Here’s a list of five ways to easily incorporate digital tools into your Back to School workflow.
Create a “Welcome Back” video for students and parents
- Use the camera on your phone for a quick and simple video. Then, you can easily upload the video to Google Drive or YouTube to share, while also taking advantage of a variety of sharing options to control who has the ability to view/save/download the video. (Pro Tip: don’t forget to hold your phone on its side for “landscape” view, instead of “portrait” view.)
- Use applications and the built-in camera on your computer. On a Mac computer, try using QuickTime to record your screen and/or yourself. On a Chrome browser? I love using the Google Chrome Extension Loom for screen and video recording. It allows you make small edits and easily uploads the video to Google Drive and/or YouTube.
- Create a short video or animation using websites and apps like Adobe Spark or PowToon, which do not require you to film yourself. These sites allow you to create attractive, engaging videos with all of the information, but without needing to put yourself on camera.
Create a “Digital Headquarters” for classroom websites and resources
Many digital bulletin board websites already exist. The key to success when choosing a website is to ensure the website is accessible to both students and parents. Padlet is a simple and attractive place to store links, as well as important text and images that might need to be kept together. Symbaloo is another great website that creates a collection of tiled icons for all of your URL links.
Instead of using a website, my personal preference is to create a Google Doc for my Digital Headquarters, specifically using the HyperDoc multimedia text set model seen here. Fill each square with a website link (either text or clipart image) or type information directly into the square (like login information or other directions) that students will need to access frequently. And, since it’s a Google Document, students and parents can save the document to their Google Drive (or bookmark it, like any other website!) for easy reference.
(Pro Tip: send the document as a “View Only” file. This way, if you need to update the links or add more resources, everyone will automatically see your changes!).
Build a digital questionnaire for student introductions
Instead of index cards, build the questions into a digital form for students to complete online. If you use Google Forms, you have the option to automatically collect their names and email information, to create a wide variety of questions besides the standard short answer, and to save all of these responses to a Google Sheet for easy reference throughout the year.
In my opinion, the best part of the Google Form option is the “Responses” page. You can choose to privately view each individual student’s response (to keep their confidential information private) from your laptop or tablet, or you can choose to display at all of the responses anonymously in a graphs and charts view for students to see. With a bit of pre-planning, these graphs can help students find social/cultural similarities and start building a sense of community from Day 1.
Collaborate to build a word cloud of goals and expectations
Using a word cloud for goal-setting activity will not only help students identify the the most popular ideas, but it will also help to foster the social-emotional growth of this new community of learners. Depending on your own goals for this activity, you can structure the students responses to really focus on common words and outcomes; or you can leave the students’ responses to be open-ended, allowing for more student voice in their goals:
- For direct responses, try using something like Google Forms to create a questionnaire with drop-down menus of choice. By using the drop-down menu, you are making sure to find commonalities that might be missed with misspellings or synonyms (i.e. “be kind” vs. “be nice to each other”). Then, you can copy the students’ responses and paste them into word cloud generators, such as Wordle or WordArt. (Pro Tip: Even if you choose to use drop-down menus, consider allowing students to select multiple responses and still include open-ended responses for students to voice their expectations and concerns more thoroughly.)
- For open-ended responses, let students create and submit their own goals and expectations for the year, using the workflow that works best for you. Perhaps you use a collaboration board within Nearpod, or maybe students simply type their contributions on a Google Doc.
If this blog came from the marketing sector, it would discuss visual marketing cues and tricks, but in the education world, we discuss the power of graphic organizers and visual aids to help students comprehend and retain information. Often times, however, our classroom syllabus and course outlines - possibility the most important document of the school year - are generally void of these visual aids.
You can create small infographics to insert within your syllabus to highlight the most important information for students and parents to remember. Perhaps you want to highlight your tutoring hours, or maybe you’d like to outline your homework/missing work policy. No matter the content, try using website applications like Piktochart, Canva, or even Adobe Spark Post to create simple, appealing, and organized visual aids to insert into your syllabus or classroom newsletter.
Here are a couple suggestions to consider while enhancing your syllabus.
Keep it simple
Remember that the benefit of graphic organizers is that key information is highlighted and organized, so be careful not to overwhelm students/parents with too many infographics and visuals. It can be easy to accidentally create something that is distracting, instead of helpful.
Play the numbers game
“Short and sweet” seems to be the best model for organizing ideas and visuals. Keep your color choices to only three (a dark neutral, a light neutral, and a bold color for contrast is a great place to start). Also, when deciding how much information to include in your infographic, limit your design to five key statements (and keep these individual statements to 5-7 words).
Balance text with visuals
Infographics work best to supplement the key information in your syllabus - not replace it. Make some choices about the paragraphs of text within the syllabus, and how it can be minimized now that the infographics are providing the contextual support. Also, consider playing with the document’s format settings to make sure the text and visuals fit comfortably within the print space.