Just Another Blog Post Post About Cell Phones In Class

Here is a fact…Kids are on their phones as much as they can be.  Here is another fact…So are most adults.

As a teacher I have struggled with cell phones policies for the last few years.  I’ve gone from a no phone policy, to no policy at all this year.  I’ve read too many blogs about the subject, written papers on BYOD, debated cell phones as a distraction or a tool with multiple people, and I don’t think I’m any more clear on what the ideal cell phone policy should be in schools.

As I said, I don’t have a cellphone policy in my class.  They are allowed. It’s that simple.  I have asked kids to use judgement as to when using their phone is appropriate and/or rude.  Has it backfired? Sure. I have seen kids texting in class, playing flappy bird, etc. Does this make me a bad teacher for allowing this to happen and not adjusting my cellphone policy?  You can be the judge of that.  Here are some things I wrote in my notebook one day after school.  It is not flowing and is not meant to be.  More of a ramble…

I don’t view students using cellphones in class as a problem.  I think it is just the way it is.  I won’t fight human nature.  Watch adults in your next staff meeting, or attend a grad school program. You will see people checking their emails, texting their spouses or their kids, maybe even playing flappy bird (I’ve seen it).  Just because we are adults and are more mature, have we earned the right to use our phones in situations where it is clearly not encouraged or polite?  I don’t believe that line of thinking.

teacher on phone

The easy solution for a teacher is to fight it and tell kids to put their phones away while in class.  That makes the teacher feel that the kids will not be distracted and will therefore be more engaged in the lesson.  But how long can this strategy survive?  Imagine a not too distant future with smart watches, smart glasses (Google Glass), smart phones, and who knows what else.  Will we require kids to take off all glasses and watches when they enter our rooms?  This is not a Jetsons future.  This is the near future.  Educators need to consider these changes as they reshape their classrooms to meet the needs of new students every year.

While we continue to struggle with the “Do we allow cellphones in class?” questions. While we debate the level of distraction vs. the level of engagement and value cellphones bring, we need to realize that before we end up with an answer based on any research, the questions will all be different. Smartphones are a part, a big part of all of our lives. However, soon we will see people walking around with glasses and watches that all function similarly to our phones in that they provide what are known in school as distractions.  It will happen.  We need to embrace these changes and instead of trying to separate that reality from an outdated vision of a classroom, we need to find a way to optimize the educational experience for the connected kids of the future. We can’t disconnect them from the world between the hours of 8am – 3pm everyday.  Don’t be scared.  You have to leave your comfort zone and take a risk.  The same thing you ask your students to do.  Take a risk and see what the future may look like and then change your teaching to ensure that the technology is used as a tool and not just a distraction.  Will kids be distracted at times? Yes.  Will they talk to other kids in other rooms? Yes.  Will they try to play a game every now and then? Yes. Will they ignore you? Maybe.   Welcome to the future.

 

Jump Outside the Box With Me!

I just spent the last hour writing up some ideas for a LCAP (fun budget stuff) meeting I have coming up this week.  I am part of a team that is looking at student engagement, but not in the way that those words are usually used in a classroom.  The LCAP meaning of student is engagement is looking at attendance, dropout, and graduation rates, and trying to come up with a plan to get students more engaged so they come to school and stay in school.  After brain vomiting on a page for an hour, I was pretty proud of what I came up with.  I also realized it had been way too long since I blogged, so I figured I would share my ramblings as a blog post.

I started off by looking at our districts Strategic Plan, which has some really cool goals that align with my personal goals for education.  I have pasted a few below from the Visionary section and the College/Career Readiness section.

  • Visionary Goal:
    • Become an exemplary model of an educational organization in the state of California
    • Utilize innovative strategies to encourage out-of-the-box thinking and risk-taking
    • Explore options to re-define teaching and learning
    • Identify and apply exemplary models from other schools, districts and businesses to drive improvement
  • College and Career Readiness Goal:
    • Develop rigorous applied experiences for students by leveraging local resources including college/universities, business, and agencies
    • Students complete rigorous college-aligned course of study with seamless transition into a career pathway and/or post-secondary education towards a viable career.

