Not Enough Time: Digital Citizenship/Mobile Devices/Discussions

Day 2 of school had its bright spots and its challenges.  We are fortunate enough to have a mobile lab with 30 Dell Laptops for our students to use.  After finishing some typical house keeping items, I was ready to deploy the laptops to my students.  Before I assigned students to a computer, I began by asking students to help me make a list of examples of mobile devices.  The list the students compiled looked like this:

  1. laptops
  2. cell phones
  3. Kindles
  4. PSP
  5. Nintendo DS
  6. Ipad
  7. Ipod
  8. Itouch
  9. Nexus
  10. tablets

It was clear to me, whether it was 7th or 8th grade, the students had a clear grasp on the concept of what a mobile device is.  Upon completing our list on the whiteboard, I shifted their thinking to another topic that involved using mobile technologies; digital citizenship.  As an educator and an advocate for the use of mobile technology in the classroom, I was disappointed when I posed the question: “Who has heard of digital citizenship?” Out of all three of my 7th grade classes, not one student raised their hand.  This is a problem.  By 7th grade students need to be made well aware of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.  Needless to say, I felt it was necessary to discuss this topic with them.  During our conversation we discussed the characteristics of being a citizen. Students knew that a good citizen participated in community activities, was respectful, followed rules/laws, and needed to be helpful to others.  After students exhausted all the characteristics we talked about how they apply to being a digital citizen as well. Furthermore, I took the time to address cyber-bullying and sexting.  By the end of the week, I would like to develop a handout or sheet for the students to put inside of their planners stating their responsibilities as a digital citizen.  I also want to send the handout home to parents to help educate them as well.  The 8th graders were much  better when it came to digital citizenship and that is because I discussed it with them last year.  I did revisit cyber-bullying and sexting to pound home the importance behind what NOT to do when using a mobile device.

Even though I took more time discussing digital citizenship than what I wanted, it will be worth it in the long wrong.  Laptops were handed out to each student.  I called up 5 students at a time and assigned them a number.  The number they are assigned will be the same number laptop they will use in other classes.  This helps us as the teachers and our tech guy who to talk to if the computer has been used maliciously or it gets broken.  On the whiteboard the students were given written directions on what to do with the computer.

  1. Turn on the laptop
  2. Login to your school account
  3. Access Internet Explorer
  4. Go to www.schoology.com
  5. Watch the short video on the home page

After all of the students completed the tasks on the board, I walked them through the sign-up process for Schoology.  Students were given their individual course codes and then they had to fill in their names, usernames, and passwords.  I directed students to use their last name and first initial of their first name for their username.  For example, mine would by hylerj.  I asked them to make their passwords something easy to remember or use the same password they use for Facebook.  Schoology has an excellent feature available to teachers where they can reset a student’s password if they happen to forget it.  Now, I did run into a few glitches today with students not being able to log in to their school accounts meaning they couldn’t use the laptop that was in front of them.  Such is life when it comes to technology.  I had these students look on with other students who didn’t have difficulty logging in.

Despite the typical issues that came about today, I was able to get everyone signed into their courses I created.  We then walked through the files/links tab and the discussion tab.  We focused more of our attention on the discussion tab.  It is here where we will be collaborating as a class.  I will have the students post discussion questions for socratic discussions we will have in class.  It will be a place I may post reading questions after the students finish a reading homework assignment, and it is a space where students can ask me questions about homework or other assignments.  Today, I simply posted the question, what is your favorite music, music artist and why?  I instructed the students to post their reply and respond to 2 other members in the class.  Prior to releasing them to work on their own, I modeled for them what a quality response is to another member.  Responses like nice, wow, I agree, I like that, and great are not accessible.  I want my students to actually have a discussion, so I direct them to ask questions, be thoughtful and to put some time into their responses.  This conversation and modeling is worth it because students really start to have quality discussions.  Below is an example of what a discussion page looks like.

Once students got started, there weren’t any issues with them operating the site.  A lot of students were shocked how much it is like Facebook.  Even though it appears my students may not have done a lot in class today, they did complete at least one of the Common Core Standards.

  • Standards W.7.6 and W.8.6 – Use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Students were able to identify technology (Schoology) and collaborated with peers and their teacher through technology to enhance their writing.

By the time the end of the day came, I felt like I had been holding my breath all day long.  It never seems like there is enough time to cover what needs to be done.  Tomorrow brings us to Narrative reading.

Cheers!

Advertisements

Unconnected Learners

I just finished listening in on Teachers Teaching Teachers tonight.  It was the kick-off for Connected Educators Month.  Check out the link here. Through many different topics and conversations that took place in the session, I decided to write my blog post tonight about connected learners and the unconnected learners that are reluctant to be connected.

