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Apps help teachers communicate with parents

Bloomz is one of several apps that teachers are using to let parents know what is going on in the classroom. Meagan Pittelko / Forum News Service

WADENA, Minn. — It's the nightly question-and-answer game that's been going on for decades: Sitting around the dinner table, parents ask their kids, "What did you do at school today?" And with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders, the answer is usually "Not much," or "I don't remember," coupled with a confused look, which is then shared by the parents. Thanks to ever-changing technology, now there are apps to help answer that question.

Common apps used by teachers include: Bloomz, SeeSaw, Remind, Class DoJo, Living Tree and Simple Circle. Most are to help keep parents informed of what's going on in the classroom and feel more connected to the school, while helping teachers stay organized and manage communications with parents.

Second-grade teacher Keith Ferris, at Wadena Deer Creek Elementary, uses SeeSaw with his class and he said he's had positive feedback from parents.

SeeSaw allows students to create a portfolio of projects and a journal. Ferris also uses it as a way to keep parents informed not only about what students are learning in class, but how they are learning it.

For math, Ferris has his students write down math problems and post them on SeeSaw and then use the audio feature on the app to record themselves talking through the math problem out loud.

"This way, when parents want to help their students at home, they can hear the wording we use at school and connect with how we are teaching it."

Ferris feels it also helps the students to talk through the math problems. "I tell my students if you can verbalize it, then you understand it."

In addition to using SeeSaw as a teaching and learning tool, Ferris uses it to keep parents informed because, as a parent, he knows all too well how easily things can get lost between school and home. So even though a paper copy of the lunch menu or flier may get sent home, he will take a picture of it and post it so parents have it at literally at their fingertips any time they need it. "This way anything I send home it goes to parents right away."

Apps may not completely replace all paper communication, but people are on their phones a lot, so they are expected to become more common. According to the 2016 Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, U.S. Edition, smartphone owners check their phones 47 times a day, 40 percent of smartphone owners check their phone within five minutes of waking up, and 30 percent within five minutes before going to bed.

Louis Rutten, principal at Wadena Deer Creek Elementary School, said there are pockets of teachers using apps in the schools, but there isn't one particular app used by the school.

"I think it's a really useful tool in communicating with parents and helping organize the classroom," Rutten said. "The majority of parents have phones, and this is the way society is moving."

Other schools in the area also use apps in the classroom.

Trish Mariotti, principal at Roosevelt Elementary School, said they decided to choose one app, Bloomz, to use schoolwide, but added that teachers have the freedom to use other apps in addition to it, depending on what they feel fits the needs of their classroom.

Mariotti is also a parent of elementary students, and as a parent she likes the apps because they give her a chance to see her kids' projects and have the conversations at home that otherwise might not happen. She added that students can use the apps and post their favorite work. "It's good for them to take ownership and show what they think is important."

Jen Hendrickson, principal at Prairie Wind Elementary School in Perham, Minn., said that, schoolwide, they have the student information system for parents, but teachers are free to use whichever app they feel best suits their classroom environment.

"Ultimately we want parents to know what is going on in the classroom, and that can be email, text or an app. The teacher can get a feel for what parents prefer," she said.

Both Henrickson and Mariotti said each year they send a team of teachers to the Technology and Information Educational Services (TIES) conference in Minneapolis that showcases what is new in technology and how to integrate it into the classroom.