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NoteAffect: A better way to engage

This post is sponsored by NoteAffect. All opinions are my own.

The Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held at the end of January has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is exploring the edtech startups to find out what new tools and trends are out there and to learn some of the stories behind the creation of these tools. It is a great opportunity to see the different start-ups in the Pitch Fest competition and hear their passions for education.

One that caught my attention this year was NoteAffect, an interactive learning platform aimed at promoting and understanding student engagement. The platform empowers educators by providing many options for delivering a lecture and includes live polling, questions, analytics and more, to enhance the learner experience. With time so limited at the conference, I explored the platform on my own and then contacted Jay Tokosch,Founder and CEO of NoteAffect, to set up a demo.

The story behind NoteAffect

When I spoke with Jay, I learned that he got started in this business by founding Core-apps, one of the leading event management systems in 2009. Core-apps was the first company to create a mobile app used for event management. So if you’ve been to conferences or trade shows, and used a conference app to build your schedule, you may have using Core-apps. Having ten years of experience with a highly engaging event management app, Jay has designed an equally powerful learning tool for education. When I asked Jay about how he came up with the idea for NoteAffect, he told me that he got the idea after observing his son preparing for an exam. Jay noticed his son pulling out a spiral notebook, some printed Powerpoint presentations and other documents to study for his college engineering exam. As he studied, his son was going back and forth between all of those materials, trying to match everything up to study. Jay decided to “fix that problem” by designing something that could store all of the information in one place and make it easier for students to study.

The design of NoteAffect is quite simple and easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all teachers, whether they are beginners or advanced users when it comes to implementing technology in the classroom. By using a robust tool like NoteAffect, teachers have immediate access to real-time data that enables them to provide the right instructional supports and make adjustments on the fly as the lecture continues. The goal of NoteAffect is to empower teachers to provide the best learning experience and options for students and to close the gap that happens when students are absent from class. While students can easily get the notes or look over a presentation, without the additional resources added in and the interactive piece that NoteAffect provides, students will be missing out and cannot reach their fullest potential.

What does NoteAffect offer?

NoteAffect is more than simply a way to deliver a lecture. It offers digital interactive learning that is available to students whether live in class or for later viewing at a time that meets their schedule. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase student engagement in learning. NoteAffect creates a virtual space for students to fully engage in the lesson, whether participating in class or viewing it at a later time.

When I first explored NoteAffect, what I immediately noticed was how easy it was to set up my courses, add students, locate my lectures, and navigate through the platform. Having time to explore NoteAffect closely, I thought about my own college experience years ago and how beneficial a tool like this would have been for some of the more challenging courses that I had. Although we had access to lecture notes made available after class, being able to interact with the content during class would have increased my understanding and helped with content retention.

Another benefit of Noteaffect is for increasing student engagement. For a long time, I struggled with student engagement and reached out to colleagues and tried different resources to see if I could engage students more. While the methods definitely improved student engagement, I needed more data to work from. Using NoteAffect enables you to focus more closely on student engagement by exploring the analytics available for each lecture and each student.

With NoteAffect, tracking student engagement is easier and it is also a great way to reflect on the teaching practices being used in the classroom.

I will continue exploring NoteAffect and gather some feedback from my students. Check into NoteAffect here and get started with a demo. My next post will highlight some of the features and offer some tips for getting started.

Learning at the Speed of You

In the spring, I like to explore new tools and ideas for use in my own classroom and for colleagues who want to try something new before the school year ends. Spring is the perfect time to try out teaching methods or tools that you perhaps did not have time for yet, or to find something that will keep students engaged through the end of the school year and maybe even to use to avoid the “summer slide.”

A few weeks ago, I came across Socrates, a learning platform also referred to as a “learning engine.” Socrates offers many valuable features for students and teachers, that make it a standout and I am looking forward to sharing its features, ideas to get started and tips over the next few weeks.

The story behind Socrates

I’m always interested in the people behind the product and learning about their motivation for designing something for educators and students. To learn more, I contacted Brian Rosenberg, the Co-Founder, and Chief Executive Officer, to gather some background information on the platform, to find out how it uses Artificial Intelligence, which is a key area of interest for me, and the types of resources available for students, teachers, parents and for homeschooling. The platform, created by Education Revolution, LLC has already received recognition several times this year. Socrates offers such distinct features, which makes it clear why it was endorsed by and received a grant from the National Science Foundation. Less than 5% of the companies are chosen, and Socrates, selected for its unique innovation and having a clear benefit to society was the first winner in Nevada in six years. More recently at the Magnet Schools Conference in Baltimore, Brian had a chance to share the vision of Socrates. He shared that the platform “was created to help provide equal access to students regardless of their socio-economic background.”

Impressive features

I scheduled a demo with Brian and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a teacher and student. As Brian showed me the different components in the Teacher Dashboard, the analytics, and a variety of information available for teachers to use to guide instruction was impressive. One of the first things I consider is ease of navigating through the platform and whether the layout is visually engaging and rich in terms of content.

