Parent Survey – Communicate!

May 31, 2011  Tagged , , ,

Parent survey – communicate!

                I did a SurveyMonkey survey of my middle school parents to find out how best to communicate with them in the future. In 5 days I heard from more than half the parents.  Interesting results:

                Nobody wanted Skype or WebEx/Elluminate-style parent conferences, mostly face-to-face (71%) email (52%), and telephone (24%).  But parent conferences weren’t even that high on the list of “ways to find out what’s happening in my child’s classroom.” 

                The ways parents found most helpful to learn what was happening at school were (with parents choosing more than one):

  • Edline progress reports  96% (This also showed up in comments, with parents complaining about teachers who rarely update progress reports).  This shows parents how their kids are doing at the assignment/test level.  They like it.  What does this mean to teachers?  Take the extra 5 minutes to post your grades to Gradequick and upload progress reports about the grades to Edline.  Need a refresher?  Click on
  • Emails about my child    92%     Easy to do via Edline, and you automatically get a copy of the email sent to your school email address.   Not sure how? Click on
  • Emails about class activities  83%   You can send an email to the entire class via Edline – great way to introduce a new unit, a field trip, a problem that arose in class, a major assignment.  These are their children.  Parents want to know what they’re doing.  Based on the number of emails I got from high school parents this year in response to whole class emails, I’d say high school parents still want to hear from us.  Not sure how?  Click on
  • Conversations with my child   79%
  • Class web pages (Edline)  75%  Not sure how to make your Edline pages more useful and appealing?  Click on
  • Saints are Saying   67%    If two-thirds of parents use Saints are Saying to find out what’s happening, it seems like it’s worth the effort to give Sue Thomson the information so that she can let parents and other interested parties know what’s going on.
  • Study guides (which I email home and post on Edline)  67%
  • Report cards  58%
  • Parent-teacher conferences  29%
  • Back to School Night 13%
  • Comments in Agenda (assignment book) 4%

                What does this tell us?  Parents want to know what’s happening in classes (class emails) and how their child is performing (progress reports).  We have effective tools that don’t take a lot of time to use that help parents keep tabs on their children.  Teachers often complain about uninvolved parents – but we have tools to help them be involved.  We sure better use ‘em.

Explaining Twitter

April 10, 2011  Tagged , , , ,

So I was with a colleague explaining how I had “met” another colleague via Twitter; we converse all the time, even though we’ve never seen each other face to face.  Blank look.  What’s Twitter again?

Twitter is a way of expanding your professional network: those colleagues you bounce ideas off, people you get ideas from, people who share interesting articles/lessons/resources/websites.  While I read and comment on blogs, what I was looking for was professional conversation – I found it on Twitter.
Here is a tiny part of a recent conversation from Twitter, a chat about homework in middle school.  @name is the speaker, #midleved is the hashtag that pulls all these Tweets together.

  • @mthman:   Welcome back to the #midleved chat! I hope you had a good week in the classroom (or of spring break, like me!). Let’s talk homework.
  • @mthman:  During the first week(s) of school, what do you tell your students/parents to expect via homework? #midleved
  • @francesblo:  How much time is reasonable for HW? #midleved
  • @cybraryman1:  My daily HW was for students to either read, watch or listen to the major news stories. We would discuss in class next day #midleved
  • @cybraryman1:  Years later a student in college thanked me for having do the current events assignment. He didn’t appreciate it then. #midleved
  • @mthman:  That depends…do you account for other teachers in the building also? RT @francesblo: How much time is reasonable for HW? #midleved
  • @rushtheiceberg:   #midleved Homework, in my class, is either extended time to finish classwork, or independent pract/refinement of close to mastered concepts
  • @cybraryman1:  [reply to]  @mthman Good point. You don’t want to overburden students #midleved
  • @cybraryman1:  The key is providing HW that is not just busy work. You want them to think #midleved
  • @francesblo:  In my school, daily HW in English, Math, less often other subjects #midleved
  • @brianwyzlic [reply to]@francesblo 30 minutes/day seems about right, but we need to make sure we look cross-curricular, which is tough day-to-day #midleved
  • @mthman:  Do you “grade” HW or merely provide feedback? #midleved

This went on for an hour, ranging over how much work to assign, busy work, if practice should be done in class or as homework, types of homework for different subjects, should there be homework at all.  It was like sitting around the table with about 20 others who are interested in middle school education – the kind of energizing experience you might get once a year at a conference.

Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of experience every week, a couple of times a week, maybe even every day?

There are side conversations in any chat (partly because people think/pause/write at different rates).  Happily, since Twitter is a print medium, you can go back to read over what others have written to follow all the threads.  And later, you can read the archive (Twitter scrolls down, with the most recent first, so you read the archive from the bottom up.)  Here’s the archive for this discussion:

Some basic terminology using this recent #midleved chat as an example.  The hashtag # shows this is a topic, and this topic can be followed on Twitter even if you don’t “follow” all the people who are part of that conversation (very useful when you’re starting out).  The conversation goes on all week, and also during the scheduled “chat.”  You can be part of the chat, or lurk (read the tweets during the chat, but don’t say anything), or scroll back through the tweets later, or read through the archive if there is an archive for that particular hashtag’s chats.  There are many education-related chats and hashtags on Twitter, catalogued here by @cybraryman1

You can set up your free Twitter account and follow conversations from, by using the search function, but it’s much easier to follow the conversations associated with a particular #hashtag by using a tool like (free software you download).  Here, you get your regular Twitter stream (called Friends, the tweets of people you “follow”), any Mentions of your Twitter name (useful so you can respond – and you might miss these as the regular Twitter stream scrolls past), and Direct Messages (sent to you only).  But the real strength is that you can add columns for the #hashtags that interest you.  I find I’m more likely to check the #hashtags than my regular Twitter stream.

There are many, many wonderful resources about Twitter on the web.  Here are a few to help you get started.  Because these are conversations you want to be part of.

Snow day results

February 14, 2011  Tagged , , ,

As students get more used to using the Moodle on snow days (New England is giving us a lot of practice this year), here are some important observations:

1.                   Students continue to need a way to reach the teacher.  Some will use the forums, but when a kid has a problem, that kid wants a specific connection.  How ironic that my students, who tell me they “never use email” then use email to reach me when they have a technical problem, or can’t figure out how to do something.  For middle schoolers, I think the privacy of email has a real appeal – they don’t have to feel foolish in front of their peers, which is their most enormous and ever-present fear.  With adults, one might suggest a student post their question in a forum, but this isn’t something I’d suggest with adolescents.  This means, you need access to your school email and you need to check it regularly throughout the day.

2.                   Students start exploring beyond the original assignment, so it’s useful to have other materials.  I found students working ahead on vocabulary work we aren’t even going to start for a week.  I haven’t introduced it, we haven’t discussed it, I haven’t assigned it.  But they’re doing the work anyway.  Then I remember how I appreciate in my adult classes when the prof gives us ways to work ahead.  But this also makes me think. Time on task.  I really hope I have created such an appealing environment online that kids will stay there longer.  The longer they are engaging with my content – time on task -  the happier I am.

3.                   Snow day work is much less pressured.  It leaves time to explore.  We aren’t in the computer lab pressured by the 42 minute period; they aren’t soldiering through homework after a tiring day at school.  It’s important that there are lots of resources already available for students to stumble on.  I had found a great interactive that simulates arguments in a trial – perfect preparation for our mock trial.  At least one student found it and wrote about it on the snow day forum I set up.  Students also went back to an earlier conversation and extended it, including comments about what they were noticing.  The moodle has always showed who was online before, but in the computer lab, nobody noticed that – now they can see who else is online, and they like that.

4.                   Another faculty member at my school has implemented snow day work using Edline (each class has a web page).  He told kids about expectations in class, emailed parents – and got 100% homework completion.  Kids were complaining their parents wouldn’t let them go out until they finished their work.  This works!

