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.

25 Jul

One of the high lights of the trip thus far is the War Memorial in Canberra.  A gorgeous structure with numerable exhibits that go back as far as the Boer war.  It was here that I finally did my podcast as I loved the scenery as well as the interactivity the exhibit creates.  It is hard not to be engaged here.  Plus, the pomp and circumstance of the venue at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is awe inspiring.  It would be nice to teach these manners at school back home, though I wonder if our students could handle this structure in large numbers.

Red Poppies are everywhere here at the memorial

If there is a unique place to visit, the War Memorial/Museum in Canberra is a somber and unique experience. The technology used to bring forth a rewarding, informational and sensory experience is the modern idea. The aviation wing features several mini features from a bombing run in WWII and a dog fight in WWI (the latter directed by Peter Jackson). Then, in the hall of heroes from the various battle fronts, the museum has bit.ly links to get further information on the individuals in question. How cool would that be at a museum to have either a QR image or a bit.ly link to see video footage or gain additional biographical information on what you are viewing? This museum has that which is a great feature to add to the museums interactive qualities.

If you ever have a chance to visit a memorial – and I do hope you visit the war memorials at Washington DC, incredible – the memorial in Canberra is impressive. The use of red poppies as a symbol of remembrance for those who have fallen is a beautiful symbol.

This person is comfortable

After the memorial/museum, we headed out to Gold Creek Station, a sheep ranch with about 2000 head of sheep.  Craig and Sandy run a gorgeous ranch here that is not only a working ranch, but sees about 30 tour groups a year to show them what a real ranch is like.  We had lunch, got to handle a few sheep, round them up with a Kelpy sheep dog (spelling?)  The kids had a blast, and even though the weather was cold and wet, the family was incredibly gracious and hospitable.  You can check them out on Facebook, look for Gold Creek Station, I will post some pictures there as well.
Now, we are on our way back to Sydney to fly to Darwin. We should arrive about midnight in northern territory time, to the hotel about one thirty.  A long day to say the least.  In the mean time, we watching some Crocodile Dundee to get an idea of our trip to the outback.  Oh, and one more stop by McDonalds, I may have to go for a latte this time, caffeine sounds good.

Gloria Jeane is the chain of choice in Australia – an expensive cup of coffee, but it carried me over to the flight where I can enjoy a delicious dinner of who knows what.  I’ll let you know if it’s good, I will say the flight over had a pretty good meal, though the domestic flight is a different monster all together.  One side note on flying Qantas – in the international flight you have the option of a small bottle of Aussie wine to drink.  Being with P2P I declined as that is the policy.  However, in hindsight, I could have asked for the bottle, and then put in my carry-on and had it when I got home. There is no wine option for the domestic flight.

I have cash (we are hitting another flea market up north, the best place to buy souvenirs as the shops and stores at the venues we visit are ridiculously expensive).  So far, I’ve gotten some nice things for the family, post cards, etc.  I knew I would spend a bit at some places, less at others.  There is not much I need or want, a few things I set out to buy like items from The HardRock, the Opal Store, my Aussie Jacket ($10), and postcards.  I’m not looking to buy anything else crazy, so all is well.
Off to Darwin, we are scheduled to land around 12:30 Darwin time.  That means we will be at our hotel about 2:00 AM give or take.  We get to sleep in though, breakfast is at 8:30, much better that 6:15.

My last bit of confusion, head phones.  I cannot express how excited I am to be in another country, experiencing their culture, and taking in all of the sights and sounds it has to offer.  However, I am in awe of the several students who continue to walk around with their headphones in their ears and turned on.  We have asked them to take them out – a couple of the kids we have asked several times – with one commenting, “There wasn’t much going on so I was sitting in a corner listening to music.” Not much going on? We were outside throwing boomerangs and wrangling sheep, a few people came in because it was cold and were standing by the fire drinking hot chocolate, we were on a working sheep ranch – the founders wife was in making coffee and tea for people to drink telling stories of the ancient coffee pot that was used to feed the shearers 50 years ago.  What I  have learned of today’s youth, it is easier to withdrawal into a world of music and media while shutting down socially.  I’m not sure why, maybe they feel that it’s too much work to start a conversation or make a friend – but this lack of socialability is concerning.  Even more, is the students who chose to engage, but keep an headphone in one ear listening to music.  To think, as a spectator, that I can have a conversation with someone who is also listening to music is appalling.  Either talk to me or not, but don’t half listen.  Kids need to be taught that this is inappropriate.  I am consistently worried about kids who feel it is okay to be out with a friend or on a date and to be ignored while their friend texts or calls another person.  If we are not careful, Fahrenheit 451 will become a reality instead of a classic piece of literature.

Big Girl

25 Jul

Being a parent, I am amazed at the growth and development I see in my daughter on a daily basis.  This could be the new words she learns on a daily basis, today it was “hippo” and “zebra,” to starting to hear her put words together to make sentences, such as “more melon.” She has also surprised my wife and I, saying “doggy” or “moon” when she sees these items, often when my wife and I do not. My favorite was when my daughter referred to the moon as a “big ball.” With some practice, she learned moon, so anytime we read a book or go on the swings and she sees the moon, she is sure to point it out to everyone within ear shot.

