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For innovative ideas like the ones below to be successful, it takes a high and consistent level of trust and partnership amongst teachers and parents to make it happen, as well as district support. The ideas set in motion this year by the @KnappElementary learning community are a product of tireless efforts and risk-taking by many committed to making it happen for kids each day. I’m proud and privileged to work with some amazing people everyday at Knapp. Special thanks to Dan Hardy at the Philadelphia Inquirer for capturing our efforts.
North Penn school engages parents and students through social media
In many ways, it was a typical Home and School meeting, with a report from Joe Mazza, the principal of Knapp Elementary School in Montgomery County’s North Penn School District; a discussion of school activities and fund-raisers; the announcement of elections for officers; and a listing of important dates.
About 35 people “attended” the meeting earlier this year, but in a 21st-century twist, more than a dozen were not in the room. They were using Internet connections, listening to an audio feed and watching screen slides with agenda topics. At the meeting, typed comments from the distance attendees were projected onto a large screen.
Mazza, 34, who just ended his fifth year as Knapp’s principal, is a man with a mission: Find as many ways as possible to reach out to parents, students, and other residents of the school community.
His tools include a constant stream of Tweets from his accounts, @Joe_Mazza or @KnappElementary, and from teachers. And he has designed a mobile phone “Knapp App” that links to everything from the school calendar to videos of school events. (The videos are also available on YouTube.)
Also, he said, “we send out an e-mail about once a week” to 517 addresses. The school has 600 students. “Education is changing because of social media,” Mazza said last week. “It’s our job to learn how to harness that for learning. It can only help us.”
Mazza also hosts a blog that serves as the host site for a weekly Twitter discussion group, #PTchat, for parents and teachers. The forum draws a wide audience of parents, teachers, and administrators who are grappling with school-related issues, most from outside the Knapp community. Participation each week numbers about 150 to 200; it attracts people from as far away as the West Coast, Mexico, Canada, and Australia – “wherever people are awake at 9 p.m. Eastern time,” Mazza said.
Teachers have caught the social-media spirit; about 90 percent use Twitter in the school setting. “It gives us a chance to say to parents and the wider Knapp community, ‘Hey, look at us, look what we are doing,’ ” said Nancy Kaufman, an English as a Second Language teacher at Knapp.
Beyond that, Kaufman said, she participates in an ESL Twitter forum with other teachers from around the country. “It’s profound.”
Parents, too, like what they’ve seen.
Gwen Pescatore @gpescatore25, the newly elected president of the Knapp Home and School Association, said that in the past, she had trouble making it to meetings in person and instead logged online. “It has helped immensely. . . . It gave me a way to participate,” she said last week.
Some parents, she said, are intimidated about attending Home and School meetings, thinking of the group as a “private club.” Going online gives them a chance to find out what is going on in a less-intimidating way, she said. They find that they are welcome.
Though Mazza is passionate about introducing technology at Knapp, he said that face-to-face contact was still the most important thing in education. “We’re a very tech-savvy school, but at the same time, we realize that building relationships has to start with talking – with eye contact.”
That’s why in April, the Home and School meeting was held at the North Penn Mosque in Lansdale. There are more than 70 students from Bangladesh at Knapp, many of whom attend the mosque, and Mazza wanted to make sure they and their parents felt welcome, he said.
At the mosque, about 15 men sat in the audience along with regular Home and School attendees; about a dozen women and some children lined the back wall and listened as well.
Muhammed Mullah, the father of a sixth grader at Knapp, said he welcomed the gesture. “We really appreciate their coming here. . . . I can’t say how happy I am,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Mazza said last week that he also has plans for outreach to Knapp’s Korean community, another large contingent.
|Image Credit: http://www.edmodo.com|
This summer, he said, the use of social media is crossing new frontiers.To lessen summer learning loss, many children and their parents in grades four to six are creating accounts on Edmodo, a school-monitored social-networking site. Every week, they get a new assignment; the first, Mazza said, is writing thank-you letters to teachers.
Teachers can access weekly Twitter feeds on topics such as free education apps and how to use Edmodo during the school year.
“The kids are excited about it,” she added. “There is always something new and interesting at Knapp.” Pescatore, the Home and School president, said she was “glad the children are learning how to use social media in a controlled environment.”