Since going through the Summer Institute in 2010, I consider myself a connected learner.  What does this mean?  Well, it means I stay connected with other professionals through various social media sites, or other web platforms where ideas can be shared and essentially we become better teachers because we learn what is working in each other’s classroom and go forward with more learning tools in our belts.  For example, I find Twitter to be a phenomenal place to get unscripted professional development.  I find new websites, digital tools, and have conversations with other educators that help enrich my teaching. In addition, I may attend webinars, online book talks, or participate in subscribing to a blog.  There is a cornucopia of ways to be a connected learner.

Enriching my teaching and my students as learners is what I crave and what I thrive for each and every day.  The idea of “not being in teacher mode” during the summer or any other time of year, never crosses my mind.  I am not cutting down educators that may have made that comment in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, we all need a break.  I can’t help but wonder why there are teachers out there who do not want be connected or help their students become connected learners.  I understand there are districts who prevent their teachers from using technology to enhance their student’s learning.  This does not mean the teacher themselves can’t become connected in some way to help their students.  Also, what actually holds teachers back from becoming a connected learner and discovering the possibilities that awaits them?  Is it fear of using something like Twitter, Facebook, or Google +?  Perhaps it is the lack of knowledge of such technological tools and what they offer.  I also wonder if there are still teachers out there who think technology is just another gimmick, bell, or whistle to bring in the classroom.  Wait,  it is less of a wonder and more of a “I know”; but there are teachers who believe using technology within their lessons is just an excuse to use it. Grasping and understanding the “why” has not been attained.

One specific topic that came about in the discussion tonight was “lurkers”.  Lurkers are those people who in reality are connected, but never participate in what is happening.  For instance, I have participated in webinars where individual participants don’t do anything to actively participate in the session.  They sit and watch and are just there.  What motivates these individuals to “lurk”?  Are they not confident, just being good listeners, or are they just there because they have to be there as a requirement by a principal?

Connected Learning month will hopefully answer some of the questions that were brought up tonight.  On the other hand, the answers may already exist.  Nevertheless, connected learning can be powerful for teachers and students.  Online book discussions, webinars, social media with students, Youth Voices, Digital Is, etc. are all great ways to be connected and become better teachers and help your students be better learners.  Check out more resources on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website for connected learning.

Cheers!


Positive Social Media

My brain has been swirling around a lot of 21st century learning this past week and I know the only to keep my thoughts straight is to write about it.  There is no doubt social media is becoming more and more apparent in the classroom.  Though school policies may ban it from districts, teachers and students are fighting for it. Yes, I know, I may not be saying anything new, but I wanted to share what will be taking place this year in my classroom and at my school and how I came to this point.
What to choose?
Twitter, Facebook, Celly, Edmodo, Schoology, Remind 101, Etc.  I am sure I am missing a few. It is tough to decide which social media platform to choose.  It can be really overwhelming and rather perplexing.  First, I suggest choosing something you are either familiar with or you can familiarize yourself with and won’t take up too much of your time.  My wife uses Facebook. She is a band director and at the beginning of this summer she launched a group page. She know I am technology savvy and asked me how to do it and I honestly could not give her an answer because though I have a Facebook account, I am not the huge of a fan of Facebook and didn’t know how to complete the task she was asking. She trudged through, figured it out and now has a over two hundred parents and students as part of that group.  She uses it to send out reminders, answer questions, create events, and keep an open line of communication of between herself and parents.  It works for her and she is having success. For example, she had a fundraiser event and she had over forty student volunteers because her students are a part of that social media page/group.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t work for me.  Facebook was never intended to be used in schools and therefore, you have bullying issues and students can private message each other and that opens a dangerous door.  Other social media platforms are simpler to navigate and upload images,files, assignments, etc.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I tried to use Edmodo in my classroom. Edmodo is a great social platform that mirrors Facebook and students can dive right in and they don’t skip a beat as Facebook users. Messages can be posted along with links, assignments, etc.  The issue I have with Edmodo is that students can get off topic easily (This can be an issue with any social media website) and students can still send private messages to each other like Facebook.  My student’s wound up creating digital debris this past year because the more I worked with it, I didn’t care for it.  Teachers can belong to groups and get other ideas from teachers.  I am sure with more training and practice, I could have made it work, I just wasn’t sold 100% on it. This doesn’t mean it won’t work for other teachers.
Celly was my main social media platform I used this past year and you can read about in my other blog posts or go to the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website and read about it.
What I Am Doing 2012-2013
At the end of the school year we had a department meeting. My high school colleague introduced Schoology to myself and another language arts teacher.  Like a professional poker player, I am all in!  Schoology rocks because my students and parents can join it once I give them an access code (Edmodo does the same).  Students can NOT private message each other.  All messages are public and viewable by me the teacher, eliminating cyber bullying.  Resources can be shared amongst teachers, assignments can be uploaded to students along with links.  The greatest thing about Schoology is the fact students can upload Google docs to the site, which I have not seen with other social media platforms. I use Google Docs in my classroom and essentially had a paperless classroom by the end of the year.  We are going to be a Google Apps school this year and we will house the students portfolios there.  We agreed between the three of us we would incorporate this social media platform into our classes.  It makes sense for us to keep our lines of communication open with our students and parents and we want to properly assess our student writers by using a writing portfolio that can be passes from grade to grade.  We will at least have grade 7-11 covered using a digital portfolio.
What ever you consider or choose, just keep in mind that there will be students and parents who may not have internet access.  Also, consult with your principal and read your policies on using such a tool.  Also, create a sample student so you see things from their perspective too. Believe me, it helps! Each of these social media sites have apps for smartphones too.  I believe the Celly app is still in the beta stages. Also, investigate Youth Voices too. I will be blogging about this site this year as I incorporate into my writing lessons.  Social media is a digital writing tool that should be considered for any classroom as we teach the 21st century learner.  The collaboration can be endless with using such a tool.  It isn’t just about students sitting in front of their computer, phone, or mobile device.
Look for more blog posts this week. I am going to try and do one at least 3 times this week. Connected Learning kicks of this week too at NWP.
Cheers!

