schoolyear

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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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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A Classroom’s Journey To Student-Led, Interactive Lessons

Written for the RUBICON SUMMIT

About two years ago, I found myself struggling to find ways to keep my students engaged in the lesson. I tried to get them involved more in class activities by offering more choices and providing opportunities for them to be part of the decisions made about what we were doing in the classroom. Why did I do this? Partially because I saw – and could feel – a decrease in student motivation and engagement. It was approaching the end of the school year, and the focus had shifted more to “when does summer begin?”

So I tried to do things a bit differently, think creatively, and take some risks. I wanted to keep us all moving, to finish strong at the end of the school year and begin summer vacation with a sense of accomplishment, to celebrate all that we had learned throughout the year and also what we had gained from these new experiences.

Educational Technology and Digital Tools with Purpose
Educational Technology provides so many resources that enable students to learn anywhere and at any time, and at a pace that is comfortable for each student. We can instruct from inside the traditional classroom, ​”​the brick-and-mortar​” ​as it is called, or from anywhere around the world. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and provides opportunities for the students to move from consumers to creators. When students have choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued​,​ and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made perso​n​al to them.

Creating Interactive Lessons
What did I change? I started by having my students create some interactive lessons using educational technology tools like Formative, Nearpod, and EDPuzzle, or even games with Kahoot! and Quizizz. It proved to be a very beneficial learning experience for all of us. By doing this, we had extra resources available that could be shared with students who might need some extra practice. I thought it went so well that I decided to take it a step further and start a “teacher for a day” activity during which the students create a lesson based on a grammar topic or vocabulary.

I stepped back and had the students lead our classroom. It was a really good way to learn a lot more about the students, to better understand what their needs were in terms of the content material, and for the students to learn about each other. Giving students the control and the opportunity to become the creators and leaders in the class has tremendous benefits and it has been something that we have enjoyed.

Giving Students the Control
At first when students created interactive lessons, I would launch the lesson and control it on the SmartBoard, but find ways to involve the student who created it during the presentation. I eventually decided to move aside, and took a seat in the back of the room, having the student lead the lesson, give explanations, answer questions, call upon students for answers, and provide feedback. Having the opportunity to sit back and experience this was tremendous. The students enjoyed the activity, supported each other, collaborated, and provided some positive feedback to each of their classmates. I was very impressed with how well they taught, led, and learned during each of the “teacher for a day” lessons.

Empowering Students in Learning
The use of these digital tools means ​that ​the “time and place for learning” is no​ longer​ confined to the ​traditional time and setting of the physical ​classroom​. It opens up the learning environment ​to​ anywhere​, at any time and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well. Learning and having timely, purposeful and authentic feedback is critical ​for growth to happen. When we shift our focus to creating opportunities, giving students the control, leaving the decision making to students to choose ​how t​o show what they have learned, or ​letting them​ design their own assessments, they are more empowered in their learning.

What are the Next Steps?
Have a conversation with your students and ask for their honest feedback. What did they like? What did they not like? Which lesson or format seemed to help the most? What did it feel like to be in control, decide how to deliver the lesson, and experience being the teacher? You can have this as a face to face conversation, students can respond on paper, or use one of the many digital tools available for communication. No matter which way you choose, look to your students for the valuable feedback to decide your next steps. Be sure to ask yourself these same questions and continue to reflect on steps taken and progress made!

For more strategies about integrating technology into instruction, read Overcome

EdTech’s Problems With Blended Learning!

Buncee

There are a lot of great digital tools that promote student creativity and choice and give students an opportunity to learn about each other in the process. Two tools that have worked well together for this purpose are Buncee and Padlet. Using these together promotes student creativity, provides more authentic and meaningful ways for students to share backgrounds and introduce themselves to classmates. It builds digital citizenship and technology skills by teaching students how to interact in a virtual space. It promotes communication and collaboration through the sharing of projects and opens the ability to engage in conversation through the commenting feature on Padlet.

 

When students start the school year, learning about classroom procedures and becoming familiar with their peers are important activities. Teachers go about these procedures in different ways, some even choosing to dive right into the content material and to open up opportunities for these typical procedures on a daily basis. The past few years I have tried to get students to interact more at the start of the year, share who they are, their experiences, their interests and have them set some goals as well. I try to do so with variety of icebreakers or other activities like surveys or classroom games to get the conversations started. However, this year I plan to have students share their information by creating a visual representation. Students will be able to choose from the library of thousands of images, props, icons, animations and more in Buncee to tell their story. The requirement will be that they use very little in terms of text and rather choose the images, animations and even videos to tell their story. I also hope that it creates a way for students to share some learning goals they may have or things they wish their teacher knew.

BunceeJenna

Before the advancements in technology and the increase in types and number of tools available, sharing these creations required either printing or sending through email or storing on a flash drive. But with collaborative tools such as Padlet, it has been very simple to not only share the information quickly but to embed a Buncee project right onto the Padlet so it is fully visible to everyone instantly. By doing this, students have gained new knowledge of technology, developed peer relationships, teachers learn about the students, the students will learn about each other, and it will start the conversations going. By using imagery rather than so many words, students will be able to see some commonalities in the classroom which will help to drive the development of a classroom culture.

Besides the learning potential in this, I think it is a lot of fun and highly engaging for students to create and to see what their classmates have created. I would not be setting a good example if I myself did not create a Buncee and add it into the group. Students need to learn about their teachers as much as the teachers need to learn about the students. I’ve heard the quote and read the quote of Teddy Roosevelt many times “Children do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This couldn’t be truer, so we need to learn about our students and show that we care about them and their success.

