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Connect your School with Remind

11 Mar

After using the Remind texting app with my students to connect my classes, I had a thought to connect my entire school in the same way. I’m constantly hearing from students that they are uninformed and don’t know what is going on at school. So, I set out to get my kids connected on their phones using Remind.

I targeted two groups year one, the freshmen and seniors. I knew that I would have those groups together, and that is key. If kids feel they have a choice to signup, most won’t. However, if all the kids are there at the same time and you instruct them to signup to get updates, they will see their friends signing up. That, and the kids get excited when the teacher tells them to take out their phones and do something with them. So, at freshmen orientation and at senior sunrise the first week of school, I had about three hundred kids sign-up for text updates. My students brought out a giant sign with the info needed to sign up and we parked them in front of the crowd as we explained how and why to signup.

Over the next two years we had all four classes signed up. Now, I had the ability to advertise dances, share deadlines, remind kids to bring books for library check in, and remind kids about spirit days (we started getting a better turnout). I would use the app for spirit give-a-ways (hide items on campus or have kids line-up by a certain door, first ten there get a spirit item).

One tip, have your students sign-up by class. For example, my current list is the Class of 2015, Class of 2016, Class of 2017 and the Class of 2018. This way, I can send a text to all groups, or, if it’s just seniors, I can send the text to just the Class of 2015.

How will you use Remind? 

Top Tips to Remind your Students

10 Mar

Over the past five years I have played with a lot of technology to keep in touch with students and make sure that the kids were connected and informed about school. With everything I have done, texting is the most effective method to connect with kids. If a student has a phone it will always be on his or her person and they will be tuned in waiting for  the next update or message that has relevancy to their world. With that I recommend Remind as a tool to help you stay connected. This is a teacher friendly app that safely connects you to students or parents to share information and content relevant to your class.

Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Have your class sign-up together as a group on the first day of school. I explain that text rates apply, kids get that, and that you want your kids to stay connected and informed.
  2. Make it Interactive right away. My first text that night is a question. The first ten kids who show up at class with the secret word or the answer to the riddle get a giant candy bar or similar prize.
  3. Tell kids to save the number you are using to sign up for the reminders as “School Reminders”. This way, if other teachers use the app, they won’t confuse Mr. Smith’s updates with Mrs. Jackson’s updates. This also goes back to not over texting kids especially if multiple teachers at your school use Remind.
  4. Encourage kids to get the app if they are able. There are additional features in the app, such as the new Chat feature from Remind, that goes beyond simple texting. Kids can use the app to communicate with you directly. This is a feature you can turn on or off.
  5. Put Remind up on your white board or screen, let kids see your admin panel, ask them when they want a reminder for an assignment. This will build trust as your kids see what you are doing and how you are managing the text messages.
  6. Create groups for each class. As hard as we try, first period and fifth period may not be on the same pace and updates may vary.
  7. Send out extra credit questions via text or leak test questions. The goal is interaction, that is more important than a point on a test.
  8. Attach handouts, resources, photos of the agenda or notes taken on the white board. Send out photos of great projects or historical events relevant to the course of study. In my class I send out video tutorials the kids can use on projects.
  9. Be aware of times. With high school kids, I target fifteen minutes before school, when the bell rings at the start of lunch, when the bell rings at the end of the school day or between 7-8 at night. I know that is when kids will have eyes on their phones and I will get the most interaction with my text. If you are middle school, I would target before school or after school. If you are grade school or below, find out when your parents are most receptive to getting info for your class.
  10. Sync your Remind account to Twitter. Now, you can group text and update Twitter with one push of the button.

Get started using Remind with one of your classes today. What are some ideas you have for using Remind in your class?

New Apogee Mic

24 Nov

My Apogee and iPad Set-up for a mobile podcast

I recently purchased the new Apogee Micfor the iPad and iPhone. It runs $200 on Amazon or in the Apple store and connects through the 30 pin adapter or through a USB port on your computer. I was skeptical, but since my goal was to get as minimalist as possible and podcast on the go, this seemed like my tool. Plus, in reading reviews, this seemed like a great device to capture acoustic recordings for my students guitars and ukeleles.