Today was a unique day in that it was the first time my daughter actually climbed around the jungle gym at our local part. The jungle gym at this park is blue with red slides and yellow poles and contraptions leading up to the top which is about ten feet off the ground. Virginia was more interested in climbing the stairs, pointing out the one other baby, or playing peekaboo with a nine year old named Cadence.  We went back and forth, sometimes crawling, sometimes walking, up and down the stairs, across the bridge, gazing out at the slides towards the swings (which I think was the real goal, but they were full).

At one point, the nine year old Cadence was acting as a guide trying to get Virginia to go down a slide that we made our way to the end of the line on the other side of the suspension bridge. At this point, there were two ways down, a spider web of yellow poles, or a giant string of climbing bars; neither one ideal for a fourteen month old. At this point, another little girl came up and stood in front of Virginia – not menacingly – somewhat protective saying “this is for big kids only.”  At this point, Virgina reared back on her heals to a squatting position, and quite excitedly stood up and started clapping saying, “Big Girl!” With a giant grin on her face, looking to me for validation – I was clapping and cheering too – the little girl shrugged, grabbed her friend and started to walk the other way.

Virginia and I stood there clapping for a few more seconds before she turned around and started to walk the other way before dropping down to her standard bear crawl. What I find interesting is Virginia’s view of her world. Big Girl is a game my wife started while I was in Australia, it was a way to work with my daughter to get her to stand and walk. I’m impressed because my daughter stood up amidst these other older children and celebrated her accomplishment just like we do at home every day.  Since Virginia does not know any different, she knows that she is a big girl because the two most important people in her life have told her that consistently over the past month. If I can convince a fourteen month old to stand up and celebrate her big girl status, I’m sure there is so much more I can do for her self confidence over the next few years and longer. This small experiment is a great memory in my day, and I am so excited I had a chance to be there and share this experience with my daughter, she is a happy baby.

 

I’m on the Bus

22 Jul

With the push of a button I had just spent $20 for 500 MB of internet.  I’m so used to wifi in the US, completely oblivious to the cost of wifi abroad, paying for the bandwidth and data vs. actual time on the web.  I was successfully able to upload some more pictures, share them, and share a Skype call with my wife on our anniversary. As my wife positioned the camera I could see my daughter staring, and with a brief pause, she yelled “Daddy!” The rest of the conversation was either a “daddy” or “mommy” or “Gingy” as she could see her own picture on the screen. Not a bad way to start the day than hearing and seeing my beautiful family.  Continue reading

Blue Mountains and Absailing

21 Jul

Day 2, or day 3 if you are playing the home version, came with the leadership group Fullon out of New Zealand.

The three sisters in the Blue Mountains of Australia

We took a two hour drive up into the Blue Mountains of Australia.  Weather, perfect. Slightly cloudy, but warm, and fog in the valley’s which created some wonderful views of the mountain range and the scenery below.

We did a quick stop to see the three sisters.  The story goes that two tribes were fighting. To bring peace, the father of one tribe wanted his sons to marry the daughters of the other tribe.  This accord did not come to fruition and so the groups went to war.  To protect the daughters, a medicine man turned the daughters to stone.  Unfortunately, the medicine man was killed, and being the only one who could turn the sisters back, the sisters have remained in their current form for eternity.

At this point, I cannot say enough good things about Fullon, a highly interactive and well put together program.  We were fortunate enough to have Paul, founder of Fullon, lead our group of intrepid high school students.  We were also endowed with a couple of young leaders with a few years of experience with Fullon, Susan and Sandy, all from New Zealand.  Fullon runs programs in several countries: New Zealand, Australia, Italy, England, Scotland and many other parts of Europe.  Needless to say, if you are traveling abroad with a group, they are worth the call. Continue reading

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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It’s Called LAX for a Reason

20 Jul

The Ever Popular Burger King Starbucks Franchise at LAX

Day one of Australia took off on a jet … like a jet … as fast as a jet could go minus the six hour lay over in LAX (anyone else pick up on the shortened term for Los Angeles International – it’s like a laxative running through you sapping all of your resources and energy). The main terminal was not bad, Burger King/Starbucks, Chili’s to Go (still haven’t figured out that name) and a few book stores.  The international side, whew, absolutely nothing there with the construction going on.  Not much to choose from, a decent amount of space, and lot’s of waiting. Oh, and be prepared, not too many places to plug in appliances, probably part of their huge remodeling project.

Still, the kids were in a good mood, we were all excited to be on our way.  The girls hit on the cute dumb boys and made fools of themselves, the rest of the group formed their cliques (mostly by groups of boys and girls).  I’m still amazed to watch the boys and girls interact – the girls who are flirting will pull all of the same old tricks, the guys pretty much sit there and flex – like peacocks – not really saying anything.  It’s fairly awkward, but I guess that’s how it is in these early years. Continue reading

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