Consistent communication between teachers, students, and parents is essential in order to maximize learning. In the Age of Technology in which we now live, the traditional hard-copy classroom newsletter, by itself, doesn't cut it anymore. Like it or not, technology is a part of students' and parents' lives. A perfect example of this is found in the prevalence of cell phones. I work at the middle school level, and nearly every
student has a cell phone. Students often forget their pencils, textbooks, and homework, but forget their cell phone? Never. I've long held the philosophy that educators must utilize technology like cell phones for educational purposes, because students and their parents are already using the technology. Don't fight it, leverage it. Well, here's a cool tool that will help teachers leverage cell phones - Remind101
is a free
service that allows teachers to use text messaging to communicate with students and their parents. It is a simple yet powerful tool, and I can't think of an easier way to put digital reminders about important classroom information into the hands (literally) of students and parents.
Here's how it works...
Once a teacher signs up for a free account, he/she can create different "classes" (groups of students/parents). Teachers at the middle and high school school level can create a different class for each period of the day, as well as a separate class for parents. This enables the teacher to send class-specific messages to students (e.g. "Don't forget -- your project is due Friday) or messages to parents (e.g. "Parent conferences are October 17-19"). Since cell phones are not as common at the lower grades, elementary teachers may choose to set up a class solely for parents. Teachers can currently create up to 10 classes.
Once classes are set up, students and parents can "sign up" to receive notifications by sending a text message with the teacher's class code (e.g. text @code to 555-555-5555). Sign-up can also be done through email. If you're concerned about students seeing your personal cell phone number, don't worry. Teachers are assigned a unique Remind101 phone number that students/parents use when they sign up -- they will never see your number, and you'll never see theirs.
Once students/parents are signed up, the teacher simply has to go to www.remind101.com
, sign in, choose a class, and type in the desired message. Messages can even be scheduled to be sent at a later day or time. Can't get to your computer to send a message? No problem. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can download and use the free Remind101 app
. For more information, here's the service's FAQ page
Students and their parents are already using cell phones to text. Let's make some of those texts educational.
If you haven't seen this commercial from Kaplan University, please take 60 seconds and watch it.
Despite being a couple years old, I think this ad does a great job of illustrating where education is headed. Actually, I believe it’s already there. One line from the commercial states, “It’s time to use technology to rewrite the rules of education.” As we see in the commercial, learning should no longer be confined to the four walls of a classroom, between the hours of 8:30 am and 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday. The reality is that learning can (and should) take place at 6:30 pm at the kitchen table, in bed on a Saturday morning, or in a subway station on a Sunday afternoon. Let’s face it, students don’t always “get it” the first time a concept is taught. Students benefit from reteaching and/or review sessions. But what happens when the bell rings and a student needs to see or hear it again? Should he/she be told, “Sorry, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to learn.” What about those students who don’t want to wait until tomorrow but are excited to learn now
? What’s the solution? If only students could take the teaching, not just the textbook, home with them. Oh, wait. They can!
Mobile technology continues to find its way into the hands of students. I’m an administrator at the middle school level, and it seems like every
student has a cell phone, most capable of playing audio and video files. What if teachers leveraged that technology instead of fighting it? Now, I’m not saying students should have free reign of their cell phones during the school day – that’s a discussion for another day. But what if teachers delivered content to their students that could be accessed on their cell phones, iPods, and iPads after hours? What if the reteaching and review sessions previously mentioned could be put in a format kids embrace, namely audio or video on their mobile devices? Fortunately, the technology tools available to teachers make this not only possible, but actually pretty easy.
While in the classroom, I provided my 5th grade students with audio review sessions called StudyCasts (you can listen to them here
). I got the idea from former Missouri Teacher of the Year Eric Langhorst
who graciously shares his ideas with other educators. Before each Social Studies and Science test, I recorded myself going over the material that would be covered on the test. What I love so much about StudyCasts is that in addition to going over the notes students took in class, I was also able to review examples I gave or stories I told during class that weren’t necessarily in the notes. I didn’t do any editing of these recordings. If I coughed during a recording, I said, “Excuse me” and kept going. They weren’t meant to be polished works of art, they were meant to help my students study. StudyCasts weren’t intended to replace
traditional studying, but rather to provide an additional study aid. I posted the broadcasts on my classroom website and in iTunes
, making them easily to download to iPods or iPads. For students without Internet access, I would burn the broadcasts onto CDs for them. I would also burn a few extra CDs and raffle them off to all students. Their reaction? You would have thought I was giving away gold. Seriously, I worked my students into a frenzy by doing what? Giving away my teaching
. I just packaged it in a way my kids thought was cool.
