Tools You Can Use to Get Parents on Your Side

An Every Classroom Matters Episode

What if you can stop parent problems before they happen? Second grade teacher Erin Klein shares a 10-minute treasure trove of ideas that work! Parents are our partners. Let’s do this!

Important Takeaways

  • How can we prevent “helicopter parenting?”
  • How can we be less defensive when parents ask questions?
  • How do you get parents to actually read what you send them?
  • How to help all parents, tutors, and IEP teams on the same page with current student work.

Educator Resources

Interview Links


  • Bloomz is your one-stop solution for parent-teacher communications. More than just connecting with their cell phones, you can send long or short messages. You can send pictures and links. You can even coordinate volunteer schedules, donations, and parent teacher conferences. I’m using Bloomz in my classroom.

Set up your free Bloomz account today

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.button-itunes

Join the Every Classroom Matters Awesome Educators Network on Facebook

effective parent teacher communications

The more ways you teach, the more students you’ll reach!

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to edit and post it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.)

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Education App Spotlight: Contraption Maker

maker-screenshotEducation App Spotlight: Contraption Maker

by TeachThought Staff


    • Use Rube Goldberg machines to solve puzzles and create your own inventions
    • JavaScript mod capabilities
    • Teacher Dashboard to create student accounts and track progress
    • Curriculum available, including lessons for NGSS and Common Core standards

Other Details

    • Grade level range: Grade 3-10
    • Content areas: science & experimentation, physics, engineering, design, programming
    • The app is free for schools, after school programs and other educational initativies to use on institution-owned devices. (Read more.)
    • This game is a revival of The Incredible Machine, a popular educational game made in the 1990s. The original game designer and programmer are working on this project.

The Big Idea

Contraption Maker provides a set of puzzles that are reminiscent of Rube Goldberg cartoons. Children use hundreds of parts like hamster motors, balls, and conveyor belts to fix broken contraptions. Moving down our knowledge funnel, kids can create their own contraptions and share them with the world. It’s a digital sandbox that promotes creativity by experimenting with logical cause and effect consequences.

A key component of excelling in a STEM career is learning via experimentation, which often means testing an idea, failing, reviewing the idea, and trying a new idea. Traditional teaching methods don’t often have the latitude to encourage failure. However, experimentation and failure are key components in Contraption Maker. You learn by “failing” and testing new theories, and it is meant to be fun, not discouraging.

Related Apps

  • Minecraft
  • Casey’s Contraptions
  • Other building games

3 Ideas How It Might Be Used For Learning

  1. Learn about physics in Contraption Maker, then test out your theory in the real world.  Based on Next Generation Science Standards. (Read more.)
  2. Design complex machines based on a design objective.  Use your knowledge of simple machines and physics to create complex interactions. (Read more.)
  3. Blend language arts and science by having one student build a machine, write up a description of how it works, then have a partner build a machine based on your description.  Compare the two contraptions and discuss the similarities and differences. (Read more.)

System Requirements

  • Operating system, file size, etc.
  • Windows PC minimum specifications:
    • OS: Windows Vista
    • Processor: 1.7Ghz or Higher
    • Memory: 2 GB RAM
    • Graphics: 512MB VRAM, Pixel Shader 2.0 or higher
    • DirectX: Version 9.0c
    • Hard Drive: 300 MB available space
  • Mac minimum specifications:
    • OS: OS/X 10.7
    • Processor: 1.7Ghz or Higher
    • Memory: 2 GB RAM
    • Graphics: 512MB VRAM, Pixel Shader 2.0 or higher
    • Hard Drive: 300 MB available space

*The following app submission was prepared by Deborah Fike, Director of Educational Outreach for Spotkin. Spotkin is the developer behind Contraption Maker; Contraption Maker

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How Technology Should Have Already Changed Your Teaching

vancouverfilmschool-best-laptops-for-studentsHow Technology Should Have Already Changed Your Teaching

by Terry Heick

A little bit of technology doesn’t change much. Can make things a little easier by automating them. It could make a lesson here or there gee-wiz flashy, or even engage hesitant students. Tacked-on learning technology can do this.

But deep integration of technology–real at-the-marrow fusion of learning model, curriculum, and #edtech? That changes everything.

10 Ways Technology Has Changed Education: The Iconic Actions #edtech Should Disrupt

1. Giving letter grades

You may need appreciate the way gamification can improve the visibility of the entire learning process. You may dislike standards-based reporting, using labels like “proficient,” or grading with a 1-3 scale. You may not even like pass/fail.