One aspect of Socrates that makes it unique is that it functions through the use of Artificial Intelligence and cloud computing, there is no IT setup and it can be used on any device. Socrates is fully automated and using the AI, it can quickly assess individual student or whole class needs, and then make adjustments in the learning path. While it the artificial intelligence allows it to automatically adjust for each student, it provides extensive tool for teachers to take over the learning experience and is designed to be a teacher assistant, not a teacher replacement According to Brian, there are 1300 categories of information with millions of questions, and it can adjust to particular topics as students progress, and goes question by question to make changes and create a unique learning path for each student.

Currently available content is Math and ELA (K-5) with Science about to release. During our recent conversation, Brian highlighted a “roadmap” for some updates and new features coming up in the platform over the next few months and at the beginning of 2020. There are plans to roll out activities for K-8 Science, grades 6-8 Math and Language Arts throughout the summer and early fall. Later this year and into early 2020, plans are in the works for Social Studies, ESL, high school Math, and even Test Prep. The number of resources currently available within Socrates is impressive, but with the additional features being added, it will provide an even more robust learning platform.

Socrates recently launched in Mexico, and therefore the teacher and student application is available in English or Spanish.

I will have the opportunity to explore the Socrates platform on my own and will take a closer look at each of the features, comparing it to other tools that have the same end goal as Socrates: providing students with a unique, individualized, learning path.

Experiencing the Power of Socrates

A few of the features that I will be looking at:

  • Dynamic Assessment: How the platform assesses students to find out the specific student needs.
  • Teacher Dashboard: Explore how to move students between classes, look at options available for each student, sorting of data
  • Weekly Reports: Look at the information available, ease of obtaining a snapshot of student progress
  • Command Center: Closer look at features and tools available.
  • Navigation of platform: Evaluate the learning curve for teachers and students, watch tutorial videos
  • Categories of Games: Explore the different categories, rewards, and badges available for students
  • Shop: Look at “cards” available to students, some examples are Greek Mythology, Presidents and more.

If you have been using Socrates, I would love to hear from you. If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial, and Brian encouraged teachers to try it out for the rest of the school year and said that their students can use it over the summer at no charge if they sign up before the end of the school year.

The classroom version: http://withsocrates.com/classroom/

***Coupon code is THRIVEinEDU2019. It can be used for the classroom edition or for the summer edition ($39.99 for the summer for teachers with summer school classes)

Connect with them on Social Media to keep informed of the great new features coming. Twitter is learnwithsocra1Facebook is learnwithsocrates

In Other Words, my new book is now available! Click here for more information on how to get a signed copy.

 

​​Storybird in the Foreign Language Classroom

 


I found Storybird a few years ago while completing graduate coursework, and was searching for a different way to present the information, that would be informative, engaging and memorable. I found Storybird and after creating my own book, have relied on it as a top choice for student projects in my classroom.

As a foreign language teacher, I have my students engage in diverse activities to help them learn the material and want the experiences to be meaningful, personal and fun. Because of technology today, I now have the opportunity to offer my students a variety of choices for completing projects and other assessments for class. With the increase in digital tools for classroom integration, there are options available to meet diverse student interests and needs. I want to know what they have learned and can do with the material and being able to provide choices for them, which enhance their ability to be creative, to enjoy the work and watch the learning that occurs because it is more meaningful. Giving students a choice in how to show what they have learned offers a lot of options today.

Storybird is very helpful in my Spanish class. It makes it easy to create colorful and informative projects. I like using Storybird because it is easy and straight-forward to use. It was also great to see my story come to life, and to have a book with my name on it. — Ricky, high school student

One of the favorites for my students is to create an illustrated book using Storybird. It really does not matter what the topic of our unit is, there are so many options available for students to find something that fits right in with the theme of what we are studying. For this reason, I love offering it as one of their choices because they can find something fun to work with while building their language skills. They can choose from so many templates to create an engaging, vibrant book, write their story in Spanish and see it come to life with the variety of images available to them. Storybird helps the students to build their skills and to create something that they can share with others and have made into a beautiful book as evidence of their learning.

Storybird is one of my go to tools when creating a project. It is fun and easy to use, with beautiful artwork that aids in the story writing process. I have used Storybird for several school projects and for fun. It is a well designed application that allows the author to choose exactly what they want.
— Dana, high school student

An added benefit is that in addition to displaying these on the Smartboard in the classroom for all students to see and learn from, we can have their books printed and displayed in the classroom. What could be better than seeing the books written by your students in Spanish on display in your classroom? The books can be used as learning materials for future classes and exemplify what personalized learning and having a choice can do to engage students and increase their learning potential. The students can be creative and have fun learning in the process.

Storybird is really fun. I love the groups of pictures you can choose from for creating your book. The website is really easy to use, and different from other programs I’ve used in the past. Being able to purchase a paper copy of your book is a really great feature. — Maddi, high school student

Some fun examples we have used in Spanish are projects to describe one’s family and create a family album and also to describe preparing for a special event and one’s daily routine. Students have fun selecting their pictures to represent the members of the family or activities in their daily routine, and as the teacher, I enjoy seeing their finished work and knowing that not only did they build their language skills, they had fun in the process and created something that they can share with others and author their own book.

