Archive for February, 2010
School Parent Communication Improved At Washington School District

Based on a recent interview with representatives from the large Lake Washington School District, Tandem for Schools online calendar has proven a cost-effective school parent communication tool for the 21st century.

Confronted with the same kind of budget constraints facing school districts across the country, Communication Director Kathryn Reith found Tandem’s cost-saving aspect especially appealing. Eliminating the financial outlay for a printed parent calendar proved a painless belt-tightening measure since Tandem’s online format offers immediate access. Technology Program Manager Laurie Pelham reiterates that point. In a cost-comparison, Tandem’s ready-to-use calendar came out on top, sparing the expense of paying a programmer to tailor the calendar included in the school district’s SharePoint platform.

In her tech role, Pelham dealt with the difficulty of constructing and consolidating numerous individual school websites, while trying to enhance communication with parents and the community. District Community Relations & Communications Coordinator Shannon Parthemer was troubled by the inconsistency of calendar use by individual schools. Tandem offered a solution, with the advantage of instant updates on events across the district and the assurance of keeping parents informed. Providing training for staff and parents responsible for calendar data input yielded positive feedback that highlighted Tandem’s user-friendliness.

Reinforcing the positive reception to the Tandem transition, parent Jenna Roberson – who posts the calendar in her PTSA bulletins – expressed her appreciation for a calendar tool that is simple to use and professional in appearance. Kathryn Reith points out an unanticipated benefit of Tandem in easing the burden of front desk staff and eliminating what was a genuine source of frustration for parents and receptionists alike. Since a school’s front desk is often the place parents turn for last-minute information, having a centralized source for the latest information expedites staff’s ability to respond to requests. Moreover, after office hours, parents can get answers themselves just by logging onto the calendar. The result has been positive for parents, staff, and administration.

Pelham concludes that Tandem’s online calendar possesses all the features that her school district was seeking, including subscription and interactive capabilities. This in turn led to greater calendar participation by individual schools once they discovered they could use the provided RSS feed to add their own updates. She related that the school district enjoyed a working relationship with Tandem’s developers that displayed a willingness to adapt.

See the full video of the interview at http://www.intand.com/district-success.

Using Facebook Fan Pages in Education

Although it may seem like a diversion, and as something that could run counter to education, Facebook offers a number of ways in which to enhance educational goals. Facebook’s genesis was actually tied to education—it started its existence as a way for college students to stay connected to each other and has only relatively recently been opened up to the rest of the world.

Develop Connections In the School Community

Facebook can help provide a greater level of group cohesion by creating connections between individuals through common interests. Whether allowing teachers to get to know each other better, or students and parents to get to know each other better, the more each member of any group knows about the other members, the more likely they are to find and develop connections.

Facilitates Conversations In the School Community

A fan page can be an excellent place for school staff, parents, and students to engage in conversation. This can be anything from sharing excellent learning resources to getting feedback from parents and students about new school programs.

A fan page could also be created by teachers for a specific class. Students could post homework questions that other students could help with. Teachers and students could also post useful links or embed videos on the class fan page. However one drawback is that anyone can join a fan page. If you want more control over your community, a Facebook group may be a better option. Administrators of a group can manage who is allowed into the group.

Also Facebook requires users be at least 13 years of age. So students in lower grade levels will not be able to participate. For these grade levels, a classroom blog may be a better tool.

How To Make A School Calendar Work For You

Technology is an amazing tool, with the capacity to complicate or simplify depending on how it is used. Technology for its own sake can be an expensive distraction, but it is hard to find an argument against switching to online school calendars. Web calendars like Intand’s Tandem for Schools are ideal for achieving simplicity and reducing waste and clutter by streamlining information delivery.

Navigating modern life is a balancing act, particularly for busy families with working parents often dealing with multiple kids in multiple schools. Multi-tasking is the order of the day for parents, kids, and school staff. Adopting an online school calendar format helps relieve the burden of coordinating school and extracurricular activities, taking some of the stress out of having to mentally juggle mountains of information. Hosted web calendars like Tandem can be accessed by parents at no charge, with only minimal start-up costs for schools, and no need to install software or buy hardware.

A centralized school district calendar provides parents with a one-stop source for vital, up-to-the-minute information. That information may be accessed from the office or wherever internet is available – a real lifesaver for working parents and a vast improvement over old-fashioned paper calendars posted on refrigerators or bulletin boards. Having that information right at their fingertips with updates by text, e-mail, or RSS feed is also a more surefire delivery system than relying on kids to deliver notes or remember a schedule change. Any parent who has ever fielded a frantic last minute call for a forgotten field trip consent form will really appreciate the convenience that Tandem offers.

