Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Frontloading for the school year: Setting up my classroom website

By on August 5, 2011

One of the things that many people don’t know about me is that, while I wear the costume of a tech savvy teacher, I’m really tech tentative at heart. In other words, I so recently became a convert to using technology at all, that I clearly remember what hitting that wall of fear feels like when challenged to use it in the classroom.

For that reason, when I find something that makes my heart sink a bit with that familiar feeling, I have to remind myself of the teacher I want to be and of the philosophies I deeply believe in. It seems that just because I believe in something, doesn’t always mean it is where I default.

Case in point, creating a class website. For whatever reason, I had not jumped into the pool with the “cannonball!” gusto that one would think. Until now.

I have tried my district’s eChalk program. Too clunky. Sure, it seems to do it all, but it just isn’t simple or sexy, and the results are too generic. I tried a .mac account, which then became a .me account; a switch that ticked me off like Weight Watchers changing their plan right when I started seeing results.

But this year, my colleague turned me onto www.weebly.com. That’s it. Done. I’m sold.

Because, let’s face it. Technology integration should allow for teacher differentiation. After all, just as there are different learners, there are also different teachers. Not every tool is for every educator. And a teacher won’t use what doesn’t speak to him or her. So it’s vital that there be some freedom of motion to chose the tools that work for you. I knew I needed a classroom website. I bought into the fact that I had to have a way for parents and students to get information about class 24/7 (an inevitable fact that many teachers still fight). But the tools I’d used to make websites up until now meant adding so much work or energy to my already consuming job that I didn’t enjoy their use. And that’s the key, isn’t it? To enjoy what I do.

Frankly, if I don’t enjoy the job, then I will get all smoggy inside and it’ll huff and puff out my ears, and kids know I hate it, and then, well, they can’t learn ‘cuz they’ll hate the smoggy teacher.

I use WordPress for this website, and I tell you, the backend is really simple. But it’s nothing compared with the ease of Weebly which can easily be used for student-created sites as well. For one thing, it uses drag-and-drop to customize your pages, and better than that, it uses pictures to help you design each page’s elements. Pictures = Good.

I want to show you what I’ve done so far, but PLEASE DON’T LEAVE COMMENTS ON MY WEEBLY SITE. Feel free to click around and come on back here to give me feedback if you’re so moved. But the site itself is meant for my students and their families.

If you’re interested, please go to www.wolpertworld.com.  The first thing I did was buy a domain name through Siteground. You don’t need to do that. You can get a regular Weebly URL instead. I just figured I might need one later in the school year for other projects. Probably overkill, but it’s done.

You’ll notice right away that it’s got a few tabs at the top. What I liked about the template I chose was that you could see them all. I figured a parent, especially one that didn’t navigate a site often, wouldn’t click a “more…” tab.

The homepage is where I’ll post the results of a collaborative class activity that I plan to do in the first couple of days of school. Actually, it will represent the collaboration between all of my ELA classes as we design a list of general norms that will represent our behavioral and academic expectations both online and offline.

Then there’s the Expectations tab. It’s basically my first day of school classroom handout that students have to get signed at the beginning of the year.

If you click to the Agendas tabs, you’ll see the M-F class work and homework posted (everything due is color coded in red so a student can’t miss it). I set these agenda pages up as blogs so that the information can be archived. (They are also posted up in the classroom for the week).

If you then look at the individual periods’ blog pages, these will be where some assignments are posted and students will be able to comment on uploaded videos, discussion posts, etc…I’m thinking I’ll post the first couple, but from then on, I’ll assign a small group of students to post a discussion question or prompt per week for classmates to comment on. We’ll see. I haven’t worked out the kinks yet. But I do think it will be really important for the students to know that their work will be transparent for everyone to see…after being moderated by me in the backend, that is.

And speaking of moderation, I am hoping that by giving some advice on the Norms and Guidelines page, it will inspire students in their level of content. I also posted a reminder in the margin that texting is to be left to note taking and socializing, not for an academic assignment. Besides that, however, I am hoping that I won’t have to disallow too much from making it live. I think it’s important that there is transparency in the quality of job that all students are producing.

My Speech & Debate electives are represented too. Their pages include upcoming tournament information as well as password protected pages where my students can upload videos of speeches they are working on. We’re also starting a repository of resources that model great examples of different styles of public speaking.

Besides that, there is a “Contact Me” page as well as a “Calendar” for key events throughout the school year. On the calendar I’ll post district and classroom assessments, big project turn-in dates, and something new this year for me: virtual evening “office hours” hosted via Elluminate. I figure that’s when students are generally most likely to be up doing work and may have the most questions. I’m also planning on using Elluminate in other ways this year, but that’s to be shared in a later post.

Setting up so much ahead of time helps pump me up for school again. We start up in two weeks, and my goal this year is Joy. I want to find it again. The last few years have been full of drama, and the joy will ebb away unless I do something to stanch the flow.

Inserting new technology, trying new techniques, testing out new tools, all of these help me to find that Joy in teaching. I only hope it will also help my students and families find joy this year in their own learning as well.

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