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed a decrease in student engagement, especially while I responded to the question of a student seated close to me, students around the room became distracted or stopped listening. Trying to get the students to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and the result was a loss of valuable instruction time. Another concern was how students had been treating one another. I  often overheard conversations in the hallways, or witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or had students who sought help in dealing with different situations.

There were two issues that I needed to resolve: regain the valuable instruction time that was being lost and help students to develop more positive, collaborative peer relationships. How could I connect students more to the content and to one another, so they could work together to foster a more positive classroom? After some brainstorming, and reaching out to my PLN,  I decided to first focus on ways to promote collaboration and to step out of my role of “leader” in the classroom by stepping aside.

The first changes:

My first realization was that I needed to shift roles in my classroom. I needed to get out of the way, and students needed to do more than simply sit for the entire class. To get started, look at your own classroom. Where are you and the students spending the class period? Think about how you can open up more space and create a collaborative setting for students. Think about how you can involve the students in more “active learning” that will lead to better student engagement.

One morning, I looked at the physical space of my classroom and decided to break apart the rows of desks. By doing this, it created more flexible spaces for students to interact, to create and lead, and do more than just sit and listen. Students need opportunities to work with their peers through lessons and engage in activities where they can master the content together, and that will provide opportunities to develop their interpersonal skills, self-awareness and social awareness of others.

 

Making these changes can feel uncomfortable because it means going against what likely has been the traditional classroom structure. However, many teachers have moved toward flexible learning spaces, creating a more student-centered and student-driven classroom. A classroom which moves away from simply lecturing, reviewing homework, passing out materials, assigning new homework, and repeating this same routine the very next day. While this process may promote the acquisition and application of knowledge, it does not effectively promote collaboration, invite student input, nor foster development of vital SEL (social-emotional learning) skills.

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness,  relationship skills, and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom. To promote the development of SEL, here are some ideas and additional resources to get started.

Practical ways to promote SEL:

  • Icebreakers: I started this school year with fun icebreakers, to get to know one another and to find out what students had in common. Why? It all starts with relationships, building a connection with peers and the teacher, and using this to connect with the content area. Returning after an extended holiday break, doing even one icebreaker can be a good way to welcome students back to the classroom, to ease into the daily routine and to start the year fresh by working on relationships. Perhaps have students share what they did over break, show a picture, talk about favorite foods for holidays even, and let students make connections on their own.
  • Games and activities: Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of games and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. There are many online tools available to help you get started. For elementary and middle school, Centervention provides free online games, activities, and printables for teaching students about SEL. Gaming helps students to learn to problem solve, collaborate, think critically, and develop empathy through scenarios within the game itself, or as a result of being part of a team. It creates a sense of community and belonging, which foster the social-emotional skills students need. Even by using Minecraft, educators have seen a connection between the benefits of gaming for learning and the development of SEL skills.
  • Learning Stations: Something that has really made a difference in my classroom has been using learning stations. I started the year with rows and decided one morning, that the rows had to go. I quickly set up clusters of desks or “stations” to accommodate three students each, with four extra desks grouped together in the center. At each station, students spend 10-14 minutes doing a hands-on activity like a worksheet, creating flashcards, watching a video, playing a game or simply coming up with their own ways to practice. Deciding upon the activities takes some planning, especially when trying this for the first time, but it is well worth it. Start by explaining the “stations”, involving students in the discussion and asking for feedback. When we explain our goals and share any fears we may have, we are modeling “self-awareness” and “self-management”. By using stations, we also have more time to interact with each student and group, work on relationships and foster a deeper understanding of the content as well as connecting with one another and creating a more positive classroom culture.

Challenges and solutions:

  • Groups: The first few class periods there were complaints. Students wanted to work with their friends and others wanted to work alone. It can be awkward if you are the only one who doesn’t find somebody to work with, but it can also be a challenge to work with a group when you may end up being the only one doing the work. Assigning random groups can help alleviate some of these uncomfortable feelings, even though in life and for the future, students may face the same challenges and uncomfortable moments, not having a choice in collaborative work. However, for the time being, the importance is to help students to develop interpersonal skills that will enable them to be successful in the future, to develop the social and emotional learning skills, especially in terms of relationships, decision-making and developing a self- awareness.
  • Timing: It can be a challenge at first to know how much time to provide for each station. I started by spending ten minutes reviewing material, asking questions, or doing an activity with the whole class, before starting stations. I tried giving 15 minutes for each, so students would work through two each day. Some students finished early and wanted to move on. To work through this, I would use the time to speak with each group or individual students, and then make adjustments during the next station rotation. There is always room to improve, but the important thing is remembering to be flexible and open to changes that will positively impact student learning and relationships.

