Category Archives: Classroom Management

Distracted by Tech? Address the Problem, Not the Symptom

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to block a site. Truthfully, I’d charge people that want me to block all games from the internet a little more.  It would  fund my retirement nicely. It’s a problem that occurs everywhere- the complaint that games and social media distract students and make it difficult if not impossible for them to do the learning they need to do.

Lately the complaints have ramped up from teachers frustrated by students who are running out of time to complete work before the end of the year. They ask me to look through the students’ laptops and find out what they are doing instead of work. It’s tedious but it is part of my job so I do it.

Students have never been at a loss for ways to avoid work. This year I am seeing some old tools like Stealthy paired with newer ones like PanicButton. These are extensions from the Chrome Webstore that allow students to get around our filters (Stealthy) and hide webpages that they don’t want you to see (PanicButton).

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The extensions will show up (unless they are hidden) to the right of the address bar in Chrome as shown in the photo above. I suggest you start looking for them.

ImageThe Stealthy button is a red square with an arrow in it. When it’s red, it’s off and the school’s filter is in place. When it’s green, it’s on and the student is using a proxy server to get around the filter. This will allow them to go anywhere they want. There’s no free lunch here- there are risks. You can read about them here.

ImageThe Panic Button is a red circle with either a target in it or an exclamation point. Both do the same thing- they hide the pages the student doesn’t want you to see, and replaces them with a more school appropriate page. Students can set the page they want you to see.

We CANNOT control the use of these tools. We can’t block them. We can make the students remove them. They are easily re-added as soon as we turn our backs. It’s less of a discipline issue than it is a sign that the student has become disconnected from the learning.

I’ll challenge you to think of these tools not as the problem itself but as a symptom of a bigger issue. Not completing work is not a new problem. It is not caused by laptops, phones, or iPads. Technology has certainly made procrastination easier but it didn’t invent it. All these tools are a big fat arrow pointing at the real problem- the student is stuck.

So why did I bother to point these things out? Because they are a visual that leads you to conversations with your students. When you see that students have installed these kinds of tools it’s kind of like noticing they have a rash. It certainly provides an opening to begin a discussion. I had the opportunity to chat with two young men this week about their use of both of these tools. I asked what educational purpose they served, and as you could expect they had a hard time coming up with one.

Both students are athletes. I asked them if they would ever consider working hard in practice when the coach was watching, and slacking off and doing something else when the coach had their back turned. They thought this was ridiculous! Why would they do that? How would they ever get better? Neither wanted to sit the bench, and they acknowledged that that kind of behavior would be counterproductive.

This made things too easy. I asked how they thought using the PanicButton was going to help them if it only made them look like they were learning. Neither could come up with an answer.

Here’s where the door opens for you as a teacher. Distraction, procrastination, defiance- they are all symptoms of the same problem. Disengagement. It might be disengagement from a particular assignment or it might be disengagement from school as a whole.  It’s our job as teachers to figure out WHY. It’s not about “who’s fault” it is. It’s about finding solutions. Forward motion is the goal.

I’m not a social worker so I can’t fix the big problems- but here are some suggestions you might try for the smaller ones. Keep in mind that this does not have to be done for an entire class- apply these as you identify students who could use them.

Reading issues:

  • Print articles students need to read. When reading gets tough and Facebook is on another tab, the temptation is to turn to the easier task.
  • Use summarizing tools like Skimzee, SummarizeThis and TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). Some work better than others but most work better than not reading at all.
  • Remove ads from pages by using Clearly in Chrome or Reader in Safari.

Distraction Issues:

  • Not all work is best done on the laptop. Decide if closing the lid will be beneficial for students.
  • Sometimes GoogleDocs provides too many notifications about new email, chat requests, etc. Have students write in Pages. Pages files can be uploaded for storage, or they can paste their work into a GoogleDoc when they are done. They can also use WriteSpace, a tool that provides a black screen with a cursor for distraction free writing.
  • Have students turn their airports off if they don’t need the internet.
  • Seating. If you know a child has a hard time focusing, do not let them sit in the hallway or with their back against the wall. Give them a seat where their screen is visible and keep an eye on what they are doing.
  • Ask students to use tools like IAMSTUDYING or Website Blocker. These allow the students to customize a filter that will block the sites they need to stay off of as well as the times they’d like them blocked. Helping students learn to self monitor can be crucial.

Accountability:

  • Exit tickets are a great way to hold students accountable for what they have done in class. Some teachers start with a daily goal and ask students to evaluate how they have done. They don’t leave class without handing in the ticket.
  • Ask them to email a copy of their daily work to you. It will only take a minute for you to evaluate what they have done and know how well they are using their time. This is especially effective when you are doing a whole class video. VideoNot.es gives you an easy way to do this.