I then wrote a statement that combines the visionary statements into one.

  • If we want to be a model to other districts, we must take risks, be innovative, and think outside the box to re-define education.

This one statement is so powerful.  There is so much involved.  If we want to be a model school district that takes risks and thinks outside of the box, then we can’t do the things the way we have always done them.  We need to get outside that box and start getting creative.  That’s what we preach to our students, right?

outsidethebox

So again, this post is designed to offer some food for thought when it comes to getting students who have poor attendance rates and who are at risk of dropping out to be more engaged, but I think what I offer will benefit the district as a whole and all of the students in it.  Below are some options that I believe will help address student engagement as a larger problem.  Some of the ideas may seem radical to those who rarely question the status quo. But if the district’s visionary goal is to be a model to other districts by utilizing outside of the box thinking, then I don’t feel these are radical or far-fetched at all.  Do they fit in the new budget plan? Who knows. Luckily that’s not my job.  But hopefully these ideas at least make it to the table.

Option: Early College High School – Can we take our alternative ed campus (which isn’t that alternative from what I understand), team up with a community college, and offer an Early College High School?

  • Several serve students who previously dropped out or were unsuccessful in traditional high schools.
  • Nearly 75 percent of students enrolled in early college high schools are African-American or Latino.
  • The majority of students enrolled in early college high schools across the nation will be the first in their family to attend college.
  • Nearly 60 percent of early college high school students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
  • They typically start at 9am or 10am (we should look into this for all schools)
  • Early College High School in Costa Mesa -73% Hispanic and 76% Socioeconomically disadvantaged

Option: Later start times at all of our campuses

  • Cons – Bus schedules, athletic schedules, parent schedules, teacher schedules (I get it, it’ll be a shock to the system)
  • Pros – Abundance of research showing attendance rates, graduation rates, performance, and behavior all improve when school starts later
  • 70% of all high school students do not get enough sleep, which leads to a host of physical and mental conditions
  • It may not be popular among the adults involved (admin, teachers, parents), but the kids are who would benefit and that is all we should be concerned with

sleepinginclass

Option: Re-evaluate our electives and start to offer courses that are more relevant to a 21st century education that gets kids college and career ready

  • Computer Science & Coding Courses NEED to be added as options – 70% of all jobs in CA will be computer based by 2020
  • Classes on Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.  Bosses surveyed always rank these as the top qualities they look for.  Why don’t we have classes dedicated to them instead of trying to infuse them into content that is sometimes irrelevant
  • Photography should be way more focused on digital photography and photo editing
  • Industrial Arts – Wood, Metal, Auto, Power and Energy (with a focus on problem solving)
  • This list could definitely be extended

 

Option: Common Core (the right way)

  • Common Core standards can actually make attendance and dropout rates go in the wrong direction if the wrongs things are emphasized. However, if we focus on the good parts of the Common Core, I think it can help our attendance and graduation rates.
    • Many teachers who are still confused about what the Common Core means for them in their classroom are under the impression that it all boils down to close reading and more writing. Yuck!  If all teachers begin close reading and requiring irrelevant writing assignments across the curriculum, school will not be a desired place to be, especially for at-risk students.
    • We can focus on the 4 C’s of Common Core; Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. Incorporating more Problem/Project Based Learning into our classes will incorporate the 4 C’s, skills that will help them in life, but it also provides opportunities for reading and writing in a way that is more relevant to the student.
    • Teachers need some ongoing differentiated professional development to help them understand how they can create learning opportunities that incorporate the 4 C’s in a relevant and challenging way.  I have been to multiple PD sessions based on Common Core and it has all been about reading and writing, which is an important component of where we are going, but it can’t be all we focus on with the shift to Common Core.
    • We must always remember that our goal is to produce productive, creative, innovative, and intelligent students who can be successful in life, not to just produce students who can score well on the smarter balanced test. We have to make education about much more if we want the students to show up and be engaged.

