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September 20, 2010 Tech-Savvy Ways to Connect the Classroom and the Home By Megan Power
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Clear communication is one of the keys to success in school and in life. As the technology in our parents’ and students’ hands change, so should the way we communicate with them and keep them informed and involved in their education. Several years ago I happily shed the paper newsletters that I dreaded writing and wondered who read. I have also recently gone away from the mass emails informing and updating parents of the weekly happenings. Since evolving my communication methods and embracing the world they live in, I feel my students and parents are more informed than ever. Read my tips below to learn more about some useful parent and student communication tools to try in your classroom. You might be surprised to discover that you and your students are already using many of them outside the classroom!

    When talking to educators about technology, I often find that they cringe at the thought of adding something more to their plate. Technology is not designed to make your life harder. It is designed to take something and make it work better and easier, essentially taking less time to do the task at hand. I like to say that technology helps you to work smarter, not harder. Please take a look at some of these parent, student, and teacher communication tools and let us know if you have used them or what you think of them.

     

    Class Facebook Page

    Facebook

    Currently there are more than 1.3 billion active Facebook users. Almost fifty percent of Facebook users log in each day. Even more surprising, 680 million users access Facebook on their mobile devices.

    Last year I finally joined the Facebook world. As I uploaded pictures of my own children to share with friends and family across the country, I started to think about this as a tool for classroom communication. It is such a quick and easy way to update parents on upcoming events or daily classroom happenings.

    As I was writing this blog post I just paused to type in a quick reminder about a parent meeting for an event we are having in my classroom. Parents that can’t attend but would like to help can just respond back. It’s that easy. You have all responses on one page, easy to see, instead of email chains in which each person “responds to all” and you wind up with many emails that are hard to keep track of.

    In younger grades when you are planning a celebration or class activity and you need supplies, you can just post it in Facebook and parents can quickly sign up to bring things in. No more duplicate items or having to communicate that another person already signed up to bring the same item. Also think of it as a teaching tool in the upper grades. You can allow students to pose questions about homework and get other students' or the teacher’s responses. Students can even share their thoughts on an assignment and collaborate on a project.

    The possibilities are endless and I have just begun exploring them this year. Ask your students if their parents have a Facebook account or if they have an account themselves. Most likely, they will. I teach at a Title 1 school and almost all of my parents already had Facebook accounts. Facebook is a tool that most of my parents were already checking daily, and it has been great for our classroom!

    Facebook

     

     

    Photo Sharing

    Shutterfly

    A picture is worth a thousand words.

    Shutterfly is a great way to digitally share the events and happenings in your classroom. Not only can you create photo albums online, you can also privately share them with your students' families. Parents can even purchase class photos and videos straight from the site. I am working this year to have a parent volunteer create and update this page for my class.

     

    Shutterfly_logo

     

    Class Blog

    Blogger, Blogmeister

    Up until last year, I did the typical primary grade morning message. But there was just something that didn’t make sense about writing the message with the students before they even had their day. Last year we began a class blog. At the end of the school day we would discuss what we did that day and use this time as a modeled or shared writing activity. The kids enjoyed taking pictures and adding it to our blog. Read our class blog from last year. You will notice that we usually wrote Mondays through Wednesdays because of scheduling and that the blog stops in March when I went on maternity leave.

    This summer I came across Blogmeister and I am excited to try it out. You can create a free blog Web page as a class as well as separate blogs for each student. I think this will be an incredible way for my students to share their writing and get comments back. At Back to School Night I surveyed my parents to see if they would read our class blog and comment back, and 100% said yes. I am planning on starting our class blog portion in October and adding the student blogs in January when my kindergartners are a little more ready and can write.

    Landmarks Class Blogmeister

     

    Online Calendars

    Google Calendar

    Once I stopped writing my weekly or monthly newsletters I went to an online calendar format for sharing our class happenings. This was a great way to make my classroom news and activities more interactive. I linked up videos and Web sites to these calendars so parents just had to click in the calendar to get more information.

    Calendar_all

     

    Secure Social Learning Network Sites

    EdmodoeBoardHotchalkParent Teacher NetworkBlackboard 

    These are secure social networking sites where teachers, students, and parents share and communicate in a secure and media rich environment. Edmodo is great for tracking assignments and assessing students' performances. eBoard and Blackboard both allow students to see weekly assignments and post on discussion boards. Hotchalk lets teachers communicate with students and manage classroom tasks. Parent Teacher Network enables parents and teachers to have group chats and send mass messages. 

     

    Edmodo-pic

     

     

    Online Surveys

    Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool. The site makes it easy for you to customize your surveys with your own questions types, and you can collect responses from your class and parents by simply sending them the URL. 

     

     

    Technology should make communicating with students and parents easier and make this communication fit better into your lifestyle. I have tried many of the tools I wrote about above and they all worked great. It all depends on you and your class dynamics. Since I am a mom of a 22-month-old and a 4-month-old, getting on the computer is difficult. A Facebook page that I can add to right from my mobile phone has fit better into my current lifestyle. I do not recommend using all of these communication tools at once. Think about what you do for parent communication and which tool might make that a little easier for everyone. Then give it a try and see how it works.

    Technology is here to make our busy lives a little easier. So embrace the changing world and try to evolve your communication tools. I would love to hear about the tools you use for parent communication and if any of the above mentioned tools has worked for you.

    Happy communication!

    Smiles,
    Megan

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GRADES: 1-2