This is okay. With technology, the name of the game is publishing. Sharing. Fluid documents and processes. Iteration. Reflection. Crowdsourcing. Digital communities. Authenticity.

You can still give letter grades–the parents will revolt and the children may be confused if you don’t. Give them whatever grade makes them feel better. But use technology to provide the kind of self-awareness and self-directed revision of work that a letter grade could never promote.

2. Classroom design

Concerns of bulletin boards, rows versus clusters of desks, and where your desk goes change with the full integration of learning technology.

Of more pressing concern is the signage on the walls that focuses on learning strategies and digital citizenship. Also to fret? WiFi signal, outlets, access to frequently move around the class, ways to not disrupt other classrooms with “noise.”

Your classroom has become the world’s classroom–more of a vessel or template than something your own.

3. Where the learning happens

Usually learning happens in your classroom. Part of the time they’re reading or writing or solving problems. Part of the time they’re listening to you. Part of the time they’re doing group work, and then following it all up at home with practice–or in a flipped setting, reverse it all.

But deep integration of technology in learning should–ideally anyway–make learning mobile–always-on, asynchronous and self-directed access to both content and collaborators. In the library, down the hall, from any room in the school, from any school in the district. In their own neighborhoods, cities, and surrounding communities.

Yes, this sounds like crazy talk. No, it’s not feasible for every classroom every day for every age group. Yes, there’d be chaos and disruption of your district’s schedule they created back August.

Cool, huh?

4. The pace of student progress

As the teacher, you’re used to being the control valve for content, assessment, feedback, and reporting.

One person’s control valve is the next person’s bottleneck. Technology should completely obliterate your ability to precisely control what learning happens, when. With full integration of technology, students can choke on too much information, or fall on their face with no idea where to go, or what to do when they get there.

This is an excellent starting point for a new kind of planning.

5. The audience for student thinking

For years, it was the teacher. Then other students when you pinned the work on the classroom walls and in the hallway. Then you started a blog that sees 135 visits per month, and shared work there. You mixed in the occasional project where students all took home—or brought in—very similar artifacts, and felt pretty good about it all. No worksheets in your class!

Except that the idea audience for any student is their community. Connecting them with their own neighborhood in new ways. Or their extended family. Or business and cultural leaders in their city. Or even a classroom in Bombay.

Anybody but you.

6. What is studied

Yes, you’ve got a pile of academic standards that have to be mastered. Grant Wiggins has a great analogy for standards—building code. They only provide a framework for what the building has to look/feel/perform like, but don’t tell you exactly how to build it.

While it’s not that simple for every teacher (your school or district may think of it as otherwise), the fact remains that technology is dynamic. The movie should change every time you watch it.

7. Where the questions come from

Usually the questions come from you. You probe, prompt, front-load, and assess. You take snapshots of learning, and know how to scaffold questions for different students at different levels at different times. It is the students’ job to answer.

Technology creates a different possibility, where inquiry is more natural, and sustainable in highly dynamic and social digital environments. If questions really are more important than answers, shouldn’t students be learning to develop and refine their own?

8. Who provides learning feedback, and when

You probably do all of the grading. This is too much work for you, and robs the student of a chorus of feedback they deserve. You can still be the closest and most attentive responder to their work, offering the most expert feedback of anyone, but as it has been said there smartest person in the room is the room.

Technology says offering feedback can be done asynchronously. Comments can be threaded for discussions. Texts and writing can be highlighted, annotated, and fluid. The cloud says both teachers and students can access the same document at the same time from the park, the classroom, or public library.

The frequency, quality, platforms, and nature of the feedback for learning should be completely alien to that of a “normal” classroom.

9. Starting and stopping class the class, correcting misbehaviors

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Eyes on me. Thank you for giving me your attention. Thank you Mackenzie. Thank you Dillon. Thank you for coming to level 1 so quickly, class. I’ve placed you into groups, and written a set of questions on the board. When the timer sounds in five minutes, one speaker from each group will stand and share out takeaways from your mini-discussion on these questions.

Just a reminder, per our district policy and Principal Peabody’s PA announcement this morning, there should no cell phones out any time. No texting, twitter, etc. You don’t need anything for this lesson—no Googling, YouTubing, Wikipediaing. No adaptive apps like Knowji or Duolingo. No sharing a question through twitter with our sister school in Beijing. And whatever you do, do not check the blog post you wrote last week as a journal response to pre-empt this discussion, nor the threaded discussion that followed.