BYOD: It Can Work!

I recently read an article from Emerging Edtech titled 5 Reasons Why BYOD is a Bad Idea. As an online subscriber, I immediately read the article when it entered my inbox. Not to mention, I am a huge advocate for students using cell phones in the classroom.  After all, I am writing a book about it.  The article outlines 5 areas or reasons why it is a bad idea for students to bring their own device into the classroom.  I want to address each one of these individually and point out why it can work, even in a small rural district where I teach.

First, the article addresses, equipment inequity. Okay, so not everyone is going to have the same phone, tablet, etc.  The article argues there will be many inconsistencies when dealing with many different brands, and types of devices.  There are some easy solutions to this quandry.  For example, my students started to use cell phones in my language arts classroom this year and I had students who had iphones, flip phones, smart phones, “dumb” phones, etc. As a teacher, I had to keep this in mind when it came to incorporating technology into my existing lessons. So, I used a social platform (Celly) that supported both smart phones and “dumb” phones.  I don’t think there is a need to worry about the equipment being brought in by our students. Educators need to find website, social platforms, etc. that can be supported across the board.  Furthermore, doesn’t every teacher have an alternative plan if something doesn’t work?  My students can log onto the classroom wikispace to work and with the amount of students who bring in their own devices, I can get them on a computer in our lab.

Next, tech support is discussed as a downfall.  In comparison to the first issue the article discussed, it basically is echoing the same thing.  Because students will have different devices, there will be different issues with software and configuration.  The article doesn’t give exact specifics.  I suggest as a teacher who is interested in doing this to do your homework.  Research what devices your students have and see which ones could potentially cause you the most headaches.  Also, as mentioned before, choose a digital tool that can be supported on a various devices.  Trust me, they are out there.  The article also said the tech support would pick up more problems.  Why?  It seems to me that if students are bringing in their own device, they should know how the device works.  In addition, I would hope the teacher is comfortable with using technology and perhaps could provide assistance to the students.  Teachers should also know when to draw the line when it comes to how much time is being eaten away due to technological problems.  As mentioned before, having a plan B helps.

The third point the article brings up called bring your own distraction is grasping at straws.  Yes, students do have distractions on their devices.  I had students who had apps, games, or music on their phones and it was never an issue.  First of all, my students and I have a mutual respect about the use of their phones.  I have never given my students a sheet with a set of rules and regulations regarding their phones.  The only rules my students were solidly aware of were the school wide rules.  It was really amazing how my students never had their phones out when they weren’t supposed to and the number of times I had students ask me to get their cell phones out.  I firmly believe the respect given by me to them when it came to their device fed into the respect they gave back to me when it came to the use of their devices.  Oh, and the other point I want to argue is any teacher who has quality classroom management will have very few issues.

