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Friday, May 1, 2015

Edmodo for Parents - An App Just for Parents

Edmodo provides a good platform for sharing resources with students, hosting conversations, sending reminders, and creating content through third-party apps. The Edmodo mobile apps enable teachers to manage content on the go and allow students to quickly check for new content from their teachers.

Edmodo for Parents is an app designed just for parents. The app, available for iOS and Android, allows parents to quickly check for announcements from teachers. Perhaps more importantly the app offers a student activity feed. The student activity feed shows parents which assignments their children have completed. It also shows lists of upcoming and overdue assignments, quizzes, and events.


Is Your Blog Mobile-Friendly? Here's How to Check - And Why It Matters

Last month Google announced that they were going to start favoring mobile-friendly blogs and sites in search rankings. This makes sense when you consider how much web traffic flows through mobile devices today. For example, 23% of traffic to FreeTech4Teachers.com came from mobile devices this week. And nearly all of that traffic was caused by mobile referrals from Facebook and Pinterest.

What does this mean for your school blog or website?
If you're trying to get parents and students in the habit of checking your blog regularly, they're probably going to have moments when they're searching for the blog rather than entering the URL directly. Being mobile-friendly could help them find it.

Being mobile-friendly also means that students and parents accessing your blog on their mobile devices will have an easier time reading your posts. In turn that could help them stay on the blog longer and come back it to more frequently.

How to check if your blog is mobile-friendly.
Google provides a free tool for checking whether or not your blog is mobile-friendly. Simply enter your blog's URL into the mobile-friendly test and Google will analyze it for you. It takes just a minute for the test to run.

How to adjust your blog if it is not mobile-friendly. 
If Google deems your blog as not mobile-friendly the test page will offer suggestions on how to adjust your blog to become mobile-friendly. On WordPress-powered blogs you can use the Jetpack plug-in to enable automatic conversion of your blog to mobile-friendly formatting (it won't change the way your blog looks on a laptop, only on a mobile device). If your blog is on  Blogger simply go into the layout option and open the preferences under "mobile" and enable mobile layout.

Leave Audio Comments for Students In Their Digital Portfolios on SeeSaw

Disclosure: SeeSaw's parent company is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com.

Seesaw is a free iPad app through which students can create a portfolio to document the things they have learned. Students can add artifacts to their portfolios by taking pictures of their work (in the case of a worksheet or other physical item), by writing about what they've learned, or by shooting a short video to record something they have learned. Students can add voice comments to their pictures to clarify what their pictures document.

This week SeeSaw was updated with four new features. The most significant of those features being the option for teachers to leave audio comments on items in their students' digital portfolios. Finding items in students' digital portfolios got a little easier this week with the addition of a calendar view in SeeSaw. You can now search for students' portfolio items by date instead of just title. Speaking of portfolio items, students can now add add links to web pages or other creations that don't reside on the camera rolls of their iPads. The fourth update was the addition of an option to use the front-facing camera as well as the back-facing camera.

To get started with Seesaw create a free classroom account. Students join the classroom by scanning a QR code (you will have to print it or project it) that grants them access to your Seesaw classroom. As the teacher you can see and sort all of your students' Seesaw submissions. SeeSaw allows parents to create accounts through which they can see the work of their children. As a teacher you can send notifications to parents when their children make a new SeeSaw submission.

Learn all about how to use SeeSaw in the videos contained in the playlist below.

Pros & Cons of Using Blog Posts for School Announcements

On Tuesday I assessed the pros and cons of using social media for school announcements. The next day I did the same for text messaging. Yesterday, I broke-down the pros and cons of emailing school announcements. To wrap-up the series let's take a look at the pros and cons of using blog posts for school announcements.

Blog platforms:
If you are only using your blog to post announcements about your school or classroom, you have plenty of options for a blogging service. Blogger, WordPress.com, and Edublogs make it easy to start a blog in a matter of minutes. A comparison of five popular blog platforms can be found here. Weebly and Google Sites also have options for running blogs within the context of a larger website.

Pros of using blog posts as school announcements:
  1. It is easy to have multiple people maintain the blog. The burden of keeping parents informed about school news doesn't rest with just one person. 
  2. An archive of announcements is automatically created and easy to find. 
  3. You can include as much media as you like (or your hosting allows) in a blog post. It is easy to include video of a great school event. Or include an audio announcement that is accessible to struggling readers. 
  4. You can write announcements in advance and schedule them for distribution at later times. 
  5. You can easily call attention to and direct people to previous announcement and or to reference pages containing things like school calendars and handouts. 
Cons of using blog posts as school announcements:
  1. Parents must remember to check your blog or you convince them to subscribe to it.
  2. If you have commenting enabled you will need to must moderate comments. 
  3. If you don't have comments enabled parents will have to open a separate email client or call to ask questions about information in the blog post. 
  4. If your blog's URL is complicated, people will have a hard time remembering it correctly. For example, parents in my district often complained about remembering the structure of sad17.k12.me.us when looking for some of my colleague's blogs. My blog was simply mrbyrneteaches.com (I spent $10 per year for hosting that domain through Blogger and wrote off the cost on my taxes). 
  5. If you choose to self-host your blog you will have to spend time maintaining the back-end for software updates and security. 
A couple of considerations that are neither pros nor cons.
  1. Blog posts can easily be converted into and sent as email messages through services like FeedBlitz, FeedBurner, and Aweber to name a few. Parents who prefer email can receive the posts through those services. Parents who prefer to subscribe to a blog via RSS can use services like Feedly and Flipboard to follow the blog. 
  2. Nearly every blogging platform will let you create static pages for content like calendars, policies, and handouts.