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Teacher-Created Web Sites Link Home and School -- Virtually!

Discover how to create a virtual link between home and school. It couldn't be easier! This week, Education World editor Linda Starr shares the stories of teachers who have seen the possibilities for using the Web to connect to parents! Included: Tips for making connections to parents on school and classroom Web sites!

For Doug DeCamilla, who teaches third grade and serves as technology coordinator at Longfellow Elementary School in Brunswick, Maine, it started small -- then grew and grew and grew. Now, Longfellow Links is a virtual bridge that fosters a spirit of communication, cooperation, and community among the school's parents, teachers, and students.

"The point," DeCamilla told Education World," was to create a curriculum resource that would bring together parents, students, and teachers by providing them with the means to enhance and expand instruction."

The task might sound daunting, but the means to that end was a simple database. "It was my belief that all curriculum units could be enhanced if more resources were available," DeCamilla said. "The Internet is a tremendous curriculum resource, so it made sense to utilize it by creating a curriculum-oriented Web site. It was also important to help teachers integrate technology without overwhelming them."

DeCamilla began by asking teachers at each grade level to provide him with information about one unit they'd be covering during the school year. Then he created a list of links that teachers could use to support and enhance their instruction for that unit and that parents and students could use to share and discuss the information and extend the learning to out-of-school situations. As parents, teachers, students, and other community members began to use the links and see their value, they requested more links on topics in every subject area.

Two years later, the Longfellow site provides links to more than 1,000 Web sites. Each grade-level section has links for up to 14 different units. In addition, each department, including health, physical education, art, music, library, reading, and special education, has a separate list of links. A parent section contains non-curriculum-related links to parent organizations and general parenting information, and the teachers' section includes links to sites such as teacher organizations, lesson plans, and management tools. Additional sections provide resources for holidays, safe searches, computers in the classroom, kids' sites, and more.

The benefits were far greater than anyone anticipated. Before he created the site, DeCamilla said, only 30 to 35 percent of the school's teachers used technology in their classrooms. Now, every teacher uses Longfellow Links to enhance his or her curriculum. The links have facilitated technology integration by making it easy, and by showing teachers that technology is a tool to enhance learning, not a substitute for instruction.

"Within the school, the links have resulted in a cultural change in the way technology is viewed, by demonstrating that we're all in this together," DeCamilla added.

DeCamilla said that the links have established a link between home and school by fostering family interest in the school and the curriculum. Schoolwork becomes more relevant to students' lives. The links provide a resource when students are absent, and allow special needs students to feel included. "I'm constantly getting feedback from parents," he added. "The most consistent message is that kids can't wait to get home from school to look at the sites.

"The site," DeCamilla told Education World, "empowers teachers who empower students who excite parents."

If you want to do the same at your school, DeCamilla offered this advice: "Keep it simple, keep it practical, get frequent feedback, and remember that one step at a time leads to teaching excellence. You can do it. It isn't hard."

 

ONE STEP AT A TIME

If you don't already have a class Web site, creating one is easy. Schooltime, Class webCreate, and Create a Free Class Page are just three of many free sites that provide the tools you need to build your Web site.

The tools are only part of the picture, however. You also need a plan. To get you started, the Family Connection of St. Joseph County in Indiana offers these Tips for Building a Classroom or School Website:

  • Be clear about your goals. Decide how you want to use the site and whom you want to reach.
  • Get help. Involve students, parents, and community members in the planning.
  • Refer to your school or district's Web policy Most schools now have one, but if yours doesn't, you can find ideas in the Web Policy Draft currently being created by the Jefferson County (Colorado) Schools or in other online policies.
  • Be quality conscious. Keep your site simple, attractive, quick to download, and easy to navigate.
  • Keep it timely. Maintain your site regularly, replacing outdated information and dead links.
  • Get students involved. Invite students to help determine content and help them learn how to build pages.
  • Take advantage of training. Consult your school's technology coordinator, as well as books, software manuals, and other training materials.

 

A PARENT SECTION TOO!

Of course, your site will have a parents section. The only question is what to post. Joyce Epstein, director of the Center of School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University, has identified Epstein's Six Types of Involvement, which she considers essential for developing and maintaining an effective parent partnership program. Each can be addressed on a class Web site.

The six types of involvement, along with suggested ways to promote them online, include

  • Parenting. Assist families with parenting and child-rearing skills, understanding child and adolescent development, and setting home conditions that support children as students. Link to sites that provide information on topics such as child development, parenting, child health and safety issues, and so on. At appropriate times, include links to sites that provide tips on such topics as testing and parent-teacher conferences.
  • Communicating. Inform families about school programs and events and provide a vehicle for communicating with the school. Provide email addresses of teachers and administrators, and post a calendar of upcoming events and daily schedules. Post school rules and procedures as well as examples of student work.
  • Volunteering. Improve recruitment, training, work, and scheduling to involve families as volunteers and audiences at the school or in other locations to support students and school programs. Invite parents who have technology expertise to train teachers and install software and hardware. Invite parents with no technology experience to use classroom computers for exploration and experimentation. Post volunteer opportunities.
  • Learning at home. Involve families with children's learning activities at home, including homework and other curriculum-linked activities and decisions. Link to homework help sites, informational resources, lessons, and activities that reinforce classroom material. You might also provide actual activities and a reading list.
  • Making decisions. Include families as participants in school decisions, governance, and advocacy through PTA/PTO, school councils, committees, and other parent organizations. Link to online bulletinboards, chats, or listservs that encourage parent and community input on educational issues.
  • Collaborating with the community. Coordinate resources and services for families, students, and the school with businesses, agencies, and other groups that provide services to the community. Link to local resources and community agencies.

 

IT ISN'T HARD!

It isn't hard to begin, as Doug DeCamilla did, with a hotlist of helpful sites. Here are a few to get you started.

For additional sites, see this week's Lesson Planning article Fourteen Activities to Promote Parent Involvement in the Classroom!

 

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

Your site should reflect your personality as well as the personality of your community, your school, and your class. You might want to consider building a comprehensive parent page.

Debbie Zakowski, who teaches in a special-needs kindergarten at the Captain G. Harold Hunt Early Learning Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, created Miss Healey and Mrs. Zakowski's Kinder"garden."

Zakowski told Education World, "I'm particularly interested in activities, ideas, and communication projects that teach parents to be a child's first teacher. I send home monthly newsletters, run a reading program in which children borrow classroom books, send home educational toys and activities, make homework suggestions, and encourage parents to complete a monthly theme project sponsored by the school PTA.

"The site's parent page was simply a natural addition to my other parent involvement activities," Zakowski added. "It provides families with another set of activities that encourage parent-child interaction.

"Many of our families do not have access to computers," Zakowski pointed out. "But my premise is 'If I build it, they will come.' My hope is that families will become interested in computers and their limitless possibilities through my parent site. Then, as computers become more affordable and access to computers through schools and libraries improves and options for free Internet access increases, I hope that all our families will have access to information they need to feel supported in their effort to raise their children."

"In the meantime," Zakowski added, "I print the monthly newsletter and parent activities and send them home as handouts."

 

SAVOR A SAMPLE SITE

For additional ideas, check out one of these creative and functional class Web sites:

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

 

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02/14/2000