Mobile Learning | Feature

7 Free Apps for Keeping Parents and Teachers Connected

Lindsey Vose used to rely on a classroom website to keep her kindergarten and first-grade parents in the loop on what was going on in class. A teacher at Santiago Hills Elementary School in Irvine, CA, Vose would update the site weekly, upload photos to it, and communicate with parents via a "comments" section. But in April, realizing that weekly updates were a thing of the past in the age of tweets and mobile status updates, she switched to the free, location-based social media app BuzzMob and decided to test its worth as a parental collaboration tool.

These days, parents download the app to their iPhones, iPads, or Android phones and can instantly give feedback on and "like" Vose's postings ("We're making flower diagrams in class today") and photos (of field trips and classroom activities). The immediacy of the location-based app allows parents to see what's happening on a daily basis, says Vose, "instead of having to wait a week for me to update my website."

A growing number of K-12 teachers are turning to free online and mobile applications to communicate and collaborate with busy parents who want to know what's going on in class and how their students are performing, and who want to give feedback to teachers in a way that's accessible to them. As Vose has learned, collaborative apps can also take some of the burden off the instructor who would otherwise have to create one-way communication channels like e-mail or paper-based newsletters. For more ideas, check out the following 7 apps to help keep parents in the loop, even on the go.

1. BuzzMob. Vose's tool of choice lets parents and teachers connect on a private network that requires authorization before a user can see updates. Ease of use is another advantage of the new collaboration method, says Vose, who points out that not all mobile phones displayed her classroom website correctly. Similar to Twitter or Facebook on the public social networking side, BuzzMob allows Vose to make quick updates on the fly without having to sit down at her computer to update a website. "In the next year or so," Vose says, "I'm hoping to get the kids to start posting, chatting, and collaborating with one another on this type of app."

2. The Teacher App & Grade Book. This new, free tool helps enhance collaboration between teachers, parents, students, and schools using parent messaging; an interactive calendar; event notification; and course grade notifications. Parents can check grades, review attendance records, submit absentee letters, and stay on top of upcoming events with the app's calendar.

3. Collaborize Classroom. At Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, CA, French teacher Nicole Naditz uses this education-focused app to set up a closed network where she can discuss topics, trends, and student progress with both students and teachers. The structured online discussion platform lets Naditz extend the classroom discussion outside of normal school hours and engage with parents who want to be kept "in the know" on how their kids are faring in class. "I post links to articles and videos, upload links, set up discussion threads, and field questions in a closed, safe environment that's only accessible to us," says Naditz.

4. Remind 101. Taking a trip to the nature center with your second-grade class tomorrow and trying to get everyone to dress appropriately for the inclement weather? This app lets teachers create an account that parents can "join" by sending a single text message. Because they can message their entire classes and/or parents quickly from their mobile phones, teachers are able to stay in contact on the fly and collaborate with parents without having to pick up the phone or send out an email.

5. TeacherKit. Teachers can use this app to take attendance, track grades and behaviors, and set up detailed student profiles that even include allergies and health issues. What makes the app especially collaborative is the fact that teachers can use it to email parents directly, and without having to open up an email application to distribute and receive information. The app can also handle multiple classes--all of which are kept separate and easy to delete/edit as needed.

6. Running Start. Limited by the minimal amount of face time he has with students, Jim DeLine, a physical education teacher at Highland Park Elementary School in Austin, TX, says his compressed daily schedule pushed him to find new ways to collaborate with both students and parents. To offset that challenge, he's been using New York Road Runners' Running Start digital resource on his iPad to teach students efficient movement and running. Using the app, DeLine has been able to get parents involved in their children's physical education. In fact, a group of them have started a running club for kids based largely on Running Start's instruction and guidance. "Parents pull it up on their computers and mobile devices and learn how to run properly--then they help their children hone their running techniques outside of school," says DeLine.

7. Google Apps for Education. This free suite of productivity tools (including Gmail, Calendar, and Drive) helps keep parents in the loop on their children's progress in class and any challenging areas that need to be addressed. Rather than waiting for graded papers to make it home in a student's backpack, for example, parents can log into Google Drive and see what their kids have been up to in English class, view their current grades, and communicate with teachers about progress and challenges.  

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