School websites – Brochure or Community Builder?

We’ve had an interesting week with weather in Invercargill, to say the least.  A friend talked with a 70 year old local who said she hadn’t seen snow like this in her life time.  So, regardless of what you view as the cause – global warming or freakish weather pattern – nature has a way of interrupting your daily routines.

When we woke up on Monday morning the media were reporting several schools were closed because of concerns about roofs collapsing.  When I arrived to school at 7.45 there were three staff and the principal fielding phone call after phone call.  The question was obvious, – “Are you open?”  It became quite comical at one stage.  They would say they answered the question over forty times – before I arrived.
So… I suggested we put something on the website, which I did.  Then we sat back, continued to field phone calls and watch the web stats (a great new addition to the blogger armory).  The thing that staggered me, when you look at the comparison of the stats, was how few people thought to check the website.  Here was my tweet on it the next day.  Ignore the first (last in tweetville) post about Ping.  I just thought that was funny.

There are three questions this raises for me.
 – Are the parents of our community not as digitally tuned as we like to think?  Most of our community uses the internet for banking, shopping, entertainment and, yes, even learning.  But do we use it for instant information?  I thought we did.  Why not with our school?
 – Do the parents visit the website?  Is it gathering some readership since we relaunched it?  The screenshot below shows that it’s getting, on average, about 30 to 40 hits a day.  I’d say that, yes, some momentum IS gathering speed and word is getting out there – we’ve had some good feedback.
 – Should schools take some of the hit for their websites poor community support?  I have seen school site after site set up as a static, online brochure.  They are great for prospective parents and teachers looking to see whether they’ll apply for that position.  But, as a community service and a place for communication they are quite redundant.
So, I think the scepticism of what a school website will provide is quite valid.  Why should a community take the time to visit a school site for up to date information when I can just call the school – or the Principal, which happens more than you would know.  What are the reasons for websites being so neglected and underused for the people they should serve?
1.  Time  – Anyone involved in education recognises the squeeze for time that is happening in our schools; a crowded curriculum, increased parent expectations and now a National Standards regime that will have us double up on assessment and reporting.  A teacher I really respect once said that we should always make time for the things that we value.  He was talking about using efolios in the class room and how we should give the students time for reflection and making comments.  I’d suggest that, if we really value creating and caring for a genuine learning community then some allocation of time for up-keeping a website would be critical.  Communication, celebration and sharing should be the aim of every school website.
2.  Expertise – There is a growing group of teachers in our schools who are quietly developing some amazing skills in working with blogs and websites.  It isn’t really that hard – kids are doing it, after all!  Does your school have someone who create, manage and drive the fresh content on your site?  If not, perhaps this should be a consideration when recruiting new staff.  
3.  Cost – Lots of the static websites that I see are created and managed by a third party source that costs the school a setup and monthly fee.  This can easily be eliminated with the free services we can access now.  Our school’s website uses Wix as it’s launching platform (it has a kid friendly interface and interactive element) that connects with blogger and some google sites – all of these are free!  The only cost is the time that’s given to work on them… and there’s not as much release as you would think.
4.  Desire – How much vision and drive does your school have for a fresh, dynamic online presence?  I think that a website has a lot of potential to help build a community of learners – which is what many of our schools aspire to.  Communication is a big part of that but it takes committement and perseverance.    Every school just needs one person with the motivation, interest and drive to keep taking those photos, uploading video and updating newsletters and notices.  
I think that schools have some work to do to build up the trust of their communities.  People will become followers and users of a school website when they know that it will be useful, up to date and relevant. 
It’s a big challenge!
NB Our school’s next steps are
 – update our BOT information (exciting, I know)
 – upload our student voice page – a class project to see the school through student’s eyes
 – continue to build the written content of our students.  I want to the website to be student driven and managed as much as possible.  We have a team of gifted students who are keen to be our journalists and photographers.  I think we should be taking advantage of this authentic audience!  But that’s another post.

Break from the end of term exhaustion!

This morning we woke to the kids running around screaming, ‘It’s snowing!’  The snow was about an inch thick and we made a snowman before breakfast.  Talk about priorities!

Here’s the storm at about 11am.  The levels grown to about 3 inches and we’re wondering if we can still drive to the depot to get some more coal – we thought we’d just about make it till next year.   Haha, not even!

What a great way to finish the term.  I wonder if school will be open on Monday – it’s expected to snow until Tuesday.

K C Web Assessment

You often hear of people asking how we can accurately assess the K.Cs – especially now that they are ideally the foundation of our curriculum.  This question, I suspect, comes from those wanting quantified and comparable data.

And it’s this school of thought about assessment – the moderated, summative philosphy, that I think is taking over the other, formative approach.   I wonder if the worst effect of the National Standards is going to be the momentum it will give the quantitative force.

There is a great quote that I have been letting settle in my mind for some time.
“Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”  Oscar Wilde  

I see the K.Cs as fitting into these sorts of knowings.  There ARE some parts of the competencies that can be explicitly taught but others, such as self management are just as well ‘caught’ as taught through good modelling and a good deal of time.  I also wonder if we could also say that there is,

‘..nothing worth knowing that can be assessed.’

Just because something is harder to assess does it make it less valuable or worthwhile spending classroom currancy on?  I wonder if the quantifying team would suggest not.  You can’t moderate it, can’t collect accurate data on it and how will we make some flash graphs for our B.O.T?

I realise I’m being a bit cynical but it’s a road I see many schools heading in.  Is this the bigger picture that is getting lost for many in the National Standards debate?   The biggest deficit impact for students will be if we shift the K.Cs to the margins because we are chasing the numeracy and literacy wild goose.

So, this term I have been stressing to my class that our big picture is all about the Key Competency,  ‘THINKING.’  We’ve been using science as our fuel but thinking is the car we are getting better at driving.  ‘What are we getting better at?’  I ask them.  ‘Thinking!’ is their chant.

So, how do we assess the K.Cs?  I absolutely value the formative power of assessment for learning and always see a matrix or rubric as an important part of this process.  This K.C matrix, above,  is based on the web that Lester Flocton introduced in the DVD, ‘The Connected Curriculum’ and was something I started using last year as a google doc.  Students created their own copy and embeded their assessment on their efolio.

This year I have created a web for the wall which groups of three use to guide them through the independent investigation process.  A booklet scaffolds them through the stages to developing their own question, carrying out an experiment and developing a theory.  Each strand of our, ‘Thinking Web’ has three stages; no evidence, some evidence and lots of evidence.  It’s surprising how honest and thoughtful the students have been so far.
Key Competency Assessment Thinking

My next step with this process will be to use it next term too but to co-construct the strands with me.  It will be an interesting journey for our technology inquiry. 

Stumbled on.

I’m always finding new sites online to use in the class – mostly due to my PLN (Twitter!) and general surfing around.  This term I stumbled on an apple application called Numbers.  It’s like an excell programme (for P.Cers) but has some great templates you can use.

This one was created by some of my students on a science template and was perfect for our science experiment inquiry.  The groups were finding out about gravity – we were working towards exploding the myth that heavier objects fall faster than light ones.  The data chart immediately creates a graph as you insert the data and the template is great for providing the scaffolding.

The education folder of the templates even has a grading template.  Could be my next stumbled on!