Sunday, January 29, 2012

Research Based Strategies-Using Cell Phones for Homework and Practice

Editor's note: This is part four in series of posts focused on the nine instructional strategies that are most likely to improve student achievement across all content areas from the book Classroom Instruction That Works by Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock and the Second Edition of Classroom Instruction that Works by Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone.

Homework and practice are instructional techniques that give students the opportunity to deepen their understanding and skills relative to content that has already been presented to them. Research cited in Classroom Instruction that Works, indicates some interesting findings including that the purpose of homework should be identified and articulated and if homework is assigned, it should be commented on. Of interest to parents is that there is research showing minimal or even negative effects of their involvement in homework. Further studies suggest findings about parental involvement could be a result of the type of involvement and that there are indeed conditions under which parental involvement enhances homework (Epstein, 2001; Epstein & Becker, 1982; Van Voorhis, 2003). They recommended interactive homework in which 1) Parents receive clear guidelines spelling out their role, 2) Teachers do not expect parents to act as experts regarding content or to attempt to teach the content, and 3) Parents ask questions that help students clarify and summarize what they have learned. Good and Brophy (2003) recommend that homework that for parent-child relations purposes assignments calling for students to show or explain their work to get their reactions are useful (Epstein, 2001; Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997) and that it is effective to have students interview their parents to develop information about parental experiences or opinions relating to topics studied in social studies (Alleman & Brophy, 1998). Assignments like these result in students and their parents or other family members becoming more engaged in conversations that relate to the academic curriculum and thus extend the students' learning. Furthermore, because these are likely to be genuine conversations rather than more formally structured teaching/learning tasks, both parents and children are likely to experience them as enjoyable rather than threatening. (p. 395).

Here are some specific ways that homework and practice can be enriched with the use of cell phones. 
  • Classroom Practice in Assigning Homework
    Research on homework indicates that it is useful if parents help students ensure they are on track and on task with doing their work. Additionally, assignments that clearly articulate the purpose and outcome of homework result in greater student achievement.
    • Subject: Any subject
    • Topic: Any topic
    • Cell Phone Tool: Swaggle
    • Lesson Overview: Parents and teachers can partner to ensure that students are doing homework more effectively using a group texting service such as Swaggle. Teachers can group text their students and parents daily or weekly with assignments including due date, assignment purpose, parental role and questions for students and clarifying and summarizing questions for parents to discuss with students. Parents can then set a daily alarm to alert them to check in with their child using a text. If the parent knows the purpose of the assignment and due date, if time allows, they can support the teacher in being an additional person to comment on the homework as well. This also serves the purpose of providing recognition for the students in doing their work.
    • How technology enriches the lesson:
      • Using a group texting feature like Swaggle enables a teacher to write one message and instantly connect with students or parents.
      • A group text, not only helps to strengthen the home/school connection, but unlike a note in the backpack, the message won't get lost. It is also a great way in general to keep parents in the loop, in the know, and to keep lines of communication open.
      • Having a parent set a daily reminder time to check in with their child provides students with a consistent check in to help ensure they are on track. Additionally, if the parent is still at work, doing this is less disruptive then making an actual call, but still holds the student accountable.

