Friday, June 11, 2010

Guest Blog Post on the Edmodo Blog

I was asked by Jeff O'Hara at Edmodo to write a guest blog post about my Edmodo experiences. Here is the link to the Edmodo Blog, but I figured why not post it here too. Don't know why it was easier to write for someone's else blog, when all I ever do is post videos to my own. Haha. Oh well.

I started using Edmodo in late fall of the 2008-2009 school year at Jim Hill Middle School in Minot, North Dakota where I teach 8th grade Language Arts. After spending just a few minutes “playing” with the service and seeing the capabilities, I quickly realized what an invaluable tool this could be to my classroom. I immediately liked the social network interaction Edmodo provided. It was more rapid than what we had previously used. Discussions and running dialogues occurred in an open space and when needed a student and teacher could have a private conversation too. I liked the ease of uploading, sharing, and exchanging files. I liked the fact that I could put an assignment there, grade it there, and the kids could get their results and feedback there. The notifications feature allowed not only for myself to learn of new posts, but students too. Parents could easily access the public page for their child’s group and receive information also. One stop, ease of use, I was sold. I was not the only voter though, as with any classroom integration, students’ reactions would be the ultimate test.
I decided to start small by setting up only one class on a Monday, an Advanced 8th grade Language Arts class. “Good kids,” who would also be understanding and patient if things went off track or failed miserably. The sign-up process was fast, simple, and in a matter of minutes students were busy changing their avatars. Once we were up and running, discussions and sharing were taking place seamlessly, it was obvious Edmodo had passed the student test.
As word spread to my other classes about Edmodo, it didn’t take long to realize every class was going to want to be able to try it for themselves. By Wednesday of the same week, I had 6 groups (classes) registered and actively using Edmodo. The results were the same as with the first group.
Those initial six groups gravitated towards Edmodo and as the year progressed it became the main source of our online electronic communication and a collaborative workspace in our classroom. We held discussions, shared links, turned in a number of reflective pieces of writing, and used the embed feature to publish completed projects for classmates to see. Not only did it pass the student test, it had taken on a life of its own. Edmodo became a verb in our room the same way Google had for search a few years earlier. Students appreciated that it was “our space” and not necessarily shared with other classes or the rest of the world. A sense of community was forming around the groups.
The spring of the year brought Edmodo 2.0 and a whole new set of features that students gobbled up. Edmodo 2.0 brought SMS and Twitter notifications, and a document reader that could read the most common documents we posted right within Edmodo. The service didn’t stop there, though, and added more features for teachers too. It was becoming apparent that Edmodo wasn’t going anywhere and that Edmodo listened to the wants and needs of teachers and students alike.
As the year ended, and it came time to archive the groups for the summer, students bemoaned the fact that they may not have a service like Edmodo next year as they moved into the high school.
Over the summer Edmodo continued to evolve and improve and I looked forward to the start of this school year and using Edmodo with all of my classes again. The student reaction was much the same if not more excited after hearing comments from previous students. Students immediately commented on how Facebook looks like Edmodo or vice versa. The Social Studies teacher I team with jumped on board using Edmodo after hearing the positives from students and exploring it for himself. Students now had two classes taking advantage of the service. Within a few weeks, under pressure from the students, the Math teacher on our team joined as well. The move for both of those teachers was a positive one and something they were glad they did. Both plan to continue to use the service in the future.
The 2009-2010 school year brought a few new challenges and a few new uses for Edmodo. Our school was hit this the fall with an outbreak of the H1N1 virus (Swine Flu). We had a number of students who were forced to stay home for days and in a few cases weeks. Edmodo allowed those students to still communicate with their classmates and teachers. They took advantage of knowing the lesson for the day along with any files, links, and even discussions were available to them. They liked that they could ask questions and get help not only from me, but also their classmates.This was something the parents of those students also appreciated.
This year I used Edmodo much of the same way we did the previous year in my classes, but I took greater advantage of the features of Edmodo. Our school started its own Twitter account for school announcements. Twitter is a service I love, but it doesn’t really excite middle school students much. The information in those tweets was pertinent though, so I used the RSS feature in Edmodo to be sure my students wouldn’t miss out. We used the poll feature as a springboard to discuss controversial current event articles. We also used the embed feature considerably more to bring other tech tools into our space. We used it to embed Google forms that we used for surveys and quizzes. We embedded our classroom Google calendarWallwisherGlogster, and student made media projects, as well as YouTube videos often found their way into the groups using the ability to embed content.
The new use for Edmodo this year came from a need of our school literacy committee, of which I am a member. For a number of years, and with moderate success, we have conducted after school book clubs for students.These clubs faltered not from a lack of student desire to participate, but from the limited amount of time our students had available. A large percentage of our students participate in after school activities and are unable to meet with a traditional after school group. Enter Edmodo. We decided to move our monthly book clubs this spring to an online format using Edmodo. We conducted ten simultaneous book club groups for our students each month using Edmodo. Students loved being able to discuss the books online and took advantage of sharing and embedding related resources for their book. Along with being able to participate in book clubs using a computer to access Edmodo, members who had an iPod Touch or an Android cellphone were able to participate using yet another new feature, the Edmodo mobile website.
My experiences and the experiences of my students with Edmodo have been incredibly positive. Unlike other tools I have used with my students, Edmodo was built with teachers and students in mind from the start. The strength of Edmodo is in its ability to adapt to any class, course, club, or situation. The service satisfied our needs from the start for a communication and collaboration platform, but has become so much more. It has continued to grow and improve and I know more teachers in my building and within our school district as a whole will be using Edmodo next year and in the future for the same reasons.
Thomas Scheeler
8th grade Language Arts
Jim Hill Middle School
Minot, ND
Twitter: tscheeler

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