Thursday, August 14, 2008

Increasing Teacher-Parent Communication

Last spring I gave a presentation at the Maine Student-Tech Team Conference. The topic for that session was "Increasing student and parent engagement through free web applications." As the summer winds down and school starts again I thought I'd share some more free tools for increasing teacher-parent communication. There are three categories of tools that I will be sharing in the next three blog posts, blogs, free website builders, and file sharing/ hosting services.

Some of the free tools are included in the slide show I shared in May (which you can see below), but there are at least five new resources for increasing teacher-parent engagement in the blog entries to follow.

Notetaking and Collaborative Research

This week's episode of Wicked Decent Learning titled Take Note features a discussion of teaching notetaking skills and research skills. Jeff and Dan explore the value of notetaking and reasons why we make students take note. The WDL guys also review a neat little gadget from Livescribe. As always the Wicked Decent Learning podcast is informative and entertaining. Check it out on iTunes.

The Wicked Decent Learning discussion about notetaking reminded me of two free resources that every student and teacher should be familiar with. Google Notebook and Zoho Notebook are great, free, collaborative resources that can help students take notes and outline their online and offline research.

Below is a video introduction to Google Notebook. After the video are my thoughts about using Google Notebook and Zoho Notebook in education.

Applications for Education
Both Google Notebook and Zoho Notebook can be used to "clip" or bookmark webpages that students find online. That isn't anything special what makes it useful and different from simply bookmarking pages is that users can write notes about to accompany each clipped page. Adding notes helps students to record why they are saving that page and what they found useful and important on a particular webpage. Google and Zoho both offer browser extensions which make it very easy to clip or bookmark pages and write notes without having to open a new browser window.

Google Notebook
and Zoho Notebook both have collaborative features that allow users to share and edit notebooks with other users. This is a great tool for students that are working collaboratively on research projects. For example if three students were working a research project about the Cold War they can create a notebook of information to which each person can add information as it is found. Then when it is time to write a paper or create a presentation each student can harness the power of the group's efforts.

Comparing the two notebook applications Google's Notebook interface has fewer easily accessed features than Zoho offers. Zoho's Notebook allows users to add more layers to a notebook by including videos and pictures with a very simple and obvious process.

Get Step-by-Step Math Help from Mathway

Mathway is a new service that I learned about from Killer Startups. Mathway is a free service that helps students learn to solve math problems. Mathway provides help with basic math problems through Calculus. Students can enter a math problem that they cannot solve and Mathway provides a solution along with a step-by-step explanation of how to solve the problem. Additionally, Mathway provides sample problems to explain commonly used mathematical concepts like slope-intercept form for example.

Applications for Education
Mathway is a great place for students to get math help when they cannot meet with a teacher or tutor. Mathway is also a resource that teachers may want to suggest to parents who are looking for a math refresher in order to help their children with math homework. If I was a math teacher (thankfully, I'm not) I would seriously consider adding a link to Mathway on my class blog.