Tagged: smashtext

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Stay in contact with students with Remind. But do so sparingly so you’re not annoying.

remind School is back in session. This means, invariably, that people are debating whether to ban homework and whether it’s OK for teachers to text their students.

It’s a tough question, this texting thing. There are definitely best practices, like (1) make sure it’s OK with your students and their parents, (2) don’t text your students too often, (3) unless it’s really important, don’t initiate a text with an individual student.

Now that SmashText is no longer, I like Remind, a service for teachers to stay in contact with students and parents via text messages.

Remind keeps everything easy and safe. There is a web version and a phone app, and both are beautiful and easy to use. Students and parents can subscribe to your reminders by sending a quick text to a phone number that is not yours. Most important, communication is one-way: You get to talk with them, but they don’t get to talk to you.

Here’s a screenshot of what Remind looks like:


I used to bristle at the one-way communication part. After all, isn’t it weird to receive a text message and then not be able to respond? I think the answer to that is yes.

(If you’re in that camp, it’s an easy solution to offer a Google Voice number to your students and parents if they want to contact you directly.)

Teachers are using Remind in many ways:
-remind students of homework,
-remind students to study for a quiz,
-distribute assignments,
-capture and send key info from day’s lesson,
-ask homework questions and do formative assessments.

Remind also has a ton of new features, which are pretty slick, including the ability to send attachments and audio recordings. The Stamps feature lets students and parents interact with your texts via the Remind app, so teachers can ask quick homework questions, take a poll, ask parents for help on a field trip, among other things.

I plan on using Remind this year with the 162 students participating in the Kindle Classroom Project. Because I don’t see them more than once a week, I might want to send out an announcement about new books or an upcoming meeting.

Teachers, what do you think about texting your students? Do reminders help or hinder students’ personal responsibility? When is texting too much or too close? Would your students like Remind, or is it too impersonal? 

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A shoutout from SmashText

favicon If you’re a teacher, texting is the best way to comunicate with students and parents. There are many texting services out there, but my favorite is still SmashText.

SmashText is simple. If you have a Google Voice account, you can send texts to groups in your Google contacts for free.

Yes, I like SmashText — so much so, in fact, that Matthew Despain, its creator, recently added Iserotope to his website. Take a look!

SmashText shoutout

See, I’m loyal! SmashText offers a lite version for free and a pro version (my recommendation) for $5.45. It’s one of the best investments that a teacher can make. If you have questions, let me know. favicon

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The best use of technology in the classroom

 A friend called me a few days ago for help on an upcoming interview. He’s applying to become a social studies teacher, and he wanted tips about how to answer the question, “How would you use technology in your classroom?”

I know the “right” answer, the one the interviewers want to hear. You’re supposed to link technology with large-scale, authentic projects. You’re supposed to talk about video and audio and new, obscure Web 2.0 tools. In this answer, the role of technology is to shock and awe.

That’s fine. I like snazzy tech tools, too. But that’s not the real right answer. Today I came across a tweet by Franki Sibberson, a literacy advocate and blogger at “A Year of Reading.” This is what she thinks about the role of technology:

In other words, rather than saving technology for flashy, end-of-unit projects, teachers should use technology day-in, day-out to advance the core components of learning, like reading.

I totally agree. In my class this year, my students and I used technology, and sure, we had fun projects, like “Tech Danger,” a music video exploring the role of technology in Frankenstein.

But the true power of technology in my classroom was less sexy. Here are three examples:

1. Google Docs. Many teachers see Google Docs as old-hat. Been there and done that. But Google Docs was crucial for my students’ writing. They drafted their essays, received feedback from me, a peer, and an online writing mentor, and reflected each week on their writing growth. Less time was wasted printing, waiting for feedback, and making improvements. Writing gets better with extensive practice, and Google Docs is the reason my students were able to complete 16 essays this year.

2. Mass texting. More and more teachers are using texting to communicate with their students and to build relationships. I used texting this year to extend the learning day. After all, five hours a week of class time is not enough to meet ambitious learning outcomes. Time after school and at home are imperative to accelerate learning. To encourage studying after hours, I used SmashText to send texts to all my students. Texting was a popular and effective intervention for my students, who appreciated the reminders and words of encouragement.

3. Class Blog. Teachers have had websites for years, usually to share information, but few have opened them up to their students as shared learning spaces. (My favorite is “Word Choices.”) Last year, I decided to let my students post to iseroma.com however and whenever they wanted, not just for assignments and projects. This decision built classroom community and gave students an authentic space for their work. It made my students’ work and thinking more real and more public.