Using the MyTandem feature students can even set up their own tailor-made calendars to get updates for groups and activities that they participate in or that interest them. In the process, they will be building essential life and work skills, learning time-management and developing greater responsibility and ownership. At the same time, parents are freed from the thankless role of micro-managing which will help reduce family stress and eliminate the familiar refrain, “but mom, you forgot to remind me!”

This benefit carries over into the school’s front office, relieving harried staff members of the endless task of taking parent calls about schedules and events. With an online calendar, parents can access answers themselves, and staff will have a central location for information. Busy school personnel will also appreciate the automated e-mail update feature that Tandem for Schools includes to communicate schedule changes and other updates. Contrast this with the time-consuming task of composing, printing, and distributing memos during the course of a hectic school day while trying to beat a 3 p.m. deadline. Online calendars can be updated by designated personnel at any time of the day, night, or weekend. And unlike paper notes that often go unread and forgotten at the bottom of a backpack, this information is guaranteed to be delivered. Communication between parents and schools is too crucial to leave to chance, while miscommunication erodes that relationship; online school calendars help bridge that gap.

To learn more about what Tandem can do for your school, sign up for a free demonstration or a free 30 day trial.

Don Tapscott On Educating the Net Generation

Today’s educators, many of them baby boomers, have witnessed the dawn of a digital age as part of a generation whose members developed new technologies with the power to transform the world as we know it. Now, these pioneers are turning over the reins to the next generation. These digital natives are the subject of “Grown Up Digital”, Don Tapscott’s latest book and follow-up to his eye-opening 1998 work “Growing Up Digital”. In this sequel of sorts, Tapscott tracks the several hundred students he interviewed earlier as they are poised to become leaders themselves. These book-ended volumes grew out of a larger study that spanned a dozen countries and included thousands of young people born between 1978 and 1994.

This generation, with its unique birthright, relates to technology in a dramatically different way than their parents, who often mistakenly equate internet activity to mindless TV viewing and miss an important contrast. Watching television is primarily one-way entertainment, largely deserved of its criticism as a poor substitute and intellectual inferior to reading. Internet, on the other hand, is interactive, particularly for digital natives who utilize it as a tool to connect, communicate, and extend instead of as a mere data dispenser. This Net Generation of multi-tech-taskers approaches technology from a perspective that baby boomers can only imagine, without constraints or predetermined rules of conduct.

The portrait that emerges from Tapscott’s interviews is mostly optimistic. Standing as we are on the precipice of a new age, Tapscott observes that we are at an unprecedented moment in history. Today’s youth uniquely possess a mastery over us adults, their seniors. There is no turning back, no shutting the lid on this Pandora’s box. But instead of envisioning a future of digital dolts and dullards, Tapscott sees the promise of a generation without limits or global boundaries.

At a recent Consortium for School Networking, Tapscott argued that what is needed is not to merely “throw technology into a classroom and hope for good things” but to rethink the purpose of education and the role of teachers. Instead of teachers serving to transfer knowledge to student receptacles, instilling skills for lifelong learning should be the goal. Teachers don’t just need to get out of the way to allow students to make the most of technology’s amazing tools. Educators, he says, ought to be pioneers in the transformation, spending less time on lectures to allow more time for the kind of engaging tasks that prepare students for their important role as stewards of the future.

Source: Tapscott: Digital natives need tech-rich education from eSchool News

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fernando/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Potential of the iPad as a Tool for Classrooms

If the fanfare surrounding the unveiling of the iPad seemed familiar, it’s because we’ve become accustomed to the parade of products by Apple’s prodigious genius. As innovator of some of the most iconic and ubiquitous tech tool-toys, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has been hailed as this generation’s Edison.

Portability is one of the iPad’s chief assets, so it’s not hard to imagine the iPad becoming a standard feature in classrooms and backpacks. At a mere pound and a half, with up to 10 hours of battery life and a screen measuring nearly 10” diagonally, the iPad is made for mobility. Simple touch screen navigability and interactivity will appeal to the K-12 set. Having grown up with iPhones and iPods, it won’t be hard for students to make the transition to the iPad.