If you’ve been in the classroom any time at all, you already have a hefty toolbox of strategies to help students. When you look at the behavior with technology as a symptom it makes it easier to put together a set of strategies to get your students moving ahead.

 

 

Using Video for Critical Thinking

Today a colleague asked me to resend a link for a site that offers free documentaries. He was talking about DocumentaryTube, a well organized site offering free documentaries on demand. He might also have meant YouTube’s Documentary section, with a mixture of free and low priced videos available. I’ll also toss Snagfilms in there, and of course I’ll send him to my go-to guy Richard Byrne and his FreeTech4Teachers entry on the Best Free Documentary Websites.

I won’t stop there, however, because it’s important to reinforce the importance of guiding students when using video. Just turning it on and tuning out as you grade papers is a poor strategy- because it is exactly what students will want to do (ok, without the papers, but you get the idea). Using video in the classroom is a GREAT way to help students practice their critical thinking skills, but only if you give them a framework within which to work.

How many times have you chosen a video for class and thought “This will be a great piece to use as the center of discussions about a,b, and c?” You show the video and ask what the students thought about a,b, and c…and nada. Not a peep, except maybe from your top student.  It’s not that the video wasn’t relevant or your students slept through it- perhaps is just is too long from critical thought to discussion.

You can improve this by using some simple tools. All involve giving students prompts to think about or find examples of in the video. Then-

  • Create a twitter hashtag for students to use to respond to the prompts while the video is on. This allows students to quickly post ideas while they are thinking of them. Of course, all students would have to have a twitter account. You can create a classroom account for students to use if you wish- this comes with a caveat to also talk about acceptable digital behavior.
  • Use a backchannel chat tool like TodaysMeet to let students make points or ask questions as they watch.
  • If the idea of a chat makes you nervous, use a shared bulletin board like Padlet
  • Create a viewing guide to be printed or shared on GoogleDocs to help students formalize their thoughts or take notes

When students have their thoughts in print it makes it easier to go back and have the conversations you originally planned. The Twitter, backchannel chat and bulletin board tools have the added advantage of giving you the ability to monitor questions as the video goes along. You can stop the video and let discussions come up as they bubble into existence and thoughts about the topic are fresh.

Improve Student Workflow with Home Screen Shortcuts

Workflow has been the buzzword of the month. My task list today included adding a customized Symbaloo webmix to all of the classroom laptops. The goal is to help our elementary students get where they need to go easily without worrying about their sometimes weak typing skills. We also have iPads in the classrooms and as I was plugging away I was thinking about how to get Symbaloo on the iPads too.

Then I realized it-  I don’t really need Symbaloo for the iPads. Many of the most used sites have apps that are already on the iPads. The one stickler was the link to the library card catalog. The librarian wants to be able to use Opals on the iPads but the website is long and difficult for students to type accurately. The bookmarking system on the iPads is not  convenient for students with fine motor issues.  We needed a better solution.

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Turns out it is SO EASY to put a shortcut to a website on an iPad home screen. Safari does almost all the work for you- and all you have to do is organize the resulting app-like tile onto your screen so it makes sense. I found a YouTube video that shows how to do it in 45 seconds.

This is what our library login site looks like. I wanted an icon to it that students could easily access on the iPad.

 

 

 

ImageA few clicks of the mouse and voila! It looks like another app (ok, it’s on my phone but it works the same on your iPad). It’s now moveable to wherever I think it works best in the lineup.

How can this work for you?

1. Many teachers have sites they use for practice that contain games or challenges for students to use. Create a folder and fill it with these “apps.” Or create folders by content area and organize your links that way.

2. Is your iPad too old to manage the newest OS updates? Often times new apps won’t run on an old OS. IXL is one such app. If there is a website available, and often times there is, you can still provide easy access to the tool.

Tech Integrator Tip: How to Successfully Not Know It All

I have to admit that I have come a long way in my 14 years of teaching and guiding technology use. In my early days I struggled to know everything I needed to teach, and to make it rigorous and full of depth. Usually I just made it hard and confusing- for both me and my students.

Now that I’m “of a certain age” I have given myself permission to “Not Know It All” and be good at it. Yesterday was a good example of it (and one that worked out really well) so I thought I’d share a bit of what happened.

I am a tech integrator with a degree in horse training. I’m a good problem solver and pretty savvy- but there is a lot I don’t know. So, in the past, when the kids and parents asked if I could teach programming, I put them off without really telling them them that I could sooner teach them how to build a backhoe.

This year’s Hour of Code gave me a chance to provide a coding opportunity for the MS/HS community.  In a nutshell, the Hour of Code is a program running during Computer Science Education Week. It’s sponsored by Code.org. They provide tutorials for different kinds of coding that are geared towards kids in a number of areas. The goal was to get 10 million kids worldwide to do one hour of coding during this week.

