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From kindergarten through high school, some of the most effective classrooms operating within the California public school system use light-on-their-feet, intuitive concepts and technological platforms kids are eager to embrace. One of these is Schoology, an award-winning learning management system particularly appealing to students who use Facebook and other social networking websites, which by even conservative estimates, is a pretty big bunch.
Fittingly, Schoology was designed by undergraduate students at Washington University. It is popular throughout the Palo Alto Unified School District and has a particularly dedicated, techno-wiz advocate at Barron Park Elementary School.
Transforming Palo Alto Classrooms
"Schoology is an extension of the classroom, which lets you have a virtual community outside of the classroom's four walls," explains Barron Park's Educational Technology Specialist, Smita Kolhatkar. She's used the popular LMS in her own classroom at Barron three years ago. Now, Kolhatkar spends much of the school day coaching teachers on its use, as well as tutoring kids in cutting-edge technological programs.
Offered to educators for free, Schoology utilizes a user-friendly interface which supplies a layer of freedom to the classroom experience. It supports learning within an easily navigable learning environment, which is in keeping with the way kids learn best today.
"If an assignment was given in a class and the student is absent or wants to relearn what was said by the teacher, he or she can use Schoology to go back into the system and read what they need to. They can be home, in the library or travelling. If they have a question about the assignment they can post it online to be responded to from other students as well as from the teacher, which builds empathy between the kids and strengthens their relationships," adds Kolhatkar.
Schoology does not replace the need for an educator. In order to facilitate powerful discussions and come up with valid assignments, you need a teacher well-versed in its application to guide the process. Teachers typically use three features for classroom work:
- Assignments – An assignment will be put up online for kids to work on. They can then look it up and go through it at their own pace and also respond at their own pace. The teacher is able to oversee the student's progress and determine if further help is needed.
- Discussion – Online discussions help with multiple skill building, not only as it pertains to the content but also in terms of language and the mechanics of writing, phrasing responses and learning how to agree or disagree. "Often you will have kids in the classroom who are shy or struggle with verbalizing what they have to say. They don't want to raise their hands and speak out loud in class, but they are happy to use Schoology so they can write down what they want to share. This is also powerful in large or overcrowded classrooms, as it allows every kid to get their turn," says Kolhatkar.
- Media – Kids live in a media-filled world. Visuals like photos and videos help them access information more readily. A picture of a science experiment that can be referred to later on is more easily retained than a dry lecture or the words in a lesson. Schoology provides access to a massive online library of media children can access. Pictures and videos can be used for language activities. They can be captioned, described and used for appropriate commenting.
Teaching Online Manners and Safety
Another plus is Schoology's applications in the area of public discourse and internet etiquette. The internet is not known for its support of restraint or propriety. Through Schoology, children are given the opportunity to slow down and learn how to express their opinions to others in a respectful manner, using substantiation and facts. They also learn how to hear opinions other than their own without pouncing.
Students also learn the value of a secured environment, by uploading photos into a secure medium that they know only members of the course can see. This helps solidify the concepts of online learning safety and digital etiquette. "It's a safe way for them to go through," says Kalhatkar.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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