When I started teaching I was lucky enough to have a great mentor who showed me the value of having a classroom website. Now I couldn’t imagine having a classroom without it. I have two classroom websites to my name now, one for 8th grade US History and one for 9th grade World Geography, both are aligned to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The first website being a collaboration with my mentor, Justin Tucker, who teaches in Galveston, Texas, and the latter being my current work in progress, a website for Dickinson high school’s world geography department. The image below shows the number of visitors my website has attracted in one week. It proves that through careful planning you too can have a successful website. In this article I will share with you why teachers are using classroom websites and provide a few ideas on how you can create your own successful classroom webpage.
Classroom websites are ideal for teachers efficiently running a 21st century classroom because they provide access to classroom curriculum resources to students outside of school hours, help parents stay informed on classroom announcements and curriculum, and help cut down on time and printing resources. By providing access to classroom curriculum and resources, the teacher is placing more responsibility on the student for self learning. This is ideal for when a student is absent, long term or intermittent, homework assignments and projects, or when a student requires tutoring outside of office hours or wants to study before a test.
Classroom websites are also a way for teachers to communicate with parents about the current school and classroom happenings. On my world geography landing page I have an announcement section to inform students or parents of important school announcements and below it I have quick links to current chapter and a site map that includes links to all lessons within world geography. By creating an announcement section and quick links to lessons, it’s easy for parents to stay involved and up-to-date.
Finally, classroom websites are great for saving time and printing resources. How many times have you stood in line at the copy machine before a lesson wondering if you will be able to finish in time for class? Those days are gone with classroom websites; add files, documents, images, lessons, instructions, and much more all to your website. Whether you are using a projector to display information, have iPads/laptops, or a computer station, students will be excited to analyze color images and will be engaged with the interactivity of class websites. It is clear that classroom websites can aid teachers in many ways.
Next, how to use a classroom website.
One of the great things about classroom websites is that they are completely customizable and can be tailored to your unique subject, teaching style, and your desired outcome. The sky is the limit when considering a classroom websites’ function and many theories of what a website can offer as a classroom tool are currently being explored and researched. Let’s explore some of the ideas that go into creating a classroom and how you can use it to your advantage.
First, there are a lot of website platforms to select from for creating websites as well. The most popular being WordPress and Weebly, both offer free options and creative website design functions. While this blog is published through WordPress, for those getting their first start I recommend Weebly websites because you will likely have a very short learning curve and their easy to use drag and drop website design tools allow you complete design control over your website. The image below shows the set up page for creating your website, simply drag icons from the left and place them where you would like them on your website, then add content. It’s that easy!
Now for some ideas about how to build your classroom website. Just as in teaching, a classroom website needs to be well organized, planned, and repeatedly practiced with students to be effective. Let’s explore each of these factors.
A classroom website needs to be well organized. It is important for students, parents, teachers, and other visitors to be able to navigate your website and enjoy their experience. This does not come quick either, I often tell teachers the entire first year will be spent laying the ground work; creating the pages for classroom lessons, uploading content, and organizing the website through trial and error to make it more effective.
I recommend starting with a landing page, or home page, to welcome guests and explain what the websites purpose is, and include menus or links to specific units or lessons on your website. On my current website, I tried to simplify the process of navigating the website by adding buttons for ‘Current Chapter’ and ‘Site Map’. This creates quick links to help the user navigate to the specific page they are looking for.
After creating the home page, I add pages for all upcoming units then as I begin teaching I add lesson pages, and link them to the unit pages and the Site Map page. This can be a daunting process, but taken lesson by lesson, week by week, it is not that time consuming. As I said earlier, the first year is laying the ground work. To make this process more manageable my focus for the first year is to simply have a webpage for each lesson taught. This means lesson webpages may be rather boring, where their full potential has not yet been realized. Each lessons webpage still requires the basics: Date of Lesson Delivery, Lesson Title, Objective and/or AVID’s Essential Questions, Vocabulary, Handouts and Class Resources (such a PowerPoints and video links used in class), Lesson Plan, and Related Images to help explain content. The images below are screenshots taken from my classroom website to show the basics needed to allow students an online resource and inform parents on classroom events.
Now that the basics of a classroom website have been discussed, let’s explore some of the ideas that can really take student, self-centered learning to great heights. These ideas will take extra time and allow the teacher to tailor the website to their unique personality and teaching style. While it may be possible to include these ideas intermittently in the first year of teaching and/or website production, I recommend designing the website basics and teaching the lesson in class then reflecting on how the lesson was received by students and which of the advanced website ideas would be best for each lesson. I personally focus on creating these additional website features on year 2 and 3, after I have taught a full year’s scope and sequence and can make all necessary connections to all the necessary student learning outcomes.
