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Eliminate the Excuse

21 Nov

One of the first lessons I got in teaching was to develop strong classroom management procedures to handle the problems that I did not want to deal with. For example, passing in papers, I have my students do “School Olympics” where each class passes in papers to the back, then to the right, then into their box. I do this activity in the first week and again several more times to keep it fresh. This way, when I say pass in your papers, the kids know which way to go and where the box is to turn papers. No more questions on where papers go, no more kids, “here” instead of passing it in to the box, just a smooth simple procedure. Technology is the same way for me, I developed my resources for the sole purpose of eliminating problems in class: forgetting assignments, forgetting work, not doing work because the student needed help, forgetting books, losing a handout and much more. By adding technology resources to my classroom I am able to build stronger connections with my students while at the same time eliminating the excuse for not doing what is expected.  Continue reading

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Fast Follow is more than Following Fast

5 Jan

I’m always impressed with people who feel that teenagers are the tech savvy generation. Keep in mind that teens are very good at texting and Facebook, but not much beyond that (in most cases). When I first started using cell phones in the classroom, I knew that texting was the key. However, I did not want to individually text 150 students. So, in a moment of inspiration, I started using Twitter with my students. After four days and only one student signing up I was in a jam. I took a chance on Twitter Fast Follow, a service Twitter offers that allows someone to follow a person on Twitter without even creating an account. It took me two days to get 80% of my students signed up with Twitter.

Fast follow is simple, send a text to 40404 with the phrase “Follow (username)”. For example, I had the kids text 40404 with the words “Follow Soethengclass”. This was a great way to do informal surveys, send out information, connect with kids and make myself available for questions or help.

The first thing I did to get student involvement was start some give-a-way projects. For example, I would tweet out that the first five people who replied to a tweet would get a prize. The next day, I gave out at least one king sized candy bar in each class. My goal, to create interaction in social media. I wanted the students to know they could reach out to me and to pay attention to the tweets going out.

In class, I started backing off the amount of writing the kids had to do, especially during discussions. We spent a lot of time going over class discussions and the expectations for class discussions, and I would have a student keep track on the board of the main points that we would go over. Then, at the end of class, I would take a picture with my iPhone and tweet it out to my students. Their job, make a copy for their notes. My goal, one tweet a day as I knew if I could get my text or tweet to show up on a student’s phone I could make them think about me or class. Anytime a student thinks about my class outside of school is a good thing.

Now, the evidence that supports using Twitter. About two years back I had a conversation with another teacher by the name of Corey Bess. Corey did what I did not, research. You can read Corey’s blog to get more specific info, but I will boil it down. Corey created two identitcal sets of students: grades, race, socioeconomic, and class size. At the end of one year, he found that his students who used twitter socred- overall – 8 percent better on their final grade than those who did not. This number grew significantly over the course of year as students who used Twitter scored almost 10 percent better on standardized tests than those who did not use Twitter. That gap grew over the course of the year. Corey did the same thing I did, one tweet a day. And the tweets can be specific like “HW tonight on page 29, make sure you read the paragraph first,” to the casual, “Happy Friday, remember to wear your Orange and Blue.”

I started using my Twitter for various purposes. I would do spirit updates, pictures, assignments for that day in class, or motivational items like “do your best today.” Over time, I found my students were very happy to contact me via Twitter and ask questions on assignments. In the past year, I have seen my students who use Twitter increase by fifty percent. While I used to have to explain Twitter, I am finding that less and less as kids are jumping on board and following each other or their favorite celebrities. Additionally, with only 140 characters, Twitter forces students to be concise with their communications. At the same time, the Twitter community frowns on abbreviations and misspelling, so a lot of the text speak that kids use is fairly non existent in the Twitter-verse.

One other passionate educator I know who uses fast follow is Ron Ippolito. Ron and I have had some great discussions on fast follow. On of those discussions involved using fast follow as part of a school Twitter account. Now, you have a free way to communicate with parents via text or Twitter. Granted, there are a lot of text services out there, but I don’t know too many that are free. Twitter is a great way to have a conversation with your students, parents or staff. It’s a great way to stay connected and gives your community one more option in getting their information or contacting you. That’s a great lesson in customer service for your students to take to their professional lives.

 

Cell Phone Karma, It’s Real

4 Jan

About two years ago, right after my daughter was born, my wife and I managed to escape for a night to a movie, our first one in months. As the previews started I noticed the faint glow of Facebook on a smart phone beneath us. I ignored it at first, but it was distracting in the dark theater. When someone behind us yelled, “turn it off!” I decided to do the same and asked them to turn of the phone. About ten minutes later after the previews, the phone was on again back to Facebook. I had to ask again, got a rude reply, but did not see the phone till after the film. Constantly in social settings more and more people are oblivious to acceptable social norms when it comes to technology. Schools are not addressing the issue as many districts ban the use of phones due to fear of liability. The downside are students who enter the world with covert cell phone skills as they text like ninjas all the while oblivious to the information they have access to through their phones. Additionally, these same students are ill prepared to take jobs at corporations who expect them to be able to use the resources available to problem solve, communicate as to use professionally.

Keep in mind, that we are not only fighting the kids but the kids’ parents: the ones who bought the phones, pay for the phones, expect their kids to answer anytime they call the phones, and any other number of reasons parents want their kids to have a phone. Think about how many times you have students who go to the parking lot to meet a parent during lunch or between classes? Or, a student comes up during class and says, “My mom is here can I go to the office?” even if you have not gotten a call or note from the office stating that someone is here for the student. If you were to ask them, “how do you know your parent is here,” the answer usually revolves around a text. I was getting tired of this behavior, so I knew it was time for a little professional development with cell phones and my students.

