If you've read my blog before, you know I'm a big fan of Google Forms. In this post, I want to share how I'm using this powerful tool to help me be more productive in the area of parent communication.
This year, I have created a Google Form that I use as a Parent Contact Log. Each time I speak with a parent about a student or school-related issue, whether initiated by me or the parent, I document our conversation with this online form. The fields in my form include the date, parent's name, student's name, and a section for brief notes about our conversation (the form automatically time stamps each entry, but I manually enter the date of the conversation in case I make the entry at a later time). What I love about this form is that entries are automatically populated in a Google spreadsheet attached to the form. I could document these conversations in an old-school notebook, but by having all the entries in a spreadsheet, I can then sort conversations by parent, student, or date. I speak with a lot of parents, so having an easy-to-reference log of these conversations is extremely helpful. Below is a screenshot of the form I use.
Whether you're a teacher or administrator, you know that speaking with parents is a common part of the job. If you're not already doing so, give Google Forms a try and see how they can help you be more productive. If you're not sure how to create a Google Form, you can easily learn how by watching my Google Forms tutorial videos.
By now, most in education have heard of “flipping” the classroom, the concept of the teacher creating instructional videos that students watch at home, freeing up time in class for deeper learning opportunities or reteaching. For example, if students in a science class watch a teacher-created video at home that introduces a scientific concept, the teacher can then use class time the next day to engage students in a hands-on lab that makes the concept come to life.
I think this in an amazing idea that is transforming classrooms all over the world, but what about those teachers who aren’t quite ready to jump into the flipping pool? What about those who don’t have the time, equipment, or expertise to create all the videos required to flip their classrooms? What about those who like the idea of flipping but need to take baby steps?
One of the key aspects of flipping is that it opens up time during class that, if used effectively, can increase student learning. What if teachers could gather feedback from their students on a homework assignment, before class the next day, finding out which parts of the assignment gave the students difficulty? This would enable teachers to design lessons that focus on what the students really need, rather than what teachers think the students need. Is this possible? Can teachers really get this type of information that would enable them to tailor their lessons to students’ needs? Through the magic of Google Forms, the answer is "yes."
By creating and posting on their classroom website a simple Google Form like the one shown below, teachers can quickly and easily find out how their students fared on a particular assignment and plan the next day’s lesson accordingly.
The procedure might look something like this. The teacher creates and posts on his/her website a Google Form asking students to give feedback on the night’s homework assignment. Students fill out the form (which would take less than a minute) and responses are collected in a spreadsheet for the teacher to view. If, for example, the majority of students indicated they had difficulty with #’s 5 and 13, the teacher then knows to devote time the next day to going over those particular problems, and not necessarily on ones students didn’t have trouble with. Or, perhaps the class grasped the entire lesson quite well, when the teacher anticipated spending a lot of time the next day reviewing the lesson. No more guessing or spending time on problems the students already “get.” Plus, by using Google Forms in this way, students are able to communicate with their teacher anonymously, eliminating potential embarrassment by having to raise their hand in class to say, “I didn’t understand how to do this problem.”
So, if you’re looking for an easy way to more effectively use your class time to maximize student learning, but you aren’t quite ready for flipping, give Google Forms a try. Thanks to Shannon Augustin, who has successfully been using Forms with her students, for sharing this amazing idea with me. If you’re not familiar with how to create a Google Form, be sure to check out my Google Forms Tutorial Videos. Enjoy!
As if Google Forms weren't awesome enough already, Google has just introduced a brand new feature that takes this already-amazing tool to the next level -- the ability to add images to a form. In my opinion, this is a game changer. Teachers now have the ability to create online quizzes for their students that aren't limited to text only, allowing educators to create richer, more visual online assessments. For example, by including pictures in a form, a science teacher can now create a quiz asking students to identify the different parts of a cell, or an art history teacher can have his/her students identify famous works of art.
Want to see how easy it is to add images to a Google Form? Watch the video below, and you'll be spicing up your forms with images in no time!
While at the 2013 CUE Conference, I learned about an awesome search tool provided by Google. Ever had your students do a research project where you wanted them to use primary sources as part of their research? Well, Google makes that a snap.
Over the years, Google has archived tons and tons of newspaper articles. By visiting news.google.com and using the advanced search feature, you can search for articles from a specific time period. For example, if your students were doing a research project on Pearl Harbor and you wanted them to find articles written around the time of the 1941 bombing by Japan, Google can easily put primary sources at your students' fingertips.
Watch the short video below to see this amazing tool in action. Happy searching!
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the annual Computer-Using Educators (CUE) Conference in Palm Springs. While at the conference, I was able to present a short, 20-minute session on Google Forms and how school administrators can use them to increase their efficiency and productivity. I showed how these forms can be used for things like classroom walkthroughs, discipline reporting, student/teacher/parent feedback, and much more.