  • Classroom Practice in Practicing Skills - Charting Accuracy and Speed
    Research shows that skills should be learned to the level that students can perform them quickly and accurately and to facilitate skill development, students should be encouraged to keep track of their speed and accuracy.
    • Subject: Math
    • Topic: Multiplication tables
    • Cell Phone Tool: Poll Everywhere - Polling question
    • Lesson Overview: A fun way to use cell phones to chart the speed an accuracy of a class of students is to use Poll Everywhere. A school that promotes the use of personally owned technology might encourage a grade-wide competition of student speed and accuracy in multiplication tables. The way this would work is that at the beginning of the unit each teacher would encourage students to respond to a Poll Everywhere question about the speed and accuracy of completing their multiplication tables. Students would be asked to text in their speed and accuracy using a Poll Everywhere polling question. The caveat being that their parent/guardian would need to sign off on the students response. This serves the added benefit of the home/school connection and keeping families in the loop on their child's progress. At predetermined intervals classes would chart their speed and accuracy which could be shared on a school web page with privacy predetermined (i.e. just for school members, students, and families, or open to the public). The class that had the biggest overall gain (by percentage) could win an award such as a certificate, free time, pizza party or something of their choosing.
    • How technology enriches the lesson:
      • The use of Poll Everywhere to chart speed and accuracy of a class provides a quick, simple, easy, and visible (to selected audiences) way to instantly see progress.
      • Using Poll Everywhere to chart speed and accuracy provides motivation for a class as a whole to improve on their work. If they don't try hard to achieve, they'll let down their class. If they do try hard, they help their class.
      • The use of Poll Everywhere has the additional benefit of providing recognition for a classes hard work and growth over time.
Cell phones can provide great assistance with homework. Simply encouraging students to use their phones in conjunction with their homework will act as a motivator. Many of the age old frustrations with homework like getting stuck, not having any help (text the teacher, friend, expert-perhaps on ChaCha), forgetting to do it (put in your own reminder or get one from a parent or teacher), or not being home long enough to do it (do it anywhere you have your phone) are all remedied through the use of cell phone technologies. Students, parents, and educators all get frustrated when students get "stuck" on a problem in their homework and do not complete the assignment. With text messaging, help is few thumb strokes away. Setting up peer tutoring through text messaging is a great way to support all levels of students. Even teacher teams can divide up certain days and times and be available to answer homework questions through text messaging without a lot of extra time or effort. Some innovative educators even set up panels of experts in the community to be available to students during certain projects or for certain assignments. Partnering with local colleges or libraries can also provide additional text help available for students.
Cell phones provide an effective way to support students in doing their homework and tracking the speed and accuracy of the skills they are practicing. Stay tuned for future posts featuring other research-based strategies to engage students and increase student achievement.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

6 Ideas for Administrators Who Want to Lead the Way to Texting for Success

Cell phones provide administrators with a powerful vehicle for connecting with parents, guardians, students, teachers and colleagues. New Milford High School Principal Eric Sheninger and New York City Assistant Principal Jacek Polubiec are at the forefront of harnessing the power of cell phones to do their work more effectively. Mr. Polubiec has found cell phones to be an effective tool for classroom observations while Principal Sheninger has embraced Twitter as an essential tool which has improved communications greatly sharing, “I can now easily share all the fantastic things going on in my school and have dramatically increased the amount of positive press coming out of my building. This would not have been possible just a few short years ago.” 

Principal Patrick Larkin from Burlington High School in Massachusetts has this advice for administrators who are considering whether to embrace cell phones as a learning tool, “Start now. If you haven’t embraced cell phones as learning tools, you are missing out on a valuable resource to engage students. At the very least you can save money on the response systems that many companies are pushing in schools.” Kurt Clay, a progressive principal in Delta, Colorado, uses a free group messaging service to reach his staff for encouragement, with teaching tips, announcements, and is set up for crisis response. Realizing the time saved and the improvement in communication with staff, he has now started using group texting to encourage the home-school connection. Delta Opportunity School leaders use group texting with response to a Wiffiti board or a Poll Everywhere poll to gather ideas and encourage communication with students, staff, and parents. Improved input and better use of meeting time have been some helpful results.

Innovative educators, know that when an administrator is on board with using technology in the classroom, it becomes much easier for the entire school to follow suit. Whether you’re an administrator who wants to try these ideas out or a teacher who wants to help an administrator get on board, here are specific ways that administrators are using cell phones to do their jobs more efficiently. 


Another way Mr. Polubiec uses texting is by setting up his cell so he gets updates when teachers update their roll books in Google docs. The teachers don’t need to take time from their day to inform him, and the school instantly has information delivered to all who need it via their cell phones. Polubiec and his colleagues also use cell phone calendars for meetings and text each other to send reminders about meetings, assemblies and other events. He also has all his staff’s numbers stored in his cell phone in case he needs to text them to provide them with timely information or inform them of emergencies. In a nutshell, Mr. Polubiec shares, “I can’t imagine my work without texting anymore.”

