learning

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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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.

 

 

Metaverse: Collections are here!

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

Metaverse has become a favorite of my students for creating fun, interesting, interactive “experiences” for class. The best part about using a tool like Metaverse is that it enables educators to give students more control and an opportunity to create something that is more meaningful to them. With libraries full of thousands of choices, every student can find something that meets their interests and engages them more in the creative fun and process of learning. While sometimes it can take a little bit longer to figure out how to use different tools for creating in Augmented Reality, or problem solve to find out why something isn’t working during the creation process, with Metaverse, all students can find exactly what they need. Sometimes people wonder if there’s any bit of a learning curve or how much time it takes to get started with something, but in this case, it couldn’t be easier.

I have found that students really enjoy creating with Metaverse, especially because they have so many possibilities for what they can create. They can add in characters and 3D objects, portals, 360 videos, YouTube videos, audio, and much more. There has been an update to the way that the website looks and it is now even easier to find what you need in order to create your very own experience. Of course if you need help, you can send a message directly to the Metaverse team using the chat or check out some of their updated video tutorials on YouTube.

Other benefits

I find that another bonus of using Metaverse is that it is very user-friendly to get started with and it doesn’t take long for students to figure out how to design their experience on their own or for students to step in and help their peers. I’ve noticed when using tools like Metaverse in the classroom that there is this other component to what students are able to “experience” while learning. It really does a lot for helping peers work on their collaborative skills and even social-emotional learning skills. There are many ways to use this for students to create a representation of something they have learned, to tell a story, to create a scavenger hunt even. You can learn more about Metaverse and how it works from my prior post or check out a recent post about using Augmented Reality tools for blended learning here.

Eagerly anticipating the new features

I had a chance to preview the Collections with the Metaverse team about a month ago, and I was very excited when I learned about the changes that would be coming to the Metaverse platform. Not only would there be more items and awesome things to choose from, that students and teachers could create with, but there would also be a new dashboard with a better way for students and teachers to access the experiences that have been created.

Having used Metaverse for a few years, I have saved a lot of student-created experiences to use in my STEAM classes. In order to make these experiences available for all students to see and enjoy each year, I chose to create a Padlet and have students post their QR codes onto the Padlet. By doing this, it was easy to simply display the Padlet on the Smartboard and have students walk up and scan the QR code. Another benefit was that it gave students time to explore a variety of experiences created by their peers and make new connections while learning.

It’s very easy to manage the student work from your classroom once you create a collection from your Metaverse dashboard. With this new feature, you can see all of your students’ experiences, you can set them up by class or if it’s the same class, put all of the experiences together, that way students have even more to explore and learn from. As a teacher, you have the option to edit the student experiences and take a look at what they have created, and beyond that, once you have the collection created, you the projects for the entire class can be shared through just one link. So easy to connect student work in one space. Check out Collections here!

How to get Collections

So how do you get the Collections? For right now it is still a free feature, without the Collections add-on. Creating collections will become a paid add on for the Metaverse studio. To submit one of your experiences to a collection, there is no cost involved. Students from prior classes or who create experiences in other courses can still share their experiences to be used with the other students in my STEAM class.

The cost is going to be approximately $7 per month or you can sign up for a year at a discount rate of $64! And speaking of benefits, use the promo code ARforEDU and take advantage of a free month of Collections!

The result?

A much easier way to gather, explore and share student work. More convenient and better access to be able to explore the different experiences. One thing to keep in mind is to always check over the student experiences and keep providing reminders about digital citizenship and responsibilities as part of learning journey in Augmented Reality. Ready to get started with Metaverse in your classroom? Check out all of the great resources for teachers here.


