If the phone rings at the end of a school day, parents might already know why a teacher is calling.
Thanks to a tool that allows teachers to communicate instantaneously about what's happening at school, parents can monitor their youngsters' conduct via smartphone throughout the day.
Several Flagler and Volusia county, Flordia teachers use Class Dojo, a free website and app where students receive points for good behavior or lose points for misdeeds.
Class Dojo was created using $75,000 from the 2011 Citi Innovation in Education Prize, awarded to entrepreneurs who use technology to help educators. Hundreds of thousands of teachers worldwide now use Class Dojo, according to the website.
Class Dojo is among a growing number of educational apps – more than 40,000 are available for the iPad alone.
One teacher who uses Class Dojo, Christina Claudio, said the program brings out her students' competitive streaks because they want to earn more points they can redeem for free incentives, like using the teacher's rolling desk chair or sitting with a friend for the day.
"This generation of students, I feel, loves anything that's 'gamified' – if it feels like a game, they're in," said Ms. Claudio, who teaches fourth-grade at Pine Trail Elementary in Ormond Beach.
To help students feel more accountable, Claudio allowed them to customize their avatars, little icons that represent each student.
Class Dojo ranks also include fifth- and sixth-grade teachers at Rymfire Elementary in Palm Coast. On a recent morning, sixth-grade teacher Janie Ruddy compared the thickness of the earth's atmosphere to the skin on an apple and asked students to find out, using their iPads, which gases comprise that layer. During that activity, Ms. Ruddy asked Daijah, 11, to use her teacher's iPhone to add points for two students who shared their answers with the class – and deduct a point for a boy who wasn't staying on task. Parents of those students, if they were logged on at the time, could find out right away whether their students earned or lost points and why. At the start of the school year, Ruddy said she sent 41 invitations to parents detailing how to sign up for Class Dojo and track their student's progress, and 37 accepted.
"Before, as a teacher, you really only had time to call home when a kid made a major error," Ruddy said.
Class Dojo goes deeper than simply showing whether a child had a good or bad day. Each student's report, Claudio said, includes time-stamped information about their ups and downs each day. The parents of a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder showed a printout of their son's Class Dojo page, which showed more problems in the afternoons than in the mornings, to their son's pediatricians, who determined the boy's medication wore off about lunchtime each day. Claudio also uses the class-wide reports to determine if her students lose focus during a particular activity or time of the day.
"The fact that it's immediate gives me a tremendous amount of data about the students behaviors in my classroom," she said.
Ruddy is undecided as to whether Class Dojo has improved her students' behavior. She hasn't issued any referrals yet this year, and that's unusual by November, but she's not sure whether this crop of students is responding to the rewards for good behavior, which range from big-ticket items like sweatshirts and footballs to smaller goodies like pieces of candy.
Ruddy still calls home when there's a serious problem, she said, but she encourages parents to talk with their children about minor hiccups.
Caryn Burris said her 11-year-old son, Bryan, who is in Ruddy's class, generally is forthcoming when he earns points; less so when he loses them.
"One time he lost a point for leaving his work area messy – that's something he would not have told me," she said.
Ms. Burris, who teaches second grade at Rymfire, said she doesn't use Class Dojo in her own classroom but might consider it after using it as a parent. She usually communicates with parents by writing in the children's planners. She often checks Class Dojo midway through the school day to see how Bryan is faring.
"By lunchtime, I can already see what kind of morning he had," Burris said.