Friday, June 29, 2012

Teaching Generation Text-5 Steps to Enhance Learning with Cell Phones

Did you know that 94% of Americans under the age 45 have a personal learning device that could greatly enrich the way teachers teach and students learn? Unfortunately, many schools and districts ban student-owned learning devices. It is time to embrace these powerful learning tools and discover how doing so can enrich student learning - even in schools where they are banned! Using this sensible and progressive 5-step plan, along with a basic, text enabled cell phone, will empower you to experience a wealth of tools such as Wiffiti, Poll Everywhere, Ipadio, Voki, Celly, and more. Stop fighting and start using students' most loved device - the cell phone!

The five steps are:

  • Step One: Teacher Use of Cell Phones for Professional Purposes
  • Step Two: Teacher Models Appropriate Use for Learning
  • Step Three: Strengthen the Home-School Connection with Cell Phones
  • Step Four: Students Use Cell Phones for Homework
  • Step Five: Students Use Cell Phones for Classwork
Guide to taking your first steps...

Step One: Teacher Use of Cell Phones for Professional Purposes 

Remember, just because some schools and districts ban students from using cell phones, this does not apply to teachers. Begin harnessing the power of your own cell phone today as an instructional tool. 

Three Ideas for using cell phones for professional purposes. 

  • Use Polleverywhere to conduct staff surveys that would be useful and interesting to share with students and the school community.
  • Use Twitter and have the updates feed into your class or school blog, website, or wiki to reinforce the home/school connection and build class/school pride.
  • Set up Google Voice to serve as your personal secretary who will transcribe your messages and enable you to easily share with others.

Step Two: Teacher Models Appropriate Use for Learning 

Once you're comfortable using your cell phone as an instructional tool, you can begin modeling best practice and instructional use of cell phones to your students. Let them see ways they might consider using their phones to support instruction. 

Three Ideas for modeling appropriate use of cells for learning

It goes without saying then when modeling appropriate use of cells you do not have your phone ring or make any type of noise not related to instruction. With that as a given, here are three ideas.
  • Model for your students how you use your cell phone to support your work using the phone for basic features like alarm clock, calendar, calculator, stop watch, note taking.
  • Demonstrate how you can use your phone to gain information instantly using Google SMS or ChaCha.
  • Use your cell phone as a camera often to capture student work and events and load them to Flickr so they can be embedded in your class or school website, wiki or blog.

Step Three: Strengthen the Home-School Connection with Cell Phones 

Cell phones provide a terrific means for connecting with student's parents, family, and guardians. Begin using phones to develop and strengthen those relationships. This provides a foundation and helps develop understanding around the benefits and value of cell phone use in general and later for use with students. The first thing you want to do is get a list of phone numbers from your student's parents, guardians, and/or family members. Once you do that there are many ways to use cells to support the home school connection.

Three Ideas for using cells to strengthen the home school connection

  • Use group texting through your phone provider or through a free service like Celly to send out reminders to parents.
  • Show parents/families/guardians their thoughts and opinions matter. Poll them or request open response using a tool like Polleverywhere.
  • Text home to celebrate student success or reach out via text if there is an area of concern. This can be done quickly with minimal disruption to either party.

After you've introduced some parents to ways cell phones can streghten the home-school connection, you might want to consider holding a workshop showing them how they can use cell phones as an educational tool to support student learning. If you do, invite some students to help you plan and deliver the workshop.

Step Four: Students Use Cell Phones for Homework 

Before using cell phones in your classroom with students, begin giving students the option to use cell phones to complete their homework. This gives the teacher the opportunity to allow students to use cell phones for learning without classroom management concerns. This also gives students experience in using cell phones for learning. In most cases students can do the same work on a cell that they can on a laptop so if they have easier access to one over the other at different times they can choose what works best for them on that particular evening. Especially in families with limited technology resources, providing these sorts of options helps break down the digital divide. Suddenly the amount of technology available to a student for learning has increased dramatically. 

Three Ideas for enabling students to use cell phones for homework
Using cell phones to enrich learning makes a lot of sense for schools and districts that ban students from using personal learning devices at schools and enables educational leaders interesting in changing policy to gain some evidence of how these tools can benefit student learning.
  • Use ChaCha to connect your students to a free network of thousands of guides who can help them when they get stuck and/or have no one around to help. 
  • Have students do their oral reports using Google Voice. If they don't like how they sounded the first time, they don't have to send the message. They can re-record until they have something with which they are happy.
  • Test prior knowledge of a unit your class is about to study and use Wifitti to have students share one thing they know about the subject. 

