Using edmodo to encourage and empower Student Voice

Neil Fara describes how his faculty uses edmodo to re-engage students
Hollie Sheriff talks about how she uses edmodo for her student volunteering program

Student Voice, Project REAL and edmodo at Irrawang High School

Edmodo plays a central role in developing and responding to student voice in the HSIE faculty at Irrawang High School. When I took over as HT it was quite a learning experience. Having come from 'progressive' schools where the challenges of disengaged low SES students were met through innovation and inspiration, it was as if I had landed back to 1986. Disengagement was met through discipline. Don't do work in class (usually consisting of more pages of useless notes) and you will be punished. Ignore the punishment and you will be suspended. The result was high suspension rates, poor data, low retention, high staff absences etc. As HT what can we do to meet this challenge?

I decided that the only way to reengage students was through the use of student voice. I identified three teachers in the faculty who were brave enough to face a challenge of re-designing their classrooms and giving up control. We then surveyed the students (125 Year 9 and 10 students) regarding access to technology, classroom pedagogy, the physical construction of the classroom ect.

As this process started we hit the jackpot (National Partnerships) - five weeks after the survey the smartboards hit the classroom. So in response to the survey we now had been supplied with new desks, chairs, smartboards, had painted the rooms and had set the two trial rooms up using groupwork (as demanded by the students). Now we had no 'front' of the room. The Year 10 class had 64 students and the Year 9 had 61.

The next challenge was removing notes as a pedagogy (the students had banned us from giving them notes for the year). We loaded every lesson onto their laptops for the year (all notes, videos, songs, sources, SC questions and literacy tasks).

This is when change began to occur. Student behaviour was impeccable, they worked harder than ever before and their writing in exam contexts was amazing (75% were from the bottom 3 NAPLAN bands, yet their intelligence in class suggested that was a result of dis-engagement).

When NAPLAN results and then SC results hit the table it was astonishing with the SC class achieving Value-added data more than 220% (4.69%) above their next best subject (there were 64 students in the class).

So how does edmodo contribute? We use edmodo in a multi-faceted way. Yes we do communicate, set homework, provide links to lesson resources; however, its primary function in HSIE remains a way to encourage student voice. We have linked 9,10 & 11 students to a student voice site where they reflect on pedagogy, watch the same videos teachers watch on PDD (Ken Robinson, other TEDS ect) and project their expectations for the next generation of Project REAL students.

How pleased was I when a student reflected on classrooms in general, loaded a link to Pink Floyd 'the Wall' and discussed that he feels education is an endless mind numbing progression until eventually we are all spat out the same. Or another student identified the assumption that students from areas with bad reputations just 'cannot do that' - a staffroom assumption I have heard my entire career. Each thread is centered on pedagogy for the future.

Edmodo 'draws' my students into a close social network and ensures that safe and active sharing takes place. I want them to see that they do have a voice, and the responsibility that comes with having a voice in their education. I don't want edmodo to be just an extension of myself, landing in their homes with more homework. Our Project REAL students love the service but are never compelled to use it. Bloged was nowhere near enough to fill my needs and was only used as a way to gain access to the collective wisdom of the Project when completing assignments. Edmodo is all about voice and our Project REAL students are beginning to roar. The highlight of the trial last year was our presentation at the Equity Directorate Annual State Conference. We took two students to the Marriot and they 'won' their audience with their honesty and integrity.

Anyway, I guess what I am saying that social networking is an extension of one's self, and as such edmodo should allow some forum for this to occur. Learning is not only about grades, rather student engagement and and their innate desire to achieve success. Give them a voice and they will learn to use it!

Neil Fara
HT HSIE Irrawang HS

Using edmodo in a Student Volunteering Program

Our program's philosophy: "Stronger Students, Stronger School, Stronger Community"

Upon signing up to the NSW Premier’s Volunteering and Service Learning Program, I have built volunteering up to be both an important and popular program at our school. I had initially offered this program to the students within Project REAL, however it now has now extended to many more students from years 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 as the program has become more and more well liked.
The philosophy behind this program is that as educators we need to assist in the development of the whole child.

Within Project REAL students are being developed and supported academically, however though the integration of student voice and volunteering they are also being supported in regard to the values of respect, integrity, caring, responsibility and social justice. This is also an extension of our anti-bullying and anti-racism policy and values that we are trying to encourage within our school culture.

I have created an Edmodo site for the students who are involved within this program, which has been very successful. I am able to post information, resources, initiate discussions, which has also decreased the amount of time spent on other less successful traditional forms of communication regarding volunteering. Further more, as alot of these volunteering projects are student driven, it enables students a forum to also discuss and exchange their ideas regarding volunteering.

Students have participated in a Volunteering Week at a variety of not-for-profit and government organisations in late term 4 after the completion of the school certificate, as well as numerous projects through out the school year including the organisation an assembly and showcase concert for Harmony Day, Clean Up Australia Day, Tree Planting Day at the Botanical Gardens, Hunter Homeless Connect, Pink Ribbon stores just to name a few.

As a result of the success of this program, a colleague and I have integrated student voice and volunteering into a wider program called “Stronger Students, Stronger School, Stronger Community” in partnership with our local YMCA. We have created a second Edmodo site primarily for the discussion of ideas relating to the development of this program, and the goals of our community partnership to develop the whole child from their transition to high school to the completion of their schooling.

We plan for this to be a simple, essential and sustainable community partnership that will encourage positivity within our school and wider community. This wider framework will further benefit students by equipping them with the power to be strong and be heard, embracing the tools and social media of their generation such as Edmodo as our main means of communication.

By developing our community partnership, it will incorporate the student voice and volunteering component of Project REAL in a strong, proactive anti-bullying and anti-racist culture. “Stronger Students, Stronger Community, Stronger School” will benefit all partners, and compliment and follow the all ready established values of the YMCA that encourage physical activity and giving back to one’s community as a way of developing strength in the “body, mind and spirit”.

Hollie Sheriff
HISIE teacher
Irrawang High School