How to Get the Technology Your Local PTA Needs

The first question we often hear at National PTA is … are PTAs allowed to spend PTA dollars on technology? The answer is a resounding YES. Your local PTA is a membership association and a non-profit business. PTAs can budget for, and spend money on, any technology that will be used by the PTA. This year, PTAs across the country must pivot to the new reality of the business world during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means figuring out how to run your PTA either partially, or fully, virtual. This pivot will benefit your PTA well beyond the pandemic as well.

It is important to note that many of the below items have free and paid versions. You will need to look at your specific PTA needs to decide what product may work for you and if the free version is enough or if one of the paid versions is a better fit.  The items are linked so you can learn more about each, and remember, you can Google or YouTube just about anything online to find how-to videos.

Overall PTA Management Needs

  • G-Suite for Nonprofits— Looking for a little bit of everything? Offered by Google for free to non-profits, this is a suite of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools, software and products. You can upgrade for a small monthly fee as well. You can get Gmail accounts for your PTA and board members, online drive to store your PTA documents and photos, centralized calendar, Google Meet and other resources
  • Microsoft Office Online—Offers free online use of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note
  • TechSoup—A non-profit international network that provides free or discounts on technological tools and support to non-profits.
  • Notion—An all-in-one workspace where you can share and work on the same content. Individual accounts are free and can be shared with up to five guests.

Virtual Gatherings

Planning on hosting a virtual meeting or event? There are many products out there to suit your needs, and some have free versions. Since this is the way your PTA will be doing business for quite some time, your PTA should invest in this expense. Each platform provides tips for setup for all the features, including screen sharing and login requirements. If you use a free version, you may be limited on the number of attendees and how long the event can run, so do your homework. Some of the platforms to look at are:

  • Zoom Meeting– The free plan allows up to 40 minutes per meeting with up to 100 participants. If you need more time, they have a $149 per year plan for unlimited meetings with up to 100 participants.
  • Facebook Live in a Private Group— Consider using this option for a board meeting! Make sure everyone on your board is on Facebook and in your private group.
  • Go to Meeting – $12 per month for up to 150 participants.
  • Google Meet– Free one-hour meetings up to 100 participants, more features if you have G-Suite
  • Skype Meet Now – Up to 50 people per meeting. Anyone can host or join with no need to download an app.
  • FreeConferenceCall.com– Up to 1,000 participants and up to six hours of conference call time, screen sharing and video.
  • WebEx – Can host one meeting free a month or look to upgrade to another option.

Survey and Poll Tools

Need to find out what your members and other families in your community need? Ask virtually!  See the links below for some online survey options.

  • Facebook Polls– This option offers instant feedback but is limited to people who follow your page or are in your closed group
  • Google Forms– Cloud-based questionnaire and survey software, can create reports of the survey responses.
  • SoGoSurvey– Free to non-profits
  • SurveyMonkey– The basic plan is free for up to 10 questions and 40 responses

Storytelling Tools

Showcase the value your PTA brings to the community by sharing #HowWePTA on social media, in your newsletters and more! These tools can help you create beautiful visuals to help tell your PTA story.

  • National PTA Membership Campaign—Check out the over 50 free graphics in the new PTA campaign that can help you highlight and share the benefits of being a part of your PTA.
  • Canva for Nonprofits—Use this easy graphic design platform to create social media graphics, posters and other visual content.
  • Need some free photos? Check out sites that offer many free photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock and iStock Photo.
  • Need to store and share files? Maybe Dropbox is just what you need. The basic version is free.

Other Online Tools and Resources

  • Another tool in your toolbox to help run your PTA virtually is BAND– PTA’s newest national sponsor. BAND can be a timely, modern, no-cost solution for PTAs that need to virtually coordinate activities and events and share information. BAND helps make it easier for parents, teachers and PTA members to stay connected and organized while embracing distance learning. PTAs can use the BAND app for scheduling, instant messaging, video calling and virtual meetings, conducting polls, managing signups, live streaming events, and other critical two-way communication features.
  • Need volunteers to sign-up to help? Try out SignUpGenius. Free option for nonprofits.
  • Need to randomly pick a winner virtually? Want to play a game virtually? Looking to create a word search? Check out Flippity, which is free, and offers all sorts of fun things you can create quickly and easily virtually.