Internet Content Filtering is the fourth issue addressed in the post.  I completely understand this point, however, if students are bringing in laptops or tablets, students are going to have to connect to the network being used at the school. Then, the content can be filtered.  On the other hand, I know students who have 3G and 4G on their phones and I also have both on my phone.  There isn’t a big difference between the two.  When using cell phones, there can be an issue about accessing inappropriate sites.  With firm acceptable use policies in place, student expectations aren’t a guessing game. If students aren’t using the device for what is was intended, then they lose the privilage of using it at school.  Teachers can’t just sit at their desk either after giving the student an assignment.  They need to circulate and monitor their students the best they can to make sure the students are on task.

Finally, the mine is better than yours syndrome is not a solid enough reason to not incorporate a BYOD policy into a school. I am around middle schoolers and high schoolers every day and I don’t see this with technology nearly as much as I do with a pair of shoes, or clothing.  Some students are going to have a better or different device and I am sure there are going to be instances where students don’t have anything at all.  Growing up my best friend had the latest Nintendo, Sega, etc. and I never hated him or made fun of him. He never flaunted it to anyone either.  The only grade levels I could potentially see this would be in the elementary levels.  Nevertheless, this argument shouldn’t deter anyone from wanting to use tech devices in their classroom.

I normally don’t look to be argumentative with what I read online when it comes to professional publications, but this particular post/article struck a few nerves.  I had a very successful year with students bringing their own cell phones. Like with any lesson or unit in the classroom, I did have hurdles from time to time, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t overcome. I had a wide array of phones brought in and I had students who didn’t have them.  As a teacher you make adjustments and have alternative methods to meet the needs of all of your students.

Cheers!


Celly and the Common Core Standards

This post has been long overdue.  I wanted to outline the connections I can make to the Common Core Standards (CCSS) with Celly.  Below I have chosen three strands from the CCSS that I use with Celly.  Each strand is followed by what I do in my classroom and what I hope my students take away from it.  Though these aren’t the only strands I can connect to, this is where I started at the beginning of the year.

1.)  8.W.6 – Production and Distribution of Writing: Use technology, including the internet to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

With the Common Core calling for teachers to use technology in their classroom, this is an easy connection to make.  Celly is internet based and requires students to use technology (a.k.a. – cell phones).  One of the greatest benefits of this digital tool is the fact students can interact and collaborate about ideas presented either by the teacher or other students.  One of the ways my 8th graders are going to collaborate is to discuss their ideas about alternate endings for The Giver by Louis Lowry.  Then, after discussing their ideas, they will extend their ideas by working on an alternate ending using Google Docs.

2.)  8.W.2 – Text Types and Purposes: Write informative/explanatory text to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
This strand is the most common strand I use when connecting Celly to the CCSS.  A simple example can be using Celly one day a week in your classroom in place of an every day journal writing in a composition notebook.  The big difference between the students using their cell phones instead of their journals is they can collaborate a lot easier and respond to multiple students who are using Celly.  Many times I might give students a topic to think about and to just write down their ideas about it.  Celly has helped generate some great classroom discussions and has helped create that safe writing community where students can share and feel like their ideas are valued and accepted.
3.) 8.L.2 – Conventions of Standard English: Demonstrate the command of the conventions of standard English, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
     This is an easy one, at least for me.  Today there is a lot of debate over how texting has influenced students and the way they write.  Teachers complain about how they find text “lingo” in the papers their students are turning in for a grade.  For example, students might write “u” instead of “you” or they might not capitalize “i”.  Regardless of what the students might do, the overall lesson goes back to teaching our students how to be digital citizens and modeling for them when it is acceptable to use their “lingo”.
     I make it very clear to my students there is nothing wrong with using a text language, they just need to know the difference between formal and non-formal writing.  It could be argued that using cell phones and a platform such as Celly is non-formal.  I disagree because I believe it is up to the teacher how they want to use Celly.  To help my students define the differences, I require my students to use formal writing when we use Celly.  I often give them a grade for their written responses and if they are not following the conventions of Standard English, they lose points.
Cheers!

Cellular Division

As my regular followers know, I am passionate about using cell phones as a digital tool in my classroom.  In addition, I have really enjoyed exploring Celly in my classroom, a texting platform that allows my students to communicate through text messaging on their cell phones.  What is really nice for me as a teacher who teaches in a low-income, rural district, Celly allows my students to use smart phones and “dumb phones”.

