We just finished up a week of scrutiny from a visiting team assessing the school for accreditation. The faculty is seasoned and most folks have been through 4 of these together, at least, so there was little to worry about. Still, i was scampering the last few nights before the visit to put together a repository of digital evidence and gathering pictures to make it look pretty. It was a collection of pictures, lessons and videos that highlighted some of the good things going on at the school and it was fairly vast. It was nice display for many of the things already happening in the school on a regular basis.
Upon finishing and looking at the work I had compiled I reflected on how much energy had been spent pulling all of this together for 5 people that don’t know the school, don’t really care about the school except for writing their own report and would be gone in 3 days. It seems crazy that we would put all that work in for these folks because they would influence our accreditation and the folks paying tuition at our school would rarely get a glimpse into the life of the school except at back-to-school night, open house and special assemblies. It seems the folks paying for our pay checks and invested in the school for their own child’s benefit, on a daily basis, would love to see some of these displays. Now don’t get me wrong, plenty of good is shared with the families and everyone makes an effort to show learning happening but my point being that the way the school was on display for that week was the way it should always be. There are so many good things happening in our schools and it is great for us to stop and recognize and even have the students recognize how much fun and learning, and even fun learning, is going on.
The way the school was on display for that week was the way it should always be.
With all the red tape that keeps getting piled on teachers these days it is difficult for teachers to constantly be in “showcase” mode for all projects and lessons. There is so much going on and so little time but there are a few simple things that can be done to highlight the learning that requires little time at all, especially if you can involve the students in the documentation process. Here are some of my favorite simple ways to showcase the happenings in the classroom.
I can remember the days of scanning actual photos or checking out the digital camera so I could take photos of the happenings in the classroom and then finding the adapter for my special SD card to upload them to my computer. No wonder I didn’t have more photos on display. Now everyone has a $500 camera in their pocket, and sometimes two, that make the capturing of these moments all the easier. Better yet, no longer do I have to be the gate keeper of taking photos as the students can more than handle the process. I remember seeing a TED talk where the gentleman, whom I cannot remember, said something to the effect of, “Why would students have a hard time using an iPad when it is a touchscreen and has one button?” Anyone can manage that.
The managing and sharing of those photos is only a couple of more steps. Some teachers have created instagram accounts and shared them privately with families. For those that have accounts this is pretty easy to upload and for parents to subscribe. I am not a huge fan of social media in general so this would not be my first stop but I can see how it can be popular with families and easy for teachers to get in to using.
Since we are a GAFE school and have unlimited storage I would take advantage of Google Drive’s folder sharing ability. Photos can be saved to a google folder on an iOS device or dragged to a folder from a computer. Once there, the folder can be shared with anyone using the link and what is displayed is a nice gallery of your photos or videos (works the same way for documents and slides). Normally putting together a gallery on a website would take some heavy coding or a special theme but Google Drive does this naturally, making for an easy and pretty display. Take it a step further and rename the files as captions so it really looks like a webpage. You can email the link or post in your student information system and parents can find all the beauty of your classroom in one place. It is probably the lowest threshold for displaying all the good work to the world.
Recording videos of the happenings in the classroom has long been a great way to showcase great projects. Pictures are great but if you can show the continuous process it is always a winner. Furthermore if you can put a slick 90 seconds together your development department with love you so much and post that all over social media and the website. Recording a video is simple enough with the camera on any smartphone or tablet but editing that video and making it look polished is another thing. There are tools like iMovie that allow for great editing and can be learned quickly but that can sometimes seem a bit daunting for teachers. Students are more eager to jump in and figure it out so you can always have a student be the editor if they are old enough to do so. If not then there may be another option.
There are several video/slideshow creation tools that require very little know-how and they spit out polished products with only a logo or self-promotion in exchange for the tools. Magisto (iOS) is one of the easiest that I have seen. You can select a video from your files or shoot a video on the spot, choose a theme and then choose your stock soundtrack or from your music, give it a title and that is it. From there Magisto gives you tools so you can share it to social media, send a email put on a blog or website. It is such a low threshold of learning for putting it together that anyone can do it. The videos are small so your viewers don’t get bored and they are simple enough to be used on any site. The best part is you have such a polished product with very little effort. It is a great way to showcase activities and work. There are plenty of other apps/products that do the same thing, like Videolicious, but I found Magisto to be easiest. Check it out!
Sometimes posting photos and videos is not enough, especially if you have students that can record and reflect on what is happening in the class. Setting up a class blog, where students can rotate in adding entries can be a great way of engaging parents as well as a great exercise for students in writing and reflecting. Starting in 3rd grade it would be reasonable for students to have their own academic blog where they continually reflect on what is going on in the class. If they can keep that going all year and maybe until they graduate, just think of the amount of writing, reflecting and the recording of progress could be shown. At the very least students can record what is happening in the class at various points and it can be shared with parents. Adding in pictures and videos to a blog is usually a 2-click process and one that can be picked up easily. Using a drag-and-drop blog such as Weebly allows for great visual organization without having to know how to code a website. Weebly’s gallery function is easy to add to a page and just as easy to upload photos to it. You can drag an entire folder to into the gallery function and it organizes it into beautiful rows, easy to display. It is an easy way to get a ton of photos on a site without much work at all.
However you do it, be sure to get as much of that beautiful work in the eyes of the parents and enlist your students to gather it. Pick a system and run with it. In time you may tweak how you do it but you’l never be scrambling to pull it together and you’ll have plenty of yearbook fodder to boot. Have fun creating the fun and get it documented as well. Then you can share your students’ awesome with your school community.