George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Last week on #edchat we discussed the myths of social media and how it gets a bad reputation. The conversation was scattered in many directions, but most came back to one simple solution: transparency.

Social networking is nothing new, just like incorporating tools into content-driven curriculum, the technology has evolved the game while maintaining the fundamentals. When I was in high school we were all part of a social network. We made fun of each other (wall posts), passed notes (private messages/DM), snuck out of our houses to meet up with girls/boys (texting), got in fights (cyber-bullying), talked about sex (sexting), drugs, and tried to keep ALL OF IT from our parents (facebook privacy settings).

Social media is nothing new. Sometimes we act as if we were all home schooled in the past and we never socialized. And now with the ease and accessibility of communication we want to say it's taboo and too private. I can assure you the generations growing up prior to the Internet age were just as mischievous and private. In fact, now parents can at least summon a status update to know (pending it is true and their son or daughter has allowed them in to this realm) where their precious child is.

No matter the decade there has always been one common goal among adolescents: "Don't let Mom and Dad find out." I always found it funny to hear my dad reveal stories of his youth to me in front of my grandparents. We would always laugh about it and it seemed completely innocent.

In education, technology is simply a new tool that is helping drive the content. Teachers are, and will always be, necessary. Classrooms are still a good place to provide direct instruction. And yes, direct instruction is STILL relevant and necessary, however, there should be a balance between DI and independent...(insert the newest buzzword here).

Meet the Parents

My solution to all of this...invite the parents to the social networking in your classroom. Let them be a part of the process, the analysis, and the reflection. Use social networking in your classroom to your advantage. Make it completely transparent and allow parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to participate in the learning. Before this can happen, you need to train them.

One of my initiatives for this upcoming year is to take two nights per month and hold free workshops for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc. and show them how to access all these cleverly named tools that we are consistently using in school.

In the past I have seen districts provide workshops to parents on how to use the school website or to access the parent portal. While this is a great idea, it is only scratching the surface of how we can include parents in the game. School websites are great for information and updates, but are very static in nature. They are usually non participatory and serve as an overpriced message board.

Suggested Workshops for Parents

Here are some of the workshops I am suggesting that you provide to parents. I plan on implementing this bi-monthly, but depending on your schedule and you may want to create your own schedule.

1. Google Docs and Applications

Even before you pitch the idea of Twitter to them, show them a basic web tool that is easy to use and will allow parents the opportunity to see student work throughout the year. Incorporate a Google Calendar into your classroom website and show them how they can track student homework and see daily and weekly agendas.

For my AP students I invited all students and parents to our classroom wikispace and embedded a Google Calendar that housed weekly assignments and updates. Parents and students subscribed to this calendar and most students and parents could receive text or email updates when the calendar was updated. At the end of the year last year I showed all parents and students how to set up their own Google Calendar and then showed them how they could receive update via their phone and via email.

In Google Docs show parents the basic functionally of the site. Explain to them that this is just like MS Office, but you can access it from any computer that is connected (Do we even need to say this anymore?). Show them the chat window, how to access a documents history, and how they can collaborate on a document at the same time.

Some of my parents were awestruck by this type of tool and had no idea it was even out there. Some asked how much it cost or what's the catch. Overall this presentation went fairly well and after about a 90-minute session on these tools, I had most of my parents using Google Docs and exploring new applications.

2. The Classroom Website

Most teachers are now required or choose to maintain their own website that houses information about their specific class. There are various platforms that you can use depending on what your school offers. Some teachers are using Moodle, Edmodo, Wikis, Google Sites, Schoology, etc. Whatever the platform, give them a basic overview of what the site can offer. Encourage them to check in daily or set a time throughout the week that they check in with their son or daughter. This is your opportunity to really get the parents involved. Plus, this type of classroom structure will allow for easier parent teacher conferences throughout the year.

A wikispace has always been my tool of choice when it comes to class pages. The collaborative nature of the page has always been one of the top selling points for me as a teacher. I like that students and parents can take ownership of the page and really make it theirs.

Start by showing Lee LeFever's Common Craft video on "Wikispaces in Plain English." Review the video and ask them, "What is a wiki?", "How can we use this in the classroom?", etc. The combination of this short, simply stated video combined with a few simple questions will allow parents to understand the relevance of this tool and why we are using it.

Follow this up by creating a dummy wiki that all parents can access (or you can simply use your classroom wiki). Show them the basic functionality of the page and explain that every page - pending it is not locked - can be edited like a word document. Hold off on showing them how to embed photos or videos initially, but focus on navigation of the page and accessing the page.

There are many other tools out there that you may want to show parents in order to bring them into your classroom. Introduce them to the positive attributes of social networking in the classroom and explain that it is not cutting them off, but simply bringing everyone together. Show them it is safe and private. Students will not be exposed on the Internet and all work will be safe. I assure you, the social networked classroom is something you do not want to keep from Mom and Dad.

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Susan Erickson's picture

What a great idea! I have kept several blogs for my class over the past three years and am extremely frustrated how little the parents read it. I have thought of a parent homework assignment at the start of the school year where they will have to post a response to a question I pose for them. Your Google Calendar idea is a good one and may also draw the parents to my website. Thanks for all the great ideas!

