App Brings Parents Into the Classroom in Ottumwa, Iowa

The ClassDojo mobile app lets parents see what their children are learning, creates rewards for students and streamlines communication between parents and teachers. Here's how it's being used in one school district.

by Winona Whitaker, Ottumwa Courier / November 8, 2018

(TNS) — Knowing what their children are learning at school has never been easier for parents in the Ottumwa, Iowa, Community School District. Throughout their busy days, parents keep up with their children on their smartphones.

Using the ClassDojo app, School Board Member Michael Carpenter can see what his preschool-aged son Robert is doing in class.

“It’s just an app and it gives you notifications when the teacher uploads a message to you or a photo of your child,” Carpenter said. He receives a notification, opens the app, and “There’s a picture of them doing preschool stuff. As a parent, it makes you feel like you know what’s going on in a child’s classroom every day. From a 3-year-old you don’t get that. I think without the app, trying to get information out of my 3-year-old … would be an exercise in futility. [Truleigh] Johnston’s very good at [posting]. Between 4 and 6 o’clock, she’s uploading pictures. It’s really cute. You see what they’re doing. You see what they’re working on."

Many teachers in the district have been using the app for years, said Horace Mann first-grade teacher Emily Penner.

“I have used Dojo probably five or six years,” said second-grade teacher Abby Leonard said. Penner started using it about a year later, she said.

Penner learned about the app in a technology class, but other teachers hear of it through their colleagues. Teachers customize the program for their own classes.

Penner and Leonard use the app to communicate with parents and to promote Bulldog Beliefs — be responsible, compassionate, respectful and safe — in children.

“And I link it to our Bulldog Bucks,” Leonard said. Teachers give Bulldog Bucks when students behave appropriately. The students buy rewards with the fake currency.

When Leonard’s students earn 50 Dojo points, they are rewarded with such things as show-and-tell or being the teacher’s assistant. “They could kick their shoes off for a day,” Leonard said. She’s open to suggestions.

Penner said with 40 Dojo points, her students can pick a prize. At 30 they can change their monster avatars. ClassDojo assigns an initial monster for each student. The kids like being allowed to choose their own, Penner said.

When students are promoted from Penner’s first-grade class to Leonard’s second-grade class, their monsters move with them.

In the class story section of ClassDojo, teachers can share class birthdays or “whatever we’re doing in class,” Leonard said.

Penner posts photos so parents can discuss with their children what happened in class that day.

Teachers can also message parents using ClassDojo, Leonard said. “It’s kind of like a text messages but it’s not.”

“Not everyone is connected,” Leonard said. Parents need an email address and a smartphone to access the program.

Penner likes sharing with parents. “They get the class story and the text messages pop on their phones” telling them when their children get points for good behavior.

“This is really very easy,” said Penner. She opens the app on the screen in the morning and her assistant can record which children turn in homework as they come in.

“And it’s on my phone, too,” said Penner. She can notice students doing good things at recess and load Dojo points on the app from her phone.

“And it’s nice because you can see who’s seeing it and who’s translating,” Penner said. Parents whose first language is not English can read the posts in their native languages.

“As soon as they see it, I see that they’ve seen it,” Penner said.

Most parents in Penner’s and Leonard’s classes use the app. “I have all but one [using the app]” said Leonard.

“I have probably 80 percent,” said Penner. Some parents have flip phones which can’t access the app.

The teachers like that both parents can see the posts about their child even if the parents no longer live in the same household.

“And the kids love it,” said Penner. Students encourage their parents to use ClassDojo, the teachers said.

“I like the connection with the parents,” said Penner. “They see what we’re doing. They have a way of communicating with me.”

Some parents use Dojo like messenger, letting the teachers know they’re running late or have changed after-school plans, the teachers said. A teacher can message a parent that the child left his lunch in the car or forgot his homework.

It’s quicker than calling the office, they said.

The app is not part of the school district’s tools but is used by teachers individually, Teachers of nearly every grade at Horace Mann use it.

Leonard’s son, Ben Logan, is a student in her classroom, but while she already knows what he’s up to, her husband can use ClassDojo to keep up with his Ben’s schooling. “I do like the communication,” Logan said.

©2018 the Ottumwa Courier (Ottumwa, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.