If you're interested in learning how to use Google forms, I've posted my presentation slides as well as a set of tutorial videos on how to use this amazingly simple yet powerful tool. I hope these resources are helpful to you!
Last week, I received an email from one of my website hosts reminding me that it was almost time to renew the domain name for my former classroom website (mrcoley.com). As I was going through the online checkout process, I noticed the date that I had first purchased the right to use mrcoley.com -- January 24, 2003. While I first published my classroom site back in 1999 as the culminating project for my master's degree, it didn't go by the name mrcoley.com until 2003 -- 10 years ago today.
I'll admit, I got a little emotional when I looked at that date. What began as a simple site containing only basic subject matter pages, student artwork, and an "About the Teacher" page became, over the course of the decade, so much more. It was my passion. As a youth, I wanted to be a computer programmer. In college, upon realizing I couldn't do calculus, I changed my major and studied to become a teacher. With my classroom website, I was able to combine two of my loves -- teaching and technology. I loved working on my website. People would often ask me, "Doesn't that take you a ton of time? Isn't it a lot of work?" The answer was yes. I did invest a lot of time and energy in my website. But to me it wasn't work. It was fun. In their free time, some people knit. Some garden. Some watch TV. I built my website. And I loved it.
If you are one who visited my website over the past 10 years, this post is my way of saying "Thank You." Thank you for taking the time to view the things my students and I were learning and wanted to share with the world. You don't know how much it meant to my students to know that their artwork, blog posts, and podcasts were being seen (and heard) by people around the world. Talk about authentic learning and a global audience! There was nothing better than showing my students a "website visitors" map showing them their work was being seen by people all over the world. My pupils always wanted to put forth their best effort on their artwork, writing, and ColeyCasts, because they knew I wasn't the only one who was going to see and hear their creations. And if you're one who took the time to email me regarding the site, I cannot adequately express the gratitude I have for your messages. Your words of encouragement and feedback were so appreciated, especially on those discouraging days when I asked myself if it was all worth the effort.
10 years. It's been a fun ride. And if you're wondering, even though I'm no longer updating it, I plan to continue keeping the site online. Thanks for following me on my journey!
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.
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. Pretty slick!
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 Langhorstwho 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:
Here are some video-creation resources I’ve used:
“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.
Ever had an event where a sign-up sheet was required? Maybe you’re a teacher who has needed parent volunteers for a field trip or class party. Or maybe you’ve been the team mom for your son’s T-ball team and needed parents to sign up to bring snacks for each game of the season. If any of these situations sound familiar, you need to check out SignUpGenius.
SignUpGenius is a free and incredibly easy way to create online group sign-up lists. Using the website’s form wizard with a variety of templates, you can create an online sign-up sheet in a matter of minutes. You have the option of making your sign-up sheet public or private, and once set up, a link to your SignUpGenius webpage is sent to people you’d like to invite to sign up. When visiting your customized sign-up sheet, potential volunteers can see what’s available and what’s already been taken. Plus, every time someone signs up, you receive an email notification. No more shuffling papers or worrying about two people signing up for the same thing. For more information on how it all works, click here.
In a world where we’re always looking for time-savers, SignUpGenius definitely qualifies.
This past October, I had the opportunity to attend the T.E.L.L. (Technology, Education, Leading, and Learning) Conference in Van Nuys, California. While sitting in a session led by my friend Sean Williams, I discovered another cool tool, one that I’d forgotten about until just the other day. At the very beginning of his presentation, Sean put a slide up that asked attendees to pull out their phones and text a code word to the number on the screen (much like shows like American Idol do when asking viewers to vote using their cell phones). So, I pulled out my iPhone, punched in the code word and number, and.....instantly received a text message with Sean’s contact information and a link to the online resources from his session. I remember sitting there thinking two words – sliced bread. As in, “This is the greatest thing since…”
Okay, so it isn’t the light bulb or the wheel, but this is definitely a cool tool. How did Sean do it? With an incredibly easy-to-use website called Contxts. All you have to do is sign up for a free account, choose a username (the word people will type when texting), and enter your 140-character message. That’s it. Then, direct people to text your username to 50500 and they’ll receive your customized message in a tidy little text message. It’s free, and there is no limit on how many times your message can be requested.
If you present at conferences, this is a fabulous way to quickly and easily get your contact information and web links into the hands (phones, actually) of your attendees. I’ll be using this resource at the CUE Conference in March, and I plan on using it again at Back-to-School Night next year with my students’ parents. I would love to hear some of your ideas on how Contxts could be used in an educational setting.
So thank you, Sean, for sharing this cool tool, and thank you, Ruston Hurley, for sharing it with Sean. And now I pass it on to you. Enjoy.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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