Today’s Contributor: Brennan Cruser is the Innovation Coach and Content Interventionist at Casis Elementary. She has been teaching elementary students for 18 years. Her 2020 goals were to walk more and to cook more meals at home. She is killing her goals.
This blog post was partially inspired by another post I saw earlier this week. I laughed hysterically while reading “Emails From My Children’s School Before 8:000 AM During the COVID-19 Crisis”. I related as a teacher and as a parent. Teachers are scrambling to get all of the information to parents and to reach out to their students. We want to facilitate educational continuity and we didn’t have the gift of planning ahead, so we are responding and adapting in the moment. On the parent end, this can be overwhelming. With so many systems and multiple kids, many parents feel like their inbox is overflowing with emails that need to be translated, deciphered, and then organized in order to facilitate the learning in their house.
So, how can we create systems that support learning and streamline our communication? For our primary students, Seesaw is a user-friendly platform for creating a learning portfolio. Seesaw is developmentally appropriate for our younger learners and it provides an ideal space for collaboration and feedback, but it lacks some of the elements that we need in a learning management system (LMS). As our district LMS, BLEND (Canvas) is the best option for organizing communication in a way that allows parents and students to easily navigate and return to important information as needed. Sometimes our elementary teachers shy away from BLEND because they think it is overwhelming and not as accessible for young learners but I’m going to show you how BLEND will actually enhance accessibility and organization. Let’s talk about how you can make BLEND easy to use for families and students. Start with simply using your homeroom course to set up a class landing page for all subjects and content. In early elementary (and especially for teachers just beginning to use BLEND), there is no reason to worry about all of the subject-specific courses on your dashboard that auto-populate for your class. None of these courses show up for your students unless you publish them. You are self-contained, so you don’t need to create content in your other courses unless you feel like that would be helpful for your organization.
One thing we have found very helpful is to organize the BLEND landing page using simple icons that are clickable hyperlinks to other content in the course or to outside platforms like Seesaw. In one of our 2nd grade classes, the students have “Must Do” and “May Do” items weekly to help them prioritize assignments. This “Must Do” and “May Do” framework is called a playlist. The BLEND landing page looks like this:
Then, the students and parents can click on the tiles and access the information from a single entry point. Here is the “Must Do” page in BLEND:
Notice that there is a direct link to Seesaw as well as other important links for the week. Because Seesaw is a “Feed View” (think Facebook and Instagram), it can be hard to access information that gets pushed down in the feed. It is also difficult for parents to sift through information in their email inbox. A BLEND course that organizes all of your resources and assignments is a way to keep all of that information pinned and prioritized for families.
It is also easy to add new content and keep previous content easily accessible. You can see an example of that in the “May Do” page of this course. The link to new content is at the top, but the older options have been moved down on the page. They are still readily available if parents want to go back or students want to revisit some of the activities.
The landing page is also a way to keep all of the important classroom information available for reference. This includes everything from office hours to parent tech support. Icons can easily be linked to your content inside of the course or outside resources like the AISD Learning at Home website. You can also link to other courses students are already enrolled in within BLEND–like your campus special areas or library courses.
I will be honest and say that I was intimidated by BLEND when I first tried to use it. It is especially challenging to open up your course and start from scratch. I wasn’t even sure where to begin. My advice is to start small and reach out to your Technology Design Coach if you want some guidance on what starting small could look like. Starting small for me looked like making a simple landing page with a few links to important items and building from there. The tiles can be screenshots or copyright free images you download from a website. You can also easily create graphics on Canva if you are feeling crafty. If you want to start with my format, the landing page highlighted in this post is available in the BLEND commons as a template. Just search “Cruser BLEND homepage” and it should pop up. Happy BLENDing!