Back in May, our team at Knapp Elementary was busy planning our annual summer reading program. Some of us had just participated in a parent-teacher chat via Twitter on maximizing opportunities to keep the learning going over the summer. We talked about ways to keep students engaged between when the school doors were closed and when they reopened in September.
One of the ideas that came up was utilizing a free web tool called Edmodo to keep students engaged virtually over the summer. Edmodo looks a lot like Facebook, but it is designed specifically for schools and doesn't require students to be 13 in order to access its controlled virtual learning environment. After discussing a vision for summer use with some parents, we decided to go for it and drafted a letter home.
Below is a window into our planning 1) before the students went home, 2) the actual Edmodo summer topics we proposed, and 3) feedback from a cross section of the 117 participating students and their parents.
Setting Up the Online Summer Classroom
Two weeks prior to the last day of school, we sent a letter informing the parents of all students entering grades four through six that we'd be offering an optional Summer Knappmodo.
The letter aimed to provide an introduction to the tool, as well as invite students and parents to join together. The first of ten summer topics began during the last week of school to help get the buzz going on our new online summer efforts.
Structure of Weekly Topics
A new topic was posted every Monday morning and on a summer Edmodo calendar (see picture) for students. Below are some of the Summer Knappmodo topics.
- Write end-of-year thank you letters to your teachers and parents.
- Share one thing from your report that you're proud of, and one thing that you'd like to improve next year.
- Look in the LIBRARY tab for the links we will refer to this summer. Find your new grade level's curriculum and describe two things you are excited to learn about.
- Recommend a book you've already read. Include the title and author, as well as a paragraph teaser on what the reader can expect.
- One of the ideas for this school year is to have a Technology Fair at our school. This week's topic asks YOU to design it!
- Think about our Olweus Bullying Prevention Program at Knapp. What does it mean to you for our school to be safe every day? Please write a paragraph on your thoughts below.
- The Olympics are on TV this week from London! Choose an Olympic athlete and write a biography on him or her. Help me understand the athletic skills and human skills that make this person successful.
- Contact a classmate you haven't seen since school ended. Enjoy a playdate or conversation, and write about what you did. Are they on Edmodo?
- School starts in a few weeks. After talking with your family, share what you will do to prepare for the new school year.
As the principal, I assumed responsibility for keeping the topics moving and "grading" the assignments/topics turned in. As the students began "socializing" online, it provided an opportunity to teach digital citizenship while understanding what students do well in a controlled social media environment, and what they need support with. Over 1,000 posts were completed, and not a single inappropriate post had to be deleted. We set up the program to reinforce to students that their online behavior should be no different or less respectful than if they were sitting in class with classmates and the teacher. By the end of the summer, these students were writing some impressive posts that challenged the thinking of their peers. Students enjoyed socializing in a low-stress and personalized environment. I later learned that they accessed Edmodo from their iPod Touches, iPads, and home and local library computers.
Summer Knappmodo gave teachers extra opportunities to look into our online classroom and see what conversations were popular and how students were responding to weekly challenges. Some students who were overly social in class became post-a-holics while on Edmodo. The experience really provided an opportunity for other teachers and for me to get to know students in a different format. As we enter the third week of school, we've been harnessing these relationships to make school more personalized and meaningful for these students. Teachers were able to see that potential after viewing summer posts, helping them plan the school year with virtual tools like Edmodo embedded into their lesson plans.
Edmodo offers parents a separate parent log-on to see what their child is posting, and also the rest of the "wall" of learning that occurs each day. Email and mobile notifications can be set for as much or as little as parents are comfortable with. This feature proved extremely beneficial in helping our families understand how the tool works. It also provided parents an opportunity to keep the learning conversations happening when students were offline.
I hope you find this feedback helpful as you explore new and innovative ways to engage your own learning community outside of the classroom walls this school year.