Like I said earlier, I at least hope that my ideas are heard and considered.  I believe they will help with attendance and graduation rates, but more importantly, I feel that all of these ideas, in general, are a step in the right direction when it comes to rethinking education for students today and in the near future.  The education system is slow to change.  My district is calling for innovation, risk-taking, and outside the box thinking, which to me, means they too desire a change.  I love their vision, hopefully they like mine too.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  – Steve Jobs (Apple Inc.)

Rethinking the Classroom

What is the ideal learning environment for my high school students in a history class? That is a question that I have been asking myself.  I feel that is important to be detailed in my question.  Students in a high school science class, or 3rd graders probably have a different ideal learning environment.  For my students though, what type of classroom do they need to be in to get the most out of their educational experience while in my class?  I decided to ask them this question as part of a bigger survey.  The survey, found HERE, was an attempt at giving my students a voice in their education.  They are the ones who stand to get the most out of their time in school.  Why not ask them what they think the classroom should look like? I did ask them.  What I learned is kids are uncomfortable, stifled, uninspired, intimidated, and feel institutionalized in many classrooms.  Walls painted white, tile floors, rows of desks…you get the picture.  They made it clear to me that they are much more comfortable learning when they are at home.  At home the walls are painted or covered, there is carpet or rugs, they sit on couches, beds, or beanbags.  They told me that if schools could resemble their bedrooms they would be more excited to go school.

Could something as simple as making a classroom a more inviting, comfortable learning environment lead to more student engagement?  It’s an intriguing thought.  I know some of you reading this may be thinking schools are supposed to be an academic setting preparing kids for college and careers.  Most colleges and careers don’t typically have students or employees sitting in couches while doing their work while their neighbor sits in a beanbag with their shoes off.  That’s true in most cases, but I will point out that increasing numbers of companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook offer work environments similar to the ones I am describing.  In addition, many elementary school classrooms are much more inviting and offer some of the luxuries I have discussed.  It seems that by the time they get to high school the rooms have become void of comfort and rarely offer space for collaboration and creative thought.  Times have changed since the early 1900s, but the classroom hasn’t.  It is still very much a product of the industrial model it was modeled after in the late 1800s.  My reflecting, my research, and my student’s responses to my survey all lead me to believe that the classroom could be much more inviting and inspiring.

Untitled

A classroom then…

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A classroom now…

Funny video about education reform

I have decided to attempt to redesign my classroom to create an ideal learning environment for my high school history students.  After listening to their ideas, researching learning spaces, and thinking about what type of experience I want my students to have in my class, I have a rough idea of what I want to do.  To get on the same page as me, you have to forget everything you know about classrooms.  With a blank slate in your head, think about an environment where students are free to research, collaborate, discuss, and create.   Also, keep in my mind that students are in my room for 104 minutes at a time.  Would you want to sit in an individual metal desk for an hour and forty minutes? I didn’t think so.

 If you want to see a floor plan I made online for what I think the classroom could look like…

classroom

click HERE to view larger and in 3D

Now I just need to figure out how to raise $1800, without going too deep into my own pockets, because this IS happening!

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Engagement vs. Compliance, and Student Voice

So I went to an Instructional Rounds debriefing today during lunch, expecting to discuss what we observed and how we can use that to improve our own teaching.  The observation focus was Student Engagement.  The discussion started out as you would expect.  Teachers started sharing some of the strategies they saw and were discussing student engagement.  After hearing what they were saying, and reflecting on the observations I did, I spoke up…

I don’t know exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of, “I had a hard time figuring out if students were truly engaged, or if they were just being compliant.”  The comments people were making about students looking at the teacher and answering questions when asked to, didn’t convince me that we observed engaged students.  We observed compliant students; students who were just “doing” school (I stole that line from Shelley Burgess).  I’m not sure how many were truly engaged. It is so hard to get students truly engaged.  To make them want to learn, excited to learn, and passionate about school is something we all want, but how often do we accomplish it? It’s definitely something to think about and work towards.  I hope my comments got others in the room thinking.

