Celly and the Common Core Standards

This post has been long overdue.  I wanted to outline the connections I can make to the Common Core Standards (CCSS) with Celly.  Below I have chosen three strands from the CCSS that I use with Celly.  Each strand is followed by what I do in my classroom and what I hope my students take away from it.  Though these aren’t the only strands I can connect to, this is where I started at the beginning of the year.

1.)  8.W.6 – Production and Distribution of Writing: Use technology, including the internet to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

With the Common Core calling for teachers to use technology in their classroom, this is an easy connection to make.  Celly is internet based and requires students to use technology (a.k.a. – cell phones).  One of the greatest benefits of this digital tool is the fact students can interact and collaborate about ideas presented either by the teacher or other students.  One of the ways my 8th graders are going to collaborate is to discuss their ideas about alternate endings for The Giver by Louis Lowry.  Then, after discussing their ideas, they will extend their ideas by working on an alternate ending using Google Docs.

2.)  8.W.2 – Text Types and Purposes: Write informative/explanatory text to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
This strand is the most common strand I use when connecting Celly to the CCSS.  A simple example can be using Celly one day a week in your classroom in place of an every day journal writing in a composition notebook.  The big difference between the students using their cell phones instead of their journals is they can collaborate a lot easier and respond to multiple students who are using Celly.  Many times I might give students a topic to think about and to just write down their ideas about it.  Celly has helped generate some great classroom discussions and has helped create that safe writing community where students can share and feel like their ideas are valued and accepted.
3.) 8.L.2 – Conventions of Standard English: Demonstrate the command of the conventions of standard English, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
     This is an easy one, at least for me.  Today there is a lot of debate over how texting has influenced students and the way they write.  Teachers complain about how they find text “lingo” in the papers their students are turning in for a grade.  For example, students might write “u” instead of “you” or they might not capitalize “i”.  Regardless of what the students might do, the overall lesson goes back to teaching our students how to be digital citizens and modeling for them when it is acceptable to use their “lingo”.
     I make it very clear to my students there is nothing wrong with using a text language, they just need to know the difference between formal and non-formal writing.  It could be argued that using cell phones and a platform such as Celly is non-formal.  I disagree because I believe it is up to the teacher how they want to use Celly.  To help my students define the differences, I require my students to use formal writing when we use Celly.  I often give them a grade for their written responses and if they are not following the conventions of Standard English, they lose points.
Cheers!

Cellular Division

As my regular followers know, I am passionate about using cell phones as a digital tool in my classroom.  In addition, I have really enjoyed exploring Celly in my classroom, a texting platform that allows my students to communicate through text messaging on their cell phones.  What is really nice for me as a teacher who teaches in a low-income, rural district, Celly allows my students to use smart phones and “dumb phones”.

My intention of this blog post is not to discuss Celly or how I am specifically using cell phones in my classroom.  I want to put something out there that I am passionate about.  Over the past several days as I have been doing research for some writing I am doing on cell phones, I came across several articles, blogs, and comments about cell phones being used in the classroom.  In my readings and observations I am still seeing a huge number of educators taking on a negative attitude towards the use of cell phones in the classroom. Now, I am a language arts teacher and I want to tell everyone that reads this, I am still focusing on making my students better writers.  Yes, it is true, I don’t always have my students writing with paper in pencil in my classroom.  Why is this so bad?  I am still helping my students grow as writers and I am using digital tools to help them achieve confidence as writers and my students are engaged.  Yes, I truly believe we are seeing a paradigm shift from paper/pencil to laptops and cell phones. What I embrace the most is the use of cell phones while connecting the Common Core Standards.  Things change and in this instance, I believe it is a change we need to embrace if we want to reach our students. My students see my genuine excitement for writing and know I am not abandoning paper and pencil. In addition, I am not asking any other educator to stop using the typical writing tools in an language arts classroom.  As a matter of fact, my students write in a journal daily using a composition notebook and pen or pencil and enjoy it. But, that is a whole separate blog post.

Though not everything I have read is completely negative, I see a lot of apprehension and excuses emerging from educators shifting in this new direction.  Teachers are afraid by using cell phones in their classroom they are going to open up a pandora’s box of problems where they will never get their students to put the cell phone away when they are not using it or supposed to be using it.  Bottom line, this comes down to classroom management.  Yes, it is possible to build a community of writers with cell phones.  I have not had one issue with my 7th/8th grade students this year and their cell phones.  As a matter of fact, my students are constantly asking permission to use their cell phones in my classroom.  My students and I have a mutual respect for one another when it comes to their cell phones and what my expectations are in the classroom.  I have built this community within the walls of my classroom and I have taught my students how to be digital citizens and this citizenship carried over to other classes too.

