Positive Social Media

My brain has been swirling around a lot of 21st century learning this past week and I know the only to keep my thoughts straight is to write about it.  There is no doubt social media is becoming more and more apparent in the classroom.  Though school policies may ban it from districts, teachers and students are fighting for it. Yes, I know, I may not be saying anything new, but I wanted to share what will be taking place this year in my classroom and at my school and how I came to this point.
What to choose?
Twitter, Facebook, Celly, Edmodo, Schoology, Remind 101, Etc.  I am sure I am missing a few. It is tough to decide which social media platform to choose.  It can be really overwhelming and rather perplexing.  First, I suggest choosing something you are either familiar with or you can familiarize yourself with and won’t take up too much of your time.  My wife uses Facebook. She is a band director and at the beginning of this summer she launched a group page. She know I am technology savvy and asked me how to do it and I honestly could not give her an answer because though I have a Facebook account, I am not the huge of a fan of Facebook and didn’t know how to complete the task she was asking. She trudged through, figured it out and now has a over two hundred parents and students as part of that group.  She uses it to send out reminders, answer questions, create events, and keep an open line of communication of between herself and parents.  It works for her and she is having success. For example, she had a fundraiser event and she had over forty student volunteers because her students are a part of that social media page/group.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t work for me.  Facebook was never intended to be used in schools and therefore, you have bullying issues and students can private message each other and that opens a dangerous door.  Other social media platforms are simpler to navigate and upload images,files, assignments, etc.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I tried to use Edmodo in my classroom. Edmodo is a great social platform that mirrors Facebook and students can dive right in and they don’t skip a beat as Facebook users. Messages can be posted along with links, assignments, etc.  The issue I have with Edmodo is that students can get off topic easily (This can be an issue with any social media website) and students can still send private messages to each other like Facebook.  My student’s wound up creating digital debris this past year because the more I worked with it, I didn’t care for it.  Teachers can belong to groups and get other ideas from teachers.  I am sure with more training and practice, I could have made it work, I just wasn’t sold 100% on it. This doesn’t mean it won’t work for other teachers.
Celly was my main social media platform I used this past year and you can read about in my other blog posts or go to the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website and read about it.
What I Am Doing 2012-2013
At the end of the school year we had a department meeting. My high school colleague introduced Schoology to myself and another language arts teacher.  Like a professional poker player, I am all in!  Schoology rocks because my students and parents can join it once I give them an access code (Edmodo does the same).  Students can NOT private message each other.  All messages are public and viewable by me the teacher, eliminating cyber bullying.  Resources can be shared amongst teachers, assignments can be uploaded to students along with links.  The greatest thing about Schoology is the fact students can upload Google docs to the site, which I have not seen with other social media platforms. I use Google Docs in my classroom and essentially had a paperless classroom by the end of the year.  We are going to be a Google Apps school this year and we will house the students portfolios there.  We agreed between the three of us we would incorporate this social media platform into our classes.  It makes sense for us to keep our lines of communication open with our students and parents and we want to properly assess our student writers by using a writing portfolio that can be passes from grade to grade.  We will at least have grade 7-11 covered using a digital portfolio.
What ever you consider or choose, just keep in mind that there will be students and parents who may not have internet access.  Also, consult with your principal and read your policies on using such a tool.  Also, create a sample student so you see things from their perspective too. Believe me, it helps! Each of these social media sites have apps for smartphones too.  I believe the Celly app is still in the beta stages. Also, investigate Youth Voices too. I will be blogging about this site this year as I incorporate into my writing lessons.  Social media is a digital writing tool that should be considered for any classroom as we teach the 21st century learner.  The collaboration can be endless with using such a tool.  It isn’t just about students sitting in front of their computer, phone, or mobile device.
Look for more blog posts this week. I am going to try and do one at least 3 times this week. Connected Learning kicks of this week too at NWP.
Cheers!

BYOD: It Can Work!

I recently read an article from Emerging Edtech titled 5 Reasons Why BYOD is a Bad Idea. As an online subscriber, I immediately read the article when it entered my inbox. Not to mention, I am a huge advocate for students using cell phones in the classroom.  After all, I am writing a book about it.  The article outlines 5 areas or reasons why it is a bad idea for students to bring their own device into the classroom.  I want to address each one of these individually and point out why it can work, even in a small rural district where I teach.

