Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tech-up Classroom Communications

I'm hoping this post will give a straight forward list of things to do to "tech-up" your classroom communications.  These are many of the tools I use.  Should you ever change jobs or move, these accounts go with you and are not deleted by a school system webpage that is deleted when you move.  You can always link you school system webpage to these accounts.

1.  Get a Google email account.  It's sort of like having a Mac computer, the software works so well together.  Go to http://www.google.com/ and create an account.

2.  Open a Picasa account through Google.  Post your classroom pics there.  Of course, make sure you have parent permission to post pics.  I get a general permission each year for every student in K-5th grade.  We use these for videoconferences, photos, movies posted on the web or website, and others.

3.  Open a Twitter account - this does not have to be your regular Twitter account, but maybe one for your specific classroom.  Invite all parents to join.  I have a school account (RuralHallSchool) and an edtech account (mcdermon).

4.  Create a Blog at http://blogger.com/ - this is now a part of Google, so you can use that one login for everything.  I added my smart phone to my account, so it's easy to take a quick photo, email it to my blog, and parents have immediate access to current activities in your classroom. (My "quick pics" blog is http://ruralhallschool.blogspot.com/ )

5.  Create a wiki.  I use PB Wiki - http://pbworks.com/ - Wiki's are a little more navigation than blogs, but can add so much more to your classroom.  This can wait until you have the other ideas going and can work through them easily.  I use my wiki for my plans.  I post my class assignments here (along with the essential standards required by my state), post student work here, have links to everything my students need. This wiki builds over the years.  (My wiki account is http://mcdermonclass.pbworks.com/ ) Here I have the ability to post student work, or have students join the wiki and post their work.  You can manage it and preview before posts are made.  There are great tutorials and in the summer, you can take a free 6 week course to be a certified wiki operator.

6.  Create a group through your Google account.  I created a group of the local tech facilitators.  Next, I added a group for the staff at my school.  Later, I made a group, at the PTA's request, of parents and community.  These parents & community members get weekly email updates on activities and events at school.  I use my mac and create a lovely email with photos of that week.  This is also great for hobbies, church, community groups, too. (Teachers do have other lives!)  Some of the elected town officials are in this email group and do a lot to support our local community school.  Look through the different groups to get ideas.  I have a group for my local library board, making it easy to email each other and send out meeting minutes and treasurer's reports.

7.  Web Tools - some of the web tools I use are Voki, Glogster, VoiceThread, Skype, and Google Apps for Education.  Voki has a good deal at $30 for 200 student logins.  Glogster also has free and education prices.  VoiceThread has the same, some free and some at a class price.  Skype is free, but also has parts or plans that you can pay for.  I have a Skype phone number, so if you call that regular looking phone number, it calls my Skype account.  Depending on the equipment in your classroom, you can also do a video call.  If you don't have updated computers (many teachers do not), you can buy an "eyeball" or small camera for $50.  I keep skype running in the background and when we are doing web tools with students, use it to call other people and other classrooms.  (There is a wiki to join to make connections to other classrooms around the world. The address is:  http://skypeinschools.pbworks.com/  .) The GAE is the best deal - it is free.  If your school has a SIT team (School Improvement Team - or other similar group) that votes on programs, activities, and events at your school that match your school plan, then ask them to consider applying for a GAE account.  Setting it up is a little technical, but there are many tutorials and groups to help. After set-up, the only cost is the required back-up of email.  I turned email off for everyone because we have no funds to pay this, but now the students have the wonderful access to create websites, use docs, spreadsheets, videos, and more.  The videos are set up so only teachers can post, but the students take the videos (usually while on field trips).  This is a private little cloud with only our elementary school.  If parents want to see the student work, the student logs into his/her account and shares.

8.  Use a reader to pull articles, blogs, information in areas you are interested in (not all are on education). I use Google reader and made http://igoogle.com/ my homepage.  It brings in my news preferences, my reader (articles) preferences, weather, jokes, what ever I select. 

9.  OK, getting to the end for today's list.  I love Google+  - it is so easy to use, has wonderful circles (groups) that I find informative and interesting.  I like this much better than Facebook.  You can have "hang-outs" with people (real time).  I learn so much, am amused, and fascinated by the many people I meet here.

Of course, all of this changes - new web tools come out and others are updated.  Some go away.  One thing I have found is there is a large community of people (many teachers) dedicated to helping teachers learn these new tools, engage their students in authenic learning activities, and help our students achieve, learn, and succeed.