On the other hand, I also am learning there is apprehension from teachers because of the current policies their schools have in place.  The thought is if the policy states students can’t use them in school or they are supposed to be in their lockers, they can’t use them in their classrooms.  Well, my school policy echoes the idea that students should keep their cell phones in their locker, but I use them in my classroom.  It starts with having an open communication with you and your administration.  If you haven’t had a conversation with your principal about the possibilities cell phones can bring to your classroom, then you have no room to complain about your school’s policy on cell phones.

Bottom line, there is a “cellular divide” that is going to continue to exist due to the strict policies, apprehensiveness, and the overall refusal to change the methods being used in the classroom.  Educators need to see the benefits and the power that digital tools such as cell phones can have in the classroom and on the students.  I may be only one of the few who believe in the benefits, but I am willing to do the convincing.

Cheers!


Struggling with Research at the Middle School Level

When my students return from spring break next week they will be embarking on the research portion of the year. The past few weeks I have really struggled with the term “research paper”. Though I see the purpose of doing a research paper, I am not sure having my students turn in a 4-5 page “research paper” is best practice. To be more clear, I am thinking about my 7th grade classes.

My 8th graders, on the other hand, do a multi-genre research project which I absolutely love and I love their enthusiasm about the project. It also falls under the CCSS because one of the Common Core Standards is doing a “research project”. Please see my multi-genre project on Digital Is. The easy solution would be for my 7th graders to do the multi-genre project as well, but with different expectations. The reason I am not considering this option is because I do not want to grade over 110 projects that could include up to 6 pieces of writing. I wouldn’t sleep this spring if I decided to take this route.

Regardless of what direction I go in, I know that I am going to have an absorbant amount of paperwork and I am fine with knowing this, but having 5 classes doing a multi-genre research project could have the potential of me grading over 500 pieces of writing. WOW! What I really struggle with is knowing if I am going to reach students. In my district, if I don’t do some sort of research with my students, they will not see it again until 11th grade. Besides, I know that I have too. And it would seem with the CCSS, my colleagues at the high school level would have to as well. Why do we do a research paper anyways? I ofter wonder how dumb of a question that really is or do others have this thought too.

At our last department meeting I asked what is the value of a research paper and we had a really great conversation about how it isn’t the paper itself that is important for the students, but rather it is the process that the students go through. For example, students should know how to research effectively, they should know how to site sources and give credit where credit is due, and they need to be able to clearly convey what they learned from that research. So, my question is can I get students to show this without it being a 4-5 page “research paper”? Or is it in the best interest of the students to change my attack on this particular genre of writing. I am a huge advocate for technology being used in the classroom. Google Docs would be a start in the right direction. In addition, I am considering letting the students use cell phones to help with their research. I will explain what my thinking is on that in a later blog post.

So, I wonder, what are other middle school teachers doing in the realm of the research? What are others doing in their classroom? Are there other teachers out there that feel the same as I do? I would love to hear feedback and suggestions. More to come…

Cheers!


Cell Phone Policies

Okay now that I have somewhat of a routine down with our newest family member, it is time to empty this brain of mine. For those of you who read my blog, prepare for a wave of blog posts this week and next. My brain needs some major dumping and blogging is where it is at!

Recently my principal asked me for my input on our districts cell phone policy. Since the second half of last year, I have been using cell phones in my classroom from time to time as a digital writing tool. This year it has really taken off with the use of Celly. As a result of engaging my 21st century learners and knowing that today’s “screenagers” are “wired”, my principal is looking to make a change. On the other hand, the misuse of cell phones is another cause for my principal to re-examine our policy. It is not just misuse by the students either, it is misuse by the adults, the so called professionals. Now, I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to checking my phone to see who texted me or emailed me. However, to check my phone and to be on it for an extended amount of time, is different. Just sayin!

Though I have not sent anything in writing to my principal, I have been diligintly thinking about how a school district can find a perfect balance between discipline and usage in the classroom when drafting a cell phone use policy. Some questions to ponder are: Does a school district involve parents when trying to determine a policy? If it takes a community to raise a child, shouldn’t we at least consider what parents have to say with the clear understanding that the school board, administrators, and teachers have the final say? Second, what about the student’s input? In my opinion, students are going to abide by a policy if they are the ones that helped construct it. Obvisously you can’t have every student participate. I think starting with a small survery for students about the use of cell phones in a school setting would be an excellent start. On the other side of the coin, consulting teachers and support staff about changing the policy will provide any district with a substantial number of people who can help develop and draft a policy.

