Robert Paugh, the school's technology specialist, estimates that about half the school uses Edmodo, an online social learning network. It looks a lot like Facebook, but instead of connecting with friends, students connect with their teachers about assignments, grades and other class-related information.

"It's kind of like a quasi-social feed," Paugh said.

On Edmodo, teachers can post assignments, grades and other materials students might need for class, Paugh said. Students can get feedback for assignments and send private messages to teachers with questions, as well as sign up for alerts any time new assignments or grades are posted.

"The communication opens up in different ways than before," Paugh said. "It's a completely different world than I went to school in."

Paugh has been using Edmodo for more than two years in his classes at Western Kentucky University, he said.

"The students really like the interaction," he said. "It's a lot friendlier than Blackboard."

He introduced Edmodo to BGJHS at the end of last school year, and about 10 teachers use it now, he said.

Cheryl Smith, a sixth-grade language arts teacher, has used Edmodo since October. She said it's opened a whole new way to reach students.

"It gives me the opportunity to contact students outside of class," Smith said. "At first, I was worried it would separate me from them. Instead, I feel like I'm closer to them."

Her students turn in assignments on Edmodo and she can annotate them electronically with her comments. She also posts quizzes for them to take, and they can get instant results. Each day, she posts the assignments, notes and multimedia from the lesson.

"It gives them the opportunity to not get behind if they're not able to come to school that day," Smith said. "They can work from home."

She said she's had a great response from students about Edmodo.

"Edmodo looks quite a bit like Facebook, so there's an appeal there," she said. "It has the look and feel of a social network, but it's really like an online class with training wheels."

Another initiative Paugh has introduced into the junior high school is allowing students to bring their own technological devices into the classroom, including iPhones, iPads, tablets and laptops.

"We need to keep up with what the kids are doing," Paugh said. "They all use this technology."

Right now, the school doesn't have wireless capabilities, but he's in the planning stages of upgrading the system to add wireless, he said.

Smith said only a few of her students used devices in class last semester, but after Christmas, many students came back with one, she said. She estimates about 35 percent of her students now use devices in class.

Mostly, they use them to take notes or snap pictures of the board, Smith said. Very few of her students want notes or assignments on paper - they prefer to have digital or electronic copies.

Students have been respecting the purpose of using a device in class, Smith said.

"Knock on wood, but I have not had one single issue of inappropriate use," she said.

Because they're not hiding their devices, but have them out in the open, she can see what they're doing, which she thinks keeps them on task, Smith said.

Dustin Winchester, an eighth-grade social studies teacher, has used Edmodo for about three months. He said it definitely helps his students stay more engaged.

"Most of them already have a Facebook, so they're familiar with using it," he said.

Nathan Robinson, 14, an eighth-grader in Winchester's class, said Edmodo is very helpful, because his homework assignments are all on there.

"It makes it a lot easier to manage," he said.

Winchester has a classroom set of laptops that he lets students use every other day. Nathan said using laptops in the classroom is cool - he uses one to take notes.

"It helps me focus when I have a laptop right in front of me," Nathan said.

Ethan Wilson, 14, also an eighth-grader in Winchester's class, enjoys Edmodo because he doesn't have to worry about bringing assignments home, he said.

"I love Edmodo because it's just an easier way to keep your work organized," he said. "It's all there on the computer."

Ethan said using laptops makes taking notes easier.

"It's much faster to type than to write," he said.

In January, Paugh offered a lunchtime session for parents that explored the new initiatives. He's offering three more sessions, on Monday, March 5 and April 2. Parents can sign up on the school's website at www.b-g.k12.ky.us.

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