IT wasn't too long ago that electronic grade books were a novel notion. Cutting-edge teachers demonstrated the record-keeping capacities of Microsoft Excel while lesser mortals gathered around admiringly ("How do you move that little cursor?"). Today, it's become de rigueur, with more and more teachers turning to classroom management software specifically designed to streamline and organize their work. Online grade books, such as GradeConnect (www.gradeconnect .com) or GradebookPortal.com (http: //gradebookportal.com), often available as free applications, remain the most popular form of software management. Grade books are often part of a larger software system that allows teachers to plot grades and generate reports. They also interface with attendance, lesson plan templates, homework assignments, and seating charts.
Mary Kay Jiloty, Spanish language teacher at Creekside Middle School in Port Orange, Fla., is a veteran user of online management tools. She relies on them for designing lesson plans and for posting assignments. She's gone further, creating and linking valuable extension tools to her lessons, including online versions of the textbook and audio components for language practice. A fan of Quia Web (www.quia.com/web), she also creates and links interactive games that reinforce the skills she presents during class time.
She knows that these tools, uploaded to a server, serve another crucial purpose--that of keeping parents informed and students connected. Accessible through login and passwords, online classroom management enables students and parents to access their grades in real time. It also allows teachers a constant line of communication and information. "I consider online management a backup for what students should have been writing down in class," said Jiloty. "My least favorite question is 'When did you say that?' I walk into every parent and school meeting with a handout for parents that lets them know that the site exists and that the students should be accessing it. The success lies in having students who are motivated enough to log on and take advantage of it. It has to be used in order to work."
While making a connection between online classroom management and the state of the nation may seem like a bit of a stretch, data points toward the reality that cutting out of school altogether is the final act of being incommunicado. The truth is that, too often, vital links of communication dwindle away at the secondary level. And that disconnect is cited as one of the contributors to our nation's alarming dropout rate. The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network reports that teens generally don't drop out of school suddenly--rather, it's the final act of a long period of disengagement.
Teens who drop out cite school as boring and irrelevant. Far too many students who opt out before graduation say that no one on campus really cared about them, or even that they felt isolated by faculty and staff members who felt that they were too difficult. In short, they never felt connected or invested in school. With that information in mind, it seems reasonable to suggest that keeping students more connected to school life might actually contribute to a decrease in America's dropout rate.
A BETTER MOUSETRAP
Sixteen-year-old Charlie Burgess has his own ideas about this. He's one of the many students who've been caught up in the transition from notebook planners to online classroom management. Charlie thinks it's a step in the right direction but believes that he has the insight--and the skills--to build a program that appeals to users on both ends of site. Self-described as that go-to guy--"the one that teachers tag to help build a webpage, or to learn a new piece of software"--he's experienced both sides of classroom management software. He likes the convenience but believes that current software programs don't do enough to draw students in.
Charlie expanded the concept with an engaging solution to keep the school-to-home connection alive and kicking. …