If we have time, we can even use the Smartboard! You’ve got 5 minutes. It is time to learn.”

Technology says that while you were reminding students about Principal Peabody’s very eloquent speech, they could’ve grouped themselves based on the framework you implemented back in August and have practiced weekly since. They could’ve watched the video last night on your YouTube channel, had a follow-up discussion last night on Google+, recorded it via Google Hangouts, then saved it to a private YouTube channel of their own that they could then annotate and contextualize for the class during said “share out.”

Yes, that is oversimplification.

Yes, that is possible.

10. Using curriculum maps to create finished units and lessons

Your curriculum map probably says that you “cover” this standard in this lesson in this unit during this month.

Technology suggests differently. Technology provides, among other things, the ability to curate, revisit, and iterate. This means students will be able to return to work as they learn, connect, and grow, no matter what the curriculum map says.


11. “Covering” your content

This idea has been on the way out for a while now, but for some it remains a sticky concept. “Covering” a standard or idea makes about as much sense as sweeping a gravel driveway. You’re never finished, and you look ridiculous.

Technology reinforces the idea that learning is a marathon, not a series of sprints. More than anything else, technology provides access. This is neither good nor bad, but rather represents potential. It’s what you—or your students, rather—do with that potential that matters.

10 Iconic Teacher Actions That Technology Should Disrupt; How Technology Has Changed Education; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool

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How to Turn Around Bad Classroom Behavior

The Global Search for Education

Candy Nerds were put in a CD tray by one student. They talked. They misbehaved. Some kids tried to look at porn. At one point during the year, someone tied a crowbar and crushed cans under my car. (I guess he hoped I couldn’t come to school the next day.) Wow! What a terrible class.

How to Turn Around Bad Classroom Behavior

Cathy Rubin asks, “What was your most challenging classroom and how did you turn it around?” in this month’s Global Search for Education.

The boys didn’t want to type. One boy was so disrespectful that we had a behavior contract he had to follow before I’d let him come back into class. It was turmoil. It was hell. But somewhere amidst the struggle, I glimpsed paradise.

1. Seek Advice from Seasoned Teachers.

First, I asked advice of the best teachers I knew: my Mom, my sister, my curriculum director. They helped me do things to solve the biggest problems first.

Find experienced teachers. Seek their advice. 

2. Read Books.

On the weekends, I read books. I learned about proximity, behavior management, and classroom management.

The answers to almost any problem can be found in the pages of a book. Reading helps you with leading. 

3. Talk to the Kids.

Everything changed the day I asked the students what would help them want to learn the keyboard.

“Only a steak dinner,” the boys said smugly.

So, I went to the principal and cut a deal. When they finished learning the keyboard, they could bring steaks. We could grill during their lunch period.  (The Great Steak Out is still an annual tradition 14 years later.) The positive excitement was so powerful, there wasn’t time to misbehave.

Figure out what motivates your students. What are their interests? Enlist help from your administration. Motivate with positives and not just negatives. 

4. Change What You Can.

It was my first year of teaching. They were my worst. But it wasn’t them – I’m convinced it was me. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I started learning.

I changed the seating chart. I looked at my classroom procedures. I worked to bring things into the classroom that kids loved. I leveled up my teaching. I handled discipline problems privately (particularly if the student seemed to crave “an audience.”)

Change yourself. Take back your classroom. Control what you can. 

5. Study the Craft of Teaching.

Fourteen years later, I haven’t had a discipline referral to the front office in over a year (maybe two.) My students are a dream.

Sure, student should “know” how to act. Some do. Some don’t. They’re kids. I’m a professional. In all those years, the kids haven’t changed. I have. They still are someone else’s “bad class.” But not mine. I don’t have a bad class. I don’t have a bad child. We’re learning. But most of all, I’m more of a craftsman than I was that first year. That first year I had some head knowledge, but I knew very little about what really worked.

As long as someone is getting great results, I can learn what they do — and so can you. 

But What About When Teaching Is Hard?

Teaching is still hard. Last year was the hardest year ever – but it wasn’t the kids. It was other things. But there’s also something wonderful that happens amidst the struggle:

  • When a child learns to love himself.
  • When she better copes with hardship.
  • When she learns something new.

Before you get to great things, first you have to get past the worst. And for me, my first year was the worst. But I never quit on the kids. I never quit on myself.