Learn from Others

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Join the PTA Local Leaders Facebook group. Connect with over 6,000 other PTA leaders across the 54 State PTA Congresses. Click on the search icon to look for ideas on how to hold virtual meetings, virtual events or online fundraisers. Check out our other blogs on How to Make Joining PTA Easy, Ways to Make your PTA Virtual, Grow Spirit from Afar and National Volunteer Week blog which recognizes several local PTAs making things happen virtually.


Linda Johnson is the Manager of Membership Data and Training for National PTA.

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service.

Inspiring the Next Generative of Digital Innovators

Technology is a powerful tool that is undeniably changing the foundation of education. Schools around the world are increasingly harnessing its reach to improve the educational experiences of their students. Some parents and teachers may wonder if this is the right learning path for their students, especially at the elementary levels. Below, we’ve addressed five reasons why leveraging technology can be beneficial to all students.

  1. Personalized Education Experience

Technology can innovate, grow, and expand access to personalized education tools. Using laptops and tablets, students can choose between educational videos, games or articles that best suit their abilities and interests. Educational apps and programs cover a wide range of subjects from music to digital design. With a plethora of learning options, every student can discover and develop his or her niche.

  1. Bringing the Classroom Home

By removing barriers to learning, technology connects students and teachers with educational content wherever they are. Many primary schools are assigning students tablets or laptops to take home. Mobilized learning is a great opportunity for students to continue their learning outside of the classroom, at their own pace.

  1. Preparing Students for the Future

The days of four classic subjects of study are over. Today, students should establish hard skills early-on to be competitive in the tech-driven workforce. As the tech industry continues to expand, students can take advantage of its offerings now and begin preparing for the jobs of the future by mastering technical applications.

  1. Engaging Today’s Students

Interactive materials help students stay engaged while learning and investing in these technologies can help shape the future of education. As part of its Aspire Accelerator program, AT&T supports organizations using tech to promote student success beyond the classroom. New educational online programs that are creatively designed can foster fun while exposing kids to practical skills. For example, as part of Aspire Accelerator’s 2018 Class, the start-up Unruly Studios seeks to revolutionize learning by combining STEM education with physical play. Through its programmable device that kids control, it integrates coding skills with recess-style games.

  1. Developing Communication Skills

Strong online communication skills can be the key to a successful future. By engaging in technology at a young age, students will grow up immersed in practical 21st century skills like writing emails and collaborating with teams through online chat options.

The benefits of incorporating technology into students’ educational paths can be endless, and ensuring students can engage with innovative educational options is crucial.  To help with that engagement,  AT&T is bringing affordable internet access to low-income  families through  Access from AT&T,  a discounted internet service for qualifying low-income households across AT&T’s 21 wireline footprint.[1] With increased access, students can finish school and feel confident they are ready to thrive in the digital world.

Technology can break down barriers, including those in education. The ability for students to keep learning shouldn’t end in the classroom. With technology, it doesn’t have to.

 

[1] To qualify for the program, at least one household resident must participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In California only, households receiving social security income (SSI) also may qualify. Other conditions may apply, click here to learn more.

Consider a “Digital Diet” for Your Family

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As tablets, smartphones and other personal technology devices play an increasingly dominant role in all of our lives, finding a good balance seems to be a tricky endeavor in many American households. Both parents and teens log more than five hours a day on their devices (outside of work and school), often during family dinners and while spending leisure time together. Many people also use these devices for hours each day with earbuds or headphones.

Finding balance is critical for many reasons, including children’s communication health. Dedicated time for verbal exchange— listening, talking, reading and interacting face-to-face —is essential for young children’s speech and language development. It is critical that time spent alone with devices (even on educational apps!) does not take away from time for interaction with parents. This “talk time” is also a precursor for reading, academic and social success. The benefits extend to older children as well, whose brains are still developing throughout the teen years, as well as family relationships.

