TeachersFirst Edge Tips

Things teachers should know about school policies:

  • Under what circumstances may student work be placed/created online? If there is no specific policy, help make one using the suggestions in one of these TeachersFirst adaptable forms- this one for elementary use of web 2.0 tools or this one for wikis (both fully adaptable to your needs).
  • Under what circumstances, if any, may students set up individual accounts for an online tool? Often, student email is not accessible at school to “verify” a new log-in. Some schools prohibit individual student accounts without teacher control to monitor all activity.
  • Under what circumstances -- and in what format -- may students include names on online projects? This one is easy to comply with. Use initials, codenames, or whatever you must.
  • What permission forms should a teacher use for parents and students to grant permission and know school policies? Try adapting TeachersFirst’s forms (elementary, all grades) if your school does not have one of its own.
  • What is the school disciplinary code regarding violations of school acceptable use policies? Knowing the consequences is very important for teachers, parents, and students. Include consequences in permission forms.
  • Under what circumstances may a teacher download/install free software? Is there a procedure to request a software installation if a teacher can demonstrate the educational value of the tool? Who approves it and how long does the process take?

Some general tips for using TeachersFirst Edge tools in the classroom:

  • Use your geeks to find the pitfalls. Remember that you can establish rapport with some of your most edgy, techno-savvy students (even young ones) by exploring one of these tools together and asking him/her to show you the "clever things" some students may attempt that may not be appropriate in the classroom. Sometimes asking those likely to "cross the line" to show you how it's done can pre-empt the problem by amending project directions.
  • Form a Tech Team. No matter what level you teach, form a group of savvy users (not necessarily the best and brightest) to help create prototype projects in advance. This can include a geek or two (see above) as well as students who must work very hard to succeed academically. Be sure to include both genders. Work during recess/study halls or before/after school to create the prototype in advance. Along the way, the team will observe the common errors that students will have and can discover the solutions. Then use the Tech Team to teach the new tool and be available as peer help when introducing the new tool to a full class. Give the team extra credit for becoming resident experts. Form a different Tech Team for the next tool to broaden the knowledge base in your classroom community.
  • Know your school's policies. Some schools prohibit use of some web 2.0 tools due to Acceptable Use Policies or filtering settings. See specific strategies to address tool features within school policies on our Tool Tips for School Policies page.
  • Understand filters. Learn more about school web filtering and questions to ask or strategies for requesting filtering changes from TeachersFirst's Sifting Through the Filters.
  • Clear consequences. The rules of your community of learners (and the school's acceptable use policy) should be quite clear about consequences. If your school does not obtain a detailed, written permission form with stated consequences, use a signed web 2.0 policy such as this one for elementary use of web 2.0 tools or this one for wikis (both fully adaptable to your needs). Make sure both parents and students sign.
  • Share. Tell your colleagues and administrators about the successes from using these tools. The "new tools of the web" have been bashed heavily because of misuse and unmonitored home use. Show colleagues and parents that safe “driving” does happen if you teach "driver ed" on the proper use of the tools.
  • Point out the benefits. Students who learn to use the tools of the web safely and ethically are learning important life skills about Internet safety, anti-bullying, and awareness of their own digital footprint. Instead of addressing these skills in isolation, point out the power of teaching them as students create online projects, a much more authentic setting for skills to transfer to students’ “real” lives outside of school.
  • Hedge your bets. Though these tools are free for now, many of them are trying to build a customer base and may later change to fee-for-service or fee-for-features beyond the basics. Some will actually disappear or be "devoured" into another site. Be willing to change to a new tool, and do not put an irreplaceable file or idea solely on one of these sites. Wherever possible, download copies of great products or projects and maintain your own file storage. At the very least, teach students how to take screenshots of their best projects so they can keep a digital portfolio in case the tools disappear.
  • Monitor student work early and often! Enough said. If you are not willing to do this, you should not try these tools. The TeachersFirst Edge reviews and Tool Tips for School Policies page provide specific ways to monitor without driving yourself crazy.
  • Remember the 10X/10X rule. The first time you use a tool to create something you used to do on paper, it may take up to ten times as long. Every time you and your students use the tool thereafter, it will be up to ten times faster and more powerful than your “old way” of doing things. Using a student tech team to learn the tool can cut the initial time down by quite a bit, creating a 4X/10X scenario.
  • Repeat. Once your students know a tool, do several more projects using the same tool. Without the ramp up to learn the tool, students will discover better ways to use it. They will also move beyond the tempting “glitz” of a new gadget to create more meaningful learning during subsequent projects.
  • Build year on year. In elementary and middle school settings, work together with fellow teachers on a year by year tool introduction scenario, such as the one described in the TeachersFirst’s Building Schoolwide Literacy with Web 2.0 Tools model. Each grade level adds one new tool. As a teacher, you must master only one or two tools, but your students will carry tool expertise with them year to year.
  • Ask for help! If you are a Twitter user, you will find almost instant help, available at any time, simply by posting a HELP! question on Twitter with the #edtech hashtag. Find helpers from afar. Learn more about Twitter in education from TeachersFirst’s Twitter for Teachers.