This noble profession of teaching is worth the struggle.

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How To Take a Screenshot in Windows [Video]

Video Post
Every student should know how to take a screenshot. A screenshot is simply a picture of the screen.

Why do you need to know how to take a screenshot?

  • To get technical support
  • To create new things! (with permission, of course)
  • To share!
  • To document things that happen online for safety reasons  (see below)

Four Ways to Take a Screenshot in Windows

In this tutorial, I cover 4 ways to take a screenshot.

  1. The hotkeys built in with Windows (both the whole screen and just the active window)
  2. Using the Windows Snipping tool
  3. The Screenshot tools built into Microsoft Office
  4. Adding the Snagit Plug in to Chrome

I want my students to understand all four of them. The audio isn’t so perfect on this one, but I hope it helps you see what I teach my students.

At the end, I mention the 5 Steps to Online safety that from my book Reinventing Writing. You can download a free poster with these five steps on them to share with your students. 

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Why Questions Are More Important Than Answers

Why Questions Are More Important Than Answers

by Terry Heick

Clocks and old watches are miracles. If you’ve ever taken one apart and had a look at the intricate gears with their jutting teeth reaching out with just the right math to tick in rhythm with the pulse of the universe, you’ll see that whatever mind conjured the thing and all its parts is mad.

Imagine the dogged pursuit of a proper clock-maker, day after day bound up in design and measurement and function and orderly thinking, forcing exactitude on little bits of metal that never asked for it. And then finally getting it right–so many decisions and matters of design suddenly set the clock off ticking forever.

Get inside the mind of a clock-maker—one who still experiments with matters of design, improving their craft with minor revisions of planning and execution—and suddenly you’re seeing from ground zero how things come to be, first in a humble glow, then a blinding white starlight that bleaches everything.

There’s a lesson here. But first, some background on bad questions.

The Irony of Bad Questions

There is an irony to bad questions, in that they can be more difficult to answer than a good question.

Questioning is the art of learning. Learning to ask important questions is the best evidence of understanding there is, far surpassing the temporary endorphins of a correct “answer.”

So what makes a question bad? Well, that depends on what you think a question should “do.”

Produce a nice and tidy answer?

Cause a student to reconsider a position?

Force someone to go back and look more closely at how they know what they know?

Assess understanding?

All make sense, and a good question can do all of that.

But a bad question? They halt, freeze, deflate, and derail thinking.

Simply put, bad questions are confusing questions.

That’s not to say that good questions shouldn’t be challenging, and that students might not hit a spot where they feel confused. They might. But a challenged learner and a confused learner are not the same.

It’s not all about “rigor” either. Bad questions can be rigorous—force learners to think on higher-level planes—synthesis, evaluation, close analysis—and still be bad.

The Hallmark of a Bad Question

A bad question can be judged so because it gets at the wrong content, is full of unnecessary jargon, or is syntactically corrupt.

But more than anything else, the most telling hallmark of a bad question is that it encourages learners to guess what the teacher’s thinking.

To try to get into the mind of the question-maker.

This, mind you, is decidedly different than understanding the mind of a clock-maker. A clock’s design inspires design thinking. What that clockmaker was thinking matters.

But a question maker is not a clock-maker–different, at best only a mediator between the student and content. Their intent can be noble, well-researched, and justified, but the maker cannot—or should not–linger like a good question.

There is the troubling matter of timing. Ask even the right question at the wrong time, and rather than front-loading, priming, scaffolding, or causing curiosity, students end up bewildered, their thinking scattershot, internalizing all the wrong things—social expectation, tempting recall, your relationship with them, or their own anxiety with the content.

Rarely, though, do they sit with the content and its context and metacognition, but rather the bloody question and the false promise of a correct response.

The Abstraction of the Question

The right question at the right time can make a learning experience, because more than anything read, drawn, or even written, a question is acute and properly troubling.

It creates a needle-point of light even as it suggests darkness.

Even if it’s multi-part and inclusive, it’s somehow singular.

It jabs and fingers at a learner’s mind, then burrows in like a drill.

A bad question is sloppy—it doesn’t burrow anywhere, but bangs around and makes a troubling noise. It forces the learner to come to the question and frown and decode. Decoding can be cognitively demanding and thus helpful, but not if it mars the student’s thinking.

A precise, well-timed question keeps the learner in the content, in their own mind, in the mind of model thinking—in the mind of the clock-maker and not the question-maker.