The visitors to the Academy Mr.Polubiec supervises are encouraged to text constructive feedback on academy’s hallway learning displays (aka bulletin boards) to Poll Everywhere. This kind of continuous feedback using technology is the backbone of virtual learning walks in which his staff engage. 

At Cedaredge Middle School in Colorado the administrators feel texting supports instruction by limiting distractions. According to Principal Todd Markley, “Administratively, we text to communicate throughout the day as we are usually not in the same location in the building. Text messages can be sent to administrators from the secretary if we are needed in the office without using the school intercom which interrupts instruction.”
Group Texting 
As instructional leader and manager of the school organization Principals must engage in ongoing communication with staff, parents, and the community. Group texting is a free tool that saves time and enhances communication. By collecting the cell phone numbers of students, staff, parents, and community stakeholders and setting them up in a group text service, a principal can easily reach the masses with one text message. 

Kurt Clay, Principal of Delta High School, knows this first hand. Kurt had his secretary put his staff numbers into a group texting service so he could be in contact for emergency response notification and crisis announcements. It wasn’t long, however, before he realized the service could have utility far beyond what he originally intended. Soon he was sending group texts to staff for encouragement, information upcoming activities, scheduling updates, teaching tips, meeting announcements, and more. He found his staff meeting time to be much more productive when he could send out questions or cues before and start the meeting ahead on the agenda. After meetings he texted key points right into his staffs’ hands knowing they literally all left the meeting with the same take away. 

After seeing how effective this was with his staff, Principal Clay decided to use group texting to increase the home-school connection with the parents of his busiest students. His seniors. After establishing that group, Principal Clay could now send out important dates and reminders crucial to the success of these students. Principal Clay plans to expand this to all of the parents in his school as he’s found it an effective and efficient way to establish ongoing communication with student’s families and along with that comes the added bonus of saving money on printing and mailing of information that adds up significantly in the school budget each year. 

Next for Principal Clay is moving from straight texting, to incorporating free response boards and polling questions to send out questions before meetings with staff, parents, and students so their input is available at the start of the meeting. This enables him to make the best use of everybody’s time and improve communication.

Free Response Boards

Principals will make parent night, staff meetings, and school assemblies a true example of two-way communication with the use of free response boards such as Wiffit or a free text poll in Poll Everywhere. By sending out a group text with a question or request for input and the number and code to send the response to, everyone in the group has the opportunity for input prior to or during the event. 

Delaine Hudson, Principal of Delta Opportunity School shares a frustration familiar to educators around the globe. Her weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings are always rushed and end to quickly. There’s just never enough time. Principal Hudson decided she’d try seeing if creating a free response board prior to her meeting would help. Two days prior to her upcoming PLC meeting Mrs. Hudson sent everyone a text with a Wiffiti number and code and the request for input on the main agenda item for the upcoming meeting. Throughout the next two days all of the participants were able to focus their thoughts, share their ideas, and prepare for the meeting. At the meeting Mrs. Hudson was able to display everyones’ thoughtful input immediately by sharing the Wiffiti screen. The PLC time was more focused and communication more effective with the easily referenced responses right in front of each participant. Also, the privacy of being able to text input and the anonymity of the code names Wiffiti assigns created an atmosphere of true sharing. Principal Hudson found the use of a free response board not only saved time, it enabled her to collect thoughtful contributions from all who wanted to share their thoughts resulting in better communication among all.