Penny's picture

Seriously? You want to assign me homework? I think if parents are not utilizing a blog it is because it holds no value for them. If you want increased participation forcing parents to go there is certainly not a respectful way to go about it. Why not talk to parents -- see what things would provide value to them, what do they need from the blog (the calendar is probably a good start)?

Believe me I love my kids, and I'm extremely involved, but I find the idea of being assigned "homework" offensive and condescending. I thought the idea was parents as partners -- not subordinates.

Susan Erickson's picture

Hi Penny:
While I appreciate your remarks, I do want to emphasize that the blogs that I keep are full of wonderful student work. For my students, the blog is an authentic way to publish their work that they are proud of. As partners, which is how I certainly view my entire classroom community, I find it interesting that parents do not take the opportunity to view some outstanding work done by their students.

Penny's picture

I'm sure that your blog is full of wonderful work, that your students are proud and that a fair amount of work on your part goes into creating such a great space. It's not easy to maintain a quality blog showcasing student work. There could be a number of reasons parents are not visiting ....

1. They forget -- life gets busy plain and simple -- it's not easy to remember to "check back" especially if you have more than one child. . Solution -- rss feeds but let's face it not many parents are familiar with this -- I've had better luck
signing parents up to email updates ( yup actually sitting there with them and helping them sign up).

2. The content is just not as interesting to them as it is to you. I'm a pharmacist -- sometimes the molecular structure of drugs are stunning, their mode of action amazing, and the fact they are a stereoisomer is icing on the cake. Fact is my patients usually don't care about that information -- they want to know what it's going to do, what they can expect for benefits/side effects and how to take it properly. I don't think parents are much different. We want to have an idea of what our child is learning, if they are learning it and what they need from us. Giving us pieces of their work is wonderful -- but it is difficult for us derive meaning and value from that ( remember you have 4 years of uni or more plus continuing pd that allows you to see that stuff)

I certainly don't want to discourage any teacher from having a blog -- personally I think they are great -- however I think the audience and purpose needs to be clearly defined. If the goal is for parents to read --- ask them what they need, give em a little value - added incentive to be there and make it easy for them to be there. If the goal is to showchase what you do as a teacher with your students -- totally valid as well -- but then don't lament a lack of parent buy-in. If you keep purpose and audience in mind -- whoever you build it for -- they will come :-)

Andrew Marcinek's picture
Andrew Marcinek
Director of Technology and Co-founder, Boston, MA

This is optional. In fact, I would be giving up my time in the evenings to teach parents how to use new web tools that their kids use every day. In no way am I "forcing" or "assigning" anything. In short, I am giving up two nights per month have optional, open workshops in which parents can voluntarily attend and possibly learn something new.

Penny's picture

Andrew, I think the idea is a fabulous one and I commend you for giving up your free time to go ahead with the course. My comments re:assignments were in response to Susan's idea of assigning parents "homework" in order to get them to utilize the class blog.

Having run similar workshops for parents .. my only suggestion was to make it relevant in their context .. not just a student context. Maybe having parents that already utilize the tools in their home/work could come in and share what they do. We even had some parents go home and teach their kids a thing or two -- a great feeling :-)

I wish you the best of luck with your workshops and would certainly be willing to share some of the resources I came across while preparing Wired Wednesdays.


Susan Erickson's picture

Penny, I do think your comments that parents are busy is true (being a working parent as well). However, in the community I teach, the parents are very involved and want to know what is going on in the classroom, how can they participate in the classroom, and what type of work occurs in the classroom since most of the time when you ask your child what they did at school, the answer is "nothing". I felt the blog answered that need. I appreciate the comment about figuring out what they want is a good one and I will do that. I have shown them how to do the RSS feed before, and I send out e-mails saying there is a new blog post. So, I will survey them to what would be helpful to them to have on a blog. As far as parent homework, I do assign my parents an assignment at the beginning of the year to write to me about their child and I have to say that the parents love this assignment to be able to describe their child to me. It has always been well received.

Susan Erickson's picture

Thanks for your ideas. The parents in my community are very involved and love to know what is going on in the classroom and what specifically they are doing in the classroom. I thought a blog would fill that need. As a working parent myself, I know parents are busy, so I have taught them about RSS feeds. I will ask my parents about what they would like to see in the blog -- perhaps I could even post this question on the blog in addition to a welcome letter, and they could answer in ay form they would like. I have assigned parent homework every year at the beginning of the year to have the parents write to me about their child. They have always loved this assignment. I was in no means being condescending when writing this idea.

Al Verdes's picture

It's not a new topic, and there are tons of offerings out there, but I use Thinkwave's web-based gradebook and it does more than anything else I've used to connect parents, teachers and students online... what's more important than tracking assignments and grades, and using that as a means to improve learning rather than it's end? Thinkwave released a free version recently - Highly recommended!

Tiffany Collins's picture

Having the parents involved in the social media of the classroom is a very helpful communication skill. The parents are able to keep up with their child's assignment and able to contact you if they any questions.

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