrutinize" or "assess." But, I've noticed that, in several of variations on the Bloom's pyramid, many of the verbs are simply synonyms for each other. Additionally, providing a chart stuffed full of terminology can be very off-putting for some of my students, particularly my struggling learners. Instead, I plan to hand out this visual to my students, with the intention of adding new verbs to the chart as students encounter them in their reading.
Click on the above image for a larger view. And, if you like my chart, please feel free to copy, print, tweet, or distribute it. Heck, put it on T-shirts if it makes you happy.
To see my earlier post on Bloom's Taxonomy, click HERE.
Jessica Pilgreen is a high school English teacher, a Piasa Bluffs Writing Project fellow, and a technology enthusiast. The main purpose of this blog is to help her keep track of all of the fabulous tools out there that she has encountered, but if she can help a few others along the way, that's good, too.