My first lesson was when students could have their phones on and off. So, I would ask kids to take out their phones, and done one of two things depending on the lesson:

1. Everyone please take out your cell phone, make sure it is turned off right now as we won’t be using them for a bit. Once your phone is off please put it on the left hand side of your desk so I know you are ready.

2. Everyone please take out your cell phone, make sure it is turned on, and when you are ready please place your phone on the left hand side of your desk.

The left hand side is key as most students are right handed. The motion of reaching across a desk for a phone will be awkward and noticeable, plus it was a visual cue for me to know when kids had their phones and were ready. If students felt more comfortable putting their phones in their bags while they were off, that was fine. However, if the phones were out or not where I expected them to be, the phones were mine.

In the early days I did not do much: some texting, a few surveys, definitely Twitter (fast follow is one of the best inventions ever) which I will touch on later.

One of the most common questions I get is access. When I started this, over half my students had phones, about half could text during school. So, for certain projects students partner up or work in groups. Over time, I have more students with smart phones or the ability to text so that number has gone down over the past two years. As early as 2008 Nielsen reported that over 70% of students had a phone while over 80% had access to a phone. That number has risen significantly.

Smart phones are a game changer. Where I had one or two kids with smart phones I now have over half my class with smart phones. Now, I can have the students do research, look up films, find articles or do basic research as necessary. Some studies I have read estimate that as of December of 2011, over half of all phones that students use are smart phones.

As tech savvy as we think students are, they are not as good at technology as we give most of them credit for. Students are only as good as their needs, and most of their needs occur on Facebook. Basic skills such as searching, analyzing, filtering content, or even recognizing marketing trends are deficient. Much like the old musical number from Bye Bye Birdie – it’s not the phone lines that are tied up but how many text messages one person can send in a minute.

As for AUP’s, I will include one I got from Ron Ippolito – a fellow teacher with an amazing blog – who is doing some great work with phones and other items: AUP Policy. After researching all over, the basics are this: you can have it, you may use it with teacher permission, it’s a privilege to use your phone at school, we are not responsible if your phone is lost or stolen. Keep in mind, phones are a part of the curriculum, they are not the only way to complete the curriculum, therefore phones enhance the learning process but are note required for the learning process.

In the end, my students enjoy have greater access to me via their phones either through texting or through Twitter. I’ve noticed that the level of understanding, respect and responsibility with technology has gone up immensely while the lessons I am able to figure out from basic social skills to applicable career skills is astounding.

Video Time Machine

20 Jul

Living in a media drive age, it would make sense that we, as educators, have access to videos and clips that feature some of the great moments in our history: movies, music, tv, news, sports, games and ads.  To truly understand history in any context is to know what is going on in that time period. There are many ways to set the scene, YouTube is one, though researching all of that video footage takes time; the Library of Congress has some great videos to download via iTunes if you have the time; or how about the vidoes and DVD’s which are delivered with our textbooks (in my case, laser discs and reel to reel – totally up to date on technology here).  Even better, how about a device that let’s kids research or identify the videos that best describe the time period? Enger Video Time Machine, a new app available for the iPhone and iPad that carefully selects videos that best represent the time period they were made. As the site claims, “You can watch over 10,000 handpicked videos from 1860-2011.”

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Podcasting Made Easy, Part IV: Video

7 Jul

My introduction to video came in 2001 with an early edition of Final Cut.  I had to work on two different computers as the file sizes – at 14 GB – were too large to use on just one Mac.  This was so much better than using two VCR’s to create the high-light tape for our college team.  That’s right, I was at a UC school and we were using two VCR’s to create the high-light tape for our final awards dinner … not any more. This idea stuck with me as I began to incorporate video content into my podcasts – I needed to provide video of good quality to make my episodes interesting to watch.
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Podcasting Made Easy, Part III : The Interview

5 Jul

For one of my first podcasts, I called upon Phil Boyte who lived up in the foothills two hours from where I live.  He agreed and I offered to drive up and meet him.  We sat and spoke for a bit, and it became clear I did not have a vision of what I wanted the subjects of my podcasts to be.  I had ideas, and most of the time I left that idea choosing process up to the person I was interviewing.  However, with that much choice, my subjects would often get lost and be unsure of a topic.  I lost a few interviews that way, especially from people who are not used to be recorded.  Phil and I eventually did a great podcast on ideas you can use for the first days/week of school – but it took a little time to get there.  I began to learn – thanks to my conversation with Phil – that I needed to get dialed in to the content I was looking for in the podcast. Continue reading

My Next Scavenger Hunt

20 Jun
QR for my website

Try this with your camera, it's a great way to find my blog.

I love QR images on so many levels.  The are around us, some subtly some not so subtly, on bust stops, billboards, website, produce and even on some of the packages you receive in the mail from the postal service or UPS.  Founded back in the 1990’s by the Japanese Auto Industry, these images are being used by marketing companies for gorilla marketing campaigns to gain the attention of a tech savvy crowds.

I recently purchased some produce and on the inside of the label was a QR image to scan an enter a contest to see if I won the sweepstakes.  I was recently at a wine tasting  in Lodi where the winery was using QR images to download tasting notes.  I could scan the image and I was taken to a website with notes, pricing and ordering information.  I can then save the info in my scans and access this data any time I want.  “What was the wine I liked again, I will look at my phone.”  Jimmy Fallon used an image on his Late Show during one of his comedy bits that took you to a link of the video he was making. This technology will start to pop up more and more and in many different ways, so how can I use this in education?

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