Sunday, May 3, 2015

Using Educational Technology to Improve the School-Home Learning Connection While Strengthening Parental Involvement

Parent engagement in the school . . . is defined as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning and development of students. Research has shown that the education benefits of parent engagement have: better behavior, better school attendance, higher academic performance, high school completion rates and enhanced social skills.  We know parents are busy; many homes now have two full-time working parents instead of just one.  Other homes just have one parent who might be working full time.  As educators, we need to think of creative ways to engage parents in their students' education.  Fortunately, the use of Educational Technology can most definitely assist with that, making the job somewhat easier.  Therefore, many schools have adopted a LMS (Learning Management Systems) such as Google Classroom, Edmodo, or Haiku, to help keep the lines of communication open between teachers, students, and parents.


At the same time, educators are using technology not only to engage their students, but to enhance and extend student learning.  There are great things happening in your classroom, but do your students' parents know about it?  You probably send a newsletter, an email, or post a blog on your school's website, but do you ever give your student's parents a chance to experience what and how your class is learning at home?

Introducing SMART amp Winner of recent awards including 2015 Bett Awards, 2014 eSchool News Top Education Products,  and a finalist for the 2015 SIIA Education CODIE Awards, SMART amp was designed with the purpose to be used on any device, anywhere, at any time.  Because students can learn anywhere on just about any device that has an Internet connection, learning can extend to their homes affording parents the ability to be actively involved with their children's learning.  Parents will be able to see what their children are doing with SMART amp and how they are using it to learn in ways that they could not do beforehand.  When using SMART amp, the possibilities are infinite as the learning extends beyond the walls of the classroom as doors open up to the outside world.  The concepts that students are learning are presented in a workspace that is easy to navigate.  Whether it's collaborating with peers, teachers, or researching information, students will have a richer, more meaningful experience on their devices. In addition, there is an assessment component that teachers can add into their workspaces; parents can receive automatic feedback on whether their children have demonstrated mastery of the material in the workspace.

Because SMART amp is Google Apps for Education (GAFE) based, parents simply need to login to SMART amp with their children's GAFE accounts and then they will be able to access their children's workspaces.  They will be amazed at all of the features that are available as the workspace is like one big canvas that can be filled with their children's creativity.  One of the many features is the ability to insert images into the workspace.  They do not need to be concerned with their children searching for images in the workspace since SMART has set Microsoft Bing's Safe Search to conduct the search - and this filtering will be applied wherever the students use SMART amp. However, it is still advisable that parents supervise their (younger) children using the Internet on devices and they should not be left unattended.  There is also a YouTube search feature which can be used to search for videos and embed them into the workspace.  It is important for parents to recognize that YouTube should be set with safety on and/or they should use another filter to block inappropriate content.  There are many web filters available, such as K9 Web Protection which is even free.

With that mind, we know how important it is for our students to learn digital literacy skills in school to be proper digital citizens.  SMART amp helps them to accomplish this.  Parents need to remember that they themselves are "digital immigrants," while their children are "digital natives as they are growing up in a digital, media-saturated world and require a media-rich learning environment to hold their attention." (Marc Prensky, 2001)  In addition, parents will learn that by using SMART amp, the students are being prepared for the future. They are learning how to collaborate with each other as well as work independently, which are crucial in today's world.

A SMART amp workspace with activities that children can use to learn at home.

And SMART amp just keeps getting better and better.....during the past year, significant improvements have been made to the software in the areas of technical aspects as well as user ability.  The SMART Technologies Team is in constant touch with SMART Exemplary Educators (SEEs) to inquire how to continue improving the product.  After all, at SMART Technologies, education comes first!

After educators provide parents with the opportunity of using SMART amp at home with their children,  they can ask parents to visit classrooms in action to observe the class using SMART amp as a learning tool.  Parents can also serve as school volunteers for the library or lunchroom, or as classroom aides, which affords them with a greater amount of "hands-on" time with their children's learning.  Further, when a class is conducting a PBL (Project Based Learning/Problem Based Learning) unit, educators can inspire collaboration by inviting a parent who is an expert in that field to come and speak to the class either face to face or virtually.

Many parents at are on their school's Executive Board and therefore they are involved in decisions related to the school's operating budget.  Parents want to do what is best for their children.  They also want to know where their tuition dollars - or tax dollars - are going.  If educators would like parents to help them in soliciting funds for Educational Technology, then they need to make sure that the parents know about what they are using as learning tools in their classroom and how it benefits the students.

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