Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reaching Outside the Classroom Walls

As I continue to serve as the site manager for a brand new school website launch, I am constantly reminded of all the amazing  and free resources that are available to our parents and students. However, I know many of my families are not fully aware of or knowledgeable about how to access these resources despite the reminders and instructions sent home. It's as if there is an invisible forcefield within the walls of my classroom that erases my students' knowledge of all the computer or iPad activities they beg to do during the school day!

Since I really do believe my students genuinely enjoy many of the educational activities they are exposed to in the classroom, in the computer lab, and in small group intervention settings, I have tried a few different strategies (that have had mixed results) to inspire greater participation in these activities outside the classroom. I have also discovered a few strategies I will be implementing next school year based on feedback from parents and students this year.

Some of the barriers I have identified in my classroom:

  • Video Games: There can be some benefits to students playing video games, but my second graders are constantly putting these attention-grabbers at the top of their priority list! It is also the main reason most of my students share for being tired in school or for not having their homework completed. Many of my parents have brought this up at conference time and have asked for suggestions on how to steer their students to other, more educational, interactive alternatives.
  • URL Length: The full URL for my classroom website is While it seems straight-forward and easy to remember, can you recall the last time you actually typed in a full URL to access a site? I can't! My browser either remembers them for me or I simply find what I need through a Google search.
  • Login Information: My students currently have to remember passwords for STAR Reading/Math, Dreambox, DIBELS Math, Google Apps for Education, MobyMax, and ThinkCentral. Not to mention, many of these resources are set to lock students out after a certain number of incorrect attempts to log-in.
  • Delayed Roll-Outs: Online resources are made available to students on a staggered schedule based on beginning of the year testing, as well as teacher familiarity. New resources are made available and used at different frequencies throughout the school year making it difficult for parents and students to track which is currently the highest priority to access from home.
Current and future solutions:
  • Incentives: Currently, I send home a half-sheet of paper with directions for students to complete a specific task online with their parents using our classroom website or a specific online resource approximately once every other month. Some examples of these tasks include leaving a comment on the Weekly News blog post, correcting a sentence within the Weekly News, playing one game on Spelling City, etc. I also require students/parents to show their "proof" of completing the activity through some sort of online means. Since I use Weebly to host my classroom website, I have added a "Contact Me" widget that easily allows students and parents to send me a brief message related to the task. If you don't have such a resource, you might consider having students turn in the answer to their task on a separate piece of paper (like their homework) the next day. Note: You don't want students to return the task instruction sheet because that means they would be returning the reminder with access information to the resource/site and would not have it at home to use in the future!
  • Go Paperless: I made a point to inform my families that I would not be sending home a paper newsletter each week and stuck to it. Families who wanted information or needed resources quickly learned to bookmark the classroom website and check it daily. I do work at a Title 1 school and as such several of my students do not have access to a computer at home, however, I did check with every parent and they all had smart phones that could access the site no problem. I even made them test it out at back to school night! By not providing an alternative to the online resources, families had to familiarize themselves with the site and the resources found there.
  • Letter/Parent-Student Contract: In an attempt to combat the use of video games, TV time, and other detractors during the school week that impact student behavior and learning, I am contemplating implementing some form of a classroom contract. Second grade is a key transitional year for students and I require my students to be responsible for completing their homework, no excuses! This tool would be used to promote a discussion between parents and students about appropriate use of various technologies at home and promote the use of educational technology resources during the week. There is still some tweaking to be done here, but I think the idea has some power behind it.
  • Technology Night: This is probably the future solution I am most excited about and I think it largely has to do with the fact that it will impact more families than just those in my class! The idea is to hold a school-wide event that showcases all the technology resources available to our students and provide useful information to parents in order to boost participation in home access. These also combats the barrier created by delayed roll-outs. If you'd like to see more of the planning process for this event (it's currently in early stages) you can view the Google Document here.
  • Universal Resource Sheet: In my classroom we use a binder to keep track of all important papers, homework, and other resources. Next year, I will be compiling a booklet or two-sided page that will serve as a universal online resource reference sheet. I may still send home more in-depth direction and summary sheets for various resources my students will be able to access, but all the essential information will be noted on the universal resource sheet that will remain a permanent reference in their binder. Not to mention, instead of having to bring the right set of index cards with log-on information (or leave the right set for a substitute) students will just be able to grab this page from their binder whenever we go to the computer lab. I may also include a recommended app list that students or I can put their favorite apps from class on for easy reference by parents (this was also asked for by parents at conferences).

While this post covered quite a few hurdles in getting students to access online resources from home, the constantly evolving nature of technology ensures that we will be faced with new ones on a regular basis. If you have any suggestions from your own classroom, I'd love to hear them!