Benefits:

  • Student engagement: Students have been more engaged in learning, and have come in to tell me how much they look forward to coming to class. Because of the different activities within the stations, students participate more because they are active and moving, and know that each station offers a new way to learn.
  • Student leaders: Students are offering to help one another, to explain concepts, and to cheer each other on. They keep each other on task and by working in these small groups, there are fewer distractions than working as a whole group. Each small group can ask questions, receive individualized feedback because I can freely move around the classroom and clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Teacher-student relationships: Students are getting timely, authentic and personal feedback. By using learning stations, more time is student-focused and those individual conversations can happen as needed, to help students to be successful and be more confident.
  • Student learning: In terms of academic achievement, the participation and results of recent assessments are the highest they have been. Students enjoy coming to class because they know they’re going to be leading and making decisions about their learning, in a way that is comfortable, flexible and fun. The learning experience is more authentic and meaningful for students. Research has shown the positive benefits of incorporating SEL into the curriculum.
  • Student behaviors: As for the class distractions and the negative interactions that existed before, both have decreased tremendously. It is not something that is going to change overnight but what matters is that we make constant progress. We are learning and becoming better together.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “I am a part of everything I have read.” When I read his quote, it greatly resonated with me because of my love of quotes and the impact they can have in our lives. In Other Words is a book full of inspirational and thought-provoking quotes that have pushed my thinking, inspired me and given me strength when I needed it. The book shares stories around the importance of growing ourselves as educators, knowing our why, as well as learning from and embracing failures and taking risks with learning so we can become our best selves for those we lead and learn with.

Get your signed copy here: bit.ly/Inotherwordsbook

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There are stories shared by educators with different backgrounds and different perspectives. My own experiences and interpretations and the educator vignettes shared by my PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network) will hopefully push your thinking, inspire you, and provide whatever it is that you need. My hope is that by sharing our stories, it will inspire you to share yours.

 

There were many people involved throughout this journey. I reached out to members of my PLN and friends to include as many educators and students as possible. I  wanted to share more than just my story, but rather many stories and experiences.   This book is one that can be read by anyone, not just people in education. There are many quotes, unique personal experiences, beautiful graphics and more.

About the book #Quotes4EDU

In this book, I share some of my experiences and reflections based on quotes. I have included the stories of different educators in the form of vignettes or guest chapters. One chapter was written by two of my students and my book cover was drawn by one of my 9th-grade students. The story behind the book cover is included at the beginning of the book.  The book is available on Kindle or in paperback: bit.ly/Inotherwords  A few of the stories are available for listening on Synth. gosynth.com/p/s/pyzbnm  

Chapter Authors
Dennis Griffin
Maureen Hayes
Holly King
Elizabeth Merce
Melissa Pilakowski
Laura Steinbrink
Amy Storer
Donald Sturm
Cassy DeBacco
Celaine Hornsby
Vignettes
Marialice B.F.X. Curran
Jon Craig

Kristi  Daws

Sarah Fromhold
Jeff Kubiak
Matthew Larson
Jennifer Ledford
Kristen Nan
Toutoule Ntoya
Paul O’Neill
Zee Ann Poerio
Rodney Turner
Heather Young
Graphics 
Michael Mordechai Cohen
Dene Gainey
Manuel Herrera
Shelby  Krevokuch
Amber McCormick
Dana Ladenburger
Heather Lippert
Scott Nunes
Chris Spalton
Tisha Richmond
Monica Spillman
Laura Steinbrink
Kitty Tripp
Julie Woodard
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Thank you Kristi Daws for creating these images!!

 

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Updated from an original post on DefinedSTEM.

Technology creates many opportunities for teachers to provide innovative learning experiences for students. An even greater benefit is that these learning experiences can take place regardless of the time and place, and offer students more personalized opportunities for interacting with their peers and the content. With so many choices now available, sometimes deciding on a specific digital tool or a type of tool can present a challenge.

I am often asked about where a teacher should start when either implementing technology for the first time or creating a blended learning environment. What I suggest is to first think about some of the learning activities that are already being used in the classroom. What has seemed to work the best and what are some that possibly either take a lot of time to create or that don’t offer students a lot in the way of choices.

Another consideration is focusing on your goals and what you are hoping to accomplish by using technology. Is it to create an access point where students can ask questions, obtain class resources or interact with their peers? Or is it to provide students with different methods to practice the content and also to apply their learning in more authentic ways?

Here are four strategies for helping students to communicate, collaborate and create in the traditional learning space as well as beyond the classroom setting. By trying some of these ideas, you will see some positive changes that promote student voice, create more time for you to interact with and support students in learning, and it will help students to build digital citizenship skills as they learn to leverage the technology and navigate in the digital world.

Improve Communication Through Effective Technology Use

One way that I have used technology that has had a big impact in my classroom is by using a messaging tool. A few years ago I noticed a disconnect with students and the class, either they were absent and could not get materials or they had questions after the school day had ended. By using messaging apps, I can send reminders, answer student questions and provide feedback when students need it. You can also use some of these apps to connect with families as an alternative to email. There are a lot of options available and your choices will depend on the level and area you teach and whether your goal is to set up communication between students and you or with parents. I use Remind with students and parents, and BloomzApp is another option for creating a space to interact with parents. Either of these is good for providing students and parents with live feedback. It is easy to sign up for either of these using any device, and privacy and security are provided.

