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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Engaging Students with Technology over the Summer

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

As we approach the summer months, many educators lament the "summer slide." The months between June and September can vary between enriching camp or other learning experiences to days upon days spent playing video games or watching TV on the couch. Students often return to school having lost a reading level or a variety of math concepts.

So how do we engage students over the summer months so they return to school ready to jump back into the swing of things? For those of our students who are connected, it's easier than you think. As an educator in an urban, low-income neighborhood, I am very sensitive to the effects of limited access to the Internet on my students. Yet most of my students have a cell phone, which is their primary avenue for accessing the web and various apps. As such, I hope to provide ways to engage learners no matter what their socio-economic status.

Edmodo and Schoolology

If you have been using a blended learning approach in your classroom this year, then use this tool to engage students over the summer. If you've been using Edmodo or Schoology, your students can download the Edmodo app or the Schoology app (both available for OS or Android), which lets them access content and post to discussions. To be fair, both apps seem to be designed mostly for teachers, not students, but it is easy to push out updates to students and engage them through discussions. If you are a science teacher, you can share interesting links to science news and events over the summer. Math teachers can share some stories that have to do with math, or post in-depth problems for students to work on. Allow them to post answers for others to see and comment on. As an English teacher, you can post story starters and ask students to write the next sentence through the discussion feature. I am always amazed when I'm sitting on my couch on a Friday night and receive an email that a student has sent me a message through Schoology, or, when looking through my students' profiles, I find blog posts from Saturday night that say "I'm bored" with some photos of them posing in a new outfit or in their room. Why not turn this boredom into something productive?

Storybird

Another way to engage students over the summer, even if you have not been using tools like Edmodo or Schoology is to continue writing stories using a Storybird account you may have started during the year. One of the most exciting things for me this year was writing a collaborative Storybird story with a former student who no longer attended our school. We still took turns writing the story even if we hadn't seen each other in months. With a teacher account, you can create student accounts and even mini communities of authors and readers. Over the summer, collaborate on stories with your students. Give them a login card for their account to take home over the summer and check in now and then, leaving comments on stories they've written and sharing the stories with your network of educators. Unfortunately, the site requires Flash, so accessing it on an OS device is not possible, but it's a great way to keep kids reading and writing over the summer months.

Reconsidering Facebook

If you just want to keep in touch and share with your students over the summer, there's always a simple Facebook fan page. Yeah, I know, I know . . . Facebook is evil incarnate. However, with a Facebook fan page, students can only interact with you in a public space, and comments are easily moderated. Share stories about your vacation, suggest books to read, or write journal entries for your students to read in your "Notes" section. Even without an Internet connection, there is not a cell phone alive these days that doesn't have some kind of Facebook integration.

Kidblog

You might have your students extend their learning over the summer by continuing to post on the blog they may have started through Kidblog or another blogging service. While this method of engagement does require that you have the foresight to start during the academic school year, projects like Kidblog are something to consider implementing in your classroom for the coming school year because they provide the added bonus of continued engagement and meaningful extension of learning over the summer.

A Few More Ideas

Some other ways to engage students in fun ways over the summer:

  • Allow them to subscribe to your Instagram account (although this requires you to exercise some posting self-control).
  • Play some Draw Something or Words With Friends games (I have a long Draw Something streak with one of my 7th graders!).

Many people think I'm a bit nuts to be connecting with my students 24/7. "C'mon, don't you need a break?" What I find is that the connections I make through various social media tools have done wonders for engaging my students on their terms. It opens up a whole new avenue of communication, letting me into what is really the world in which my students live 24/7.

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