13 Tools Educators Use to Engage Students and their Families

There are plenty of studies out there that show just how important family engagement is to a students’ success in school, especially in the earlier grades. The real question is how to build up a relationship of mutual trust between the educator and families. Each student may have different access to technology, practice different traditions, or even speak different languages at home. So how does one teacher connect with all of their students’ families at once?

It will take some extra time and effort, for sure. But fortunately, the reward is well worth the work, and there are numerous tools and programs available to help. Read on for our top 13 suggestions for tools and resources to help educators communicate effectively with guardians and engage entire families in continued learning at home.

Survey Tools

The first step toward connecting with your students’ families is to learn their needs. Understanding details such as the student’s technology access, who will be working with them at home and how old their siblings are will inform your strategy moving forward.

Family-School Relationship Survey

This survey, developed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is all about how families currently perceive the school. It covers topics such as how well the school fits with their child’s needs, what barriers there are to family engagement, who is responsible for their child’s success in school and more.

With the survey available in 10 different languages, this is a great place to start in gauging the wants and needs of your students’ families.


Readiness Check

One common challenge, especially with remote learning, is understanding student progress. Often times, families think their children are at or above their grade level when they are actually falling behind. Providing parents with a way to see their child’s strengths and weaknesses and the resources to help support their learning is a great way to help students stay on track.

This Readiness Check by Learning Heroes lets parents test their kids’ math and reading skills and compare the results to grade-level standards. But the tool doesn’t stop at simple reports. It also provides activities and projects, tools for creating positive home routines, video resources for parenting strategies and more.

Educators can provide this resource to parents as a fun, easy way for families to better understand their child’s academic needs and engage in continued learning at home. Access is free, and many of the activities can be printed out for families who don’t have computer access.


Communication Tools

The best way to build trust with parents is to give families an easy way to get in touch with you. Here are our recommendations for communication tools that will help you reach as many different families as possible.

Phone Calls, Text Messaging, and email

It may be easiest to give families your cell phone number and allow them to call or text you with any questions, comments or concerns. For many teachers, this works out perfectly!

However, some prefer not to give out their personal phone number and would rather use a tool that gives them some privacy. Using a dedicated tool can also make it easier to send mass announcements, organize contacts and translate messages.

To address these needs, try out some services like those listed below.


TalkingPoints

TalkingPoints is a messenger that is designed to eliminate language barriers. Educators send messages to families via the desktop site or the mobile app, and families send messages to educators via text message or their own mobile app. Using both machine and human translation, TalkingPoints allows educators to quickly communicate with families in over 100 different languages.

Erika and Tyler mentioned TalkingPoints in our Tips, Tricks and Best Practices for Distance Learning webinar. They tested the software in Spanish and found the translation feature to be much easier and more reliable than expected!

While using TalkingPoints requires families to use a cell phone, as of 2019, 96% of Americans own a cell phone (“Mobile Fact Sheet,” 2019). So chances are, only a small fraction of families will need an alternate way to contact you.


Classting

This tool takes a unique approach to parent, teacher, student communication. With Classting, educators create a dedicated social media platform for their class, complete with a newsfeed, notifications, photo albums, commenting and more. Teachers, students and parents can then post and connect with each other similarly to Facebook. But unlike Facebook, Classting provides a private platform with greater security and control.

While Classting requires a smartphone or computer to get the full benefits, it does allow educators to send notifications via text message to families that may not have computer access at home.


ClassDojo

ClassDojo is an all-in-one classroom platform that features messaging, photos and videos, portfolios and more. In addition to the communication tools, ClassDojo offers features to help with classroom management and organizing lessons, such as randomly generating groups, displaying instructions and even playing background music.

Families will need internet access to contribute from home, but they can use the app on any type of mobile or desktop device. Plus, ClassDojo offers translation for over 30 languages.

For more digital tools, check out our previous blog, Top 10 FREE Distance Learning Resources.


Free Home-Learning Activities

Even in traditional classroom settings, sending students home with fun activities is a great way to engage families in continued learning at home. It’s best to provide activities that the entire family can engage with together, as opposed to worksheets that feel like a chore. At the same time, students may or may not have their parents available to guide them through every activity.

To meet a variety of needs, here’s some great places to look for free educational resources that can engage the entire family.

Museums, Zoos and Aquariums

With remote learning on the rise, many museums are ramping up their free digital offerings. For instance, the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers live streams of their exhibits, Zoo Boise has published their Zoo to You video series, the Sun Valley Museum of Art offers complete lesson plans that can be printed and sent home, and the American Museum of Natural History has a collection of ways to digitally tour their museum.


Public Television

As mentioned in our Tips, Tricks and Best Practices for Distance Learning webinar, many public television stations are broadcasting lessons and providing online resources. For example, PBS Learning Media has a collection of video, interactive and printable resources for K-12 learners and beyond.


Famous Artists and Athletes

Did you know that the band Ok GO runs Ok Go Sandbox, a program that teaches all ages about the science behind their crazy-complex music videos? Or that the Atlanta Hawks offer digital fitness camps and parent resources? Or that Adam Savage builds anything from Lego sets and costume props to machine shop tools and vintage restorations on his YouTube channel?

Try looking up what your favorite artist, sports team, or TV show cast does outside of the limelight. There are countless popular groups that offer resources or funding for STEM and STEAM programming!


PCS Edventures free STEAM activities

PCS Edventures is continuously adding to our collection of STEAM freebie activities. These complete projects are intended to be printed and handed out to students, so they include lists of materials and all of the instructions students need to practice science, technology, engineering, arts and math concepts through hands-on lessons.


Complete Curriculum for Home Learning

Freebie activities are excellent for adding flexibility and variety into an existing program, but it still requires an investment to implement them. Not only does it take time to find quality resources, but it also takes time and money to gather the necessary supplies. If you’re looking for complete solutions that do all of that prep work for you, take a look at our best curriculum and programs for distance learning and family engagement.

BrickLAB STEAMventures | K - 1st, 2nd - 3rd

This upcoming program from PCS Edventures is designed to bring STEAM learning into any home. With physical materials supplemented by optional online resources, BrickLAB STEAMventures engages families in math, science, English, history and more, regardless of their technology access.


Individual STEM Kits | Options for 3rd - 12th

From building robots and flying drones to cinematography and computer programming, PCS Edventures offers a variety of kits for elementary, middle and high school grades that are perfectly suited for independent, student-led learning. Send a kit home to provide up to 48 hours worth of material that can be completed over the course of a few weeks or an entire semester.


Discover Mini Drones: Flight Operations & Coding | Options for 4th - 12th

Students learn all about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and computer programming in this hands-on, innovative STEM program! Discover Mini Drones includes one fully-automated mini-drone and access to PCS Edventures' online drone courses that teach drone safety, UAV laws and coding with drag-and-drop up through Python. With courses for beginner through advanced learners and a small mini-drone designed for indoor flight missions, Discover Mini Drones is a safe and engaging way to bring UAV technology home.


 

Techniques for Family Engagement

The internet is full of tools and resources to help educators engage their students at home, but they're not much use without a solid strategy to implement them! Learn more about how to partner with parents and families in the webinar Home Learning with BrickLAB STEAMventures: A New Way to Connect with Parents and Students.

Join the panel of STEM development experts and experienced educators as they discuss strategies to keep connected in any setting, be it in-class, remote, or blended.

Learn More

 

What are your favorite tools and techniques for family engagement?

Did we miss a great resource? Have any of our top picks been helpful additions to your strategy? Let us know in the comments below!

 

References

Mobile Fact Sheet. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/

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