Building classroom culture: Yep, there is an app for that

What one year with GroupMe taught me.

At this time of the school year with five weeks left to go, invariably, my mind starts to turn to next year. My “What to do differently next year” document is growing longer and my students have grown accustomed to chiming in about things they would change for a future class. If building classroom culture is on your list of things to improve upon, it may start with adding a classroom app.

Why use a classroom app? I needed a way to get in touch with my students outside of the school day and kids do not check email regularly.  One kid would set her email to give her a notification when I sent an email; then she would have to send everyone else a tweet or snapchat to relay the message.  The system was not working.  Group texts are also messy with various phone plans and operating systems. Using an app also prevents the teacher from having to give out her cell phone number.

Susan Barber suggested that I try GroupMe (read more of her sage advice here) and it has been such a positive experience.

Set Expectations: Just like in your classroom, expectations must be made very clear regarding what it appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior.  You do have the ability to delete posts and need to have conversations early about the purpose of the app.

Practical applications: Sometimes I just need to be able to tell my students which book to bring to class. This is an easy way to do that. You can also use the app to send pictures, links, articles, or anything that you send in an email. This way it is just more likely to be seen in a timely manner by students.

Makeup Work: I do not use the app as a homework hotline and have made that very clear. However, when 8 students are on a field trip, this is an easy way to send the information that they need to one location.  Also, when one student has to check-out early, she can ask the class what pages she needs to read. Most of the time, someone has responded with the correct answer before I even see the question.

Group and Individual Messages: While the primary function of the app is to send group messages, individual, or direct messages, can be easily sent if you need to get in touch with a single student.

Fun (also known as memes): Again, memes should be addressed as a part of the expectation; you certainly don’t need someone hijacking the group feed for pointless photos of cats yawning. However, I got a kick out of all of the “I just finished my research paper” memes the night before the assignment was due. We had a good laugh, while the students felt each others’ pain.

My favorite meme this year was a picture of the cover of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises against the background of a setting sun.  She edited the photo, so that the book read The Sun Also Sets. Clever? Yep. Building classroom culture? You bet.

The cleverness award goes to Molly Hughes for this edited Hemingway classic.

We also send pictures of grammar mistakes to elicit groans.  We send pictures of stacks of recently purchased books to elicit envy.

Outside of the classroom: I also use GroupMe as a way to communicate with officers of the club I sponsor.  The six of us plan meetings, send reminders, and bounce ideas around for the Interact Club.  We tried using GroupMe for our entire club, but it is not conducive to such a large group.  The Remind app is much more appropriate when you need to disseminate information to a large number of people and do not need them to interact with each other.

Other app options: While I love Voxer for my professional groups and small personal groups of friends, I have not tried it in classroom.  I think it could have great applications in the classroom, especially for smaller reading groups.

I have already mentioned Remind and would recommend that for larger groups or groups where you need to hold onto more of the control.

Why it matters?: Students are constantly connected through social media, so why not use it to make our jobs easier and our students more informed.  A community of trusted partners is ultimately want you want to establish in a high school classroom; this app can help you take steps in the right direction.

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