Here is a sound test I did using Garageband dry with no effects and with the telephone filter.

I have found recording in Garageband to be easy and amazing. I have a more professional set-up with AKG Perception 420  which was twice as much as the Apogee mic that includes a sound board with xlr to USB inputs. If you would like to find out about my sound set-up for podcasts with the AKG, you can check that out here.

So far, I like the mic. As you can hear it does a pretty good job on sound. Now, I did shut off all of the vents and fans in the house as well as all other electronic devices and made sure I was the only person in the room. The device does have a button on the side to to adjust gain, so you can control your level of input. The mic also comes with a stand that has an adjustable head, so you can angle or position the mic just about wherever and however you want.

Overall, if you are looking for an inexpensive mic for your iPad or iPhone, this is a good choice. From experience I would say this is way better than a snowball mic, so if you want to use it for your Mac as well I would say go for it. If you have an iPhone 5 or an iPad 3 I don’t have any solutions for you, but I’ll keep working.

I do love recording on my iPad in Garageband. The simple filters make it easy to do great voice over for story telling and narration while recording using live instruments or using the smart instruments is very intuitive and easy to use. I’ll update this post once I get some instrument recordings and vocals.

If you are curious about podcasting, then check out some of my previous posts on how I learned to podcast and what equipment I like to use.

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

Which Are You?

28 Aug

I had something interesting happen to me that I have not seen in a long time, a person actually went out of their way to tell me I was not good at something. In this day and age where teenage bravado is only matched by anyone’s desire to share or overshare whatever they are thinking whenever they are thinking it,  I’m still amazed at how far someone will go out of their way to put others down.  I got an email the other day that read, “Hey Guess What” in the subject line with the message of “Your videos are really bad.” I was a bit shocked. More so because these were not my videos, these were my students’ videos; and much like an overprotective parent, I was ready for battle. Then I was a reminded of a great poem I was exposed to a few years ago, and I asked myself, which are you, a builder or a wrecker?  Continue reading

Oversimplifying Tech

12 Aug

There is a landslide of comments online on the various social media networks proclaiming, “Let kids use their phones.” It makes sense, there is more computing power in the current smart phones than there was on the space shuttle that landed on the moon in 1969. However, when I hear this phrase thrown around, I feel as if people have this mental image of a technological Moses descending upon their school with tablets and smart phones where he will utter the prophetic words, “Principal, let my students learn.” And in that one moment a pantheon of learning will take place unparalleled in the history of the world. We will enter a new renaissance which will foster in an age of discovery and advancement through mobile learning. I wish this was true. We give kids a lot of credit for being tech savvy – and we should – as they have not known any other way to live than with phones and computers. We should not get carried away in this “let them use tech they have” mentality because without training and good instruction, the technology will quickly run away on us and there will not be much teaching and learning going on in schools.

Looking at the recent history of social media, starting with MySpace, the internet was about creating a life you wish you had. Notice in the beginning it was about the number of friends kids had – even if you didn’t speak the same language – and the running gag was that everyone was Tom’s friend. Don’t have many friends in life, you can have 5000 online right now. Play a game, build up a farm or mafia. What, you got an A on your test, well my farm is bigger than yours and my mafia robbed you last night while you were studying, take that. Social media was about creating what you thought your life could be and then showing it off.

When Facebook came around, it was more about making connections. I went to a party or was at a bar, met this person I liked, when home and looked them up, “Hey, remember me, we met last night, let’s hang out.” Now, there was an evolution as Facebook, when it started, was more about connecting with people you already knew or had just met. Now, social media was about enhancing your already functioning life. Did you get a phone number? No worries, I’m sure he/she is on Facebook.

