Learning to learn with (and without) our cellphones

The decision to allow students to bring personal devices into the classroom is being made all across the nation. Many schools are adopting ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) initiatives to engage our students in the classroom with the same tools they are using outside the classroom.

As a BYOD advocate, I look forward to seeing all the ways personal devices will help us transform teaching and learning.

Yet we must proceed carefully as we open the floodgates for BYOD. We must help our students learn how to work with and without our devices. Many argue we need to work harder on the ladder.

Joe Kraus, currently with Google Ventures, had this to say regarding our relationship with personal devices:

…we’re becoming like the mal-formed weight lifter who trains only their upper body and has tiny little legs. We’re radically over-developing the parts of quick thinking, distractable brain and letting the long-form-thinking, creative, contemplative, solitude-seeking, thought-consolidating pieces of our brain atrophy by not using them. And, to me, that’s both sad and dangerous.

Letting cellphones and iPads into our classroom is not a trade. We’re not exchanging our students’ ability to reflect and think critically for some quick-fix tech gadget that will give them an all-access pass to information. Those gadgets are important. Really important. However, let’s never forget to appreciate and use all the things our brains can do without the aid of of a gadget.

Our students aren’t alone. We adults are experiencing this transition with them. Are you happy with the relationship you have with your phone? Watch Kraus’ entire presentation on our “Culture of Distraction” before you answer.

Every student’s device coming to a screen near you

One of my favorite scenes from Iron Man 2 is when Tony Stark takes over the screens while he was forced to appear before Congress.

Stark takes over screens with his smart phone

However, it won’t take a superhero-genius-inventor to connect to the classroom screen. Inspired by some of the work over at Exploding Sink, I’ve been experimenting with the possibilities myself. With a little DIY, I’ve setup my iPad to work as a portable camera for the classroom via the Apple TV.

There are many signs that show that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This summer, Apple is releasing a new OS for the Mac computer that will also allow wireless mirroring. Affordable wireless HDMI systems are now starting to appear. CNN has been showing off their new technology that allows you to ‘flick’ content from screen to screen. This is a feature that many manufacturers have started to roll-out in their new flatscreen TVs this year.

What is the take away? Be ready to share your screen because more and more devices, and not just yours, are going to be connecting to it soon.

Some notes on cheating in the classroom

Today I gave a presentation at the WSST conference on cheating in the classroom. Below are the quotes, articles, videos, and books I shared.

Looking for a place to start? I highly recommend this book:

Cheating in School
Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do

Much of today’s talk came from this book.  For example, here are a few quotes from the book that caught my eye:

Persistent student cheating may corrupt a child’s character and lead to a devaluing of trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and honesty as fundamentals in a just society.

[cheating in school] may form a habit that persists and transitions into an adult’s work and life habits

Read More

Still catching students with cellphones in class

It has been about a month since we changed our electronic devices policy at our school but I’m still catching student using their phones in class.

However, I approve of most of the use (as shown below).

Yet, a few students have tried to sneak texting sessions at the wrong time. At first I was disappointed. I thought, “We had an agreement.”

However, I quickly remembered that my students are still getting use to their new found freedoms.

From now on, I plan to give a “gadgets in school” speech every few weeks. Like most rules, we all need reminders from time to time.

Nobody gave Spock a hard time

Spock was always messing around with his Tricorder when the Enterprise crew explored a new planet but everyone knew that it was a tool that could help the crew learn.

tricorder spock
It would be "illogical" to go without it

Just imagine if Spock’s Vulcan school had restrictions like our cell phone bans when he was growing up.

We’d all be speaking Klingon!

Right and wrong time to use a cellphone in class

Four out of five teachers know what this student is doing.

Photo from Blaise Alleyne - http://flic.kr/p/6xJSQL

After working on a presentation for my students about using mobile devices in school, there are a few things I’ve decided to emphasize when I talk to them at the start of new school year.

  1. Teachers can usually tell when students are sneaking looks at their mobile devices.
  2. When they’re using a mobile device, I’m going to expect students to ask themselves, “Is this really the right time?”
  3. If they have to sneak, it is the wrong time to be using a mobile device in class.