A few minutes later in the same meeting, seating arrangements, classroom management, and cell phone policies were being discussed.  As I listened to teachers talking about their reasons for why they had seats in rows instead of pods, and why some allowed phones in class and others didn’t, another thought popped into my head.  What is the ideal learning environment in 2013? Clearly there is no single answer to this question, but in MY class, what is the ideal seating arrangement, cell phone policy, grading policy, etc. If the kids are the one’s learning in my classroom, shouldn’t I at least give them a voice? That’s not a groundbreaking idea.  I’ve seen numerous tweets and read several blogs about student voice, but listening to my colleagues talk about their rooms, and reflecting on my own setup, it was all about the teacher’s preferences.  It’s like a movie theater having plastic seats because they know people are going to spill soda and wipe popcorn butter on the seats.  If the seats are plastic, they just wipe ‘em, or hose ‘em down at the end of the day.  However, that’s not the case.  They realize that we won’t watch a 2 hour movie in a hard plastic seat.  We want to be comfy while we watch.  Shouldn’t the same way of thinking be applied to a classroom.  If we want them to learn for hours on end, shouldn’t we ask them what the ideal learning environment is instead of just doing what works for us and makes our job easier?

When I mentioned the idea of asking the students how they would want the room setup, I was immediately shut up by another teacher.  I don’t remember his exact quote, but it was something along the lines of, “We teach in an industrialized system, asking kids how they would want school to look is pointless. We can’t give them what they want.” The words industrialized system, were actually said!  It’s not that I disagree.  Our current education system is still largely based on industrialized models from 100 years ago.  But what got at me was his acceptance, and the acceptance of others in the room.  One of my colleagues did jump in and defend my statements, but we were clearly the minority in the room.

After finishing my day I decided that I was going to do exactly what I said I was going to do.  I am going to ask my students several questions about their ideal learning environment.  While I do try to give them a lot of freedom and choice already, I want to know what they want school to be like.  I will start off my questions with the statement, ”Forget everything you know about school and education…”  We will then have a roundtable discussion as a class using THESE QUESTIONS I wrote up this afternoon.  It addresses their ideal learning environment and even tries to figure out the student apathy problem that I have been seeing increasingly over the past few years.  I’m very excited for tomorrow and the answers that they give me.

“We can’t give them what they want”…We sure as hell can listen and try!

Tech-O-Ween

On Halloween, my district put on an event called Tech-O-Ween.  It was a professional development opportunity similar to an EdCamp.  There were a variety of sessions, all led by teachers or others from within our district or other local districts.  Tech tips, tech tools, and teaching strategies were shared.  The event was organized by Chris Long (http://twitter.com/clonghb).  He did a great job.  I’m going to keep this post fairly short because I have already compiled my notes with a few other teachers notes and put together a Google Doc that I shared out at my school.  There are plenty of links in the document about the cool stuff that was shared at Tech-O-Ween.

You can find that document HERE!!!

Tech-O-Ween was a much needed day of professional development for me. After 2 months of school I needed a kick in the butt to remember that everyday I need to come with my A game.  I always try to keep that motivating me, but sometimes as a teacher you need to see others doing great things to inspire you to step it up.  There were so many great teachers sharing so many cool ideas.  It almost creates a sense of competition,  which I think is healthy.  The idea of Accountability Partners or EduRivals came up and that’s what I’m talking about.  As teachers, just like with any job, we need to strive to be our best everyday.  I want to be the best teacher.  I want students, parents, other teachers, and administrators to know it.  Tech-O-Ween was a great experience that re-lit my fuse.

A New School Year…Reflection

Well, here I am sitting down to reflect on how my first couple of weeks of school have been.  All in all I would have to say that I’m satisfied with things so far.  There have definitely been ups and downs already, but that’s the beauty of this job.  The unpredictability, the unforeseen challenges, and the unexpected surprises are what makes it exciting.  I think I’m just going to list pros and cons with short explanation/reflections.  I’m guessing some things will be both pros and cons.

Pros

  • The Staff Development Days Before School Started – These were different for me this year because I held two of the breakout sessions.  One was on the  Power of Twitter as Professional Development, and the other was on getting teachers excited about participating in Instructional Rounds. I’m proud of myself for stepping up and doing this and overall I think both went well.