Polling Services

Polling services such as Poll Everywhere enable administrators to let those who they want to reach out to know they value their thoughts and opinions and want their input. Jacek Polubiec has used both free text and polling successfully during classroom learning walks. At Polubiec’s school learning walks serve as a professional development experience for staff who know exactly how to text observations into polls and free response observations. Those on the walk text in their answers which automatically populate onto the school wiki and during the debrief, learning walk participants can get to the thinking and discussing faster because results and data are already collected, tabulated, and ready for discussion. “Using cell phones in this way has enabled us to take learning walks to a whole new level enabling us to capture data easily using a tool all staff members already own with free technology tools,” said Polubiec.


Principals like Eric Sheninger and Principal Matt Brown from New York use Twitter as a powerful microblogging tool to help strengthen the home-school connection and give the school community a lens into what is happening in the school. Both principals feature Tweets on their school website where visitors can be sure to find shout outs to students and teachers, upcoming events, timely announcements, and more. When connecting Twitter to your cell phone, you can Tweet on the go even as you are face-to-face with a student, teacher, or parent letting them know you’re so excited you are going to shout (or in this case Tweet) it out from the virtual school roof top. Students look forward to sharing their Principal's Tweets with family and friends...especially when they are the star. 

Principal Sheninger’s Tweets now serve as a news feed for local media outlets interested keeping their finger on the pulse of what is happening in progressive schools today. As a result Sheninger’s school is regularly featured in the paper, on radio, and television celebrating the work of his students and staff. Having the knowledge and power to control your digital footprint in the message that is being spread about your school is powerful, and Sheninger enjoys using his phone and Twitter as a vehicle to make that happen. 

Photo Capture

I had the pleasure of meeting a principal of a K-12 virtual school who uses photo capture as a powerful tool to capture students all year long in a number of ways. While it is extremely valuable to create an ongoing collection of images that connect students throughout the year at a virtual school, the same is also important to capture memories in traditional brick and mortar schools as well. At the virtual school students and their parents come together at times across the year for fieldtrips and workshops. At these events everyone is encouraged to snap photos with their cell phones and email them to the school Flickr page. In the subject they indicate who is in the picture and in the body they share something about what they were doing. Following each event a photo album is posted on the private school site so all students and families can look back at the event. Because Flickr lets you set up an email with a tag no work is done on the part of the Principal. The pictures are automatically collected into the album. All she has to do is copy and paste the code into her website. 

Something she enjoys having her teachers do with lower elementary grades is following each unit they ask parents to use their cell phones to take a picture of their child’s end of unit project .They send these to the Flickr email with a title in the subject and description in the message. The projects are posted on the teacher’s site and the students (and parents) love looking at and commenting on one each other’s work. The Principal loves showing off student work to those who visit her school. 

As we surge ahead into the next decade of the 21st century it’s nice to know there are innovative administrators out there like the ones cited here who are not only following, but also leading the way for educators, parents, and students to leverage the tools already available to them. I applaud these leaders who are not only thinking outside the ban, but actually breaking it to do what is in the best interest of their school community.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Texting to Enhance School Communication with Celly

Listen to this article. Powered by

Celly is a platform of tools that enhances school communication by creating cells which are instant mobile networks that connect your school. Members can join a cell by texting or logging in to the web.

Click on the urls below each scenarios to learn about how schools are using Celly.

Celly is a terrific tool to harness the power of cell phones for school communication.  For additional ideas, resources, and workshops outlining effective ways to use cell phones for learning, including research-based strategies, lessons, and more, check out Teaching Generation Text

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Research Based Teaching with Cell Phones-Cues & Questions

Text Talk:  Classroom Stories (Sandy Vickrey, Math/Science Teacher)

I had learned the benefits of cues and questions to activate prior knowledge in my college education classes.  In my school, however, class time was very short and I always had to start the lecture, play the video, present the lesson immediately in order to finish by the end of class.  I rarely took the time to cue students, ask questions, or discuss prior knowledge.  Wait time did not seem to exist.  When I learned about free group texting services, I began using a group text for a cue or a question before school to all of my morning classes and at lunch to all of my afternoon classes.  This really helped students come to class aware of the lesson content and ready to learn more.  However, when using it for the cell movie, right out of the research my friend shared with me, I looked at the Wiffiti screen and one of my students had responded to the question, "What do you know about cells?" with "Well, my dad lives in one."  You never know for sure what response you will get, but now that student can make the distinction with his new knowledge about cells in science.