Phones have made this extended reality even more inviting. Currently, about ninety-six percent of college students on Facebook, it’s no surprise that most young people spend their time on the site. Email is no longer the primary way to communicate digitally. With a group of friends, about sixty percent of teens are more interested in the virtual friendships they have online then they are with the friendships of those sitting next to them. The phone has made it easier to be connected to more people at once. Remember that iconic scene from Bye Bye Birdie, right after Ann Margaret gets pinned in the bus (a while new meaning with today’s youth) and the whole teenage population is buzzing with excitement over the phone lines to learn the news and talk about it. Our kids are like that now, only with more typing than talking.

Talk to most safety experts, increased phone use leads to more communication between kids on campus over fights, between gangs (if you serve that population), drug sales in the bathroom and more instances of cyber bullying on campus. A few years back teacher-bating was a sport, where kids will try to make a teacher so mad they would blow-up, the kids could record it and then post to the web. These events and others are a direct result of having absolutely no plan on our campus to handle phones other than, “The handbook says they should be off, so I will take it if I see it. But since it’s off I don’t have to worry about it.”

This has been the plan for years, phones are a distraction so turn them off, end of story. The problem is that we are fighting a higher power. Parents buy phones for their kids so that they – the parents – can get a hold of Johnny or Suzy whenever he/she wants. Looking for proof, how many times has a student bypassed the office and met a car in the parking lot – usually mom – with lunch or a change of clothes for PE, between classes or at lunch? Sound like a safety concern, it is, but remember, en loco parentis may be true, the parent still out ranks you.

Then there is the friends, so many friends: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Kik, texting and the list goes on. There are so many ways for kids to stay connected that they want to, all the time, “I just had this idea, we must talk about it now!” In fact, kids spend so much time connected they don’t know how to turn it off. A 2007 study by the New York Times found that their employees who stopped what they were doing to answer an email or take a call spent, on average, about 15 minutes getting back on task. For many of our students this is all day.

While our students may spend all day online, many of our staff members do not. Some may or may not have Facebook, almost none of them Tweet and very few if any text unless they have kids or are under forty. In any workshop I do, there is always one comment, “go slow on this Twitter thing, I don’t even know what a tweet is and I’m not sure if I get it.” So now we have a staff that is unprepared to handle the tech demands of students who are so far ahead we can’t tell if the kids are texting or learning.

A little over a year ago I did a lesson with my students – focusing on my AP students. Embedded in the lesson was a QR code that would pop up at random times. Finally, a student asked what those boxes were. I explained, “That’s a QR code.” Out of sixty students only one knew what that meant. Many studies suggest that only about thirty-five percent of the population know what those QR codes even are when they see them. As with anything in school, kids need to be trained. Staff needs to be trained, and there needs to be systems and procedures in place to monitor and control the learning taking place in the classrooms.

As it is now, only about one in three students even knows how to use social networks for educational purposes.

One of the age-old arguments in education and technology is supplementation vs integration, it’s been around for a long time. The second argument is equal access which has been around a little bit longer. Sure, kids have phones, but how many students have smart phones? Most studies show fifty percent, but how many have smart phones on your campus? How many of your staff members have smart phones? What apps do your students and staff have on their phones? Do they know how to use them? I use Evernote to take notes in my class, before I made my students use it most of them didn’t know they could take notes on their phones or iTouch devices.

If we want kids to start using their phones we have to show them how. We need to have conversations about what is right and what is wrong to post online as well as conversations about when we can use our phones for personal time and when we need to be professional. Tell your kids to turn off their phones – and not just put them on silent – and when to turn them back on. We cannot assume they know anything. Show your students how to take notes, send a professional text to a boss – like yourself – and to use Twitter to gain insight into careers and research he/she may be interested in pursuing. We need to teach our students the value of a personal conversation and how the conversations we have online are direct extensions and enhancements of the ones we have in person.

I am a huge proponent of cell phones in the classroom and technology integration. I preach this constantly at staff developments, leadership trainings and anywhere else the conversation is taking place. Still, I hope people know it’s not as easy as “Just let them use their phones.” If technology use is not part of your classroom procedures then cell phones and BYOD (bring your own device) may not be for you. We have this fear of liability and students accessing sites they should not be on at all let alone at school – but kids are doing that anyway on their phones with 4G. That’s why we need AUP’s that state it is the student’s fault for accessing sites and not the gatekeeper who does not have much control any more.

