About once a week, a special window into her son’s day at Canyon Heights elementary arrives on parent Mehrgan Filsoof’s cellphone.
It might be a photo of some artwork he drew that day. Or a short video showing his kindergarten teacher Anita Mullaly prompting him to go over a quick lesson in recognizing shapes and colours. Sometimes there’s a video clip of a special class presentation.
Those snippets provide a window into the classroom that in many cases parents wouldn’t see until long after they happened – if they saw them at all.
Filsoof says that’s allowed her to start conversations with her son about what’s happening at school.
“If he’s interested in something or I see he’s struggling with something we can talk about it,” she said.
That’s all part of a new electronic reporting program called Fresh Grade being piloted in younger grades at Canyon Heights elementary this fall, along with several other intermediate classrooms around the North Vancouver school district.
Fresh Grade is a free app that allows teachers to upload short examples of a student’s work and send it instantly to parents who have downloaded the parental software for the app on their cellphones or computers.
Parents can also comment back to teachers on what they’ve seen.
“There’s a conversation that can happen at home when we’ve sent something to the parent,” said Mullaly. “It gets around that usual conversation: ‘What did you do at school today?’ ‘Nothing.’”
Mullaly and Grade 1 teacher Andrea Waich – whose classroom is also part of the pilot at Canyon Heights – admit using Fresh Grade does mean extra work for teachers, particularly as a child can’t be with any classmates in any video clips, for privacy reasons. (Parents who take part in the pilot also understand that posting to Facebook, Twitter or other social media like YouTube is not allowed.)
But the teachers say there are also many advantages to using the electronic reporting app.
When something exciting happens in the classroom, like a recent workshop on bats and owls, “parents got to see that,” said Mullaly, and share in their children’s enthusiasm.
Sometimes teachers can use Fresh Grade to show parents areas where a little bit of extra practice at home might help students, said Mullaly. And because parents feel they’re in the loop, “you don’t need to talk to 24 parents after school.”
Andrea Youck, parent of a Grade 1 student at the school, said the immediacy of the electronic note is also a boon to conversations between parents and their kids. Normally when work gets presented only during report card time, “by the time you see it, the child is no longer there,” she said. But with electronic reporting, “If the child is interested in something, you can grasp on it immediately.”
Mullaly said comments on the app from parents so far have been “overwhelmingly positive,” particularly from parents who work full-time and can’t come into the school very often. “They get to see what the child is doing,” she said. “It has allowed them to have that connection to what their child is doing at school.”
In one family, a grandparent also gets the electronic report, said Mullaly.
The app is also being tested in other school districts. In Surrey, for instance, the app was introduced in previous school years and use of it is more widespread.
The provincial ministry of education is also keeping tabs on the project.
In versions of the app in use for older children, there’s also a student component, so they can upload their own work that they are proud of.
Students can also look back at work they were doing earlier in the year – in reading for example – and see how much they’ve improved.
For parents, there’s another intangible bonus, says Youck, “Seeing your kid during the day – it makes you happy.”