Step Five: Students Use Cell Phones for Classwork

Once you, your students, and their parents/guardians/families have become comfortable using cell phones as instructional tool and if your school or district empowers classroom teachers to make instructional decisions, you are ready to begin allowing students to harness the power of cell phones for learning. The first thing you'll want to do, even if your district or school has a policy is discuss acceptable use with students. Using a tool like Wiffiti or Polleverywhere may be a smart way to capture student ideas on acceptable use. You can have them contribute outside of school and once all students agree to the ideas shared they can sign a contract with a link to the resource containing the policies to which they developed and agreed. In many cases you'll find student rules and consequences are more stringent then those outlined in the school or district policy, but it's written in language everyone can understand. The results can be posted on the classroom or school website as well.

Now you're ready to begin using these devices in your classroom in much of the same way students have become accustomed to using the devices at home. You may however take this a step further and ask students to participate in designing their learning. You'll be surprised on what they might come up with if you lay out what it is you want them to learn.

Three Ideas for Empowering Students in the Use of Cell Phones for Learning
  • You're going on a field trip. Ask students to determine how they might want to use cell phones to meet the learning goals of the trip using tools most phones have. They may decide to Tweet for a scavenger hunt, send reflections to Wifitti or capture pictures with captures to Flickr.
  • You're about to learn about a new country or explore your own neighborhood. Ask students for ideas to meet learning goals using their cells. Have them use Google SMS to collect data about the area.
  • Students are asked to share how hard work impacted someone influential in their lives. Invite them to use cell phones if they'd like. Perhaps they use a Voki character with a phone to record their voice. Perhaps they set up a Google Voice account to capture responses.

A sensible approach

Educators and administrators open to bridging the digital divide and empowering students (and themselves) to use the tools they have access to personally and/or in their homes are encouraged to start on this 5-step plan today. The plan provides a progression that enables educators to sensibly use technology for learning in a way that will make sense for students, members of their household and teachers themselves.

Starting with the instructional leader, the classroom teacher, use these tools to enhance personal productivity is a non threatening way to begin this process in a way that will pay off quickly and save time. Once the classroom teacher has comfort using the device they can begin modeling use for their students. As students see their teacher(s) using cells as an instructional tool it begins to make sense as a learning tool for themselves. Especially when they know their teachers use it to connect with those who care for them. At this point it's a natural progression to provide cells as an option for learning away from school. For those teachers who are fortunate enough to be empowered to make instructional decisions for their classrooms, they are now ready to start partnering with students to meet learning objectives with the tools they love. Students help their teacher develop rules and consequences and then not only will students be motivated and engaged, but schools will have a plethora of resources available to their students at no extra cost. Everyone wins!

For classroom set-up, lesson plans, and more check out our book Teaching Generation Text

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Looking to create a social media or BYOD policy? Look no further.

Editor’s note: I have received about a dozen requests for advice about policies concerning social media, BYOT, and cell phones. This is a hot issue. I hope this post will help address the concerns of others who are grappling with this topic.

Many schools and districts are putting in place policies about gadgets and media rather than people and behavior. In many cases this work is being guided by outdated policymakers and lawyers who don’t use the media or gadgets about which they are making policy. If they did, they’d realize this makes no sense. Imagine in their day if people made policies about telephones, televisions, books, films, pencil/pen/paper. It simply doesn't make sense and is not necessary. there are forward thinking schools and districts that get this.

Patrick Larkin and Eric Sheninger are both principals who understand technology and digital media and have put in a common sense policy to address it. Larkin explains that “at Burlington High School they do not have separate policies. They are all integrated into one.” Sheninger goes on further to say that “At New Milford High School our expectations for device and social media use are all interconnected. There are no long, drawn out policies for BYOT, cell phone use, or social media. Each of these tools and their use in a learning environment are reflected in our Acceptable Use Policy.” Sheninger adds that “as the building leader, he can adapt policies for the students at his school as necessary.”

New Canaan High School is another school that doesn’t have policies for cell phones or laptops or BYOT or BYOD or social media etc. They have ONE responsible use policy that encompases everything. Unlike the policies of these other districts it is only two pages with a one page sign off for students and parents / guardians.

