Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Makes a Great Teacher Website?

As the new school year is right around the corner my virtual school year has already begun. Once teacher letters go out to students I naturally see a spike in visitors to my classroom website. This is expected each year, students are curious to find out anything they can about myself and how my classroom runs. What does the room look like? What will we be learning this year? They investigate like scientists looking for pictures of former students. Do they look like they are having fun? Does it look hard? Parents may scan for an insight to ease their nerves of a new year ahead and the demands a new grade may make on their child.

My class site has gone through drastic changes over the years, it is like looking back at a bad wardrobe choice. Gone of the days of html coding with a free site through Family Education Network. With so many platform choices and embedding options we as teachers have endless options of what we want our sites to be. The question is: Do we really have the time? and Where is the balance? I would rather spend my time focusing on evaluating students and their needs rather than on my website.

So I ask: Is a classroom webpage for parents, students, school or a teacher's image?

Years ago it may have been for the parents to see how progressive schools and teachers were with technology and "keeping up with the times" by having a somewhat static webpage that got updated with info and pictures similar to a newsletter each week. Now it is not about having an address on the web, but about what you do with it. Heck, many students animals have their own blog! What are you going to do with your web presence to make it an integral and effective tool in your teaching toolbox? I've been evaluating this, examining what other teachers are doing online and come to some conclusions:

-Use your site for a significant purpose for students first and foremost. We all know the challenges the web provides to students with its vast information. Streamline that for students by creating a portal of useful information and links for them. Make it similar to an internal intranet that is filled with essential information for them to be successful in your classroom.

-Offer parents a peek into your world. I would like my students and daily interactions to speak to my teaching but we all know that the web can be the next best thing. Not all parents have time to volunteer and not all students are going to share. Upload some pictures and project samples from time to time to give parents an idea of what is going on in your classroom.

-Don't make it about you, go ahead and start a teacher blog if you want to do that, please don't confuse the two. You will just confuse parents. There are plant of Educator PLN sites, Twitter, pinterest, teaching blog sites to connect with other educators online.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

APPS Field Guide PLEASE!

As an EdTech enthusiast one of the most exciting parts about getting ready to go back to school is #1 getting a "do-over" with all of the apps and websites I neglected to discover and use. It is always an adrenaline rush to find that perfect app or website for a unit you are teaching or one that will make your job easier and more organized.

I think to myself "How did I teach without this?" I often can't wait to share it out with other teachers. There was often a teacher or team of educators behind an amazing new site or app that connects to a tedious task teachers had completed in the past and they had found a way to productively streamline it for us. I'm sure those diamonds are out there right now waiting for me to discover them as I write this. Problem is, I feel like Alice in Wonderland.

The EdTech industry is growing exponentially and is a hot market right now. Whether necessary or not the apps, extensions, and sites for teachers that are being created seem to be growing exponentially. Now a simple search turns into scrolling through page after page. Between Chrome and iTunes apps, whatever you use, the choices seem endless. Website searches take that much longer clicking through pages of search results only to find sites with fees or limited information.

To me, less is more. Where is the quality and content that teachers yearn for? It feels overwhelming this school year as compared to last. We have hit a point where we need some type of annual guide that flushes out the mediocre and gives teachers valuable information of the latest apps, sites, and extensions that are superstars in their category. It becomes "one more job" for a teacher and they need help. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a guide to refer to all year when faced with a need to refer to?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Virtual Visits Motivate Students

Recently, I’ve discovered that one of the most effective student motivators is not myself the classroom teacher, or technology integration as I may have thought, but in fact a complete stranger. It helps when that stranger is an established children’s book author who according to fifth graders writes about the “coolest stuff ever!”

This year my fifth grade class worked with author Carole Vogel as our “author-in-residence” to guide us through a non-fiction writing unit. Carole made the trip to our classroom virtually through Skype every other week to check in on us and how student writing was going. She shared valuable insight with students around developing a topic and the importance of diligent research. She used examples from her own books as to how she acquired some of the information she did through endless trips to the library and first hand account interviews. We had been reading excerpts from her books in class so students felt connected and interested in the process it took to complete her books. The questions they asked were directed to how she was able to gather such detailed information.

One particularly inspiring lesson involved Carole talking to students about Internet research. It was a sigh of relief for students to hear that the Internet can be an overwhelming source for anyone, even an author. We discussed types of sites to trust, formulas for searching, and different avenues of databases and online library research centers to access. Today our students are digital natives, this is all they know, but they still need to be taught how to navigate the overwhelming digital landscape of the Internet. Students have the problem today of too much information to access, rather than a lack of as they may have struggled with years ago.

Through the use of Google Slides and the commenting feature Carole was able to login and see their books and give them some advice. Students slowed down and took the time to revise and edit based on suggestions given. Hearing from Carole that one of her manuscripts can go through upwards of 14 revisions was a realization for them that this is just as an important step in the writing process as any other. Students slowed down and spent another two weeks on reading their writing aloud, conferencing, and peer reviewing.

Being able to bring Carole into to the classroom throughout this unit served as a series of great “Virtual Trips.” They provided students a window into the world and expertise of a published author. They felt connected as they were having similar experiences when going through the book writing process. Students looked like mini-executives taking notes sitting around the interactive whiteboard asking her questions and furiously recording her answers. When they logged into their Google account and saw her comments they were exhilarated that she had reviewed their book and took suggestions for improvement seriously.

This experience is an example of how technology can connect classrooms in ways that allow students to feel that their work has a sense of purpose. Knowing that a professional would be viewing it and it would be posted to their blog evoked passion and meaning to their work. These are the types of real world experiences that we as educators need to give students, we are teaching in a time where information and experts are just a click away.

If you are a teacher interested in having an author Skype into your classroom check out the links below:

Note: This blog post also appeared on EdTrip.com's Community board. You can view it here:
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