Get back-to-school by engaging families right from their cell phones

8/19/2013 12:00:00 AM
ell phones
The start of the school year is the perfect time to start connecting with parents and families. When families come in to enroll their children, here are some numbers you can give them to stay connected, have a voice, and have some fun all year long.

Anyone (in the U.S.) can receive tweets on their phone even if they haven’t signed up for Twitter. This is a simple way for people to get information they care about in real time. For example, let’s say you want to get tweets from New York City Schools (@NYCSchools). Just text ‘follow NYCSchools’ to 40404. It doesn’t have to stop with following your school district. Schools, principals and even teachers can set up Twitter accounts to keep parents connected to the latest information. Locke Elementary School in Chicago uses it to great effect.

For schools with multi-lingual populations you can set up language-specific accounts.

Help families keep themselves and their students sharp all year long with @QuizU. This  app sends quiz questions to phones for free. Users submit the answer. They will find out if they are correct or incorrect instantly by having the correct answer sent to their phone. Scores are tracked and there are prizes for those who answer 500 correct questions.  
Just text 898932 with any of the following messages:

@quizu.history for History
@quizu.geo for Geography for GeneralScience
@quizu.current for current affairs quiz

Mass texting
Mass texting allows you to send out announcements and reminders such as school holidays, school events, photo days, fundraising events, testing days and more. Here are two popular services.

  • Remind101
    Set up a free mass texting service like Remind101 which provides a safe, one-way, text messaging system created specifically for use in education. It keeps your phone number, and the phone numbers of your subscribers private, stores all of your sent messages, and it’s free to use. This is a perfect tool for
  • Mobile Commons Places like New York City public schools are using  Mobile Commons, another mass texting service to keep families informed with text messages in English or Spanish throughout the school year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted the program as a crucial step in “doing more to make sure parents have the information they need to help their children succeed — even when they are on the go.”

Poll Everywhere provides a terrific way to capture the thoughts, ideas and opinions of the school community. Let families know you care by setting up a few multiple choice or free response polls that parents can answer at the beginning of the year.  Have a computer or laptop monitor displayed somewhere to show the results.  

Participation is easy. Just give parents the number and have them text the code aligning with their answers like they do on shows such as “American Idol.”

Principal Eric Sheninger of New Milford High School in New Jersey suggests using Poll Everywhere during back-to-school nights. He says it’s a great way to elicit feedback during budget presentations or to secure real-time input on school initiatives.

Quick chart
This quick chart outlines how each service works.  Once you set these services up for your school community, you can create your own quick chart for families. Add it to your back-to-school guide for families or be creative. Consider putting this together on something useful like a bookmark.  

Phone contact
Send an SMS text message
Set up a Twitter account.
Families Text: Follow [your Twitter alias]
Example: Follow nycschools
Quiz U
Send an sms for the following quizzes.
@quizu.history for History
@quizu.geo for Geography for GeneralScience
@quizu.current for current affairs quiz
School admin sets up an account and will get codes that align to the responses parents can choose from.

They can also provide open response answers.
Remind 101
School admin sets up an account and gets the code that families can use to start getting notifications.
Mobile Commons
Paid service that schools can sign up for.
For updates from NYC DOE

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.
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