First, the article addresses, equipment inequity. Okay, so not everyone is going to have the same phone, tablet, etc.  The article argues there will be many inconsistencies when dealing with many different brands, and types of devices.  There are some easy solutions to this quandry.  For example, my students started to use cell phones in my language arts classroom this year and I had students who had iphones, flip phones, smart phones, “dumb” phones, etc. As a teacher, I had to keep this in mind when it came to incorporating technology into my existing lessons. So, I used a social platform (Celly) that supported both smart phones and “dumb” phones.  I don’t think there is a need to worry about the equipment being brought in by our students. Educators need to find website, social platforms, etc. that can be supported across the board.  Furthermore, doesn’t every teacher have an alternative plan if something doesn’t work?  My students can log onto the classroom wikispace to work and with the amount of students who bring in their own devices, I can get them on a computer in our lab.

Next, tech support is discussed as a downfall.  In comparison to the first issue the article discussed, it basically is echoing the same thing.  Because students will have different devices, there will be different issues with software and configuration.  The article doesn’t give exact specifics.  I suggest as a teacher who is interested in doing this to do your homework.  Research what devices your students have and see which ones could potentially cause you the most headaches.  Also, as mentioned before, choose a digital tool that can be supported on a various devices.  Trust me, they are out there.  The article also said the tech support would pick up more problems.  Why?  It seems to me that if students are bringing in their own device, they should know how the device works.  In addition, I would hope the teacher is comfortable with using technology and perhaps could provide assistance to the students.  Teachers should also know when to draw the line when it comes to how much time is being eaten away due to technological problems.  As mentioned before, having a plan B helps.

The third point the article brings up called bring your own distraction is grasping at straws.  Yes, students do have distractions on their devices.  I had students who had apps, games, or music on their phones and it was never an issue.  First of all, my students and I have a mutual respect about the use of their phones.  I have never given my students a sheet with a set of rules and regulations regarding their phones.  The only rules my students were solidly aware of were the school wide rules.  It was really amazing how my students never had their phones out when they weren’t supposed to and the number of times I had students ask me to get their cell phones out.  I firmly believe the respect given by me to them when it came to their device fed into the respect they gave back to me when it came to the use of their devices.  Oh, and the other point I want to argue is any teacher who has quality classroom management will have very few issues.

Internet Content Filtering is the fourth issue addressed in the post.  I completely understand this point, however, if students are bringing in laptops or tablets, students are going to have to connect to the network being used at the school. Then, the content can be filtered.  On the other hand, I know students who have 3G and 4G on their phones and I also have both on my phone.  There isn’t a big difference between the two.  When using cell phones, there can be an issue about accessing inappropriate sites.  With firm acceptable use policies in place, student expectations aren’t a guessing game. If students aren’t using the device for what is was intended, then they lose the privilage of using it at school.  Teachers can’t just sit at their desk either after giving the student an assignment.  They need to circulate and monitor their students the best they can to make sure the students are on task.

Finally, the mine is better than yours syndrome is not a solid enough reason to not incorporate a BYOD policy into a school. I am around middle schoolers and high schoolers every day and I don’t see this with technology nearly as much as I do with a pair of shoes, or clothing.  Some students are going to have a better or different device and I am sure there are going to be instances where students don’t have anything at all.  Growing up my best friend had the latest Nintendo, Sega, etc. and I never hated him or made fun of him. He never flaunted it to anyone either.  The only grade levels I could potentially see this would be in the elementary levels.  Nevertheless, this argument shouldn’t deter anyone from wanting to use tech devices in their classroom.

I normally don’t look to be argumentative with what I read online when it comes to professional publications, but this particular post/article struck a few nerves.  I had a very successful year with students bringing their own cell phones. Like with any lesson or unit in the classroom, I did have hurdles from time to time, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t overcome. I had a wide array of phones brought in and I had students who didn’t have them.  As a teacher you make adjustments and have alternative methods to meet the needs of all of your students.

Cheers!


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!


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!