Getting Ready for Class!
Based on the original work of Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock (2001) and supported by the latest research by Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone (2012) we demonstrate in Teaching Generation Text how cell phone tools can be used to support and enhance research based instructional strategies.  Once you have a couple tools under your belt, such as group texting with Celly and audience response with Wiffiti, you will easily see how they can be used to save valuable class time, make the most of class time, and motivate students by using them for research-based strategies.  Helping students develop understanding using cues, questions, and advance organizers is good teaching.  Now it is good teaching by way of cell phone technology.  Get students on board before they come to class by connecting with them via their communication method of choice just like Sandy did with her students in Colorado!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Make and Publish Books for Free Using A Cell Phone and Flickr

by Lisa Nielsen, the Innovative Educator

If your students have access to a cell phone (or any digital device i.e. iPad, laptop) that can take and send/email pictures, they can make and publish their own books quickly and easily using Flickr.  This is a great way to bring student books to life by publishing them digitally in a format that can be easily shared with the world or printed as a book for the classroom or school library.  

With Flickr you get an email that you (or anyone you share the email with) can use to send all your pictures to and Flickr makes it very easy to sort and group pictures using tags or drag and drop features. You can get a link or code to embed any picture or group/sets of pictures into any online space. When emailing your subject line becomes the picture caption and the message/body becomes the description. To follow are the steps to making a book using Flickr, a sample book, and ideas for the classroom.

Steps to making a book with Flickr

  • Have students set up an account on Flickr to be used with school-related projects.
  • Flickr provides an email address to which you (and others) can send pictures.
  • Tell Flickr what tag should be associated with pictures sent to that email by going to As students are working on different projects, they will update and change their tag.  For instance if you wanted them to share what they did on their summer vacation, their tag might be "summervacation." If you wanted all kids in your class to share pictures to one album you may use a tag with your name i.e. "Class602SummerVacation."
  • Inform students to take pictures with their camera and to make sure to use a subject (photo title) and message (photo caption).  This becomes the text on the pages of the book.
  • Using a tag allows you to instantly generate a slide show with photo titles and captions.  No work required.
  • Your tag allows Flickr to generate a link to your slide show that can be shared as well as a code that can be embedded into any online space.  
  • Creating a slide show with Flickr saves teachers several hours over alternate methods such as sending individual emails to themselves, downloading every picture, then create a powerpoint where they would upload each picture, and copy/paste the titles and captions.

Ideas for the classroom:
1) Have students illustrate their writing on separate pieces of paper. Include a cover.  Next have them take a picture of each illustration using the text of their writing in the email message.  
2) Have students create a "My neighborhood" book and take pictures of meaningful places in their neighborhood with a subject and message on each picture which will create the content of their book.
3) Have students create an "About Me" book where they will take pictures of that which is important to them with each picture having a Subject (title) and Message (description).
4) Have students take pictures of the steps for a "How To" book with Subject (titles) and Message (steps) to serve as each page of text.  
5) Assign a student each day responsible for capturing the picture of the day. They are responsible for writing the subject (Title) and message (description). What a great scrapbook for the year for students, home-school connection tool, and photos to share with administration.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Start Out Simple-One Idea for Using Phones in Class

Idea #1-Have students use their phones to take pictures of important information on the board.