Have these conversations with your students, have them with staff and have them with your parents. Having a smart phone does not make one smart, but utilizing a smart phone to gain access to information, produce content, track notes and collaborate just might make one a little more intelligent and successful.

Keeping in Touch with your Students

5 Jun

With any new technology, it inevitably takes me about a year to get anything under control and integrated in my classroom. When it comes to communication, I feel pretty good about my system: utilizing Twitter and Twitter fast follow, making my Google Voice number available for my students to text me if they need anything, using my blog to update information, and sharing handouts via Google Docs. This worked for me for three years, was a lot of work, but was very reliable. However, I recently came across some new online resources that can make my communication even better.

Remind101 is a great texting service that is free for teachers. For any designated group, you get a unique phone number that kids can text. Kids are then prompted to reply with their name so you can see all fo the individuals who are logged into your account. This way, I know exactly who is accessing the texts I send out. I see a lot of freedom with this software. First, I can create multiple groups – one for each class to start. As an activity director, I see creating a group for the school, possibly for parents, for my freshman mentors as well as my leadership students. I can send secret messages such as “If you get this message report to the cafe’. The first five people there get a free shirt”, or “Mentors, give every freshman in your group a high five.”  This allows me access to students on the one item they are pretty much guaranteed to have on them at any time of the day. What’s more, remind101 allows you to schedule text messages so they can go out any time you want. I can time messages to appear at the start of class, end of class, passing period, after school or before school. I use Hootsuite for all of my Twitter updates. Now, while I will still use Twitter, I see Remind101 taking on a whole side of communication as it has the potential to reach a much wider audience.

My next new favorite is Wiggio. Someone mentioned this at a conference I was just at, and I filed it away as Wiggio was described as a mass texting application. When I logged in to the account, I learned it was so much more, the features are abundant.  I was able to enter my students’ email addresses and names right off the bat and invite them to the site. Keep in mind, this site is private, so only myself and my students can see this information. Students can also add cell phone numbers and they have the option of getting sms updates without anyone in the group seeing their number (same for me, the teacher). In Wiggio, I can invite people to meetings, establish groups with smaller members of the main group, assign tasks (and set reminders via email or sms), share documents or even create them directly on the site. I can also share links, important as we are using a lot of items from other sites like Google Docs or Evernote; or there may be a video I would like them to watch before coming to class.

As an activities director, I am noticing more and more that my students are walking a fine line between being organized with a binder and being organized with their phone. In general, teens are disorganized with both except for a select few that teachers often refer to as their favorites. With Wiggio, I see the ability to communicate beyond just the planning sheets or post-it notes on the wall that declare something as being “do”, “doing”, or “done”. I like that it can text kids reminders, I am a big believer that if it has to do with a student’s cell phone they are more likely to do it than when they have to remember to look at a calendar. Every time I add a task, meeting, document or other item it appears in a calendar on the site and color codes it so we can differentiate between the items. I pull it up and on any given day I can see if something was done, not done or is due soon. This I can put up daily for the class to see so I know if we are on task.

Lastly, I like that in Wiggio I can create a chatroom for the kids to discuss items far away from Facebook. I like Facebook, it’s a good tool, but too many times the conversations get out of control and too many times we have read something about teacher/student interaction on Facebook. So, let’s keep it in the class here. I also enjoy the ability to set-up to do lists, and my new favorite, my ability to take a poll. We sometimes spend so much time in class discussing issues – most of which I feel is a waste of time in that it wastes class time. A quick poll online can solve a lot of those issues.

While I will still be using Twitter, Google Voice and Facebook to communicate, I will be adding Wiggio and Remind101. My philosophy with communication, hit kids where they are at. I use all of these services because I have a great chance of finding all of my students on some level. Now, I don’t always post the same content to each site, but I do post to each site as needed. I am excited at the possibilities these apps offer to my teaching and I look forward to seeing how they integrate with my classroom management style. What are your thoughts?