Cross-posted at

Shoveling around snow days

January 21, 2011  Tagged , , , ,

As we begin snow day number four, or is it five, I wanted to share with you a way to keep your classes moving forward.  Regardless of whether you have Edline, Moodle, a class webpage, or another online resource like these, you probably already have a way to manage snow days online.

Snow Shovelsphoto © 2010 Mike Procario | more info (via: Wylio)

1.       Communicate your expectations. Let students know in class, and parents know via email, that you will be posting work which you expect students to do whenever there is a snow day.  If you live in an area with spotty electrical/internet service, let parents know this is contingent on your having service.

2.       Decide what you want students to accomplish and gather the necessary resources for them to use.  Some examples:

a.       Background reading.  Since students may not have texts at home with them (or may say they don’t), provide other readings.  Textbook publishers frequently have rich resources available.  So much material is available online that you are likely to be able to find a number of interesting articles for your students to read which relate to what you’re doing right now in class.  If you keep these links bookmarked or in a Word document, these will be readily available.  Even if you forgot your list at school, a few minutes of Googling is likely to help bring up at least some of what you want.

b.      Activities. Ask thought-provoking questions.  Don’t do spit-back questions-at-the-end-of-the-chapter.  You have a great opportunity for students to pause and think.  Ask questions like: Why do you think X is taking place? What would happen if Y changed?   Those great questions you never have enough time for in class.

c.       Online resources. You always wanted to take the class to the computer lab to look at that great math website, or science videos website, or primary sources website.  Consider also:  what do you want students to do with this resource? Explore, experiment, evaluate?  Caveat: If this was a website you wanted students using under supervision, don’t use it for a snow day.  Unless you want parent complains, don’t link to YouTube, where students are only one click away from inappropriate content. Of course, students go there themselves, but why set yourself up?

d.      PowerPoints. Some teachers/texts have PowerPoint presentations of key material.  You may wish to post these, especially in AP classes.

e.      Activities. Discussion. See this post about how to set up a discussion in Edline.  I much prefer Moodle discussions which are easier to set up and provide more variety.

3.       Tell students what you want them to do today, on the snow day.

a.       In Edline, the easiest way to do this is in News.  Click on the pen & paper icon to the right of News.  Click on Add, then add content as you usually do.  I make the title explicit:  Snow Day – January 21.  I usually just select Enter Text by Hand.  Be specific.  If you have study guides, assignment sheets you refer to, be sure these have already been uploaded to the Content section of your Edline page.  You can include any links to readings or resources as part of what you’re writing.  If you are using the same directions for more than one class, select the other classes you want and click Save.

b.      In Moodle, I place the directions so they are the first thing students see after they login.

4.       Communicate your expectations to parents and students. Send an email (my school uses Edline for this) to all parents and students in each class, reminding them that you’ve got work for the day posted, and where it is.  Not all students check their email, but adults are more likely to, and parents want their kids learning.

5.       When school starts again, discuss the work.  The first time, a fair number of students will not have done the work, but participation improves with experience.


1.       What about power outages and dropped internet service?  Be understanding, but treat the work like class work that was missed due to a sick day and needs to be made up.

2.       What about the kid who says s/he forgot the password and couldn’t login? Really?  This is where due dates and assignments are posted, but the kid suddenly forgot the password? And didn’t ask parents – who also have an account – for assistance?  Treat this as class work that has to be made up.

3.       What about kids/parents who forgot about the work entirely? Treat this as class work that has to be made up.

4.       What if I don’t have power/internet service? Don’t beat yourself up.  You probably have bigger difficulties to cope with than a missed day of classes.

Comments, suggestions, additions welcome.  This is cross-posted to

How to: find, evaluate and use Internet resources

January 6, 2011  Tagged , , ,

If you’d like to find out more about how to find, evaluate and use Internet resources tailored just for you, just click here:

 If you need more help, please let me know.