However,  I was recently looking at communication tools and thinking about promoting family engagement and came across ParentSquare before attending FETC in January. ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. 

 

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

By establishing a specific location for students to access class resources, find out about assignments, and to ask questions, we can provide the support that students need to be successful. Some of the ways that I have used Edmodo and Google Classroom are to curate and provide resources, post daily assignments or reminders, announce upcoming class events, and to be accessible for student questions. Depending on the platform you use, it is easy to update the site and it is also a good way to help parents stay informed of what is going on in the classroom. It can be a collaborative learning space for students to interact with their peers or to connect globally using additional digital tools that are all housed within one learning space.  Tools like Edmodo, a blogging site, Google Classroom or creating a standalone website will help to create a connection between you, the students, and their learning.

Foster Active Discussions

Sometimes you may want to have students brainstorm an idea, participate in a scavenger hunt, share a learning experience, or just respond to a question. While we can always use the traditional tools for this in class, sometimes we may want the discussion to go beyond the class time and space. I would recommend trying either Padlet or Synth. There are so many ways to use Padlet, that if you want students to post images, record audio, upload video, or simply respond to a question, it offers all of these options in one tool. Students have come up with some great ideas for using Padlet, such as building a digital portfolio, creating a multimedia presentation, or presenting their Project Based Learning. It is a versatile tool that many educators may already be using, but may not be aware of other innovative ways to use Padlet.

Also by using Synth, a tool for podcasting, educators can provide daily class updates, add links or resources to supplement what was done in class, and even interact with other students in classrooms around the world. It enables discussions to happen at any time and is an easy tool to use for promoting discussions and helping students to share ideas. There are many ways that these tools can also add to the organization in the classroom by providing written or verbal directions and ways to reinforce instruction.

 

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Enhance Visualizations and Presentations

Some students are visual learners and having tools which enable them to display different types of information and content, they will be able to retain the content in a more authentic and meaningful way as they create. Infographics are useful for so many class assignments and projects that are student created, but they are beneficial for teachers to create a course syllabus, make visuals for the classroom, or to create a flipped lesson and display all of the learning materials in one graphic. Beyond creating representations of learning, they are useful for sharing information and offering ways for students or parents to contact you or access class materials. Some of the options available are BunceeCanva, Piktochart, Smore, and Visme. It is always good practice to learn with and from the students, so try creating some new materials for your classroom as well. Perhaps create a class newsletter, or make some signs that will be useful for your learning space.

 

 

There are many ideas for how to expand the learning space and to set up different learning opportunities for students. These are just a few of the ideas that we have used and that have worked well in our classroom. Sometimes we just need to brainstorm a little or, if you want to find new ways to use some digital tools in your classroom, try asking your students. Students come up with really creative ideas and by involving them in some of the classroom decisions, they will feel more valued and have a more meaningful learning experience.

 

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This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own.

Over the last few weeks, I have been exploring ParentSquare and considering how it can be used to promote family engagement, foster better communication and facilitate collaboration between home and school.

Choosing something that will give students, teachers, parents, and administrators equal access to the vital information, resources, school news, and alerts, in addition to many of the other communications that are exchanged on a daily basis is an important task. There are multiple tools that can be used, but this often requires remembering where to find specific information or parent and teacher preferences for communication. Having one platform that provides all of this and more makes sense. With ParentSquare, all of this is possible and it brings with it the potential for using it in different ways that meet the needs of school and home, making it highly beneficial.

What it offers

There are many features of ParentSquare that facilitate more consistent and reliable information sharing and access to resources. Consider the tools and methods you are currently using and then compare with ParentSquare to see how much easier it is to engage families in the education of our students. Think about a typical day and the ways you communicate, the tasks that you do, the information that you exchange and how much time is spent in the process. ParentSquare helps to streamline all of the necessary communications.

Here are 10 of the best features that I think make ParentSquare really stand out and why I recommend that school administrators and teachers take time to explore the platform.

10 features that make ParentSquare a standout

  1. Ease of navigation within the platform: A key feature of ParentSquare is in its simplicity. Available through the web or mobile devices, getting started and finding what you need is easy, without worry about a steep learning curve.
  2. Increases families engagement: Families choose their preferred methods of communication such as email, text, web portal, app notifications, voice calls, or mobile app. ParentSquare helps to create a closer home to school learning community full of ways to connect families.
  3. Facilitates timely and relevant communication between home and school: Messages can be sent immediately, with real-time interactions and reports to show the reach and deliverability, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted. Easier to share relevant updates of all school-related activities and groups within one platform.
  4. Promotes better two-way communication with parents: Keep the conversation going with multiple options for communicating in less time. Communicate through direct messages, create polls, and post comments all in one platform.
  5. Easier to plan and RSVP for upcoming events: With ParentSquare, creating events and tracking RSVPs is much easier. ParentSquare even sends reminders for you.
  6. Involves families through photo and file sharing: Share photos and files with families quickly and with private and secure access within the platform.
  7. Creates more opportunities for family involvement: Schools can create wish lists, manage volunteer sign-ups and launch fundraising campaigns, all in one platform.
  8. Language Features: ParentSquare offers direct language translation in real-time for two-way communication. Language translation can be specific to the school or based on family preferences.

