SHERIDAN — “How was school today?”
“What did you do today?”
Parents of elementary school-age children might be accustomed to short, nondescript recaps of their child’s school day, or a quick tale about the bus ride home.
But grandparent Lisa Sayer said the app Seesaw provides her a fuller picture of what her grandson, first-grader Damien Morgan, did during his day at Woodland Park Elementary. She can watch videos of him reading, advocating for a nonprofit he likes or receiving stars for performing well in class.
Sayer began using the app last year, when most Woodland Park teachers transitioned from other programs to the single app.
Some teachers had been using the program for years but this year, the school found some cohesion, which is especially helpful for parents with multiple students, Principal Alison Vold said.
Sayer said Seesaw helps her to ask Morgan questions that provoke richer responses about classroom projects and his achievements.
“Otherwise kids go home, they talk about the bus, they talk about lunch, they talk about their teacher saying something funny, maybe their class pet, and they forget even about some of the other amazing things that they’re doing,” Vold said.
From a principal’s perspective, her goal is to create deeper connections and conversations within families about academic growth. Parents and teachers can develop student plans that keep the teacher accountable and encourage parent engagement day by day. Students enjoy showing their parents what skills they are learning, first grade teacher Alex Lassle said.
First grade teacher Jennifer Kiehl and Lassle have been using the program for about four years. Lassle said Seesaw promotes accountability for teachers by tracking what students truly know and how they need to improve, through activities like a math sticky-note challenge on their iPad or photos of independent writing time. They never question a student’s level of understanding because of the daily feedback Seesaw manages, Kiehl said.
“We are always aware of how our students are doing,” she said.
Parent communication is another aspect of using Seesaw that makes teacher’s lives a little easier, Kiehl said. Rather than sending paper copies home, parents can check in about school activities, academic progress and track other school notifications through the app. Parents can chat with teachers through one-on-one messages and teachers can check which parents are engaged with their student’s progress on the app.
Kiehl’s daughter is in Lassle’s class — she enjoys leaving her daughter a comment or a heart on photos of her work and checking how she did in math. Student profiles are confidential between parents, the teacher and the student. Lassle said rather than distracting, the posts and responses from parents are encouraging for students.
Kiehl is sure to establish expectations for posting to Seesaw and iPad usage in general, as a preface to social media etiquette, she said.
Vold said teachers have developed an effective system for technology as a classroom tool. When students are writing or drawing on paper, they are engaged with their work and actively thinking. When it’s time to post, they flip open their iPad, take a picture, post, flip it closed and move on.
Sayer said she appreciates the ability to review a whole year of Morgan’s illustrated journal that she can share with other family members through her own social media. Fewer papers are coming home each day crushed in his backpack or forgotten altogether, she said.
While Seesaw is largely a tool for celebrating student successes, Kiehl said she is confident Seesaw would be a good platform to communicate with parents initially about behavioral problems too.
“When you scroll through [from] the beginning of the year when I’m thinking about some of my very beginning kindergartners that didn’t really know their letters yet, and now they’re writing sentences and saying, ‘my favorite thing to do at school is,’” Vold said. “I think that would be very neat as a parent and it’s cool to see as a principal, to see where they start from and where they come.”
Kiehl and Lassle both said they are fully willing to accommodate parents who choose not to use Seesaw but most feedback has been positive because of how parents are kept in the loop with snapshots of their child’s education. Vold said schoolwide, only one parent out of 318 asks for paper notifications on a regular basis.
Sayer, Morgan’s primary parent, said she values the hands-on learning component of bringing technology into the classroom. As a fact of life in today’s environment, using technology into the classroom is an important learning tool, she said.
When she raised her own children, Sayer said she became accustomed to frequently walking into the school to communicate with teachers and organizing paper copies of school notifications. While she has the time to continue that routine if necessary, younger parents who are busy throughout the day but connected to their cellphones benefit from real-time engagement with their children’s education. There’s a healthy balance to be found between digital and in-person, she said.
“They can understand the depth of content that we’re getting to,” Vold said. “If that conversation doesn’t come out at home…[seeing] this post or a paragraph or a story that their kid has written that’s beautiful and they’re using writer’s craft — I think it has been joyful for parents to go, ‘Oh! They have learned a lot this year.’”