My intention of this blog post is not to discuss Celly or how I am specifically using cell phones in my classroom.  I want to put something out there that I am passionate about.  Over the past several days as I have been doing research for some writing I am doing on cell phones, I came across several articles, blogs, and comments about cell phones being used in the classroom.  In my readings and observations I am still seeing a huge number of educators taking on a negative attitude towards the use of cell phones in the classroom. Now, I am a language arts teacher and I want to tell everyone that reads this, I am still focusing on making my students better writers.  Yes, it is true, I don’t always have my students writing with paper in pencil in my classroom.  Why is this so bad?  I am still helping my students grow as writers and I am using digital tools to help them achieve confidence as writers and my students are engaged.  Yes, I truly believe we are seeing a paradigm shift from paper/pencil to laptops and cell phones. What I embrace the most is the use of cell phones while connecting the Common Core Standards.  Things change and in this instance, I believe it is a change we need to embrace if we want to reach our students. My students see my genuine excitement for writing and know I am not abandoning paper and pencil. In addition, I am not asking any other educator to stop using the typical writing tools in an language arts classroom.  As a matter of fact, my students write in a journal daily using a composition notebook and pen or pencil and enjoy it. But, that is a whole separate blog post.

Though not everything I have read is completely negative, I see a lot of apprehension and excuses emerging from educators shifting in this new direction.  Teachers are afraid by using cell phones in their classroom they are going to open up a pandora’s box of problems where they will never get their students to put the cell phone away when they are not using it or supposed to be using it.  Bottom line, this comes down to classroom management.  Yes, it is possible to build a community of writers with cell phones.  I have not had one issue with my 7th/8th grade students this year and their cell phones.  As a matter of fact, my students are constantly asking permission to use their cell phones in my classroom.  My students and I have a mutual respect for one another when it comes to their cell phones and what my expectations are in the classroom.  I have built this community within the walls of my classroom and I have taught my students how to be digital citizens and this citizenship carried over to other classes too.

On the other hand, I also am learning there is apprehension from teachers because of the current policies their schools have in place.  The thought is if the policy states students can’t use them in school or they are supposed to be in their lockers, they can’t use them in their classrooms.  Well, my school policy echoes the idea that students should keep their cell phones in their locker, but I use them in my classroom.  It starts with having an open communication with you and your administration.  If you haven’t had a conversation with your principal about the possibilities cell phones can bring to your classroom, then you have no room to complain about your school’s policy on cell phones.

Bottom line, there is a “cellular divide” that is going to continue to exist due to the strict policies, apprehensiveness, and the overall refusal to change the methods being used in the classroom.  Educators need to see the benefits and the power that digital tools such as cell phones can have in the classroom and on the students.  I may be only one of the few who believe in the benefits, but I am willing to do the convincing.

Cheers!


Struggling with Research at the Middle School Level

When my students return from spring break next week they will be embarking on the research portion of the year. The past few weeks I have really struggled with the term “research paper”. Though I see the purpose of doing a research paper, I am not sure having my students turn in a 4-5 page “research paper” is best practice. To be more clear, I am thinking about my 7th grade classes.

My 8th graders, on the other hand, do a multi-genre research project which I absolutely love and I love their enthusiasm about the project. It also falls under the CCSS because one of the Common Core Standards is doing a “research project”. Please see my multi-genre project on Digital Is. The easy solution would be for my 7th graders to do the multi-genre project as well, but with different expectations. The reason I am not considering this option is because I do not want to grade over 110 projects that could include up to 6 pieces of writing. I wouldn’t sleep this spring if I decided to take this route.

Regardless of what direction I go in, I know that I am going to have an absorbant amount of paperwork and I am fine with knowing this, but having 5 classes doing a multi-genre research project could have the potential of me grading over 500 pieces of writing. WOW! What I really struggle with is knowing if I am going to reach students. In my district, if I don’t do some sort of research with my students, they will not see it again until 11th grade. Besides, I know that I have too. And it would seem with the CCSS, my colleagues at the high school level would have to as well. Why do we do a research paper anyways? I ofter wonder how dumb of a question that really is or do others have this thought too.

At our last department meeting I asked what is the value of a research paper and we had a really great conversation about how it isn’t the paper itself that is important for the students, but rather it is the process that the students go through. For example, students should know how to research effectively, they should know how to site sources and give credit where credit is due, and they need to be able to clearly convey what they learned from that research. So, my question is can I get students to show this without it being a 4-5 page “research paper”? Or is it in the best interest of the students to change my attack on this particular genre of writing. I am a huge advocate for technology being used in the classroom. Google Docs would be a start in the right direction. In addition, I am considering letting the students use cell phones to help with their research. I will explain what my thinking is on that in a later blog post.

So, I wonder, what are other middle school teachers doing in the realm of the research? What are others doing in their classroom? Are there other teachers out there that feel the same as I do? I would love to hear feedback and suggestions. More to come…

Cheers!