With the help of many different people, I believe it is vital to think about appropriate times students can use a cell phones. In addition, we need to consider the appropriate times adults can use cell phones. Composing a list of safe digital sites associated with cell phone use can help ensure teachers such as myself that cell phones can continue to be used in the classroom as a digital tool. Then, there is the issue of consequences for those students and teachers who do not abide by the rules. Many schools confiscate phones for a day or contact parents. Whatever the punishment, it should be enforced and students, as well as teachers, should clearly understand their boundries.

With all this being written, I may be leaving some things out. I am certain that I am. However, I just want to make everyone think about the current policies in place at their school/district. I strongly believe that a policy, like a piece of writing, is never finished. It will continue to be a work in progress and should be revisted before the start of every school year to be revised. I am confident a majority of schools will be revising their cell phone policies in the future for the good of the cause. If your school doesn’t have a policy and you don’t know where to start, consult school districts around you to see what they have in place and use theirs as a stepping stone.

Cheers!


Enhancing the Classroom With Digital Modeling

The last few days I have been thinking about technology and how it is truly playing a major role in the classroom. I watched a segment on 60 minutes on Sunday about the Kahn Academy and I read an article yesterday I believe in the Washington Post about teaching kids to be digital citizens. First, I want to make it clear I am not going to ramble on about Kahn Academy. I know for a fact it upsets a lot of people and the idea of flipping the classroom is still in its infant stages or at least I feel that it is. It seems to me there are still some things wrong with the idea and I am not going to get into that here. The only comment I want to make about Kahn Academy is it doesn’t do any modeling of reading and writing in the online sessions. Enough said there.

The other day I sat down and had lunch with my mentor and colleague. I had to give a lot of thought about our conversation prior to our lunch. Despite the fact we want our students to use technology, and there definitely is a place for technology in our student’s lives, we need to remember we are the adults and the teacher. It is true, there are too many adults, including educators that are whipping out their phones and checking them in class, professional development, and while they are in line at the grocery store. I am not saying I am innocent of these accusations from time to time, but what is frustrating is watching professionals who scold students every day about being on their cell phone or keeping their cell phone put away, and then seeing these same adults pull out their cell phone during a professional development session and vigorously text, surf the Internet, or play games. We can’t hold our students to expectations that we ourselves are not willing to follow. It seems digital natives have not been given proper instructions on how to handle the devices they come into contact with each and every day. Essentially, they need digital modeling by teachers, parents, and other important adults in their lives.

In my opinion, if we as educators are crying to use more technology in our classroom, we need to model for our students when it is appropriate. Just today I heard on the news that 62% of students ages 6-15 are more likely to find the answer to a question on Google rather than ask their parents. Upon asking my students about what was more accessible, the Internet or their parents, it is evident students rely more and more on the internet. As troubling as this might seem, we still have a responsibility to teach today’s youth how to be responsible digital citizens. After all, technology and digital tools are meant to enhance our student’s learning, they are not meant to be a toy plopped in front of them for entertainment purposes.

Cheers!


Project-Based Learning for 21st Century Learners

Though I wanted to blog about my second day at the MACUL conference in Michigan, I couldn’t really bring myself to write anything worthy of posting. So, I began to think about the morning session I attended on project-based learning this morning. It reminded of the conversation I was a part of last night with my writing group. My writing group colleague wrote a piece about how students today are just settling for being average. If you don’t know already, being average is not going to cut it in today’s society. I share my colleagues frustration. To many times I see students just settling for “good enough”. I have often thought of altering my grading scale so if students met the requirements of the assignment, they only earned a “C” grade. It would only be when the learner went above and beyond those requirements would they earn an “A” grade. Anyways, it seems no matter how high our expectations are within our classroom, the students still aren’t pushing there thinking outside of the box.

I wonder if there could be something said about project-based learning with our 21st century learners. Now, let me be honest, I am just beginning to dabble into the realm of project-based learning. At best, I know very little. I do, however, understand the idea behind it and I have seen it work. In addition, my mother-in-law taught project-based learning in alternative education and had success. From what I understand it allows the students to collaborate, inquire, be challenged, think critically, and have the opportunity to have real world connections. Yes, I like all of these and if this is what is going to help my 21st century learners become a better global citizen and more competitive for the job market, I want to at least try it. I did like how the presenters warned this is not the shoe box project at the end of a unit and I can see where that misconception happens. They also shared a Creative Commons video that stated we do operate in a world of projects. To me, that does make sense.