A bad question also creates the illusion of an end-point to thinking—of the student having arrived at some place where they understand the mind of the clock-maker. And when that happens, everything just kind of dissolves, and they sit passively and wait for another question, thinking they’ve won.

This, of course, is tragedy. The mind must never exhale, but grapple! Wrestle with a text, a concept, or a question until they’ve found a new question is better suited to the task. Taking a piece of literature, an engineering problem, or an ethical issue and reducing it to a series of question is a dangerous kind of reductionism.

Questions are links to other questions, and that’s it. Little fragments of curiosity that get at the marrow of important issues that resonate and thrum and linger. Statements of opinion, answers, and other lies are fine, provided they move aside to let the questions through.

When you ask questions—on exams, in person, in your next Socratic discussion—insist on good questions. Great questions. Model their development. Revise their wording. Toy with their tone. Simplify their syntax or implications over and over again until the confusion has been bleached and there’s only thinking left.

Until the question asks exactly what it should, and nothing more.

Lock the students out of your head—and away from guess-what-the-teacher’s-thinking, proficiency, false confidence, and overly-simple labels of “understanding.”

Instead, encourage them inside the mind of the clock-maker. Let them huddle, and sit in awkward silence.

Let them think you’re a little bit crazy.

And then watch for the questions.

Watch for the glow.

This post has been updated from a 2012 post; Why Questions Are More Important Than Answers

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One Teacher In Ten: My Experience As An LGBT Educator

one-teacher-in-tenOne Teacher In Ten: My Experience As An LGBT Educator

by Brett Bigham

When I wrote my essay for One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium I was at a crossroads in my life and career.

I was six months into being Oregon’s Teacher of the Year and I was under order from my supervisor not to say I was gay in public. I had been informed that I was no longer allowed to write or speak unless the district had approved my words in advance. To write my essay for One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium was insubordination. To email it in to Kevin Jennings, the editor, was a firing offense according to my district.  

I submitted my essay anyway. As one of the first openly gay Teachers of the Year in the entire country, I was a voice for many gay teachers. I was an example that you can be out and still rise to the top of the profession. And as an American, I felt I had the right to speak my own words without a superintendent deciding what my words would be.

In September last year I filed a grievance with my Union. My district retaliated quickly. I was told to cancel all appearances as Teacher of the Year and that I now must submit a request to my supervisor listing who I was going to be permitted to speak to. The first three events I was told I could not attend were meeting with the local high school Gay Student Alliance (GSA), I was told I could not introduce the GSA Choir at a concert in the city square (on a Sunday) and I was told I could not meet with the Oregon Safe Schools Community Coalition, the group trying to end the bullying of LGBT youth in schools. I was told meeting with “those” groups “were of no value to the district.”

This was heartbreaking to me. When I was 15 my best friend killed himself after telling me he was no longer into girls. You cannot go back in time and undo a suicide, but I knew by being openly gay and Teacher of the Year would show those gay youth, teetering on the edge of ending their lives, that they had a future ahead of them. My district said those kids had “no value.”

I filed state and federal complaints against my district and was fired.

But something amazing came from that. The London Daily Mail had a full page about my situation and that article was picked up all over the world. The Nigeria Times and papers in Ghana and Singapore were running pictures of my husband and me in the Rose Festival Parade and at our wedding. When was the last time the news in Nigeria carried a story showing pictures of gay people being married or celebrated in a parade? (The Daily Mail spelled my name “Bingham” if you are trying to Google it). 

And I realized that every time my district did something worse more people were hearing the story. When the district was forced to hire me back it made news again, and their announcement they were firing me again only made it grow. By the time the state investigation showed discrimination and retaliation, my story had been featured on CNN, the Washington Post, and USA Today. My Facebook was inundated with messages from all over the world, many from countries where they are frightened to be gay.

The essay I wrote for One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium was written last May. I was Oregon Teacher of the Year. I had been married for a week. I had just met the President of the United States and then Secretary Clinton. Within months I would be threatened, bullied, harassed, fired, unfired, and publicly threatened with punishment unless I took back my complaints against the district. I refuse to be silenced. When you are a spokesperson for a group of people, silence feels like betrayal.  

That is why I wrote my essay. And that is why I feel it is worth reading.

Ed note: You can check the book out on Amazon at the following link. If you buy the book from there, we’ll get an indefensibly small percentage of the sale, but what can you do? These servers don’t pay for themselves.


One Teacher In Ten: My Experience As An LGBT Educator

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