 

9. “Pushes” vital information to families when needed: Immediate access to information such as emergency alerts, grades, absences, lunch balances, upcoming events, volunteer requests, parent-teacher conferences and more. Parents do not need to search for information, everything is easy to find.

10. Analytics: With the reports, it’s easy to determine who received messages, how they obtained the information and how many people still need to be contacted. Access to the “Overall Snapshot” makes it easy to see how the information is being received and areas that need to be improved.

 

 

 

 

 

School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare

Find out how ParentSquare can make a difference in your school. I recommend that you schedule a demo to learn more about the features and possibilities with ParentSquare. Personally, I like to get started by exploring the website, learning about the team and the platform as much as I can before the demo. It is helpful to consider the different methods or tools you currently use for communicating and collaborating with students and families. Perhaps even make a list to compare. You will see how ParentSquare unifies so many time-consuming tasks and streamlines the exchange of forms and correspondence, into one tool that provides it all.

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement. Sign up for a demo today!

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Originally published on Getting Smart

 

Involving families in the education of our students is crucial to their success. Beyond just involving families, schools need to strive for family engagement and the creation of partnerships between school, home, and community. These partnerships, or connections between “stakeholders”, are important for promoting student well-being and success. When there is a greater focus on fostering more meaningful and personal connections, the school, community, and families can work together to provide the support, structure and make decisions for the benefit of student achievement.

Importance of Connecting

To promote family engagement, we must be intentional in learning about the families in our schools. It is important to make an initial connection, invite families in to engage in conversations and start to develop an awareness of each family’s needs, preferences and prior experiences in terms of involvement with the educational community. We should also explore any perceived or real barriers to family engagement. Recognizing some of the biggest barriers to family engagement will help schools to develop the most effective strategies to help families feel more connected to and supported by the school.

A survey of over 18,000 parents indicated some of the biggest barriers to family engagement were: time, lack of information, availability of childcare, and inconsistent treatment of students. Using this data, schools can develop specific strategies aimed at reducing and eliminating these barriers. Understanding the diverse needs of the families and students in our school system is crucial, as we always want to create a welcoming and supportive environment, one which should also be reflective of the educational setting for our students. A strong and collaborative home to school partnership has been shown to positively impact student performance as well as empower parents.

Communication between school and home has traditionally involved sending information in letter form, an email or by making a phone call. While these methods are still useful, they are not the best choices in terms of timeliness, especially when it comes to time-sensitive matters. Being able to connect and share school news and update families on student progress, in a timely manner, is vital to classrooms and fostering this sense of “community”. The sense of “community” comes from focusing on the building of family relationships, which are critical for student success in the classroom.

In a survey done by SpeakUp in 2015 (cited in Learning Transformed), 55% of the half million K-12 parents surveyed stated that they wanted a weekly text message with updates. The same survey given five years prior yielded a result of only 5% of parents interested in this form of communication. With the digital age and many options for communicating, it is not that surprising to see such an increase. However, before starting to use a certain messaging tool, teachers should first consider what might be the best way to connect with parents and how to provide access to the classroom resources which will support student growth. Sharing an initial survey can help educators can determine how to best establish a classroom presence and open channels of communication.

Connecting with Families

There are many ways to connect with parents. With technology, tasks such as sending class updates, assignment reminders, creating a calendar, sharing photos and distributing information are much easier. Knowing that families have mobile devices, does not guarantee that WI-FI access is available, and this is something that can be determined through the use of a survey.

In a recent Trends in Community Engagement report, written in partnership with Project Tomorrow, 30,000 parents expressed expectations for frequency and forms of communication. Among the key findings of this report were that parents want timely and impactful communication. While parents want to be kept informed, they do not want to be overwhelmed with a flood of information. The CDC created strategies to help schools build frameworks to promote family engagement. The focus is to “Connect, Engage, Sustain” families’ in the educational community. Schools can refer to the many resources with tips for promoting engagement. To get started, here are five different ways to “connect, engage and sustain” family involvement.

1) Communication Tools: By using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, school leaders, and classrooms can transmit messages quickly and with a far reach. Tools such as Remind, or BloomzApp enable teachers and parents to communicate and also share information quickly. Both options offer translation capabilities which promote digital equity and accessibility. ParentSquare, is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. By using these tools, teachers and parents communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.

2) Video Tools: Sharing news about student work, or creating a lesson for students to view outside of class, can be done with tools such as EducreationsFlipgrid, or Screencastify. Teachers can record videos of weekly announcements or special events, or even teach a lesson and share the links with parents, which will create a more supportive connection between home and school. Videos can also be a great way to have students share their learning, even creating a digital portfolio, or have families record video introductions to learn about one another.

