Using Technology to Enhance Communication with Families and the School Community

Teaching in the digital age opens up a wide range of new opportunities to communicate with families. Enhanced work samples, QR codes, blogs, and podcasts are among the most popular strategies today. At Catherine Cook School in Chicago, Illinois, we value the relationship between the teacher and the parent. In order to support that relationship, we consider all sorts of ways to engage and remain connected to our families.

Enhanced Work Samples

We use applications such as Doodlecast Pro, Educreations, and Book Creator to provide families with a deeper look into the process and thinking of students. These applications allow for students and teachers to combine images, audio, and video. When teachers share these with families, they are able to get a deeper look into what their children are thinking and learning.

In our 4 year old classrooms, our teachers Lauren Goldberg and Barb Fisher use these applications at different points during the year during different units of study. They use it at the beginning of the year during an Eric Carle study, where students record their reflections on the process of creating fireflies in the artistic style used by Eric Carle. At parent-teacher conferences, parents have the opportunity to watch these videos and get an idea of their child’s ability to use vocabulary and articulate their process.

When teachers share these with families, they are able to get a deeper look into what their children are thinking and learning.

In first grade, Beth Lambert uses Book Creator as a forum for children to share content knowledge as they create books about classroom thematic studies such as The Winter Olympic Games, the presidential election, and polar animals. The students thrive with the open-ended format to share the facts they find interesting, important, and relevant to the reader. Students are able to create an illustration for each page, text, and an audio clip to expand upon their text. Through this process, the first graders gather information, determine important materials, and share it in a way that provides individuals with a way for them to see and hear the student’s learning.

Student Sample (pdf)


Also in first grade, Beth uses Doodlecast Pro as a way to capture a child’s mathematical thinking. Students are invited to share and record their thinking after solving an open-ended assessment. The audio recording and cursor features, allows for students to verbalize the problem they are asked to solve. In their recording, they may share the mathematical strategy used, observations made, questions they have, or any additional information if needed. These recordings are kept as authentic work samples as part of the Everyday Math curriculum used across the elementary grades. They are later shared with families at parent-teacher conferences to show parents HOW their children are thinking about math. This is extremely helpful in articulating where students are at in their skill development and then discussing how to move forward for that particular student.

Student Sample (video)

Doodlecast Pro also allows first grade students to practice and model their weekly word sorts in word study. After sorting word cards into sound or letter-pattern categories, students take a photo of their sort and upload the image into Doodlecast Pro. Next, the each student uses the audio and cursor features to read aloud each word and describe the spelling patterns used for the sort. These clips can be emailed to parents each week to provide extra information and support as students practice their words at home.


QR codes

We want to provide our students with opportunities to share their learning. In early childhood classrooms, it can be difficult to find authentic ways for children to share their learning. We have begun using QR codes to help our younger learners share their learning. At school, children record their reflections, process, and learning in an application such as Audioboo and their audio URLs are linked to a QR code developed in an application such as QR-Reader, i-nigma, or websites such as

Recently, our second grade teacher, Jolene Fairchild used QR codes to help her students share their learning during a Native American unit. Students created dioramas related to the tribes they studied. They then affixed QR codes linked to the students further describing what they learned and what was being portrayed in their diorama.

In our fourth grade, students learn about Ancient Egypt. After the research had concluded, teachers Sunni Kitson, Brandy Wortinger, and Sarah Lyon wanted to find a way for the students to continue sharing their learning. In order to do that, students placed their images on a bulletin board in our school with two QR codes. One QR code was linked to the research notes the students took and the other was linked to a video of the students further describing their learning.

Connecting with Video and Streaming


The basic Camera app provides a wonderful opportunity to share reading progress with parents during parent-teacher conferences. At the end of each trimester, Beth records each child reading aloud a familiar text to demonstrate fluency. The students then answer questions to show how they think within, beyond, and about the text. Each student also reads a new text to provide examples of pre-reading routines and word solving strategies used. As the year goes by, the student work is captured on an iPad and organized into digital portfolios using Keynote presentation for individual students. This provides teachers with easy access to authentic work samples when planning , reflecting, and collaborating with other teachers.


Our third graders recently had a video-conference conversation with a former mayor of Tacoma, Washington. The students were able to learn about the nuts and bolts of the job of a mayor. Our French teacher, Gigi Olmstead has partnered with a classroom in Paris. The classrooms often connect on Skype to talk about art, music, and culture. These opportunities provide students with the ability to truly make the world their classroom.


Live Streaming

In Kindergarten, Natalie Ripley has used UStream and LiveStream to provide families a real time glance into her classroom during exciting classroom events. At the end of a unit in writing, she did a live stream of their students sharing their writing during a publishing party. In Kindergarten, a common unit involves students observing eggs in an incubator over time until they hatch. In order to allow families the ability to observe as well, she placed a camera over the incubator so that families could tune in watch while at work, while traveling, or at home.



About Brian:

Brian PuerlingBrian Puerling is a National Board Certified Teacher and author of, Teaching in the Digital Age: Smart Tools for Age 3 to Grade 3. He is a graduate of the Erikson Institute and is a former preschool teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He is currently the Director of Education Technology at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago. Brian is on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Metro Association for Education of Young Children, has worked as an early childhood teacher coach, a curriculum reviewer, and a presenter and consultant for for the Chicago Public Schools, the Erikson Institute, United Way Miami-Dade, and the Early Childhood Council of New Zealand. He has also been a guest blogger for numerous early learning and children’s media resources. Brian currently serves on the National Advisory Board for Media Smart Libraries, is a former participant on the Sesame Workshop Teacher Council, and was a recipient of the PBS Innovative Educator Award and PBS Teacher’s Choice Award in 2010.


About Beth:

Beth LambertBeth graduated from MacMurray College, with a BA in Special Education in 1991. She has 23 years of experience in public and private schools in the U.S. and abroad. Beth has spent the last ten years teaching first grade at Catherine Cook School in Chicago. Her background includes specialty expertise in early literacy development and technology/curriculum integration and presentations at conferences on the topic of technology integration across the globe, including the European Council of Independent School in Amsterdam and CERCOS in Hong Kong. Beth also provides private consulting and teacher training at individual schools.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Per Olof Forsberg. All other images courtesy of Catherine Cook School.

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