Creating and maintaining a classroom website or portal can time-consuming and taxing on a school’s servers. Even when using a free, online host like Weebly or Google, integrating a website with one’s curriculum and classroom community can be difficult. Of course, one can always turn to the myriad of online tools to help supplement a classroom website. One typical use for a classroom website that can be tedious is the constant updating of resources. In the past, we would have to edit our pages to include new and updated resources with hyperlinks, possibly adding descriptions or even additional pages. Instead of creating and updating resource pages, use social bookmarking tools like Delicious and Diigo. Both tools offer “bookmarklets” that work in almost any browser. This button allows easy bookmarking. By carefully including descriptions and thoughtful tags, users can easily create pages of resources under a variety of topics. One issue with maintaining a website is keeping it up-to-date in regards to classroom news and announcements. With most web sites, we have to actually edit the pages only to have to redo it periodically so that it appears updated. Additionally, passing along information this way leaves no opportunity for interaction and discussion. A blog, however, is easy to update while archiving past posts, plus it allows for parents, teachers, and students to respond and continue the discussion. Weebly features its own blogging tool, but tools such as WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr can fill your blogging needs well. Some school districts have in-house learning portals or shared folders that allow teachers and students to pass files back and forth. However, this is not available everywhere or districts have limited server space. Two online tools can make sharing files easy. Google Docs isn’t just a tool for collaboration and creation. Google’s ample server space makes storing and sharing documents a breeze. The other great site for file sharing is DropBox which provides users a downloadable app for easy file transfer without navigating to and logging into a remote site. Some teachers would like to create a working space for students to display their work online. Uploading and adding student content to one’s site can be quite the endeavor. Setting up a wiki at a site like Wikispaces can allow students to upload, publish, and share on their own. The commenting feature makes it easy for additional interaction. Back when we in eMINTS would help teachers create calendars from scratch using web-authoring software, one of the greatest challenges was creating calendars. These calendars either required multiple pages on a site or would require regular updates. By using a calendar through Google or Yahoo, users can keep a public calendar that updates every time they enter events. Users have the option of linking their audience directly to calendars or embedding calendars in their home sites. A website is limited in that it is absent the personal interaction we have with students on a daily basis in class. However, social networking can fill that void. Facebook’s group feature makes it easy for classes to interact in as public or private a forum as necessary without teachers worrying about friending their students. Twitter is a bit more open to the rest of the web, but through the use of groups, hashtags, and tools like Tweetdeck, discussion is easy to manage. However, if either of these tools are inaccessible at your school, there is always the school-friendly option at Edmodo. Whatever your website needs may be, there are creative ways to use online tools to help you make the most out of your site’s effectiveness. Hacking an online tool to make it suit your educational needs is often an efficient way to make a website more than just…well, a website. How have you used online applications to enhance your classroom website? What is something you want to do with your site that you just can’t figure out using online applications? How might you envision using web apps to enhance a classroom website? [Previously] Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.
Design Patterns 2.0
Our good friend Bernie Dodge presents on how the best WebQuests are those built around tasks that resemble the authentic work that people do outside of school. Design patterns provide us with a way to describe that work and make it easier to create WebQuests that better prepare our students for life. This session will be the world premier (since yesterday’s session) of a new set of design patterns that will kick lessons up a notch.
Journals, Blogs and Wikis to Enhance Reading and Writing
Presenter Denis Knight provides participants an opportunity to gain a better understanding of various web-based instructional opportunities to use to enhance reading and writing skills. Participants learn how to use online journals, blogs and wikis to develop innovative ways to not only communicate with students, but provide an avenue for creative written expression. Teachers can generate online journals for students to reflect on classroom activities; blogs for addressing constructive response questions and article reviews to address reading comprehension. Participants learn to create a classroom wiki to provide opportunities for interactive discussion and peer evaluation. When used with appropriate assessments, these online sources can give teachers the flexibility to use internet sites as a way to move from the paper and pencil past to a new and exciting learning experience.