There are several applications out there you can use to easily create audio broadcasts like StudyCasts. Here are a few free resources I have used:
- Audacity – Free download for PC and Mac (here is a series of tutorial videos I created for Audacity)
- GarageBand – Comes preinstalled on all Macs and available as an iPad/iPhone app for $4.99 (here is a series of tutorial videos I created for GarageBand on the Mac)
- Cinch – Cinch is a free online service that allows you to create audio recordings using your computer’s microphone. Broadcasts are posted online on your personal Cinch webpage. In addition to listening on the Cinch website, recordings can be downloaded as MP3 files or embedded on your website or blog. There’s even an app for iPhone and Android phones that allows you to make a recording from your phone. If you’re looking for a really simple way to make an audio recording to post online, especially if you’re looking to do so while on the go, I’d definitely recommend Cinch.
While audio review broadcasts are great, what about students who are visual learners? Or what about math teachers? Standalone audio is not exactly the perfect medium to teach math concepts that are best explained visually. This is where video comes in, and fortunately for teachers, there are many ways to easily create videos for students. When I was teaching, I used a mobile interactive whiteboard
to create math review videos for my students (you can view these on my classroom website
or on my YouTube channel
). Since complex math concepts often require reteaching for students to achieve mastery, many of my students needed extra instruction, often requiring more time than I had in class. I offered tutoring before and after school and during breaks, but not all students could attend. I needed to make my teaching available to students on their time. By creating videos my students could watch at home (over and over and over if necessary), I essentially gave my students the opportunity to take me home with them, showing them how to do a problem as many times as it took for them to learn the concept. Really, I created my own mini-version of Kahn Academy, only it was my familiar voice teaching them.
Here are some video-creation resources I’ve used:
- Interactive Whiteboards – many of the software applications used with interactive whiteboards or tablets have recording capabilities. If you’re already doing the math problems in class, record what you’re doing and post the video online for your students to view.
- Jing – Free screencasting software available for PC and Mac. Easily create up to 5-minute videos of your computer screen while recording voice-over audio. Great for showing students how do something online.
- SonicPics – If you have an iPhone, this is a great app that can create a video from a series of images. The app is currently priced at only $0.99. I paid $2.99, and it is well worth the higher price. This is a great way to create a video StudyCast based on PowerPoint or Keynote slides. Start by saving each slide of your presentation as a JPG image and transfer the images to your phone. Then import the images into SonicPics and discuss each slide, swiping to the next slide whenever you’re ready. You control the timing. The result is a video of you narrating your presentation. Very easy to use. I highly recommend this app.
- ShowMe – If you have an iPad, this is a free app that allows you to create videos with voice-over audio. When you’re done recording, you upload your video to showme.com. Post the link on your website or blog and your students are ready to go.
- Explain Everything – This is another fantastic app for creating videos on the iPad. The app retails for $2.99 and is definitely worth the price. It allows you to draw/write on the screen, and even import and annotate pictures. The app records your voice and everything happening on the screen. It’s a great way to illustrate math concepts, or this is another way make a video StudyCast by importing PowerPoint or Keynote slides and discussing each slide. A big perk of this app is that videos can be saved in the Photos app on your iPad, enabling you to export the video and embed it on your website or blog.
- Flip Video or Cell Phone Cameras – Don’t have an iPad or interactive whiteboard? No problem. You can use a Flip Cam or the camera on your cell phone to record yourself making a tutorial video. I have friends who have set up a video camera or had a colleague hold the camera while they do math problems on the whiteboard or even a piece of paper. These videos can then be uploaded to your website, YouTube, or TeacherTube. Remember, the goal is not to produce an award-winning video, but rather to provide students with opportunities to learn outside of the classroom.
Don’t think providing these types of learning opportunities is necessary? I’ll close with this. When I asked my students to let me know what they thought of StudyCasts, here’s how one student responded:“I like the StudyCasts because I can listen to them on my computer while I’m doing my homework. I listened to the Puritan StudyCast five times and I got a good grade.”
If we build it, they will come.
So today I decided to get out of the house and head down to my local Panera to get a little work done. After ordering and finding a table, I proceeded to pull out my iPhone to check my messages. Then, since my food had not yet arrived, I pulled out my Barnes & Noble Nook (an eReader that I absolutely love, by the way). Shortly thereafter my food was ready and I enjoyed a delicious sandwich while escaping into the book I am currently reading. After my meal, I opened up my laptop case and pulled out my MacBook Pro. While the computer was firing up, it hit me. I stopped, sat back, and asked myself, "Brent, do you realize what you have in front of you?" And I wasn't referring to the remains of my Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich.
I had three computers, neatly lined up on the table, staring up at me as if to say, "Do you realize how good you have it?" And at that moment, I was reminded how far we've come. When I began teaching 15 years ago, I didn't have a computer in my classroom, much less the Internet. Yet at that moment, I had on my table a phone capable of so much more than making calls, a device with instant access to over two million books, and a computer that puts unlimited information at my fingertips in a matter of seconds (not to mention free wifi).
So the next time I impatiently tap my finger while waiting for a slow internet connection or sigh because my cell coverage is poor, I hope I remember today and think back to what it was like when I went to a restaurant for a different reason -- to simply eat.