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.


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.


Tech or No Tech

Yesterday we had a staff meeting and to be very honest, I felt it was our most productive staff meeting we have had thus far. I am blessed with some pretty remarkable colleagues. For the past two months there has been some major issues with the technology in our building. A majority of the complaining was justified, especially when teachers couldn’t access their grade books to input grades or show students reports. My principal, who is an amazing administrator, advocates repeatedly for us, and has our backs. Today our school counselor sat us down and discussed with us how we need to stop being so dependent upon technology. She referred to a bit that was on Nightly News with Brian Williams broadcasted Wednesday, November 30th. It discussed a school that thrives on Not using technology in the classroom and throughout the whole school. Now, this was a hard pill for me to swallow because I love using technology. Another colleague and myself were just given the green light to look at smart boards and I am excited. On the other hand, as I watched this video clip and listened to what my counselor had to say, I decided I needed to make some immediate changes in my classroom and how I was instructing my students and what I was truly using technology for in my classroom. Our counselor gave us a message, and that was to remember we are the experts in our classroom, not the computers we are so desperately wanting to work. She talked about how technology should be an extension of our teaching, not let the technology do our job. Yes, this makes sense to me, I am not going to argue the point she is trying to make. I am guilty of whining and trying to spend 20 minutes getting my computer to work (now I have one that is pretty close to brand new). In addition to her discussing how technology needs to be extension of our learning, she also talked about how if we focus too much on trying to rely on technology, we lose touch with our students and the valuable relationships that need to be built with our students. Again, it makes sense, I hear the message loud and clear.

Now, the message may be loud and clear, but I love using the online tools that are available and I am not an educator that “relies” on technology to make my lesson plans, but I want my students to get with the 21st century. It is hard to believe, but I do have students who don’t have a computer or the internet at home. Is it not going to be essential for my students to be able to work with computers? Ummm, of course it is, a lot of jobs are revolving more and more around computers. I also know my students have a great deal of difficulty with problem solving skills. Could their lack of problem solving skills be due to the fact they have a lot of information right at their fingertips? Nevertheless, I won’t completely change my philosophy on using technology in the classroom, but I know I want to do a better job of reaching out to students who are hungry for an adult to have a relationship. I need to spend more time having in depth conversations and giving my students the necessary skills they need that a computer or any other piece of technology can’t give them. So, I encourage all of my fellow teacher friends to use technology to enhance your learning and not replace it. Furthermore, try and reach out to your students and build a valuable relationship with them and let them know they have someone they can trust.