3) Blogging/Class Webpage: Maintaining a classroom space in the form of a blog or a class website, can be done easily using tools like KidblogPadletEdmodo or other web-based learning platforms. When families know they can refer to one centralized location to obtain class updates, ask questions, or read about class events, it provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily activities of the school and fosters a greater connection between school and home. It also aids in resolving the barriers of time and lack of information, as families can refer to these spaces when convenient.

4) School and Community: There are a lot of possibilities for amplifying student learning by connecting with and sharing news of school events within the community itself. Social media can be one way of connecting, or simply by seeking out the local library and businesses to bring in real-world experiences for learning and to inform the community of the educational events going on at school. Invite the community into events such as Back to School nights, Open Houses or STEAM showcases, or hold a learning night for families. Any of these offer a good opportunity to meet and engage families in conversations and planning to impact student learning.

5) Family Activities: Finding ways to involve parents in the learning process can be a challenge. A good opportunity to co-learn is to take part in something called “Family Playlists”. A Family Playlist, devised by PowerMyLearning, basically has the student becoming the “teacher”. In their role as “teacher”, students share their knowledge with the family, who then provides feedback to the classroom teacher, as to how the student conveyed the information and their confidence in doing so. Trying this method is a good way to further involve families in the educational experience, leading to a greater understanding of the type of learning occurring in school as well as provide beneficial insight into a child’s progress. It also promotes ongoing and supportive collaboration between home and school.

There are many strategies that schools can use to keep families informed and involved. The key is to find a way to not only make an initial connection and build the “family to school” partnership but to engage families and continue to collaborate and grow together. These connections will lead to the creation of solid and supportive relationships between school and home, which will promote student achievement and enhance their sense of belonging.

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This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own

 

In my previous post, I shared the background of ParentSquare, where the inspiration came from and provided a basic overview of what the platform offers. To learn more, I scheduled a demo with Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare, and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a parent, teacher, and administrator. I also had an opportunity to explore the platform on my own, delve more into each of the features, and compare it to the tools that I use in my own classroom as well as those used within my school.

ParentSquare offers unique features that make it stand out when compared with other similar home-to-school communication platforms currently used in schools. While other platforms offer similar benefits, one of the things I appreciate most about ParentSquare is understanding the vision that Anu has for the platform. She has a genuine passion for connecting families in the school community.

The Power of Technology

When I spoke with Anu, we first talked about technology and its benefits. When asked about the purpose of ParentSquare and what makes it different from similar tools, Anu said her goal is to provide teachers with “a system that takes care of everything, one that is automatic.” Because of the way ParentSquare is designed, teachers will find that there is not much of a learning curve at all and that it is very easy to navigate. She added, “The purpose is to simplify the technology enough so that everyone can use it because that’s the power in technology.”

Everything in ParentSquare has a similar look and feel, “if you know how to do one thing, you know how to do everything.” For students, parents, teachers, and administrators, this ease of use and accessibility are key.

When it comes to ParentSquare, Anu has a unique perspective. She can evaluate the benefits by using it as a parent, which gives her a more authentic experience with the platform. And she is in a position to make changes based on the feedback she receives and through her own experience in communicating with her children’s teachers.

What makes ParentSquare stand out?

The first thing that I noticed about ParentSquare is how easy it is to navigate in the platform. When looking at digital tools, especially those that offer as many features as ParentSquare, a common question is if there will there be a big learning curve. A key feature of ParentSquare is in its simplicity. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators, whether tech-savvy or new to technology, will be comfortable using ParentSquare.

With ParentSquare, you can streamline many of the tasks and communications that are a regular part of school, but that typically come in multiple formats. ParentSquare takes everything that schools and teachers are currently using and unifies them in one platform that is easy to use and widely accessible. Schools can establish consistency in communication which will increase family engagement and provide all of the necessary resources in a safe digital environment.

Features that make a difference

  1. Smart Alerts and Notices: Send alerts for school closings, urgent notices, or quick reminders to parents. Alerts can be sent to the entire district, individual schools, parents, or students. Sending a recorded message or using the text-to-speech feature provided by ParentSquare is easy to do. Through the reports, you can verify the number of messages that have been received, even getting a prompt that provides the percentage of contacts being reached and the number needed to reach 100%.
  2. Classroom Communication: Posting a message takes little time and messages can be sent to parents, privately exchanged with teachers, or as part of a group chat. Parents choose their preferred method of contact and you simply create one message that is delivered to parents in the format and language they choose.
  3. School Business and Workflows: ParentSquare offers many resources such as:
  • Parent Conference Signups
  • Class “wish lists”
  • Volunteer requests
  • RSVPs for events
  • Permission forms
  • Calendar of events (can be synced with personal Google calendar)
  • File and photo sharing
  • Quick polls
  • Absence excuses

Exploring the features of ParentSquare

While exploring the demo site, I decided to look at features related to two areas:

  • Clerical tasks: taking attendance, creating permission forms, and contacting parents.
  • Daily classroom procedures: sending class announcements, posting reminders, and sharing class materials.

Personally, I have been using between four and six different apps and websites to complete these tasks. However, with ParentSquare, you can facilitate faster and better communication and collaboration between home and school. And more importantly, it will help to foster the relationships that are the foundation of learning.