As a digital media delivery system the iPad has plenty of potential. Publishers are lining up to offer their textbooks as iPad downloads through the iBooks store. But whether the initial cost of the device can be recouped by schools or parents through savings on textbooks will depend on the affordability of those downloads.

Since the iPad utilizes iPhone’s operating system, the device is compatible with iPhone apps- many already in use by teachers- and iPad apps are in development now. But this is also one of its limitations, since it is geared toward Apple app exclusivity.

Some concerns include the iPad’s “virtual keyboard” which isn’t conducive to serious typing. It also fails at multi-tasking because multiple apps aren’t able to be opened simultaneously, limiting the iPad’s use as a convenient research tool.

Still, in many ways the iPad seems tailor made for this generation of students. With its potential to enhance the learning experience through audio, video and touch technology, the iPad holds out the promise of engaging today’s attention-challenged learners. That is, unless it merely adds another layer of distraction. While teachers and consumers will have to wait a little longer until the iPad hits store shelves, some may want to postpone their purchase for the next generation of devices that are sure to follow, or wait to see what Apple’s rivals release in its wake.

Tandem’s School Transportation Software

More Efficient Planning For School Travel

Field trips, travel to sporting events, and other student travel require the planning and management of costly transportation resources. Tandem Plus offers a robust school transportation management system that simplifies the request and approval process and helps administrators manage transportation logistics and costs more effectively. Tandem’s transportation software also automatically checks for double bookings and driver conflicts. The school transportation module is available with purchase of Tandem Plus.

Streamlined Request and Approval for Trips

Tandem’s transportation module allows for school staff such as teachers or coaches to request transportation online. The request is sent to the administrator in charge of the approval of transportation requests and they can approve or reject a request with a couple of clicks. If rejected, the requester is notified with a reason for rejection. The requester has the opportunity to correct any problems and resubmit the request. If the trip is approved, it automatically goes into the trips section for management.

Vehicle Management

The transportation module from Tandem Plus allows for the easy management of the vehicles of a school or district. You can enter information of the vehicles and use Tandem to assign them to trips. This will help administrators determine what vehicles are available for use on a particular day and which are already assigned to a trip. You can also organize and track vehicles that your school or district uses from charter bus companies.

Driver Management

Tandem’s transportation module allows the organization of driver information such as expiration of licenses, pay rates, contact information.

Dispatch Reports for Drivers

Tandem’s school transportation management will produce a printable dispatch report for drivers so they can see the location of stops, order of stops, and times and dates of their routes.

Print Out Bidding Sheets

You will be able to print out a bid sheet for available trips that drivers can use to bid on trips. Each bid sheet provides spaces for names so that drivers can write down their names for trips they want to do. If a trip is already taken, the name of the driver that has secured that trip will be filled in.

Manage the Transportation Budget

With Tandem’s transportation tool you can define a budget, calculate costs of trips, manage driver pay rates, and bill transportation costs to outside parties (like parents).

Have questions about Tandem’s school transportation features? Sign up for a free demo or call 866.685.3449.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19181972@N00/ / CC BY-ND 2.0

Online Tools For Teaching Students Financial Literacy

A 2008 survey by the National Jump$tart Coalition found that less than 50% of high school students achieved a passing grade on a financial literacy test and that nearly 75 percent of young American adults lack the skills needed to make beneficial financial decisions.

The nation’s economic troubles have increased focus on how to better prepare today’s youth for making better financial decisions in the future, parents and teachers can enhance learning through online tools designed to teach financial literacy. Some highly recommended tools include:

MoneyU provides a game-based environment to teach high school and college students about making sound financial decisions. The course consists of 120 three-to-five minute lessons incorporating videos, cartoons and simulations to cover a wide range of personal finance topics, including banking, savings, financial planning and credit card use. Individuals can purchase it for $14.95 or schools can purchase the course for $4 per student. The website also includes free online tools for assessing your child’s financial literacy in the areas of money management, savings, spending, credit, and income.

Stock Market Game this free, web-based game teaches students to work in teams to invest a hypothetical $100,000 in the stock market. Students learn to evaluate and track stocks and bonds using Internet research and news updates. An independent study showed that this game not only increased students’ financial literacy scores but that it improved students’ math skills and increased student participation.

Financial Soccer, developed by Visa and following on the success of its 2005 Financial Football game, this free web-based game uses the World Cup soccer format to teach children about personal finance. Players answer questions about credit and debt, savings, and other personal finance topics to advance down the field and score goals.

