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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Online Calendars: Virtual Schedules Help Busy Educators

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

This fall, let's kick it up a digital notch and start experimenting more with the technologies available to us. Depending on where you stand on the technology-pioneer continuum, you may be two steps ahead of me or looking at me cautiously from the side. Either way, this post and the next few to follow will provide brief overviews of some easy-to-use digital tools I think every teacher should experiment with, use in the classroom, or employ for personal productivity.

The first tool I'd like to explore is the online calendar. Keeping an electronic calendar is nothing new, but you'd be surprised at how few people use one. It took me several years to let go of my paper-based day planner, but once I settled into the digital-calendar world, I never looked back. If I had ever lost my day planner, all my calendar entries would have gone with it, except for the few things I had memorized -- which means I would be deprived of records for just about everything except my daughter's birthday.

I wanted a calendar that was software independent, accessible from anywhere, and capable of keeping more than one of my calendars -- for example, I have one for work and another with personal information. Although several good online calendars -- Yahoo! Calendar and Apple's iCal, to name a few -- are available, I chose Google Calendar.

Because the calendar is online and backed up automatically, I don't have to worry that I'll misplace it. Every so often, I print out a copy of my calendar to take with me in case I'm without my laptop or online access -- although that's rare. I give read/write access to a few coworkers, my daughter, my spouse, and anyone else who needs to know where I am, add events to the calendar, or give me redirection.

Google Calendar also has a few fun options such as "smart entries": I simply type "Chloe's recital at 9," and Google knows "at 9" means the time of the appointment and automatically places the entry in the correct spot. I can attach a reminder to that entry, such as an email or a pop-up -- or (my favorite) a cell phone text-message reminder. By attaching that feature to an entry, I can have a text message sent to myself (and whoever else subscribes to this calendar) just to make absolutely sure I don't forget. Can you imagine how cool it would be to attach this feature to a classroom calendar? Your students and their parents could receive an automatic text message about upcoming tests and other important classroom events.

The collaborative side of online calendars is limitless. You can create a class calendar to which parents and students subscribe. The calendar could contain birthdays, classroom-event reminders, test schedules, or project timelines. And, because online calendars offer RSS feeds, parents always have a live calendar they can access from anywhere -- you won't need to worry that a student lost a paper calendar on the way home. Another option is to set up a separate calendar for each class period. In addition, teacher teams can share a team calendar, eliminating the need to enter similar information across multiple calendars.

Google has a nice Help and overview page. The calendar allows you to import and export between iCal, Outlook, and more. It also integrates with your email program. Get familiar with the calendar by playing around -- start a calendar of important birthdays and set up reminders for them. Create a separate calendar for school business. Build another with your students' pertinent information, and enter their parents' cell numbers so you can send text reminders. There's so much you can do. Let me know what you think of this online system -- what does or doesn't work for you, or interesting ways you've organized your calendars. Post your responses here so we can all learn together.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Comments (60)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Chris ONeal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Tessa,
It takes only as long as it takes for you to type out the name of the event. You simply click on the square that corresponds to the date you want, and start typing, then hit enter. It's added that easily.

Renee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think having an electronic calendar on a website is a great idea! We all know that parents and students often forget important dates, as much as we teachers do as well. By having a calendar present on such an essential tool like a website, it would not only give a day by day outline of important events, but a long term look at whats coming up ahead. Great idea!

Susan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really like the idea of using Google calendar. I teach kindergarten so we have a center calendar that goes home each month for our volunteers. I can't tell you how many times I have had to make additional copies for parents or I have heard, "I never saw the calendar." I will try adding the Google calendar and see how it goes.
I do have one question though. Do I need to establish a password and distribute it to my parents or will I be able to just post the link and they will have access?

Ellen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have used localendar for my classroom website. Parents can see when half days are, book orders are due and school council meetings are scheduled, etc. Sometimes I forget to add events, but my students are very good at reminding me!

Steve's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Here's another option. I use a combination of Palm, Easy Grade Pro, and Smart Board to run my calendar, student attendance, and grades. I carry my Palm TX everywhere and it contains my personal and school information. At school, I post my calendar on the Smart Board where my students can make appointments with me, post their own attendance or leave me a message. I grade my student's papers when I travel and post their grades in my Palm and HotSync to my computer when I get back to school to update my grade book.

Katie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hey! This sounds great! I currently use the district calendar on my web page. I think I will definitely give the Google calendar a try. It will be so much better to put more focus on our homeroom events.

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is an amazing idea that had never even ocurred to me. I really like the idea of texting parents with important events and information. Thank you!

Jamie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great idea! How organized could I possibly feel if all I had to do was update it online and print it out occassionally. I am going to find this stuff out!

Derek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

These online calenders are really great tools for all of the reasons you mentioned. I use a couple different online calendars myself and I also keep a hard copy in my teacher planner. My online calendars are for the two different schools I teach. For my personal appointments I use a Palm. After reading this blog I am thinking about trying out the Google calandar. Chris, my question is for you is, do you write your lesson plans electronically as well or do you do that the old fashion way?

Valerie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I used the Google calendar for the first time this summer. I need to start using it for school events. I know it will be great, but finding the time to do it is another thing. This is motivating me to give it a try. Thanks for the reminder! I'll also have to share the idea with my team members as they are constantly forgetting things such as team meetings.

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