The Edupreneur: A documentary by Dr. Will Deyamport

Dr. Will Deyamport, educator, podcaster, innovator. I am thankful to have gotten to know Dr. Will by becoming a more connected educator and joining Edumatch, created by Dr. Sarah Thomas. I joined Edumatch a few years ago and started to connect with educators from around the world, opening up many opportunities for learning and growing together. Through Edumatch and the power of social media, educators have joined together to share knowledge, to support one another and become part of a larger educator community, far beyond a typical PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network), and instead became a PLF. A family of connected educators.

Looking back to when I first became involved with Edumatch, I never imagined how many positive experiences and how much of an impact on my life that my involvement with Edumatch would have. And more importantly, the impact on the lives of the students that I’m privileged to teach and the educators with whom I’m honored to be connected.

Enter Dr. Will

One of those educators is Dr. Will. Our first real conversation was two years ago when he invited me to be a guest on his podcast, the Dr. Will show. I didn’t think that I had a story to tell. What could I possibly share? But when you talk with Dr. Will, you know that your voice matters, that he hears you and is truly listening to what you are saying. Why? Because his motivation and passion are for sharing your story and your words with others who need to hear and can learn from them.

Flash forward to last summer, a hectic schedule at ISTE 2018 in Chicago, where I had a brief moment to get a picture with Dr. Will and some other Edumatch friends. I thought that might be the only time we would have to catch up, however, as luck would have it, we ended up attending the same social gathering that Tuesday night. I took a seat next to Dr. Will. We spent a few hours talking about podcasts, blogging, conferences, writing books, all things education and I remember telling him that I thought that he should write a chapter for “Snapshot in Education 2018.” I’m pretty sure I recall him saying he “didn’t know what he would write about.” I suggested podcasting. He was so passionate about podcasts and I admired the work that he did. I thought that his experience could really help a lot of people who were thinking of starting their own podcast or for setting one up for use with students.

Dr. Will has found his niche

Our conversation was one of the highlights of the conference. Time to slow down and just enjoy that time to connect. Did he take my advice? I’d like to say that he did, but I know he had others guiding him and sharing their ideas as well. When he was added to the Edumatch authors group on Voxer, I thought he took my advice to write about podcasting. But what he has done instead is absolutely a groundbreaking and phenomenal work of genius. Having seen the trailer for “The Edupreneur” a few weeks back, I was immediately drawn in and eager to see the full documentary.

The stories

Dr. Will has produced a documentary, focused on the lives and transformation of eight educators into “Edupreneurs.” With the help of Sarah Thomas, he has produced something very unique, unlike anything else that I have seen. We are taken on a journey as we learn about the lives of eight educators with different roles, experiences, backgrounds, and viewpoints on what it means to be an Edupreneur. Each educator openly shares their story, the good and the bad, and what it took for them to get them to where they are today: making an impact in the lives of educators around the world.

We only see who they are now, what they are doing in education and don’t often know their stories, their struggles, challenges, or frustrations. All the things that we experience in our everyday lives and probably don’t talk about it. When we see educators like these, we might think or assume that success came easily for them and aspire to achieve the same success for ourselves. However, as you will hear from their stories and see as they tell them, it wasn’t and isn’t always an easy road to follow. Get it here.

The Edupreneurs

Jeff Bradbury
Abbey Futrell
Dr. Robyn Jackson
Angela Maiers
Tom Murray
Eric Sheninger
Catlin Tucker
Dr. Ai Zhang

The documentary is broken into sections where each Edupreneur shares their backgrounds, offers advice, and more about who they are and what they believe in. These are just a few of my takeaways, which have led me to reflect, to plan and to aspire to do more, because our students deserve it.


Edupreneurs: Words of impact, the secret sauce, and some other advice

Angela: When teaching preschool students, she told them they have a moral obligation to share knowledge. “Can’t hold in what we have been gifted with.” Be prepared, ALWAYS bring your A game! Self-awareness is not self-esteem, it is the simultaneous ability to exist within and outside of yourself. PURSUE SIGNIFICANCE, not SUCCESS.

“For a passionate person, the idea of quitting does not exist.”