Here are just a few ideas for taking a website to the next level:
Teacher/Student created videos. Why not start recording your lessons as videos and create a link to them on your webpage? If teachers could get out of actually teaching the lesson (because they’ve already done it) think of how much time could be saved; this time could allow teachers to focus on behavior issues, pullout groups, last minute lesson adjustments, administration duties, and so much more. Here is a link to my first ever video recording of a lesson intro.. I was just testing the water. However, I noticed that students were completely engaged to see their teacher on the big screen or tablet. This video was just the start, but still I was able to let a side of my personality out to make recording the video fun for me, and fun to watch. After a few videos in, I was pretty comfortable in front of the camera and had discovered how best to use video lessons in my classroom. I decided to split the class up into a teacher led group and a group of students that performed better on computers. Here is a prime example of having fun while instructing students in a video lesson on Andrew Jackson! Here is yet another example of a fellow teacher video instructing students on hand gestures to remember the parts of the constitution,
Why not take this idea to the next level? Have students create their own videos as lesson projects. After teaching the Early Republic unit of U.S. History, my mentor and I allowed our students to do video projects. When the students had finished their video projects I combined the videos to one seamless video that was used for our unit test and several months later, the end of the year state test, STAAR. The results were phenomenal; students were creative in creating their video, showed mastery of the content, and wanted to watch the videos again and again. Due to student privacy guidelines I can not show a copy of the student projects but I cannot say enough about the possibilities of video recorded projects, look for future blog posts to be written about this topic.
Student Blog Pages. Why not add a student blog section to class lessons to allow for a warm up discussion on the day’s topic or allow students to reflect on key concepts, vocabulary, and their learning outcomes of the lesson? Blogs are great at increasing student centered learning and can be very useful tools for students increasing student participation. Blogs create a platform where students are able to reflect and collaborate on information learned in a lesson or from prior experience. Blogs allow for students to practice their digital citizenship in such ways as: student responses are linked to their name or ID number (responses are not anonymous and carry consequences), students must collaborate with each other through digital means, and students are able to practice being polite, courteous, and respectful to each other. I recommend linking a lesson page to a google classroom site where students can be prompted with questions, directions, and rubric on how to appropriately participate through blogging. Though there will always be that one student who no matter what the consequence will take advantage of an open forum, blogs typically do a great job of allowing students to learn through other students. Alternative paper assignments can always be given to the truly special students!
Create Links to Additional Resources. Why not sprinkle in extra links to resources? This will truly allow for student centered learning as the students will be able to explore the information necessary to master lesson objectives and create a truly unique learning environment. As I research and discover new information on lessons I am teaching I am always copying and linking websites, articles, videos, interactive maps/images, images, and more to my lesson webpages. While I aim for my class webpages to be clean and easy to navigate and understand, I want to flood the viewer with a wealth of information to help stimulate and encourage the learner to learn as much as possible in whatever topic of the lesson they find interesting. One of the ways I have found the most success in doing this is by adding video links to relevant videos. Much of the learners in my classroom are stimulated by screens – t.v., laptops, iPads, phones – and have been conditioned to being visual learners. When I post video links I find that these are more likely to be discovered and learned from rather than articles. However, it is still beneficial to include additional links to all types of stimuli as students learn best from various resources.
Links to Surveys, Quizzes, and Tests. Why not provide a way for students to check their understanding of lesson material and allow them to see what the information presented looks like in test form? This is a great way to review and see student mastery of the lesson. I recommend creating a Google Forms survey to do this. It is fairly easy to use and there are plenty of tutorials on how to create Google Forms. I discovered Google Forms for Quizzes and Surveys through my Technology Department. After a quick tutorial on how to create and share survey links, I was up and running in no time, just add the link to your lesson webpage. One of the best attributes of Google Forms is the Add On App to Google Forms, Flubaroo. This app allows you to select a scoring key and automatically collects quiz data and displays it in an easy to read, visually pleasing way. By looking at the survey data teachers can decide to move on or stop and reteach, making this a valuable tool that saves the teacher a lot of time. You can also view an individual’s survey responses to help collect data to create pullout groups for reviewing missed information. All in all, adding links to surveys and quizzes is beneficial to learners so they are able to check their understanding and see lesson information presented in test form and to give the teacher data in which they can use to reteach lessons or create pullout groups.