Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Text Alerts in the K-12 Classroom

There are now a multitude of resources available for creating "text alerts".  Text alerts are when a teacher sends a text message to an entire group of students, parents, or both.  Text alerts can be one-way (teacher to student, teacher to parent...etc) or two-way-private (teacher to student to teacher) or two-way-open (teacher to student to students/teacher).    There are numerous ways that text alerts are useful in the classroom.  Below are a few

  • Logistical/Announcements Texting: This is the most common use of text alerts.  Most teachers who choose to use this, use the alerts to announce or remind about homework, permission forms or upcoming class activities.  It is usually one-way from the teacher to the student or teacher to the parent.  
  • Project-based Texting: This is a more powerful use of text alerts, where teachers would use the alert system as a way for students to produce or participate in a classroom project.  For example, an English teacher might ask her/his students to text in their original poem for an assignment along with a visual image of what inspired the poem.  Or a social studies teacher might create a virtual debate or salon where the students can text back and forth in the voice of a historical character for homework.  
  • Small Group Texting:  Teachers can put students into groups based on reading levels, interests, or mathematic levels and then send specific messages to those groups based on the topic.  In addition, teachers could open up the groups (two-way texting) so that they could text back and forth with each other to collaborate, brainstorm, or even create virtual book clubs!
  • Tutor Texting:  Teachers can send out one-way text alerts to help with common questions on homework.  They can send out helpful links to parents (especially for elementary school parents).  In addition, teachers can assign an older student (for example a 7th grader) to send out tutoring help to 2nd graders.  It could be set up as a texting tutoring line  (two-way-private), where students could text in when they need help and an older student or volunteer adult could text back helpful hints, tips or links.  
  • Text Pals:  Teachers can pair their students up with other students in a similar grade/classroom from another state or county.  By using the two-way-private text alerts the students can begin to learn from each other as pen pals.  Of course the teacher will be on the two-way alert so they can moderate the conversation!
  • Field Trip Activities:  Teachers use text alerts to keep track of students as well as to keep them ON TRACK during field trips.  They can send out a two-way text alert during the field trip with an activity and ask the students to text back their work (such as sending in an interesting fact or image).  
  • Quick Assessments:  Teachers can use the two-way-private alerts to send out quick surveys, polls or quizzes to better understand how much each students knows on a topic.  The responses would come back only to the teacher in their private texting file online (depending on the tool selected below).  The teacher would then have an archive over time of the quick assessments that they could use to personal learning.
  • Personalizing In-Class Learning:  Teachers could send out private messages or alerts to specific groups to help scaffold their learning during a class assignment.  For example they could send a student who has finished a class activity quickly to respond back with a summary of how they were able to solve the mathematics problem so quickly and the reasoning that they may have used.
Best tools for creating text alerts:  
Below is a list of some of the best tools on the web that allow teachers to create text alerts. Fortunately there are many great tools for any budget!

Free tools (100% free)
Remind:  Allows only one-way text alerts.  Can easily add students/parents and class lists.  Remind allows teachers to schedule text messages in advance (this works great for putting in weekly homework).  In addition, messages can also be tweeted and you can send attachments with the messages.  This is a great tool if you just want to use text alerts for classroom announcements and management.  The most versatile by far!  Allows for one-way, two-way-private, and two-way-open.  You can also participate via cell phone or web.  Also, messages can be moderated before being sent back out to the group. also allows for polls and surveys to be sent out to students.  If a teacher is a little more creative they can send out the surveys as quizzes.  This is a wonderful tools for text alert projects, field trip activities and text pals!  
Joopz:  Joopz allows for one-way and two-way open messaging service.  Joopz is a very easy and clean way to do group messaging.  It is easy to toggle between different classes or groups that you have set up for different alerts.  Teachers can schedule messages to be sent and all messages are archived.  The two-way messaging can be nice for a group discussion or virtual salon.
My Homework Now:  MyHomeworkNow does one-way text alerts.  This one is not as easy to get started with but once set up is very easy.  Your school must contact MyHomeworkNow to set up a free account.  Once that is done, then teachers can individually create their own account to send text alerts.  It does integrate announcements so they can be sent via text, social media and email at once!  This is a nice tool for one-way announcements and information dissemination only.

