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Teachers, Take Note! SchoolNotes, That Is!
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As more and more classrooms become connected, teachers are finding more and more ways to use the World Wide Web. This week, Education World takes a look at how teachers are using SchoolNotes.com to expand their instructional environment and maximize learning opportunities for their students! Included: Comments from teachers who share ways in which SchoolNotes.com helps them connect with parents and the community.

Teachers, as a group, have always been excited by new approaches to instruction and learning -- and the possibilities presented by instructional technology are among the most exciting recent developments. The burgeoning availability of hardware, software, and operating systems that do not require a great deal of technical expertise is allowing teachers to enrich and diversify their curricula in new and exciting ways!

Creating and maintaining a classroom Web page, however, has remained, for many, a daunting task -- one that requires space on a school server and the willingness to master either an HTML editor or HTML code itself!

Creating a Web presence is a daunting task no more -- with tools such as SchoolNotes.com.

SCHOOLS WITHOUT WALLS

During the past 20 years, research into the characteristics of "effective schools" has shown that a high degree of community involvement -- from parents, volunteers, and business and educational professionals -- is a vital component of any successful school program. Often, that involvement is achieved by inviting community members to participate in such showcase activities as back-to-school events, family literacy programs, fairs and festivals, and seasonal celebrations.

Although those programs give schools an edge in enlisting community support for worthwhile initiatives, large segments of the community never attend such events -- and therefore remain uninvolved in the day-to-day workings of their local schools.

Now, however, thanks to the technological revolution, local community members no longer have to be lured into an actual school building to be involved in the life of the school. Using the World Wide Web, schools can proactively reach out to embrace students, parents, prospective families, alumni, businesses -- even the voter who might never set foot in a school, but still has a say in the funding of school programs.

The only requirement for this new approach to public relations is a Web presence that is not simply a welcome center along the information superhighway, but a truly useful, interactive Web site that allows the larger community to feel an investment in their schools' educational programs.

A FREE SERVICE FOR TEACHERS

Enter SchoolNotes.com, a free service that allows teachers to set up a customized Web presence for their classrooms. At SchoolNotes, teachers who register are furnished with a password-protected Web page that can be updated as often as needed.

No FTP protocol is required to upload or download files. No HTML coding complicates the formatting of text and graphics. No lengthy URL addresses make it difficult to access the site. Visitors simply navigate to SchoolNotes, type in the school's ZIP code, and click the name of the teacher whose page they want to visit.

Teachers can update their pages as often as they like by simply going to the SchoolNotes site and entering their names and passwords. They are immediately transported to an easy-to-navigate page that allows them to make any desired changes. When they're done updating, they simply use their passwords to save the changes. It's that easy.

What's most impressive about this free service is the range of options it provides. Teachers can customize fonts and backgrounds, post announcements, create flash cards, offer a cache of bookmarks, and even allow visitors to e-mail them directly.

SchoolNotes has made classroom Web pages accessible to any teacher with an Internet connection!

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

SchoolNotes has been up and running since 1997. One by one, teachers have discovered its existence and begun dabbling in the art of building Web pages.

And what are those dedicated SchoolNotes practitioners doing with their class pages? How are real teachers realizing the practical potential of this free service in contemporary classrooms? Never short on ingenuity, teachers are finding a variety of uses for SchoolNotes.

At Battlefield Middle School in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for example, Jodi Moore and Jackie Keith have found different, yet equally effective, uses for the service.

Moore uses her SchoolNotes page for everything from posting homework and offering online resources to maintaining parent communication and publishing class newsletters.

Keith, on the other hand, uses the service as a tool at the professional development workshops she leads. At her SchoolNotes site, Keith's audiences have instant access to bookmarks, and she can readily update her files depending on the presentation.

"I recently began putting students' ideas and work on my SchoolNotes site," said KristaMarie Bushorr, a fourth-grade teacher in Williamsville, New York. "For example, in this month's entry, I put up some math mystery numbers my students wrote. They love seeing their work [online], and it helps their parents stay involved and informed."

"My SchoolNotes page has allowed me to present a genre list quickly and more cost-efficiently than mailing lists and [more reliably] than giving students the responsibility to make sure lists get home," Amy Zakrzewski, an English teacher in Williamsville, New York, told Education World. "I update my page nightly with homework, due dates, reminders, extra credit options, and positive messages for the students."

Kelly Luton, a Spanish teacher at Virginia's Spotsylvania High School, uses her SchoolNotes account for tracking assignments, posting vocabulary flash cards, and providing online links to enrich students' class work. And Luton writes her page in Spanish!

"Our computer aide has set up her own page, with each teacher's page as a separate site," said Suzanne Schiavoni, a fourth-grade teacher in South Glens Falls, New York. "Now all the children have to do is go to the bookmark for SchoolNotes and select the teacher's name. I spend the week searching for sites I can use to enhance my lessons during the week."

Whatever the subject or grade level, SchoolNotes can be tailored to empower teachers to build on the excellent job they are already doing!

KEEPING A GOOD THING GOING

Now that SchoolNotes has acquired a grassroots following of devoted teachers, possibilities abound for entire schools to reach out to their communities.

"Since I began this marvelous form of communication, I've had notes from clear across the country saying how much [people have] enjoyed my SchoolNotes site," said Donna Thomas, a middle school teacher in Orlando, Florida. "Some [have been] from my students' grandparents, who were able to share their [grandchildren's] school experience through the Internet."

Because SchoolNotes can be accessed from anywhere, it offers more flexible access than many school servers. And since teachers can adapt its features to meet their personal needs -- whether those needs include a nightly homework bulletin board or an entire set of digital unit resources -- the extended use of SchoolNotes is truly ripe with possibilities.

"SchoolNotes is a good idea, particularly for those students who are struggling with organizational matters," Matthew Frantz-Severin, an earth science teacher at Brooke Point High School in Stafford, Virginia, told Education World. "The hard copy that I print is for those students who are absent. My students know that if they are absent, they are responsible for checking the 'Absent Work' folder to see what they missed the day before."

So if you've ever thought of having your own class page but wondered how you'd ever find the time and expertise to make it happen, visit SchoolNotes.com and find out for yourself how easy it can be.

Note: SchoolNotes is now part of Education World.

Article by Walter McKenzie
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

02/14/2000
Updated 02/04/2008