See also Games Evolve as Tools for Teaching Financial Literacy Education Week

Interview with Lake Washington School District on Tandem for Schools

We recently talked with faculty at Lake Washington School District a 50 school district in Washington state and asked them what they thought about Tandem. Watch the full video.

Kathryn Reith, Communications Director Lake Washington School District
We had a specific situation one spring where there was an end of the school year concert at Redmond Junior High that conflicted with one of the graduation activities at Redmond High School at the same time. That was just sort of my aha, oh my gosh, we really need to find some way of getting a hold of what’s going on at the schools.

Laurie Pelham, Technology Program Manager Lake Washington School District

When we started interviewing schools about their needs for having a good communication from their website, one of their biggest needs was that they needed to have a place to have calendaring available online for their parents.

Kathryn Reith

I’m Communications Director for Lake Washington School District, I have been with the district for about five years now. Last year, we were faced with some very difficult budget cuts and one of the items we looked at was the printed wall calendar that we have sent to parents every year for I don’t know how long. It’s a very traditional thing to do. People put it up in their kitchens and write on it, etc. But what we discovered was, this is something that we could do without now that we have an electronic online calendar and many more parents are relying on electronic calendaring. So they can either go directly to the Tandem calendar or if they have imported it into another electronic calendaring system that they use, they have access to all those dates without having to get a paper printed calendar that was costing us a lot of money. Once we decided that we wanted to look for a calendaring tool, we just went out and looked at what other districts, other schools were using, really just went out and did a search and discovered that there was this wonderful company right in our backyard that was doing a great calendaring program.

Laurie Pelham

My name is Laurie Pelham, I have been a Technical Project Manager for the district for the past 15 years. The project we were working at the time was to build out 15 school websites for each one of our schools. A secondary problem that we were trying to solve was to consolidate them so they communicate to the public or to their community about the events that are happening in their school. In the project that we were doing, it was definitely secondary but it turned out to be something that we could train in Tandem, no pun intended. Because the two worked together so well, it’s that school to home communication that we needed to really improve and I think we did with both. We were implementing on the SharePoint platform and so SharePoint comes with a calendaring program built in out of the box. Our question was should we use that or should we buy something else? And upon looking at what it would cost us to customize the SharePoint calendar and when I say cost us, I mean because we are hiring outside developers to write dot net programming to alter the look and feel of this SharePoint calendar. In order to make this SharePoint calendar do what Tandem already did out of the box, we figured it would cost us more in development than it would be for us to implement a product that was already in place. So, it was a no-brainer for us to go with Tandem.

Shannon Parthemer, Community Relations & Communications Coordinator Lake Washington School District
Before Lake Washington School District used the Tandem calendar, each school was responsible for their own calendar so some may have kept paper and pencil, some may have done newsletters, others just didn’t keep any consistent calendar. That didn’t lead to a whole lot of understanding about what’s happening at feeder schools or nearby elementary schools, junior highs high schools. The complication that I would have if I didn’t have the Tandem calendar is I wouldn’t know what’s happening at all of our schools and we wouldn’t have a good way of displaying the information to parents and community members. The majority of parents that are using the Tandem calendar and using the My Tandem section of the calendar really do appreciate the features and getting notifications when events are added, canceled, changed in any way. We have started training opportunities that we offer about once a month to different staff members or parents depending on who from the school is going to add events. People understand and say, wow, this is easier than I thought it was. So, I would describe the Tandem calendar as intuitive and very easy to use.

Kathryn Reith
How I would describe Tandem is it allows many schools within the same school district or a single school alone to really keep track of what’s going on, have it available in a way that’s accessible to parents and teachers. If you are talking from a district administration standpoint, it makes it much easier for us to be able to schedule district wide events that don’t conflict with some really important event to the school that’s been on the calendar for a year. We don’t always hear about those things, we have 50 schools so keeping track of what’s going on 50 schools from a central standpoint is pretty difficult. Now it’s very easy to just open up a Tandem calendar and see all the things that are going on at those schools on a particular day at a particular time. One of the the things that happened after the Tandem calendar was put in that we didn’t even realize it was going to be a benefit. It was our front desk receptionist at our Resource Center is often the place for parents to go to when they have forgotten what time an event is. They try and call the school, the school was already closed or front desk to staff have left so if they are making that last minute phone call, when they call, Shelley at our front desk has a place to find out where all the school events are and what time they are. She has a reference for all 50 schools, that sometimes means she can get the information to a parent who has forgotten so they can get access on the computer or if they don’t have a computer nearby at the time. Feedback from administrators has been very positive. They are very happy to see all of their items in one place to make it very simple. The office managers and secretaries are the ones that usually would be getting all those phone calls when is this meeting or that event and are not getting so many phone calls anymore and not having to answer the phone over and over again about the time the PTSA meeting and those kinds of things. Parents love it. It’s very simple for them to keep track of what’s going on.