I am seriously considering doing a trial run of project-based learning in my classroom next year. I still need to get my feet wet. I do see the potential for project-based learning being way to do thematic units across the curriculum. Furthermore, integrating technology could enhance students learning within their projects. Having a laptop to use within their groups and composing through Google Docs. Also, they can collaborate about websites through Diigo. I think there are numerous possibilities with incorporating technology.

I am not certain project-based learning is the total answer to getting our students to do more critical thinking or even go beyond “average”. However, I do feel it has real world application and can be implemented into a 21st century classroom where rigor needs to be ramped up.

Cheers!


Not Too Much: Slowly Approaching the 21st Century Classroom

Moodle, Google Docs, Glogster, Edmodo, WordPress, Blogger, Vimeo, Diigo, and Wikis. Are you out of breath yet? If your not, you are one of the 21st century educators who are implementing digital tools into their classrooms. If you are just laying foot to path and beginning your journey into all of the wonderful digital tools that have the potential to transform your classroom, the choices can be a bit overwhelming. This is just one of the many thoughts I had yesterday attending the pre-conference sessions at MACUL. As I sat through a moodle and a web publishing session, I began to wonder what my prospective would have been if I was new to all of this. Rocking in the corner with my arms wrapped around my legs came to mind. It wasn’t that long ago when I went through the summer writing institute and our director Troy Hicks gave us a plethora of digital tools to use. There were days I had anxiety, but everything in the end worked out. I get excited about challenges and persevered through it all. I honestly believe teachers can transform their classrooms into 21st century portals where the students can once again be excited about learning.

So, how do you begin with this barrage of digital tools being thrown at you? First, simply start by picking just one tool to implement into your classroom. A great colleague of mine Kevin Hodgson commented to me about students and technology users alike are leaving “digital debris”, meaning we try new things out and think it is great, but then we never use that tool again. Students and users have created accounts, used it one time, then never go back. I know I am guilty of doing this very thing this year with Edmodo. By choosing just one tool, you can use it over and over during the school year. Essentially, by the end of the year, your students and you will be become an expert on that tool. Furthermore, you as the leader in the classroom, won’t feel so overwhelmed. Then, the following year you can stretch your zone again and try something new.

Next, after you have chosen the digital tool you want to implement, ask yourself two questions. First, why am I using this in my classroom? Second, why is this tool valuable to my students? The first question was an eye opener for me. I have to thank Troy Hicks again for pushing me in this thinking. Now, I am passing it on to you. Simply using a digital tool because it looks fun or the students like it, aren’t the most important issues here. Some tools are geared towards a language arts classroom, where another one might be more science oriented. In addition, some schools may not have up-to-date technology capabilities that support the tool you want to use. More importantly, with increased rigor and higher order thinking wrapped around the Common Core, it is essential to stop and think about how the tools we are using are helping to develop these very traits within our students.

I leave you with the the advice to go slow, find what is easy and works well for you and your students. We all have to shift our learning styles and our minds to the 21st century and how our classrooms are going to look.

Cheers!


Classroom Contraband or Social Segway?

Since the beginning of the school year I have been using cell phones in my classroom as a way to help connect my students with technology and to use as a worthwhile digital writing tool.  Notably, I have written about a social platform called Celly in past blogs and how I believe it can be used for middle school or high school classrooms.  Lately I have been giving a lot of thought about cell phones and their place in schools and the classroom.  As a teacher, parent, and writer I try to look at the use of cell phones from several different perspectives.

To begin, controversy has been surrounding school policies on cell phones for the past several years.  Recently a local paper wrote an article about how local schools are embracing technology and trying different digital tools such as tablets, cell phones, and laptops. The one section of the article discusses how policies are becoming more liberal and students are able to use their cell phones between classes without punishment.  Administrators and school boards are looking more closely at their current policies and trying to decide how to change it without students taking advantage of the policy. For example, students might be able to cheat or use their phone to cyber-bully with access to social media. School districts need to look deeper into the use of cell phones by students.  School districts need to allow students and teachers to use them in their classrooms, not just in the hallways.  One teacher in the article is quoted as saying he felt cell phones were still a distraction in the classroom, but he sometimes allowed students to send him pictures. I have to question this teacher’s thought process. Even if a school district is allowing students to access their cell phone, a teacher can not put themselves in danger by allowing students to send pictures to them.  Practices in the classroom such as this can and are giving the use of cell phones in an educational setting a bad rap.  Integrating a technology such as a cell phone into a specific lesson will garnish more positive feedback and lead to more teachers, parents, and school districts being willing to look at their policies and be more inclined to change them for a 21st century learner.