These schools get it. They realize that tools and media have no intent...people do and the policy is made for people. Real people with real language that can be understood by parents, students, and teachers. And, guess what? It works! At New Canaan high school they are guided by principles and provide a message to all incoming students from the teachers and students who stood before them. That message is: “We Trust You.”

When schools and districts put in place top down policies they fall short exactly because they are top down. Effective policies are developed with stakeholders, not just lawyers and policymakers. Parents, students, teachers, and school leaders should be brought together to discuss and create such policies. Additionally, district policies should allow room for school-by-school customization that works best for the students in each community.

In this post, Scott McLeod does a great job of providing a breakdown as to why one top-down school-district’s social media policy is so misguided. Did they listen? I hope so. In this post and this compilation, Michelle Luhtala explains why it is not in the best interests of children for districts to prevent teachers and students from being friends online and explains from personal experience at a school that encourages online relationships, the problems with such a directive.

If your district is dead set on making a policy for every single type of gadget and media than I suggest taking a look at the following guidelines that Steve Anderson created in collaboration with Facebook in his Edutopia piece: How to Create Social Media Guidelines for Your School. In it he lays out seven steps (and a roundup of valuable reflection questions and resources) you need to help bring social media in your classroom. His guidelines are directed at social media, but can really be used for any media or tool.


This is extremely important and the reason that districts should allow schools to customize policies.


What is important to note here is that students and teachers are included and respected in the development of the policy. See how one school did this here.


Research the existing policies in your district or school as well as the policies in other places that share your values.


This should be transparent, ongoing, and not done only after the document has been created. Let stakeholders connect and interact with one another in the feedback stage. You can do this by using tools such as a wiki or Google docs. Do not ask stakeholders to email into a place where they and no one else will ever know if their feedback was seen, considered, or incorporated.


Your attorney will need to approve, not drive, the policies and process. If you have a school board, they should be incorporated as well.


Educate teachers, students, and parents about what the document means to them.


Technology is always changing and policies should be updated accordingly.

Like it or not, technology and the internet are not only here to stay, but they have become necessary for our existence and success. Let’s stop making multiple, restrictive, device or media-specific policies that work well for lawyers and policymakers and let’s start making policies that are in the best interests of our kids.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Voki for Literacy

Efforts towards improving student reading, writing, speaking, and listening are always at the forefront at Delta Opportunity School.  This year an exciting tool called Voki  and the use of student owned devices enhanced the experience for all.  Some background on our students is that they come for many reasons, but the one they all have in common is that they are credit deficient.  This means they have not had success in traditional education.  Most feel incapable of writing even a basic essay.  Thus every student has an individual learning plan focusing on their needs. In the small group English class there are students ranging in age from 15 to 20 as they are grouped not according to their level in school, but according to their skill levels.  The students love working at their level.  So many have been passed along due to their age and many have missed important skills due to multiple moves, crisis in live, or nonattendance.
       Making writing fun, using the skills they do have (such as texting and talking on the phone), and learning from each other are goals that Voki has helped us meet.  Students who had never written a personal experience essay found themselves writing and enjoying it after first practicing with texted notes and calling Voki either at home or at school.  The above example is from a student who had been placed in special education courses, labeled, and passed along until his mother started advocating for something more.  He is thriving at Delta Opportunity School with love, support, counseling, and instruction in small groups of regular kids using innovative tools such as Voki.  This personal experience became his first ever essay and was also used as an example by the American Lung Association.  Joey has since written (some with Voki and some without) many wonderful essays, done a powerpoint presentation in front of his class (previously he got so nervous he stuttered so that he could not get through a single sentence).  Use the tools kids love and they will step up and learn, grow, and achieve.  The resulting self-esteem is an invaluable tool for further growth.  Enhancing learning can be fun!  Let the kids use the tools they are currently hiding in their pockets and great things happen.
      On the Voki website students create their avatar, then get the call number to record the voice.  This can be done at home or at school, on a cell phone or a landline.  Students can read a written speech, speak impromptu, use texted or written outlines or notes, and rerecord as many times as necessary.  The Vokis can be shared via email, on a class website, blog, or wiki.  Students love listening to each others' Vokis as much as love love making their own.  Revision, the step of the writing process that all students dread, is made more fun with Voki.  It is all part of the process.
Learn more about this free, easy tool at Voki.
Learn more about enhancing learning through cell phones in Teaching Generation Text.