The directions from the site suggested choosing one of their tutorials, going through it so you’d be familiar with the process and could help the kids, and then presenting it to the kids at the Hour of Code event. I did the first part (and discovered 30 years too late how much I like programming…) but decided not to limit them to what MY experience was.

Instead, I showed an introductory video (I liked “What Most Schools Don’t Teach“) and then had the kids log in. From there, they moved to a table that had the sign for the tutorial they wanted to do. Topics were varied- learning Javascript, Designing a Game, Scratch, and Building an IOS App among them. With this model, kids could work through the tutorials with other kids who were working on the same thing. They instinctively asked each other for help- and sometimes, because we had both middle school and high school kids together, the high school experts left what they were doing to troubleshoot with their younger colleagues.

Had I been the one who had to “own” the information, very little learning would have occurred- for ANY of us. As it was, each kid worked at the pace that worked for them, getting just the help they needed when they needed it it. I wish I could share the way their faces lit up when they had their (many) AHA moments.

I’ll for sure put this model at the top of my toolbox.

Helping Students Stay Focused

Today I had a text from a student who (finally!) has recognized that her laptop is sometimes more of a distraction than a learning tool. In her senior year, she has  ground to make up and she wanted  help to stay connected with her work and disconnected from the things that pull her off track. She asked me if I could block a particular site that drags her off course.

I’ve played with the parental controls on the laptops and have found that when it comes to blocking websites, parental controls do more harm than good. For some reason, the parental controls DO block the websites we put in…and then they go a bit further and block ALL secure websites (those with https in the beginning of the address.) This makes it nearly impossible to use the internet- defeating the purpose of the controls in the first place.

And truthfully, it’s important for HER to regulate her internet use. I can clamp down the internet but it won’t keep her off her phone or her friend’s computer. She has to realize that the power to control herself lies ultimately within her- but it’s ok to add the needed supports.

And so rather than take her laptop and do unnecessary surgery, I pointed her towards the Chrome WebStore. A search of the webstore produced a number of apps and extensions that students can use to help keep themselves off of distracting sites. Here are a few that I like:

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.03.58 PMStrict Workflow- allows students to block sites for a particular time period, give themselves a break, then block them again. The default is 25 minutes of blocking with 5 minutes of break, but this can be customized as the student wishes. It can also be set so that it only allows certain sites for a time period – for example, a student could ONLY go on a limited list of sites during a 50 minute class period if it was on that setting.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.05.15 PMStay Focused - similar to Strict Workflow, StayFocused allows students to create a list of blocked sites. It allows a lot of customization- for example, there is a nuclear option that allows them to block sites or allow only certain sites, set the time, and go- with no way to cancel it until the time runs out.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.05.56 PMBlocksite- like the other two, Blocksite lets a student customize a list of sites that won’t be allowed. The student can set a time to begin blocksite and a time to end it. In addition, Blocksite gives the option of creating a list of words that can’t be searched.

All of these tools are free. They are installed and controlled by the student.
They can just as easily  be uninstalled by the student. They don’t give teachers any control whatsoever- which is a good thing. What these tools DO give teachers is the opportunity to take advantage of a teachable moment. Telling a student who is addicted to Facebook to “just stay off of it” isn’t going to work. Nor is trying to watch their every move.  There is scientific evidence from brain researchers that says there is a chemical change in the brain that makes us seek the attention we get from others in social media. It’s OK for kids to understand that sometimes they don’t have the willpower to stay focused on a difficult task. I’ve used these tools myself to save myself from getting sucked into Facebook rather than doing homework.

I’m sending a link to this post to all of the students in grades 6-12. When the time comes, remind them that they have the ability to self-monitor themselves.

Your Digital Footprint is an Ad Campaign

I’ve taught 7th and 8th graders about their digital footprint for years. In that time they have listened and not quite believed me, despite articles and demonstrations that I think clearly show that I know what I am talking about. Luckily, I teach in a student centered learning environment that encourages (ok, REQUIRES) us to continually check and adjust our teaching so it brings us the desired results.

Did my students do well on their assessments? Sure they did. And then they went right out and did the opposite on their own time. “This calls for a change in plan,” I thought. Clearly there was a disconnect between what I assumed I was teaching and what they were learning.

The idea of a digital footprint is pretty fuzzy when you are 13. After all, who sees what you post? Nobody but those 786 friends and followers, and they would never interpret a picture in a whole different way than my students intended it be seen. I finally came up with an idea to help shift their thinking.

My students ignore a lot of advertising but they LOVE commercials…especially those that are part of a campaign.  They watch them on Youtube and talk about them regularly. I wondered if they understood that their digital footprint is actually an ongoing ad campaign that they are putting up about themselves. I decided to test it.