Jenna Robertson, Parent

My name is Jenna Robertson, I have been a parent in the district since 2000 for ten years. Our PTSA brings together the bulletin and I’m pasting a calendar into our bulletin and then our school has a way of sending it out to their database. Having an online calendar that can be up-to-date to the minute, it’s live as soon as you input it and that’s even better. I thought it was really easy to learn and I like the look of it. It looks clean, professional and a PTSA mom can make the calendar look pretty cool. I like how I can choose the different views because when I’m doing our electronic bulletin, I can just choose the list, I can copy and paste that and Tandem looks much more polished than some of the others and to me that’s important because from a standpoint that this is important information, it looks important, I know as a parent I’m really feeling the benefit of having this great tool.

Laurie Pelham

Tandem is a comprehensive event calendar that many different groups or departments across a large organization can use and share and it was tested with a small group of people that gave lots of feedback. So, you are already equipped with the tool that you need to answer the need for schools. The features are for what exactly what we need, a place for parents to be able to subscribe, staff members also, a place for them to interact with their own personal calendars. Those were two of the requirements that were really high for us. We didn’t want to just have an online calendar and not have people be able to interact with it. We needed people to interact with it because that’s the expectation in today’s world. Now on our school sites, we have a space reserved on our homepage for an RSS feed that comes from the Tandem calendar. The district events were on this calendar and so whether the school participated in the use of the Tandem calendar or not, they still had some events that were populating that space on their homepage and those were the district events. Upon seeing that and knowing how easy it was for people to refer people to that space and/or to keep up on what’s actually happening in their building, we started to see more and more schools coming on board. We built a relationship with the company upon implementation partially because they are in our hometown but also because we feel we have a lot of needs in our school district that are universal and might improve the product. So we felt very comfortable giving suggestions to the development team at Tandem, on improvements that we thought might be good for all of their customers. The response was overwhelming. The company is responsive, they are interested in knowing the needs of their customers, they are willing to make changes that everyone can benefit from and we really appreciate that.

Tips For Teaching Kids Time Management

As your child gets older and closer to going away to college, it’s important that they learn how to manage and organize their time and resources wisely. Here are a few tips to empower your child toward lifelong habits of good time management and organization:

Start early

Just like each child has to learn how to brush their teeth or put away the dishes, there is no time like the present to start your child on the path to good time management and organization skills.

Establish a family calendar and planning center
Start with a family calendar that everyone can see. This could be a wall calendar or even better – an online calendar. Cozi.com has an excellent online family calendar. Have your children add important family events or activities (including details on start and end times and where). Involve them in planning the logistics for transportation, writing out lists for what to bring, etc. You can also subscribe to events from your school’s Tandem calendar into the Cozi calendar so new events are automatically updated.

Use Tandem to help your child plan their own calendar
Have your child create their own custom personal calendar with the MyTandem feature on Tandem where they can subscribe to the groups that they are involved in and receive email or SMS notifications when there is a change to an event. They could also use a personal calendar like iCal, Google Calendar, Cozi, etc. and subscribe to a feed of events for the entire school or just certain groups.

To Do Lists
Let them create “To Do” and “To Bring” lists for their calendars so that its clear what each scheduled activity requires and what other chores, studying, etc. need to be completed each week. Encourage them to use, check and modify their calendar daily according to their needs and goals.

Use a timer or alarm clock

Children (and even teenagers) often don’t have a good sense of time. Kitchen timers, alarm clocks and cell phone or PDA alarms can be useful tools to teach your children how to effectively manage their free time and other activities, such as getting ready to leave the house for school, a family outing or other events.

Lead by example

Parents can teach their children a lot about time management by simply practicing the same time management skills. There are times when even Mom or Dad will be late or miss an appointment – but these can serve as valuable learning lessons for the entire family. Engage everyone – Mom, Dad, and the children – in discussing what happened and how the situation could have been avoided.