Shrewsbury EdTech

Tech resources for Shrewsbury Public School educators


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Finding My "Teacher Voice" on Social Media

As I get rolling with my 10th year of teaching in Shrewsbury, I have been reflecting on my use of technology and how it has changed over the years. Some of you know that my team has had a pretty awesome website (www.8gold.org) since the beginning, and this site has evolved over the years. We embedded a team Google Calendar, converted many of our handouts and nightly homework into Google Docs, inserted an Animoto video, and even added a Google Translate button for families that do not speak English at home.

Recently, the focus has been on social media. It seems like whenever a new social tool emerges, it promises to reinvent education. I have been to a few “ed tech” conferences where there is a feeling by many that if you’re not using social media in class, you’re not a good teacher. I don’t agree with that idea at all. However, like many of you, I have been trying to trying to wrap my head around how (and even if) I should use sites like Facebook and Twitter. Since Shrewsbury public schools seem to be hopping on the social media bandwagon, I figured now is the perfect time to share my thoughts.


Facebook

I started an official 8 Gold Facebook page two years ago. This format allows me to share information without having to “friend” students and parents. I would NEVER recommend for a teacher to “friend” students or their parents. A general rule many teachers I know follow is we will accept friend requests from former students once they graduate high school, no earlier. Our team website has a button that lets parents and students “like” our Facebook page, which allows them to see team updates in their Facebook News Feed. 
There are two primary purposes for the team Facebook page: 
  1. Communicate with alumni (students and parents). This is a great way to let them know about upcoming team and town events such as road races or hiking trips up Mt. Monadnock.
  2. Share pictures and videos. I created a team photo gallery for last year’s students and added pictures from different events throughout the year. ALL students and parents can access the pictures, even if they do not have a Facebook account. They can “like” photos but comment and tagging are both disabled. I set up a new photo gallery for this year’s class. 

Twitter

While the Facebook page came naturally, I have had a tough time embracing Twitter. In fact, I downright hated it for the longest time. Again, I will go back to one of those ed tech conferences I attended with Derek. We were the only two teachers with name tags that included our actual names. Everyone else wrote their Twitter handles instead. Really? The whole thing seemed very pretentious to me.
I’ve always thought Twitter had potential for sharing news in “real time” but wasn’t sure about how to utilize that in an educational setting. Just this past weekend, I sat with a friend in a bar in Boston before the MixFest concert. We thought we could stroll up fashionably late to the Esplanade to see our new favorite band from Iceland, “Of Monsters and Men”. At one point, there was confusion among people at the bar whether the gates had already been closed off to more people. I pulled up Twitter on my phone and searched for “MixFest”. Sure enough, the very first tweet was by the Boston State Police. (see below) As upset as I was that I wasn’t about to get inside the gate, I was secretly impressed with myself that I was able to find an answer to our question in about 20 seconds. 
I started a personal Twitter account about a year ago (@mrmularella). The toughest part was identifying my audience. Who would care about what I tweet? Who do I care about enough to read their tweets? I now “follow” a few friends but primarily use it to follow experts in the field of education. There are some scientists, teachers, principals, and leaders in the ed tech field. I mostly lurk in the background, reading their tweets and occasionally retweet something. Very rarely did I post something myself because I kept thinking, “who cares what I have to say?”
Over the summer, it all finally made sense to me. I could use it as a communication tool with students and parents. I did not want them to follow my personal account so I made a new account for our team (@8goldteachers). I shared the login infomation with the other 8 Gold team teachers so all of us could tweet out under this name. This then led to the most recent update to our website. I embedded the team Twitter feed into our main site so anything we post to Twitter also shows up on the website. This allows us to share team news and events in “real time”!. 
So, how am I using Twitter to communicate with parents and students? 
Here are some of the things tweeted during the first few weeks of school: 
  • Links to online resources (bullying, social media, cross country signups, etc.)
  • Quick reminders and notes like “Great to meet you all at Curriculum Night”)
  • Pictures from class labs
  • Links to team YouTube videos
One of my potential favorite aspects of using Twitter as a communication tool is the act of “retweeting”. The @8goldteachers account is “following” school and district administrators, as well as others in the community. See the full list here. If Dr. Sawyer tweets something I think our parents should know about, we can retweet his thoughts, which add them to our Twitter timeline. 
As of right now, we have thirteen students/parents following us on Twitter, but I’m hopeful that number will grow throughout the year. Other those thirteen, I honestly have no idea how many people are looking at these updates on the website. The parents seemed very receptive to the idea on Curriculum Night, but I may find out I’m still not reaching my desired audience. The experiment continues!
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Using Google Calendar in the Classroom

If you are looking for a simple way to integrate technology into your life, I highly recommend using Google Calendar. It is simple to use and much better than your old “plan book”. Once you get going, you will be wondering how you ever survived without it!