Here are just five of the many benefits of using ParentSquare in schools:

  1. Parent-Teacher Communication – With ParentSquare, it is easier to:
  • Provide updates on student progress
  • Be accessible for parent concerns
  • Arrange parent-teacher conferences
  • Verify when messages have been received and who you need to reach

2) Directory – Parental contact information is more accessible, taking less time to find and exchange emails or messages. You can search by student or parent name, email address or phone number.

3) Paper-free – Easier to keep track of permission forms, absence excuses, and volunteer sign-ups. Exchange information faster and access the “paperwork” when you need to without having to print extra copies or keep folders full of documents.

4) Grade reporting – ParentSquare integrates with your grade book and notifications can be sent to keep parents informed about student grades.

5) Attendance Tasks – Keeping attendance records and gathering excuses for absences is much simpler using ParentSquare. Parents receive notices of absences and can respond with an excuse instantly within the app or on the web.

These are the first five areas that I thought of which likely take up a good portion of time for most educators each day. Using ParentSquare to facilitate these five tasks alone would make a big difference. In addition to being beneficial for time management, it would foster the creation of a supportive and engaged community of students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Sign up for your demo today!

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This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own.

For the past three years, I have enjoyed attending the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held in Orlando at the end of January. It has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is seeing the new tools and exploring different options for my students, as well as finding some ideas to share with members of my PLN.

In the middle of January, I started to receive flyers from edtech companies who would be at FETC. My habit is to check out their website and then make time to stop by their booth and have a conversation to learn more. This year, I also received one email, from Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare.

Her email invited FETC attendees to stop by a hospitality suite hosted by ParentSquare, to learn more about the platform and spend time networking. Because of my schedule, I would not be able to attend, so I emailed Anu to introduce myself and make an initial connection. We had hoped to meet while there, but of course, time flies when you are at FETC and we missed the opportunity to connect in person. With a call setup for a few weeks later, I was glad to have more time to explore ParentSquare on my own before “meeting” with Anu earlier this month.

The story behind ParentSquare

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for students, I really enjoy getting to know and connect with the people behind these tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them and to see if my goals as a teacher are in alignment with their purpose so I can provide the best options for my students.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about the start of ParentSquare and the growth that it has seen over the past eight years. Anu shared the story behind ParentSquare and her passion for the work that she does is clear. As a parent, Anu often received a lot of different messages and communications from her children’s’ school. While receiving the information was not a problem, the variety and inconsistency of formats (email, paper, newsletters, even Google groups) being used in schools was a problem. Parents had to keep up with and know the practices for communicating with each teacher.

Anu thought there had to be a better, more consistent way and she made it her goal to design something that would facilitate all of these vital communications in a more accessible and simplified way, that everyone (families, teachers, and administrators) could access. By using one tool, there is consistency, reliability and it promotes more equity when everyone has the same options for staying informed and feeling connected to the school. Anu wanted to “get everyone to be on the same platform, working together toward a common goal,” to unite all stakeholders in the educational community.

Starting with four schools during the first two years, ParentSquare has grown across the United States and is now being used in more than 1500 schools in 36 states. Moving forward, Anu hopes to connect with more schools and educators, to communicate in more effective ways so that together we can provide the best learning experience for students and the most support for their families.

What does ParentSquare offer?

ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. It truly fosters a learning community.

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When I explored ParentSquare, what I noticed first is the setup of the landing page and how easy it is to locate the information you are looking for. It is a versatile tool that helps to facilitate many different interactions and increase communication between home, school and the community. Having time to explore ParentSquare closely, I thought about the tools that I use for communicating with students and families, and realized that rather than using multiple different tools, I could use ParentSquare to do all of that and more.

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With ParentSquare, communicating is easy. You can quickly exchange information, share photos, engage in two-way conversations with parents, plan events, to name just a few of the options, and I was amazed at how easy it was to find what I needed. You can see right away how beneficial it is for schools and families. If you find yourself or your school using multiple different apps to keep track of correspondence, announce events, share files and photos, send messages, or even ask for volunteers, ParentSquare enables you to use just one tool that facilitates so much within the school community.

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There are three main areas that ParentSquare provides: Communication, Resources and Participation with many options available within each.

The landing page is easy to navigate to keep track of events, messages, upcoming activities like fundraisers or school events.

To communicate, you can send or schedule a post, create an alert, or even send a two-way message to interact with parents one-to-one.

Parents can opt to receive an email with a link to read without having to log in or they can choose to read a text message or app notification.

Parents can also choose to receive their notifications in a digest format. With a digest format, parents will receive all notifications from the day at a specified time, rather than receiving notifications that are dispersed throughout the day.

Signing up for events and sending RSVPs have never been easier.

Why choose ParentSquare?

Technology tools like ParentSquare provide so many benefits for schools and families. By using ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home. Parents will appreciate having one tool with multiple functions that help to bridge the gap that can happen when using multiple apps or means of communication within the same school setting. School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare.

Sign up for a demo today and stay tuned for the next post which will highlight some of the features of ParentSquare and how to get started.