Too much time on digital devices doesn’t just negatively impact communication health and academic success, it also has an effect on physical health. There has been a tremendous increase in hearing loss among children recently. Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable problem, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Earbud and headphone misuse can be especially problematic.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, a great time for technology-dependent families to introduce some better habits. (The exception being for children who require assistive devices to communicate.) A recent survey from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) showed that once parents and teens learn more about the potential negative effects of tech overuse, they are willing to change their habits. Being mindful of balance is also key as we approach summer, when increased leisure time often means even more tech time for kids. Here are some “digital diet” tips from ASHA:

  1. Create a family technology plan—together. An agreed-upon set of rules is a good way to keep everyone on track. Schedule regular check-ins to determine whether you’re actually substituting tech time with more quality time together. Surprisingly, most teens whose parents set rules agree that the rules are fair—and parents report they work.
  1. Designate tech-free zones in the home. The kitchen, bedrooms, the family room…there may be one place in your home that you can keep devices out of, as a general rule. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your phone or jump at the sound of every incoming notification. It makes a difference to even have 30 minutes free from tech distractions.
  1. Talk instead of text, when possible. Texting offers tremendous convenience for parents to get in touch with their kids. But texting is not a replacement for verbal exchange. Tone, facial expressions and other nonverbal signals are just some of the ways in which texting falls short (and no, emojis don’t do the trick). Try to avoid texting your child when both of you are at home, as a start.
  1. Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Technology is an easy way to keep even the youngest children entertained. However, the best opportunities for conversation, learning and bonding are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip.
  1. Always practice safe listening, especially when using earbuds or headphones. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and to take listening breaks. These are messages kids need to “hear” from their parents.

Remember, if you ever have concerns about your child’s hearing or speech/language skills, consult a certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist.


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Jaynee A. Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A is a pediatric audiologist and the 2016 ASHA president.

 

Celebrating Connected Educators Month with Some Common Sense for Families About Digital Citizenship

At Common Sense, we often hear from parents who want to get their school or community involved in a discussion of how media, tech, and the digital world are impacting kids. But many parents don’t know where to begin. Well, now you can help parents get started!

ConnectingFamiliesConnecting Families is a new three-part program that offers everything you need to get families in your school or community involved in raising great digital citizens.

Today’s media and technology present many challenges as well as opportunities — from text messaging and using social media to online gaming — and call for new ways to raise conscientious digital citizens. Connecting Families offers everything you need to facilitate meaningful community dialogue and thoughtful conversations between parents and kids.

Our focus group testing in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles allowed us to design the program to meet the needs of parents and teens. Our resources include a step-by-step hosting guide, conversation topics, and printable resources to share — all carefully researched and crafted by Common Sense educational technology experts.

Here’s how you can implement Connecting Families:

Host a teen panel. Teen panels are an excellent way to kick off the school year because they put the voices and experiences of teens in your community at the center of the conversation. Our step-by-step guides cover every detail from the teen panel selection process to managing question-and-answer sessions during the event. You also get a field-tested list of best questions to ask the panel in order to foster a vibrant conversation.

Discuss a series of conversation cases. The program’s conversation cases are designed to help parent discussion groups have authentic and productive conversations on a range of issues including sexting, cyberbullying, photo sharing, digital drama, privacy, sexual imagery, multitasking, social media, and much more. Each conversation case provides relevant, real-life stories along with key vocabulary and targeted discussion questions. You also get our Family Tip Sheets and Digital Dilemmas handouts, which you can use to bring the conversations home to kids. The Facilitator’s Guide includes our favorite adult-appropriate icebreakers, pointers for managing group conversations, and step-by-step directions on how to make the actual event a big success.

Share our family toolbox. This toolbox is packed with resources that you can share throughout the year. You’ll find a digital glossary of topical vocabulary, age-appropriate family media agreements to help you set guidelines around technology use, and how-to videos on a range of media and tech subjects.

We hope you’ll find Connecting Families a must-have resource for your school and community. Please let us know how it’s working for you, and share any insights that may help your school connect with families and strengthen the vital home-to-school connection.


 Darri Stephens is the director of digital learning at Common Sense Education. You can also read the blog on Common Sense Media.