Premium tools (a free and for cost version)  This service allows for one-way and two-way open messaging service.  It does not have a private two-way service.  You get 25 free texts to begin and then you need to pay about $5 for 100 more.  You only pay if you need more credits (thus no monthly charges!).  One aspect that I do really like is that allows for texting to other countries as part of their text alerts!  This is a very nice feature if you are doing text pals!
Swaggle:  This service allows for two-way open group messaging.  It is free for 10 messages a month and then a cost of $7 per month.  This is a very basic group messaging service but could be helpful for small text group book clubs or group projects.  
ClassPager:  ClassPager allows for one-way and two-way open messaging service.  You can have one class for free and then any additional classes you must pay about $10 to $20 a month depending on the number of students.  This service does a nice job allowing teachers to use the alerts for both announcements (one-way) and two-way feedback.  They will even put the feedback into a chart or graph as it comes in.  For example if a teachers would like the students to vote on something, then the teacher can email out the voting ballot and students can text back in their votes (which will show up in a graph or piechart!). 
Kikutext:  Kikutext has been around for a while and is available for one-way, two-way open and two-way private messages.  The free version is fairly robust.  It allows 2 classes with unlimited students and up to 60 messages a month.  You can schedule text alerts, you can directly reply to an individual private message (and they can respond back to you).   In addition they have a template system where you can send "stock" messages to students for good or poor behavior.  This is very similar to
SMS Matrix:  SMS Matrix is a one-way communication tool that is not created for schools but can be very useful for school systems.  The tool allows you to send a variety of types of messages included SMS to a large group.  Thus you can also send voice messages, email, text to speech and speech to text messages to a large group.  This is handy when needing communication tools that are more accessible than a simple text message.  The free version allows for all forms of communication except the text to voice messaging (and you only get 5 messages a month for free!).  This is a nice tool for the occasional one-way communication.

For cost tools (for cost only)
There are some nice for-cost tools out there.  All of them have a free trial.  Some schools or teachers might be looking for something a bit more robust thus I would recommend looking into the following three tools for those particular schools.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Triple E Framework: Integrating technology to meet learning goals

As a teacher educator, I spent the past decade struggling to help my pre-service and in-service teachers understand the difference between randomly using flashy technology in lessons and integrating technology with a purpose towards enhancing the learning goals.  We talk about the philosophical model of what how we should be thinking about integrating technology in the classroom (TPCK), yet it is purely a theoretical framework without a clinical core.  TPCK does not give any specifics on exactly what technological, pedagogical and content knowledge looks like in the classroom.  There have been other frameworks that have tried to fill in this gap such as ADDIE and SAMR.  Both of these models focus more on “how” the technology is being used to modify or change the traditional teaching.  For example, in SAMR, the focus for the technology in the model is about how the technology is replacing or modifying a teaching tool (such as a Google document being used to modify a traditional worksheet).  These are helpful models.  However, we are missing a necessary framework. 

Triple E: Framework
When I work with teachers their main struggle is to keep focused on the learning goals.  Thus, it is necessary to have a framework that involves TPCK but with a focus on how the technological, pedagogical content knowledge is changing the student's interactions with their learning goals.  This is why I developed the Triple E Framework.  I wrote about this framework in ISTE's May 2013's Learning and Leading.  This framework is used to help teachers focus on how technology is meeting and possibly exceeding the learning goals.  I have been using this simple framework with both in-service and pre-service teachers for over three years now and have found that it has given them guidance for making careful and purposeful choices about the technology in their classrooms.  I wanted to share the framework here in hopes that others would find it useful.

The framework has three levels:

Engagement into the learning goals
The most basic level is engagement.  Digital technologies tend to "engage" or get students excited about the learning activity, simply because they are digital.  While this is often the reason why educators say they integrate technology, engagement with technology does not necessary have a large effect on the student’s learning.  But it is a start, a way “into” the content.
  • Does the technology help student's engage in learning about the content?
  • Does the technology help student's focus their attention on the content?
  • Does the technology help move student's from passive to active learners in the content?

Enhancement of the learning goals
It is important that teachers look beyond engagement and into how the technology tools can enhance the learning goals. Enhancement considers how well the technology tools are helping students meet the learning goals and possibly enhance the learning goals. 
  • Does the technology help students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the content?
  • Does the technology create a way to make it easier for the students to understand or interact with the content?
  • Does the technology allow students to demonstrate an understanding of the content that they could not do without traditional tools?

Extension of the learning goals
The final level is to extend the learning in the real world.  Extension considers how the technology bridges learning inside of the classroom into student's everyday lives.
  • Does the technology help students learn outside of the school day?
  • Does the technology help student's bridge their school learning with their everyday lives?
  • Does the technology help student's gain skills to become independent life-long learners?

Put the framework to work!  
Below are three different scenarios of social studies teachers who have the same learning goals but choose to use technology differently to meet the goals.  After reading each scenario complete the form according to which of the Triple E levels were met (remember it's about how the learning goals were or were not met via the technology).  The forms are set up so you can see what everyone else answered after you complete your answers!  

Learning Goals:  
1)  To understand the purpose of the 2nd Amendment and how it can be interpreted differently by people.  
2)  To understand how to use evidence to support an argument.

Scenario #1:

Scenario #2:

Scenario #3:
Creative Commons License
Triple E Framework by Liz Kolb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Parent's thoughts on Cell Phones in Learning

This year the Learning First Alliance and Grunwald Associates, released Living and Learning with Mobile Devices, which looks at how parents feel about children's cell phone ownership and use.  Some highlights from the research include:

Smartphone ownership

  • 8% of K-5 students own a smartphone
  • 28% of 6-8 students own a smartphone
  • 51% of 9-12 students own a smartphone
Parent's views on learning benefits of smartphones
Overwhelmingly parents viewed smartphones as having many potential learning benefits including the following; promoting curiosity, teaching science, teaching problem solving, teaching math, teaching world languages, fostering creativity and teaching reading.