Robyn: We need to create a business in the education space. Articulate the transformation you are going to provide. Be relevant, develop a model. Let people know they can trust you.

Eric: Twitter was a catalyst to becoming an Edupreneur, access to ideas that made a change. Always be reflective on how can you get better, how can we evolve in a way that aligns with realities.

“Don’t chase Perfection, chase Growth.” 

We don’t set out to make a profit, we set out to make a difference.”


Catlin: “People were hungry for resources.” There was a demand in the edtech space. Students needed support to engage in academic conversation. Be intentional about what you do. If you are passionate about it, stick with it!

Abbey: Keep it real. Reputation is very important. There is something to learn every day. Keep it real, share experiences. Invest in yourself and don’t be afraid to know your worth.

“Relationships are good for anything.”


Ai Zhang: You have to invest in yourself, keep learning and never stop. Learn with and from people on the journey, especially those who are more successful, because it can be a shortcut to learn from their mistakes and experiences. Education is a service industry. Be vulnerable, show your struggles. Embrace authenticity and storytelling to build community. Be HUMAN.

Jeff Bradbury: It is collaborative, not competitive. Understanding the WHY, build those relationships, take it to the next level. Work in your passion, because if you are not, there is no sustainability. Don’t let people push you around, keep at it, know your passion, “keep your head down, eyes up.”

Tom Murray: Build relationships. It’s not about being liked, you’ve got to bring your A game. Tell stories that people can relate to, show humility, people don’t want the “know it all.”


On Keeping Balance

Ai: If you want to be EduPreneur, there is not a linear work/life balance, it is work/life INTEGRATION.

Robyn: Find ways to optimize life. Protect your life, be INTENTIONAL.

Jeff: You need a system to do what you want.

Tom: Sustainability is bringing your best every day to your day job

Angela: Get ahead by never COMPROMISING what your core is.


On Personal Branding

Ai: Storyteller and disruptor, teach others to embrace Social Media to enhance teaching and learning.

Catlin: Find a platform to push ideas, find your voice online and be consistent.

Eric: Branding is about TELLING not SELLING. Don’t forget WHY you went into education, HOW you make a difference, Have confidence.

Tom: Be relatable, never forget where you came from.

Angela: Litmus test, “If I made an impact on ONE, helped them understand their value, that is FAR more important to me than any outside measure of success.” Living FIERCELY and FULLY, committed to WHO I AM and PROUDLY PRESENT for people in her life.


Additional Advice

Angela: Don’t compare yourself to other people. What do you deliver that NO ONE ELSE can and how do you show up for that role every day?

Ai: Be patient, there is no overnight success, a journey can take time, experience it before offer it, transform internally.

Tom: The grind takes time, give back and mentor.

Robyn: “People don’t buy stuff, they buy transformations.”

Jeff: Find that niche, that you do better than anyone else, be known for one little thing.


So What Makes this Different? What will you learn from hearing their stories?

As educators, we constantly need to be learning and exploring, but we are often short on time or resources. Being able to read books, listen to podcasts or watch webinars, provide us with so much information and of course being connected through social media especially Twitter, enables us to connect and reach out with other educators around the world more than we were ever able to before. It takes us away from the isolation that we can sometimes feel in our space.

But what’s different with this documentary, is by seeing these educators, hearing them tell their story in their own words, feeling their passion, allows you to connect with each one of them. What they share will resonate with you in some way. They openly share so much of who they are, why they are so passionate about education and offer advice and words of impact to inspire other educators to begin the transformation from educator to Edupreneur. It is not always easy to be an educator, to know all the answers, and we’re not experts and we make mistakes. Knowing that everybody experiences this and that it’s a pretty normal thing, definitely helps.

If you want to know the story behind the educators you see on social media and on the conference circuit, and you’ve often wondered how they got to be where they are today, The Edupreneur is exactly what you are looking for. It is brilliantly done, absolutely engaging and will inspire you to begin your own transformation.

Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE 2018