My job is to make it easier for my students to understand and master the content that I am supposed to deliver. My job is not to make it a mystery as to how students are supposed to complete assignments, understand content, or pique their curiosity with whatever it is that we're covering (or not covering) during class. There are options that allow me to do this:
Our district's phone system is a pain, to put it nicely. We can only make local calls to land lines. Yet, in 2013, the majority of adults put their cell phones as the primary contact number on the identification card. Therefore, I'm stuck calling parents from my personal cell phone in hopes that they won't spam me with requests for updates on their child's progress (or worse).
Maybe it's just because I'm a middle school teacher, but I don't feel comfortable handing out my personal cell number for my students to use freely. My wife wouldn't be ok with it, I'm not ok with it, and that's ok with me. However, I needed a way to meet students at their level. Enter Google Voice.
By going through the simple setup process, which took about 10 minutes, I was able to get a free secondary Google Voice phone number that I can give out to students on my website, flyers and notes home, and even use to call parents without fear of the late night wakeup. Students use it to ask if I'll be in my room after school, when the homework is due, and other ways to help them help me remove the walls to the classroom. Thank you, Mr. Google.
The capabilities and uses of Remind101 are only limited by the scope in which you apply it. Use this in your classroom for simple updates. If and when there is a threatening situation (lockdown?), send a message to the parents letting them know that everything is alright (or, if it isn't, keep them apprised). Let parents know, schoolwide, about school events and updates that are happening on campus. Create a list for field trips o clubs to include everyone that requests information.
Here's the bottom line with this one: about 87% of Americans have a cell phone. Cell phones accept text messages. Therefore, using deductive reasoning, you will be able to reach nearly 90% of your students' parents by utilizing a free tool that is Remind101. Get on it. NOW.
Recently, while I was out sick, I was able to maintain constant contact and conversation with students who needed clarification and someone to bounce questions off of through the use of Edmodo. It is not mystery as to why my students feel more connected in my classroom, and out of it, compared to all of their other classes combined. Using this regulated social media tool, students are feeling much better about asking the most relevant or irrelevant questions about anything from homework to why I was missing a day of school to letting me know who was misbehaving while the substitute was holding down the fort. What it's all about is getting together and feeling alright about working as a group!
Instead, using ShowMe as a supplement to the flipped classroom, Edmodo, Remind101, and other resources, the walls of the classroom are virtually destroyed. There have been numerous lessons that, no matter what I thought of it, students didn't completely understand. It's called life and I need to accept it. My way of accepting it is that if students don't understand, they shoot me a message on Edmodo. Once I get the message, I can easily create a quick video using ShowMe and have it ready for them in no time.
In the case of the "Pink Eye Teacher" that I was playing the role of this week, ShowMe saved my class from the Death By Worksheet mentality of a substitute. In fact, the only reason there needed to be a sub in the first place was to take attendance and maintain order. Students logged into Edmodo on their devices, got out their notebooks, and watched the assigned video that I had created to ensure that we stayed on track with our intended schedule.
What this lesson showed me was that there are no walls to room 205 and that I shouldn't be uncomfortable with being out of the classroom. I truly believe that online learning is a waste of time for elementary, middle, and high school students, but there are times where a blended learning environment would work best for some students. Utilizing apps like ShowMe allows the instructor to intervene immediately and support with visuals, drawings, and screencasting that you couldn't do before. Plus, the love is felt by every device, unlike other screencasting apps out there.