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An appy medium

Principal praises staff for smart use of digital tools


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Marcy Godesa, a first-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School, demonstrates how she uses the ClassDojo digital application in her classroom.Not long ago, Marcy Godesa’s options for providing feedback to her first-grade students on positive and less-than-positive behavior were limited to interrupting a lesson with a comment, taking the student aside after class or sending a note home to mom and dad that may or may not find its way out of a cluttered backpack.

Then she discovered the ClassDojo digital app communications tool — and things changed quickly.

Now, sending reinforcing signals and messages to students, and communicating a range of information with parents, is little more than just a tap of an iPad away. So far, she has 19 of her 22 McKinley Elementary School students and their families on board with the technology tool.

“Teachers are able to customize the app to focus on specific character traits we are working on as a class, such as being responsible and being respectful,” Godesa says. “Throughout the day I can easily let students know when they are displaying these traits with just the tap of a button on my iPad or computer. Parents are able to log in at home to view student behavior reports to stay in the loop of how their student is doing in class.”

Students get in on the action as well, with each one able to choose and customize a whimsical-looking avatar to fit their particular personality.

“My students love it,” Godesa says. “Because of ClassDojo, I have been able to collect powerful data that allows me to adjust my teaching to better support my students’ needs and increase parent involvement in my classroom.”

Godesa, 31, is among McKinley’s more vocal champions of ClassDojo and other cutting-edge classroom-based technology to focus teaching and enhance students’ learning experiences. Through a monthly Friday event called “Appy Hour,” Godesa and fellow teachers get together to discuss new and rumored technological tools and how they can be incorporated into the classroom.

“Teachers get together and share different apps and ways to tweak them for another level,” says McKinley Principal Annie Pleau. “I think that’s where ClassDojo came into play, and our teachers really started thinking about it.”

Finding the positives

Now in her sixth year at the helm at McKinley, located at 1500 N.W. 185th Ave., Pleau admits she lets teachers such as Godesa use their collective ideas and energy to find and incorporate the most effective digital tools into tried-and-true learning methods.

“Technology really changes fast, faster than I can even keep up with,” she says. “I don’t always know what this or that is or what it looks like. It takes teachers like Marcy to get out there, learn, explore and share publicly with other teachers their discoveries.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kasen Lucas writes down his math answer for first-grade teacher Marcy Godesa at McKinley Elementary School.

With Godesa’s encouragement, about 15 teachers at McKinley use ClassDojo in conjunction with their classroom iPads. In addition to providing real-time feedback with students, the app can be used to share data on students’ academic performance or behavior with parents.

“At conferences, when I sit down with a family, I can show them data based on specific performance in a classroom, and areas in which they need to be working,” Godesa says. “It’s life-changing as a teacher. No longer are you trying to remember exactly when something happened. You can pinpoint the exact day and time. It’s all stored for me. Everything is time-stamped. I find that very effective.”

Another feature of the app is a generator that randomly chooses a student for teachers to call on or monitor their progress on a particular lesson.

“A lot of time they just get a positive participation point by catching them being on task or helping a classmate,” she says. “It’s more for the purpose of finding positives.”

To app or not to app

As useful and efficient as she finds the tool, Godesa is happy to accommodate parents and families who either can’t afford digital devices or prefer to communicate through good, old-fashioned ink and paper.

“Those three families told me that was their preference,” she says. “It’s not that they don’t have (phones or tablets), but they feel it’s easier for them to monitor things their children bring home because they check out their backpacks regularly.”

While she believes strongly in innovation and using the best tools available, Pleau realizes the fundamentals of elementary education remain based on dedicated, quality teaching and the more palpable, timeless classroom materials.

“You’ve always got to have real books, quality literature and a wide selection,” she says. “You need hands-on manipulatives for math and numbers. There are definitely traditional things that won’t go away to provide background knowledge. I don’t think technology is the end-all, be-all, but any tool that truly helps us reach students — that piques that thirst for learning and motivation — is a good thing to have.”

Praising the technological innovation among her teaching staff, Pleau calls Godesa “truly a gem in my building.”

“Not everyone is a digital native,” the principal adds. “I don’t always feel confident, but when someone like Marcy wants to try something, I’ll say, ‘Yes, let’s hit that button and see what happens.’”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sofia Venize Ballesteros raises her hand to answer a math problem for first-grade teacher Marcy Godesa at McKinley Elementary School.

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