BunceeSpain

Combining Buncee and Padlet

Throughout this app smashing (when two tools are used in conjunction to create and present a product), students enhance their skills in many areas. In terms of the ISTE Student Standards, all seven are addressed in completing these activities. The main one addressed is 6, Creative Communicator. Students have a choice and their voice is represented in creating their Buncee. But in the process of creating, they become Global Collaborators because by posting it on Padlet, others can view their work and comment. They are Empowered Learners because they have choice and voice in their learning experiences. Computational Thinkers because they are deciding how to present the information in the Buncee, Innovative designers choosing from the thousands of features available in the library to put into their own creation. Digital Citizens because they are learning to respect others’ work and to publish and post responsibly. For some students, this will be the first time they are really interacting with digital tools and so it will be perhaps a big learning curve. However, everyone will be doing the same thing and there will be comfort in this which will help student confidence to increase. I promote student empowerment and it will be a good way to set up the classroom culture and to help students gain some new skills moving forward.

FETCpresentation

New Buncee Boards! Announced today!

Today is an exciting day for Buncee and the many users of Buncee. The newest feature, Buncee boards, provide a great way to gather resources in one place, open up communication and collaboration, and share ideas with others in and out of the classroom. There are a lot of great ideas for using #BunceeBoards in the classroom, so be sure to check out this post: 10 ways to use Buncee Boards to see some of the ways Buncee Boards can be used in the classroom. There are a lof of great ways to use these in the classroom, and even better, students can have fun sharing, commenting and posting reactions to the boards.

There are many possibilities for using Buncee in the classroom and the nice thing about it, the best thing about it, is that it promotes choice and authentic creations for students and teachers and anyone. It is a skill that students can learn and can share with their families which will open up more learning opportunities beyond the school setting and move it into the community and beyond.

 

Thank you @Kidblog for publishing my recent post on how to start blogging with your students.  Great way to start off the new school year.

Getting Started: Tips for launching a successful class blog

Enthusiastic Students Showcase Kidblog

Summer is full of opportunities for reflecting, learning, and planning. Teachers and students have the ability to review the past year and develop goals for both the summer and the upcoming school year.  While summer gives teachers a chance to unwind and relax, it is often used as a time for exploration and preparation for the new year.

During their time off, many teachers participate in professional development events, become involved in learning communities, and look for new ways to engage their students in the classroom.  I am no different. This summer I had many opportunities to connect with other educators and discuss ideas for increasing engagement in students’ learning and blogging became a common topic. I welcomed these conversations as I have seen first hand the positive results blogging has had on my students.  These discussions revolved around questions about getting students started, privacy, the best use of blogs in the classroom, and how to create new ideas and keep students motivated to blog in and out of the classroom. I was always happy to offer my advice. I created this post in hopes of sharing what I learned from these discussions with a wider audience.

The benefits to student blogging are endless. If you are looking for something new to try with your students, to get them talking, and to learn about your students, I highly recommend blogging as a way to start this new school year.

If you are not familiar with classroom blogging, I suggest setting up your “class URL” first – select a theme, familiarize yourself with the settings, features and how students will create their accounts and log-in.  Additionally, by setting up an account as a student in your class you can better understand the student experience and be prepared to answer any questions. Once everything is ready for real students, creating a handout to explain the use of blogging for your class, listing your expectations and some guidelines, and encouraging creativity in the process, is a great way to start the blogging conversation.

I have tried various methods to getting students started in our class blog. Regardless of the method you choose, it is always worth while to start with a conversation regarding your class blog. Talk about what students will write, when they will use the blog, who will be reading their posts, etc. Getting students excited about the options for post styles, fonts, and the wide audience they can reach in the process is helpful in driving motivation to write.

One option to get students started writing in class is through the use of prompt responses. I started small by instructing students how to join the class and having them begin responding to my posts with meaningful discussion points. If you have time in class to do this, facilitate as the students create their account, personalize their page and begin writing. Eventually students will feel comfortable and excited about creating their own ideas for writing.

Another successful way to get students blogging is to start with what they know – pen and paper. Try providing a prompt and having students write a response on paper, as they had done in the past. This is a great way to ensure students learn to evaluate their work and self-correct. It also reinforces that the true value in blogging is to feel comfortable and confident in expressing one’s ideas and using it as a means for personal growth. Once the students have written their responses, you can ask them create their Kidblog student account and use their writing as the first entry.  By having the first draft, and then entering it as a blog post, students have the opportunity to think, reflect and work on their skills.

Either option provides a great starting point. I recommend that you base your decisions for your class blogging on your students and what will be the most beneficial to your classroom.

Getting students excited about blogging only takes that first step. It is a continuous work in progress.  We are all involved in ongoing learning, and by being learners ourselves, we can help our students to take risks, accept challenges, reflect, and grow. And, through the process, we learn about each other, reinforcing the value of relationship building and support in the classroom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. I am also an attorney and earned my Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and recently received the Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. I enjoy presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. I am the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, the Innovation Resources Co-Chair for the Teacher Education Network and the PAECT Historian. Additionally, I am proud to be involved in several communities including being a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Inspire Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer, Nearpod Certified Educator and also participate in several other networks. I enjoy blogging and writing for Kidblog and I am always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. You can connect with me on Twitter @rdene915.