In order to use Google Calendar, you must first have a Google account. Since the school district has joined “Google Apps”, everyone SHOULD already have an account. The username is your school email address. Your password is the same password used for your email. If you have difficulty logging in, let us know.

The beauty of Google Calendar is that you can create multiple calendars, each with a different purpose. Each calendar can be made private or public, and it can be shared with others, allowing them to also make changes. As you can see below in my Google calendar, I have set up four different calendars (described in more detail below). The names of these calendars are viewable on the left. (By clicking on the calendar names, you can make them visible or hidden in your main calendar.) Each calendar can be assigned a different color to help you easily tell them apart. When you add a new event to Google calendar, you choose which specific calendar you would like to add it to.

My Google Calendar
My Four Calendars:

1. 8 Gold Calendar (gold) is public for anyone to see and acts as an important communication tool for our students and parents. All teachers on our team are able to add events to this calendar, such as upcoming tests, projects, due dates, etc. As you can see in the image below, this calendar is also “embedded” directly into our team website. If your team has a class website/blog/wiki, we can show you how to set this up!

2. Gold Teachers Calendar (green) is a private calendar shared just with the teachers on our team. We use this to keep track of school, department, and parent meetings. This has really helped improve communication and collaboration. Whenever one of us adds a meeting, for example, it is immediately seen in the other teachers’ calendars.

3. Jeremy’s Calendar (blue) is my personal, private calendar. This is how I keep track of all things outside of school. Many of you may benefit from a “family calendar” to help you keep track of your children’s commitments (sports, play practice, appointments, etc.)

4. Science Calendar (private) is used as a pacing guide for my curriculum.

 Our Google Calendar is embedded directly on our team’s website.
Other Ideas for Using Google Calendar

Post daily homework assignments.

  • You can attach Google Documents to all of your events. This comes in handy for homework assignments.  
  • If you teach more than one class, set up more than one calendar. For example, there could be a “Math/Science Homework” calendar and a “ELA/Social Studies Homework” calendar.

Use it as your plan book for the school year.

  • Some school districts have utilized Google Calendar to be the shell for their curriculum planning. I have not experimented with this, but it an interesting possibility.

School Calendars

  • Imagine how helpful it would be if there was an “Oak Middle School” or “Sherwood” calendar that could be edited by all staff! It could include upcoming events, field trips, assemblies, after school sports/club events, meeting agendas, and so much more.
    •  Let us know if you would find this helpful. We could look into setting one up if there is enough interest.

    Access your calendars from anywhere.
    • Once you set it up, Google Calendar can be “synced” to all of your devices. This means that you can view and edit your calendars from just about any laptop, smart phone, or tablet (such as an iPad). You can even add events on your phone.
    • It can be a little tricky to first set up, but it is definitely worth it. Unlike my laptop, my phone is always with me so it’s great to always have access to my calendar. The image to the right shows what how your calendars would look on a smart phone.
    Resources for Using Google Calendar

    Getting Started Guide from Google 

    “How-To” YouTube Videos for using Google Calendar 
    Created by the Google Apps team — covers basic and advanced features. Very helpful!

    Google Apps for Education

    How to sync Google Calendar with iPhone Calendar 
    This explains how to log in and view your primary Google Calendar (which is the first calendar you created). 

    (Advanced) If you would like to sync multiple calendars on your phone (I have all four of my calendars on my iPhone), you must open up your phone’s web browser (will not work on your laptop) and go to https://www.google.com/calendar/iphoneselect. Here, you can choose which calendars you want to sync on your phone.

    Google Calendar Tutorial:This tutorial explains many of basic features of Google Calendar such as: creating new calendars, adding/deleting events, looking at different calendar views (daily, weekly, monthly), and repeating events.