I’m pretty happy with how technology in my classroom materialized this year. For technology to be useful, it must take hold; in other words, students must return to the same tools over and over again, rather than just one time.

Next year, I hope to expand my use of technology, this time to improve reading. I’m looking at using ipadio or Evernote to record think-alouds and text-based discussions. Capturing students’ annotations will also be important. If they’re on paper, I can just snap a picture. But I’m also thinking of using Google Docs or Diigo (my favorite, though clunky) or another annotation tool (they aren’t that good, actually) to promote a sense of shared reading and thinking.

Please let me know what you think. How do you use technology in the classroom? 

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Kikutext helps teachers stay in contact with parents

favicon As teachers, we understand the importance of building relationships with our students’ parents and staying in constant communication with them.

Except it’s not easy to do it. Other things — like planning lessons, grading papers, and sleeping — get in the way. Even though talking with parents is one of the most important and effective ways to help students, it’s often the first thing to go.

That’s why I like texting, and that’s why I like Kikutext.

Most of my students’ parents welcome texting. I text them, and they text me back. It’s quicker and more convenient than a phone call.

But there are a few problems: (1) That’s a lot of contacts to organize, (2) What if I want to send a group text to all my students’ parents? (3) What if they (or I) don’t want to share my personal phone number?

Kikutext takes care of all those problems.

You sign up for free and get a Kikutext phone number. Parents can sign up by sending a text to that number, or you can invite parents individually. After everything is set up, you can send texts to parents individually or collectively. Parents can also text you back. You manage all your messages online at the Kikutext website. It’s pretty easy.

In addition to being free, Kikutext separates itself from its competitors (among them: Class Parrot, Class Pager, SendHub, WeTxt, and others) by offering a wonderful feature called “Status Reports.”

This one is huge. Status Reports allow you to send automated yet personalized messages to individual parents. Let’s say you’re in class, and two students are absent, three didn’t complete their homework, and Sally made an excellent point in discussion. From one screen, you can send different texts to different parents, all at the same time. Even better, you can modify the choices and personalize the texts. This is a feature no other service currently has.

In short: You could easily contact all of your students’ parents every day (meaning: it would take three minutes, tops). (Just be sure that your parents aren’t annoyed by the constant communication!)

When I text students, I still prefer SmashText. It’s a free desktop application that allows group and mass texting using your Google contacts. When students respond, their texts go directly to my phone (although I could change that setting in Google Voice). I find that I like the real-time interactive nature of SmashText. After all, students can’t wait; they need their answers now.

But with parents, I’m definitely going with Kikutext next year. The developers are working hard to make improvements, and I look forward to seeing what they do over the summer.

Important Update, August 2012: Much of this review is no longer accurate. Kikutext now offers tiered pricing, and its free option is too restrictive to be workable. Its pro service is $10 a month, too expensive for most teachers. In addition, the “status reports,” as far as I know, are no longer available. Therefore, although I understand that Kikutext needs to make money, I no longer think it’s a good solution. I’m staying with SmashText. favicon

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Teachers, stay in touch with students with SmashText

 I don’t review apps and services as much as I used to, but if you’re a teacher, you must absolutely check out SmashText by Despain Computing.

SmashText lets you send texts to groups of people in your Gmail contacts.

For me, that means my students. If I want to text just a few of them, I use Google Voice. But if I need to text an entire class, SmashText is the answer.

My students report they find my texts helpful. I always tell them that they can opt out, but none of them have. It’s clear that texting is by far the best way to communicate with students: They all have cell phones, and they check their phone much more often than they check their computer.

SmashText is what’s making my “Your Homework is Due Tonight” project happen. Students who don’t turn in their homework by the 11 p.m. deadline get a text to finish it before class the next day or to meet with me before school. SmashText makes this process easy.

Matthew Despain, the owner of SmashText, is also extremely helpful. When I’ve had trouble with the application, I’ve sent emails to him for support and have received responses very quickly, sometimes in minutes.

I love SmashText. It costs $10.58, and it’s worth it. It helps me communicate with my students much more effectively than an email message, a Facebook post, or a telephone call. If you’re interested in SmashText but are worried about spending the money (no, I’m not making money from this), let me know.

Update: Please see the comments. Mr. Despain is no longer developing SmashText, which is too bad for me and other teachers. (Kevin, thanks for writing in to confirm.)