  • Overall Class Vibe – I had changed my desks to groups and basically had re-arranged my classroom over the summer and it seems like a positive environment for the students.  My returning students like it over the old setup.

  • Student Blogs – First time I’ve ever done it, but after looking at the first few who have set them up, it seems like they are into it.  It’s new for most of them, so I know it may be weird for some of them at first, but I think writing for an audience, instead of just writing for me will lead to better results.  I’m excited.

  • Self-Paced, Mastery Based – The students are doing things at their own pace and I am acting more like a mentor in the learning process.  I’m trying to teach them to learn how to learn.  It’s not what they are used to so I know its confusing for some at first, but in the end I think it will benefit them and help them become much better at time management.  I’ll post more about this after I get some feedback from the students.

  • Other teachers Around Me – It seems like there a lot of rejuvenated teachers in my hallway.  A lot of people are trying new things, taking risks, and have a sense of excitement.  Hopefully it is contagious and spreads throughout my entire campus.

  • 20% Time – I’m introducing this tomorrow to my classes.  I have 2 different projects that I am doing. 1 for my juniors and 1 for the sophomores. The juniors are doing a community based project in groups. The goal is to get them to do something that benefits the community.  The sophomores are doing more of a passion-based project.  I will then flip for the second semester.  I will post more about this in the future, but I’m really excited for this.

  • My Passion – It is stronger than ever and I have high hopes and expectations.

Cons

  • The Staff Development Days Before School Started – I have some major issues as to how these were setup and run, which is why I signed up for the staff development committee that same day.  Next time it will actually be a day full of DEVELOPMENT.

  • Seating Arrangements – The groups of 4 are different for me and at times classroom management has been more difficult.  I dont need all eyes on me for that much time with the way my class is run, but when I need it, it has been a bit more frustrating this year.  Students are facing each other and naturally that leads to more conversation.  Most times that will be encouraged. Sometimes it is not.

  • Self-Paced, Mastery Based – Some kids are moving very rapidly and some aren’t.  Defining mastery and checking for it will be the difficult part of this format.  Assigning the appropriate amount of classtime to satisfy most students may be difficult and will be a trial and error process these first couple of months.

  • My Passion – It is stronger than ever and I have high hopes and expectations. I am envisioning these kids doing great things and being super successful.  Sometimes I feel naive though.  I know some students will fall short of my expectations, and I’m ok with that…but maybe I’m not.  I want them all to be great and have a life-changing year.  Is that possible?

Ego or Ambition?

August is here and I’ve spent all summer preparing for this next school year.  School ended on June 13th, and on the 14th I was already scouring Twitter and racking my brain for ways to improve as a teacher.  I am always striving to be better and challenging myself to be creative and awesome and never fall in the cruise control rut that so many teachers can fall in.  I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am for school to start in the next couple of weeks.  However, with all of that excitement comes some nervousness.  I’m nervous because I’m doing things rather differently this year.  My class will be based on a self-paced, mastery-based model.  I will also be implementing 20% Time with a focus on community improvement.  Seating arrangements are different.  My schedule is different.  I could go on and on about me being nervous, but I should get to the point of this post.  I am most nervous because I have enrolled in an Admin Credential program.

Let me now explain the title of this post.  I am only entering my 7th year of teaching, but over the past year I started to have such a passion for education that I started spending more time researching education instead of focusing on my content area of history.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love teaching history.  However, I started having a feeling of “I want to do something bigger.” I felt that I was destined to do something big with my growing passion in the field of education.  When I told a colleague this, I felt arrogant saying it.  Like teachers aren’t a big deal.  They are.  We are.  Am I being egotistic thinking that I am destined for something bigger?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if it’s egotistic or ambitious.  Regardless, I feel passionate about education and I would like to try to have a bigger impact.  Therefore, I enrolled in the Admin program and I’m going to do it.  I am nervous as hell and don’t know what to expect.  It’s a great feeling!