education

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.

 

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.

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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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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?