In schools where cell phones were permitted and used for learning, the parents were more positive about cell phones as learning tools compared to those parents whose kids were in schools that did not allow cell phones on campus.

71% of parents want mobile technology used in learning.  

64% of parents believe schools should teach students how to use devices safely (despite the fact that 45% of parents purchase mobile devices for their children prior to the school recommending it).

Yet, 69% of parents see mobile apps and software as more of an entertainment "add" on for learning, rather than tools to achieve and expand learning goals.  Like many educators, parents need help understanding how a mobile device can enhance and extend learning goals. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mobile Apps for Classroom Management and Assessment

One area of education technology that we do not focus on enough is the ability for technology to aid teachers in assessing and tracking management in the classroom.  Over the last few years a great number of mobile apps have emerged to aid in the process of tracking student management and making it transparent.  Below I will review a few of the FREE options I have come to appreciate.

Class Charts
When you sign up for class charts, it immediately asks if you want to collaborate with other teachers in your building.  For teachers in grades 6-12 where the students often share multiple teachers throughout the day, the collaboration feature is very handy.  This allows the teachers to see the children's behavior with other teachers and to see if there are certain patterns to the positive or negative behaviors.  The image that you work from is a seating chart for your classroom, and each student's image or an avatar represents them.
On the image are the "behavior" points accumulated, the reading level of students, their income background as well as any other statistical data that might help (you can add your own categories such as cultural background or hobbys) give you or another teacher a more holistic view of where the child is coming from and where they are currently at.  While there are ready-made behaviors, you can also add your own.  In addition, you can add notes to the behavior's accumulated easily so that the children, their parents or other teachers know why the points were added or taken away.  This would work well with a PBIS type approach to behavior management.  The system has very detailed graphical data reports that can be shared with students or parents.  There is also a nice system for a parent code.  Class Charts works with any Internet enabled device (iPad, iPod, Smartphone..etc).

Class Dojo

Class Dojo is similar to Class Charts.  It allows you to create a free account and set up all your students with avatars or pictures.  It does not use a seating chart approach, but lists the students in alphabetical order.  You can award positive or negative behavior points.  In addition to individual student behavior charts, it gives graphical statistics on the "class average" for behavior, which would be nice if you are doing a class award for a certain
behavior.  Also there are other features such as tracking attendance and customizing the behavior type options.  Class Dojo runs on any mobile device with Internet access.


A great free app that tracks and manages student's behavior.
In addition to focusing on behavior it also works as a learning management system (LMS), where it includes grades, attendance and evaluation of activities.  You can use your mobile device to assign behaviors and see over time how the behavior correlates with the classroom grades.  It includes seating charts and customizable behavior options.  There are also graphical reports for students and parents to view.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Exit Tickets: Mobile Student Assessments

There is a wonderful mobile resource for teachers called Exit Tickets.   It is free to register and use for classroom teachers.  The resource is similar to Socrative and Infuselearning, but has more data tracking options and advanced features.  There are three levels of interactivity (before class--pre assessment, during  class--in the moment assessment, and at the end of class--exit ticket assessment).  Therefore you can be proactive and develop assessments and information gathering surveys before class, or you can ask questions in the moment and get immediate answers and feedback.  Exit Tickets works on mobile devices like Smartphones, iPods and iPads as well as laptops/desktops.  In addition, the common core standards are integrated into the software.  Furthermore, each student's data is tracked and gives detailed information about their learning and/or weaknesses.  There is even a "reteach" option in the software!  Mighty cool!  Mighty free!  Worth a look!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

ClassWith.Us A New SMS Parent-Teacher Communication Tool

ClassWith.Us is a brand new text alert tool that focuses on parent-teacher communication.  The focus is on making sure that the teacher can easily let parents know about a child's progress in school on a daily basis.  I can see this tool being extremely helpful in elementary classrooms, where the teacher can give a quick update at the end of each week.  I also can see how this tool could be helpful with students with special needs or students who come from families where texting is a primary form of communication.  For example a student may come from a family that is more comfortable with text messages than having to speak with a teacher on the phone.  The ClassWith.Us website archives all communication between parents and teacher.  In addition, it makes allowances for non-traditional families, allowing all people involved in the parenting to see the communication about the student.  I could see this portion of the service being helpful for divorced or single parents who may not communicate well with their child's other parent.  ClassWith.Us has a free portion but if you want any "extra" features such as file attachments or multiple messages sent each day, you would have to pay for the "paid" version.
Disclaimers and Other Information about this blog. The information on the blog may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct or up to date. The opinions expressed on the blog are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of anyone or any institution associated with the author. Links to external sources in the blog posts are provided solely as a courtesy to our blog visitors. All of the links on the sidebar under "recommended links" are links that the author believes to possibly have benefit in K-12 teaching and learning. All other sidebar links are related to cell phones and/or education but not necessary recommended as a K-12 learning resource by the author, some may be sponsor links and/or paid for image/banner ads. The author does not do paid reviews for her blog posts about web resources.Please contact Liz at for any inquires regarding this blog.
Creative Commons License Cell Phones in Learning by Liz Kolb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at