Personalize Your PD
Presenter Stephanie Madlinger helps teachers expand and take ownership of professional learning by creating a PLN (Personal Learning Network). Having a PLN allows one to learn and share with others around the world, 24/7. A PLN is a reciprocal network created and based on your interests and needs. Generate multiple opportunities to learn from, connect with, gather information and resources, then create and share with people like you. Participants learn which online tools to use to personalize their own PD. They explore online learning communities like Google Groups and SchoolTown; social networks like Facebook and Twitter; and social bookmarking like Delicious and Diigo.
Put Some WOW into Your Website
Krissy Venosdale of Hillsboro R-3 School District helps teachers explore ways to use the classroom website to enhance the learning environment. Using various Web 2.0 tools, sprucing up certain areas of one’s site, and encouraging interaction on the classroom site will enhance learning both in and out of the classroom. Digital portfolios, online projects, and weekly contests can all be used to engage students in a site and most of all, in learning.
Class, get out your cell phones please for bellwork. Seriously!
Presenter Roger Brallier of Mexico Public Schools help participants learn how to use cell phone technology to add an extra spark to bell work or preassessment in the classroom. Roger demonstrates how to reduce “under the table texting” and unlock the power of the cell phone (which may be greater than some of our older computers). Additionally, participants learn the basics of “Poll Everywhere” – a free online tool that shows real time results using the texting feature of a cell phone. Even without a phone, one can still use a webpage link.
The Flipped Classroom Approach in an eMINTS Classroom
Presenter Melody Paige of Monett School District presents a flipped classroom approach that entails “flipping” instruction in which students watch and listen to lectures for homework or at other non-instructional times. This gives learners control to pause or rewind lessons for understanding. Precious class time is then used for what typically was done as homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, creating, collaborating and researching. The concept is simple; but how does one make the “flipped” approach work in the real classroom? What software is needed? In this session, teachers watch videos of this concept in action and provide many resources for creating flipped content. There are many free completed lessons and videos ready for use in the classroom.
School districts are cutting back on server space and software purchasing. This makes it hard to create and maintain usable classroom websites. Luckily, the Web is loaded with plenty of free alternatives.
You say your school is unable to purchase Dreamweaver? Try Nvu. For those who like to have more control than templates offer and no funds to purchase expensive software, NVU is a good alternative to the popular Dreamweaver.
Server space for websites is being drastically cut? If you’re okay with templates, Google Sites and Weebly both offer some great hosting options. With the right know-how, one does not have to be limited to templates, but both services offer a nice variety of templates with many features that will improve the interactivity of your site. Google’s sites offer seamless integration of the many Google tools also available for free. Weebly is a slick online web editor and host that also offers many interactive components to take your site to the next level.
Sometimes districts offer a small amount of space for a “templated” web page, but there are limits to resources. Simply tap into the many web-based tools that are free to users with an email address in order to enhance your students’ experience.
As mentioned above, Google offers many tools that can be easily converted to educational purposes. Google calendars provide both a self-standing website option and an embed-able element so that you can add this feature to your own site. Google Groups can provide a password protected space for discussion and file sharing. Google Docs give you the opportunity to produce collaborative documents, spreadsheets, images, surveys and quizzes, and presentations. Many of the tools on Google Docs can easily be “hacked” to fit teacher and student needs involving sharing and privacy as well as web publication possibilities. These free tools only skim the surface of what Google has to offer and did I mention it was all free? 😉
For lists of resources, teachers can utilize any number of social bookmarking sites. There’s Delicious which uses tags and clouds to create user-friendly interfaces and organizational systems. Diigo has many great collaborative possibilities. EverNote even takes the collaboration a step further and offers a desktop version for easy syncing. All of these tools can be used to provide students their own Internet-based libraries specific for their needs.
Communication is an important component of any teacher’s responsibilities. What better online tool for communication is there than the blog? Google has Blogger. WordPress is another great blogging tool and is utilized over at Edublogs. Blogs are free to set up and provide many opportunities for interaction with your students, parents, and colleagues.
This is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to free tools that can provide an alternative to the traditional classroom website. Almost any online tool has a practical classroom application. What are some of the tools you use for your classroom website?
Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read some of his other posts over at Suppl_eMINTS.