Text Talk: (by Joyce Long, an educator in Colorado)  
In my classroom I see cell phones as a time saver and tool of engagement rather than a distraction.  For example, in my health class we were on a roll discussing the possibilities of making our own anti-alcohol/tobacco video, improving on the one we had just watched.  The students were excited, motivated, and full of ideas.  I knew they needed to get the ideas off of the board down before they left.  I didn't want to stop their thinking.  So, I waited until the last second and then asked them to get out their phones and take a picture of the board.  For the ones without phones I posted the photo to the class website and printed out a picture for those without computer access.  This allowed us to continue the brainstorm while on a roll, right up to the last seconds of class time.  In the past I would have had to stop the storm so that everyone would have time to write down what was on the board, or ask them to write as we go, constantly interrupting the flow of ideas.   Now the ideas will be at home too, ready to look at and text adaptations, new ideas, specifics, details, etc. The kids who were absent go the picture texted to them and came back ready to go the next day. Creative energy is such a powerful force.  Having cell phones as a tool to increase the energy simply aids great educational experiences.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Begin Harnessing the Power of Cell Phones in Class Lessons

While many educators have never considered harnessing the power of cell phones in education, and some are downright hostile when the suggestion is brought up, there are many terrific ways cells can be used to enrich learning while empowering students to use these devices to capture knowledge in engaging ways. Educators are embracing the use of cell phones around the world, and these educators know it's not if we should be using cell phones and other personal learning devices in school, but when. These teachers are both in schools where they must think outside the ban and incorporate cells outside the school day as well as in schools and districts that empower educators to make their own decisions for their student's learning. Some of these teachers are even in schools where they have partnered with phone service providers to give their students phones.

While integrating cell phones into instruction can be a great way to engage learners and enrich instruction it is important to ensure you are doing both. Just using a cell phone itself will lose its appeal and value quickly if it doesn't actually enable students to either do things better or do better things. When using cell phones in instruction educators should ask themselves if the use of technology will actually enhance the unit or lesson and how. As educators think about integrating cell phones into a unit of study they can use this planning tool.

TeacherGradeRoomContent AreaUnit OverviewInnovative Ideas to Enrich this UnitISTE Student Profile(s) / Standards*Content StandardsType of Support Requested
(i.e. demo lesson, team teaching, instructional coaching)
Support Date / TimeSupport Duration

Thinking of how cell phones maybe be used in general in a unit is a great place to start. The planning tool enables teachers to think of broad ideas for use within a unit as well as ideas for support that might be helpful. Note that support may come from a district or school-based coach, a teacher, a leader, a parent, a student, etc. Once the teacher comes up with ideas to enrich instruction they can drill down to a particular lesson they may want to teach.

A basic lesson might contain the following components:
  • Subject:
  • Lesson Title:
  • Lesson Overview About two sentences (May include goals, objectives, teaching points)
  • Lesson Description: You may want to draft this in word and then paste here.
  • Here's How... Provide a how to guide for how educators can use this tool.
  • Useful resources Please share any useful resources and include resource name, url, and brief description
  • Explain how the use of cell phones enriches this lesson.
  • Special Notes/ Additional comments:
  • NETS Student Standards Addressed (see:
  • NETS Teacher Standards Addressed (see:
  • Research-based instructional strategies:
  • Tools Used:

Below are several sample lessons which can be modified to work with any range of grade levels. The lessons included are:

Bring Poetry to Life with A Cell Phone and A Voki

Social Studies
Using Google SMS to Enrich Social Studies Instruction

Current Event Analysis
Celebrating Science Fair Projects with Twitter

Learners of Languages Other Than English
Google Voice as a Powerful "Get to Know You" and Speaking Fluency Tool

In an effort to collect ideas around how cell phones are being used to enrich instruction, I am calling upon innovative educators to contribute lesson ideas by submitting them to . A math lesson would be great! Whether you are already doing this type of work with your students, or you are just starting to consider the possibilities, your ideas are valuable. Submitted ideas may be selected for publication in a variety of arenas (providing full credit to the author) and enabling teachers everywhere to start collecting smart lessons that incorporate using cell phones. Creating a cell-phone enriched lesson generally doesn't take any longer than a traditional lesson which generally can be written in one - two class periods. If you are using cell phones for instruction for the first time however, you will need to incorporate additional time for setting up accounts you may be using.

If writing a lesson isn't for you, don't worry. Try one of these lessons out and share how it went at .