Know what your kid’s homework is?
September 25, 2008
ASPEN ” Imagine, for a minute, that when you were in high school, your parents had instant online access to your grades, all the classes you’d missed and all the assignments you hadn’t turned in. They could even download your homework and the teacher’s last lecture, view the classroom calendar and read your classroom’s online discussion (with names redacted).
Well, if your children are currently enrolled in the Aspen School District, you can do all that ” and more “using the district’s new website.
Last October, the district launched a new website using a format called SchoolFusion, to replace a site that district technology coordinator Chris Durham once called a “monster,” because of its numerous dead links.
A letter sent out last December succeeded in encouraging some parents to use the system. But this year, the district is hoping to get all its parents on board, Durham said.
“This is really our first year,” explained Middle School vice-principal Steve Nelson.
The Aspen School District pays approximately $10,000 annually for use of SchoolFusion, said Durham. The new program replaced the Blackboard program, which cost approximately the same amount but could only be used at the high school, he added.
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International Baccalaureate coordinator Karen Zohar argued that web-based instructional tools are the standard at colleges now. And they’re starting to become the standard at high schools, she added, noting that she thought Aspen was on the leading edge of that trend.
Parents have been able to access their student’s grades and attendance for about five years now, Durham said. But now they also have a real-time, highly detailed window into their children’s classes. In fact, the system automatically sends enrolled parents regular e-mails, telling them about a soccer game time change or reminding them of their son’s upcoming history test.
“It’s sort of the community piece we were really looking for … to really get the parents involved,” Durham said.
Right now, parents still have to log on to two separate systems to monitor their children’s progress: PowerSchool for grades and SchoolFusion for classroom information. But Durham expects that by this Christmas, parents will be able to log on, click on “My Family” and get complete information about all their children in one place.
And if the parent speaks Spanish, Korean, Japanese “or five other languages ” he can simply click on the flag corresponding to his native tongue, and the entire site will be translated to the proper language.
“It is a cultural shift when you start to give parents that amount of information,” acknowledges Shapiro. But he argues that because the website puts information at parents’ fingertips, they ultimately make fewer phone calls, “thus making those teachers more efficient and frankly, happy.”
And Nelson hopes that making information accessible to parents will allow them to intervene earlier.
Across the nation, school districts are becoming more willing to tolerate growing parent involvement, said Shapiro, who argues that data shows it’s directly related to student achievement.
As students enter the sixth grade, the district website becomes a tool for them as well,
Freshman Lauren Twohig explained that she uses the system frequently, to see when her assignments are due or to check her grades.
And parent Kimberly Grandy said her seventh-grade son will check his grades and then go see a teacher to see how he can improve them.
Ultimately, Nelson hopes SchoolFusion will help give the students “21st century skills,” by bringing technology into all their classrooms. In today’s world, learning to type or use a calculator may be more important than perfecting one’s cursive script or numbers, he pointed out.
Parent Harry Peisach agreed, noting that in today’s world, most companies use Internet tools to share information among workgroups.
“You can share a document at work or you can share a PowerPoint presentation of a lecture at school,” he noted, explaining that the fundamental skill is the same.
Nelson argued that ultimately the website gives students an additional tool to be organized and responsible for themselves. If they forget a homework assignment, they can download it, and if they forget a due date, they can look it up, he noted.
By high school, many of them are pulling their assignments off the website and turning them in online, he said ” adding that such a tool is particularly useful for a ski-team athlete who has to travel and keep up with her classwork.
High school classrooms also have the option of holding online discussions. In Karen Zohar’s AP Biology class discussion, for example, Zohar recently posted a thread asking students what they’d like to review ” and the class conversation that ensued helped her figure out what material to teach in the coming days.
In the online conversations, student names are redacted and replaced with pseudonyms like “Purple Panda,” so students may have a little extra freedom to say something they might not ordinarily say, noted Durham.
But to make sure students don’t get carried away, all student comments have to be moderated by an adult. Every time any teacher logs on, he receives a list of student comments from various classes, to quickly scan for inappropriate content. Eventually the system starts to recognize those students who always post appropriate comments, and allows their ideas to post without supervision.
Fortunately for the students, perhaps, the system stops short of allowing parents to actually join the class conversation.
Imagine how embarrassing that could have been.