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Teacher's Simple Guide to Creating an Effective Classroom Website

No doubt you have already have a classroom website or will be required to create one in the
very near future. Virtually every classroom teacher around the globe is being caught up in the
development of this essential communication tool. Most of the early birds to this challenge went out and used providers such as Teacher Web. Now, more and more districts are implementing a provider that the entire district will use that provides continuity and uniformity. This obviously will have its benefits for staff development but may stifle creativity.




I started about 8 years ago with a variety of services, but about two years ago my district settled
on one software host for us all to use. I dove in and decided to embrace the challenge to develop a comprehensive site that would be useful for students, parents, and teachers. Visit my classroom
website to see how I have put many of the following ideas into place: The Borgeson Bunch. I would like to share with you some of what I have learned during that journey:

The first thing you will need is a website template. My source is School Loop . This was determined by my school district for me. If you are striking out on your own, consider these options:

Hosts
  1. WordPress - very clean and attractive, an excellent choice
  2. Blogger - Google's product
  3. SchoolRack - free classroom website or blog creator
  4. Shutterfly - this photo website met my needs for a couple of years
  5. Google Sites - should be given serious consideration, especially if your district is going Google
Once you have your blank canvas it's time to start building your site from the ground up. Keep in mind that your site needs to be:

• useful to a variety of visitors
• pleasing to the eye
• and updated regularly

Now you can have fun adding elements that will provide a worthwhile experience for your guests. The following are some categories of elements that successful classroom websites often incorporate.

Audio
Being able to record audio content will give you many options when building your website. You can leave messages for students or parents that can tell about assignments or upcoming events. These tools can be used to create podcast for a variety of needs. 
  • Spreaker - easy to create podcasts, radio shows, and other recordings for the classroom
  • AudioPal - easily add audio content to a website or blog, record messages for your students
  • Audioboo - effortlessly record and share audio recordings
  • SpeakPipe - voicemail system or just a quick and easy audio recording
  • VoiceThread - record narration as you go through images, allows for collaboration

Contact Methods
It is important to include contact information on your homepage. Make sure you include somewhere on your homepage information such as: email, phone number, and address. Listed below are a couple of creative ways to accomplish this on your website.
  • Contact Me - you can add a form or a button on your website for free
  • SpeakPipe - an easy to use widget that allows for voicemails to be sent to your email

Forms
This is a new area for me this school year. I am starting out small by having just a few forms that parents fill out at the beginning of the year. I have added these to the homepage of my classroom website. Here as some providers for you to check out:
  • Wufoo - easily create forms than can be shared in a number of ways
  • Zoho Creator - another free form creator, unlimited forms
  • PHPForm - choose a color and get going
  • Form2Go - another easy to use form creator
  • JotForm - allows for customization of your form
Images
Adding images is the easiest way to enhance your website. With the myriad of options available it should be easy enough locating an image which will help you to make your site more enticing and visually interesting. The most obvious source is Google Images or your own photos, but this should not be considered an end all to this challenge.   We need to teach and demonstrate to students how  to use Creative Commons and Public Domain images:

Logos
Now that you have created a website for your class how about adding your own logo? This is a way to make your site look more professional.

Photo Editing
You and your students can have a great time being creative with all the fantastic free photo editing sites that are available with more arriving just about every day. 
  • PhotoFunia - create amazing images that incorporate your students in the photos, wonderful story starters
  • Big Huge Labs - have fun with photos, all kinds of cool stuff you can create
  • Muzy - fun ways to display images
  • FotoFlexer - free online photo editing
  • PicMonkey - quick and easy free photo editing 
  • Pixlr - my current favorite!

Polls & Surveys
I have enjoyed creating numerous free polls for my site. You can create a poll in just minutes and then embed it using html code. At school the students and I monitor the poll and discuss the results. Since graphing is a standard, I like to ask many questions about the poll numbers.

ScreenCasts
Screencasts are an excellent way to explain parts of your website or your curriculum to parents and students. You can then embed your narrated screencasts to your website. I'm sure that this will become one of your more important communication tools. 

Slideshows
Slideshows and video creators are a very creative way for your to share with your site visitors what you are doing in your classroom. Your students can easily be included in the creation of these projects.
  • Animoto - free and easy to use, sign up for an educator account
  • Brainshark - the students and I use this site often to share what we are learning
  • Trip Wow! - make a free slideshow in just minutes and embed it on your site
  • Present.me - video of you right next to your slide presentation
  • Slide.ly - instant slideshow maker
Start out slow, learn a new tool as time permits. Set reasonable goals for your site, and by year's end you will have a website that you and your class can use on an everyday basis. 

Dale Borgeson is a third grade teacher from Temecula, CA. She has an interesting classroom website called The Borgeson Bunch.


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