So when is it okay to use mobile devices in class? Simple. Anytime teachers think that it can help students learn.

Mobile devices have quickly become part of our daily life. A quick text message can put sites like Google to work for our students without a trip to the computer lab. More and more students will start the new school year with smart phones that run apps that make text messaging look like a stone tablet when we look at how engaging and functional they are. We need to put these devices to good use.

The trade-off for integrating these tools into the classroom is that we’ll have to teach students when it is and is not appropriate to use mobile devices in class.  I think these lessons are worth it. And who knows, maybe our lessons in restraint will stick with students when they’re at movie theaters, restaurants, dinner tables, or even their own graduation ceremony.

Gadget School: Make Ear Contact

Make Ear Contact

A few weeks ago I went on vacation in New York City. Naturally, I used the subway as my major mode of transportation. There’s an unwritten rule on the subway- no eye contact. I’m not saying New Yorkers are unfriendly but people keep to themselves while in transit by staring off into space or keep their head down in an exhausted stance.

New since my last NYC visit is the increased use of headphones. It looks like the new rule is don’t make ear contact. I suppose it’s good practice if you want a peaceful, uninterrupted commute to your next destination but it’s not a behavior you should employ when interacting with other.

Yet I see more and more students doing this. They’ll come to me before school and try to talk to me with headphones still in their ears. I’ve seen students walking home from school with plugged ears while carrying out a conversation. It’s like telling your friend, “I’m listening to you until my iPod serves up something better.”

We’ll no more. The new Gadget School rule is Make Ear Contact.

Explain to students that it is rude to talk to others with headphones on. When in conversation, they must give others their full attention. Eyes AND ears.

It’s time to teach ‘Gadget School’

It’s not just students, we all need a little Gadget School from time-to-time. I’ve attended several staff meetings where more than one cellphone has been a disruption. (The phones with the most obnoxious Sir Mix-a-Lot inspired ringtones are always at the bottom of the owner’s bag.) Everyone looks at the faux pas with unforgiving disgust until it happens to them. 

Every movie, musical and play starts with a reminder for us to turn off gadgets such as cellphones. I think we should do this in our classrooms too. The gadgets our students carry are not going away. Exclaiming that “they shouldn’t even have them in class” isn’t realistic. We must work with these devices. Schools need to stop the bad technology behavior not the technology. 

Enter Gadget School. If we don’t show students proper gadget etiquette, who will? Just imagine restaurants in the future if we don’t teach tomorrow’s diners that it is not okay to jabber away on your cellphone between the salad and the main course. 

Here are a few simply Gadget School posters to get things start.

Please Silence Your Cellphones

Silencing a cellphone seems like common sense. Or is it? Some students put their phone on vibrate but during a quiz this can still be noisy. Talk to your students. Let them know that you’re trying to ban distractions not devices.

Ask permission to record others

Insist that students ask before they take pictures, record audio or grab a video using their gadget. It’s rude to record others without their knowledge. Students need to learn this or our future will be one giant paparazzi world.

That’s it for Gadget School for now but there will be more to come. Please share your suggests for other Gadget School topics in the comments below.

10 helpful keys when grading on a laptop

It appears that more and more people are buying laptops over desktop PCs.  With feature-rich laptops selling for less than $500, I can see why. But there is one thing my laptop is missing- the numeric keypad. I didn’t even miss it until I started enter grades one afternoon.

Trying to enter grades on a laptop is a nightmare and it really slows you down. But never fear, there’s always a gadget to the rescue.

Pick up one of these keypads to give your fingers the extra space they need. Read More

Don’t flip for the Flip

Not the FlipSome times I think what is hip and cool is not always right for school. The latest trendsetting gadgets are Flip Video’s digital camcorders. It seems like everyone is in love with the Flip. These little camcorders fit in your pocket and have a handy flip out USB connector so you can transfer your movies with ease.

I think the Flip camcorders are a little overhyped. It might be a great little camcorder to carry in your pocket for a night out on the town but we’re not sending our students to shoot video in the clubs. If you’re looking to just record short video clips, many affordable digital cameras can do the job and you’ll be able to use that camera to take great still images too. Here are a few reasons why I don’t flip for the Flip: Read More