Besides reading and thinking about school policies on cell phones, there is something to be said about students using mobile devices in a classroom and more students being willing to participate. Back in May of 2011, The New York Times published an article on Social Media and using it to generate more classroom discussion.  Could using cell phones and social platforms like Celly be a way to get reluctant students to participate or are we encouraging students to be less confrontational?  I am really on the fence about this discussion.  There is a part of me as a teacher that really likes to see a student squirm when asked to bring their voice into a discussion.  The moment that a student is uncomfortable is a moment where a student grows and it disciplines us as a teacher to not bail them out of a tough situation.  Teachers see cell phones and social media as another distraction to students, rather than a tool where it could help students participate.  I disagree with this based on my own experiences with my own students.  The one day a week we use Celly and our Wiki space, my students are not cruising the internet or texting their friends.  They are genuinely on task and there are thoughtful conversations taking place amongst members of the class.  The only time I ever see my students playing games or surfing Youtube is if they finish their task early and when I ask my students to take care of their phones, I never have to ask twice.  In the The New York Times Article, a student mentioned how he viewed his classmates as more intelligent and he could understand them more deeply.  I am not sure using a social media tool can lead to deeper thinking.  I believe that can be continued research on all of our parts.  On the other hand, I do think we could reach students who are shy, afraid to ask questions in front of their peers, and students who genuinely have trouble expressing their ideas verbally.  These are the students we try and poke and prod all year and barely get anything out of them when it comes to a classroom discussion.  So, is bringing digital tools that are social into the classroom bridging a communication gap?  Could Twitter or Edmodo help students and teachers have more in depth conversation about a given topic?  Currently there are still a lot of people who doubt the use of such technologies in the classroom.  In addition, there are educators, like myself, who utilize technology in the classroom and relate it to the current curriculum that is in place.

I encourage everyone to read the articles and form your own opinion, but to also keep an open mind to our 21st century learners.

Cheers!



What Now? Dealing With Intelligence

Every single day we face challenges as teachers. Whether it is a discipline problem or something as simple as what lesson is going to most affectively reach a class, we go home exhausted every day because we are doing our job well. For the past week I have had something plaguing my brain like a tick sucking blood from a dog.  I know, a bit extreme right?  Let me enlighten your brain as to why I am feeling this way.  I start by asking you a question: What do teachers do with a student who is not meeting curricular requirements in school?  Wait…wait, I know what you are going to say.  Sit back, there is more.  The student is a middle schooler who could potentially be starting drivers training within a year.  They have been tested to receive special education services and did NOT qualify.  They are a constant disruption to every classroom they enter.  Said student is not at grade level with reading, writing, or math.  The teachers are in contact with the parents on a weekly basis and everything is documented.  There have been several teacher meeting about this individual to help make this student more successful in everyone’s classroom. So, what is a teacher to do?

When all avenues have been exhausted it is difficult for any teacher not to feel frustrated with the performance of the student.  After all, we want to see our students be successful. I wonder if there are not only other teachers who feel the way I do, but are there other students who fit the same profile?  Retention is always an option that is on the table, but by the time the student graduated he could be twenty-one years old.  Because this individual does not qualify for any type of services, I find myself wondering what more can be done. What drives me bonkers the most is how he disrupts other around him.  Besides a behavior plan, an academic plan can be put into place putting benchmarks before the student to reach, but with no motivation from the student, it proves worthless.  I am not a teacher who is just going to let a student of this caliber slip through the cracks.  Unfortunately, I have seen this before and the student continues to play catch-up for the rest of their school career.

Let’s face it, every year we encounter students who just don’t want to be at school. I don’t claim to be the world’s best teacher, but I work my tail off to make sure my students get the best education possible.  I know I don’t reach every child I come in contact with, but I know if I reach a few, I can feel confident I am doing my job.  Now, I worry about students that I have described.  Our state is coming out with stringent evaluation tools for teachers.  If there is proven growth in my students, my head is on the chopping block.  I can’t help but think low achieving students, who have absolutely no motivation, will affect my evaluation because there isn’t any growth being seen.

I will continue to push forward and do what I can to help any struggling student in my class, but when there is a lack of motivation and intelligence, I need my colleagues, my administration, and my parents for support. I am open to any suggestions.

Cheers!