I started with this video made by Nike. It doesn’t have any words and it doesn’t advertise a particular product.  It’s designed to invoke feelings, emotions, and perceptions- all important elements of a student’s online reputation. I used a microblog in Edmodo to allow students to write the words they thought of when watching the video. The answers were as varied as the students and gave them a good grasp of how visuals can influence how viewers make assumptions about a product- and how those assumptions can be very different from person to person. They quickly made the leap to understanding that when it comes to a digital footprint, THEY are the product that is being advertised.

Will it change their behavior? Time will tell. I am hopeful.

Edmodo: 12 weeks later

In the infancy of this blog, I wrote a post about Edmodo. I was looking for a platform upon which to build my 7th and 8th grade class sites. The post describes the pros and the cons of using Edmodo and is still a good place to start learning about it.

I didn’t ultimately use Edmodo. I had just discovered GoogleDocs and decided to put my efforts into learning how to use Sites. Not a bad tool…but this year my needs changed and I gave Edmodo a try. The rest of this post is a synopsis of my trimester.

ImageIn a nutshell, Edmodo is a self contained classroom that looks like Facebook. There really is no learning curve for students- they get it right away. It’s easy to introduce and the workflow for students is simple- log in, check the progress pane to see where you are, and get to work.

From a teacher’s viewpoint, the advantages to Edmodo are many:

1. Notifications: Students and parents (yes, there is a parent login) can receive updates from you via text message or email. The text option has proven to be quite popular with both parents and students. I even have my notifications set so I get a text whenever someone posts something. This helps kids stay within the classroom rules that we set about what the Edmodo wall is for.

2. The Library/Backpack/Activity Stream: I often find extra resources that I’d like students to have access to outside of class. The Backpack allows me to share folders in my library that show up in the student’s backpack. The activity stream shows me who is accessing them so I can tell which ones are most readily used.

3. Differentiation Tools: You can easily create small groups within Edmodo. Have kids that need remediation? Create a group, add members, and assign work to just these students. Need more complex assignments for your students who are ahead? The same process works for them as well.

4. Progress Page: Students and parents can easily see progess. The progress page has visuals as well as links to assignments and the status of each. No more wondering if a teacher has graded an assignment and not put it into the grading software. Teachers can grade work as they review it, comment on it, link to resources etc., cutting down on the time it takes for feedback to reach students. Students can also ask questions about the assignments without having to wait to see the teacher or hoping he or she gets an email.

5. Connections to other communities: As teachers living with non-existent budgets, professional development can be hard to come by. Edmodo has subscriptions to communitites to help you bridge the gaps that budgets create. I subscribe to a smartboard group (Teq). By following a community, you get updates on YOUR page without having it show on your students’ pages. Of course, they could follow the community as well if it enhances what you do in your class. Communities and resources are well categorized which is a good thing because there are SO many of them!

6. Badges: Think of badges like virtual stickers. Even 8th graders like to collect them! They can be customized as you wish and assigned for anything- academics, work ethic, or anything else you celebrate in your classroom. Just be prepared to stay on top of it once you start doling them out!

7. Tech support: This probably should be in the number one place. Edmodo’s tech support is unsurpassed. First of all it’s done by live people in real time. I almost always get an answer to my questions within an hour of asking them- and frequently its much quicker.

Oops! They did it again….

My posts of late seem to be less about technology integration and more about my teaching philosophies. Perhaps it’s because it’s the end of the year and the big picture becomes more evident as June approaches.

Today I had two “reluctant learners” stay after school with me. One was a track athlete who had to miss a practice; the other, a creative lad who insisted that he was needed at home to put away camping gear ( a phone call home cleared the matter up- all gear had been stowed the previous night). The point of their quality time with me was to get them somewhere close to what we call “teacher pace” in our standards based environment. While students are given latitude to learn at their best speed, we hold them accountable to be somewhere within reasonable limits. These two young men were in no danger of exceeding the teacher pace speed limit.

The track athlete settled in after a meager struggle to get out of working. He has let his intelligence show on numerous occasions so it was no surprise that he was able to knock out his work. The other student was more difficult. He pulled out every evasive stop in his deep repertoire. I countered with every redirect I had and was thankful I had had a full nights sleep and a bit of patience left.

Minecraft CircuitryAs often happens, fate (or something like it) dangled a life vest in front of me when this student started to talk about his use of Minecraft. All of a sudden a transformation occured before my eyes. This young man, reluctant to even consider the idea of writing a complete sentence, was suddenly talking about circuitry, electrical design, and the “what if” possibilities that come with creative ideas.

My quiet questioning produced a plethora of ideas from him. In the course of finding the relevancy of his interests to his learning, this young man determined that he could show what he knew about history (the firebombing during WWII), physics (using water to move other objects) and how he could simulate tectonic plate movement.

Once again- find what they love, use what they love, let them use their creativity to help them learn. My job is to help craft a system that allows them to use the tools they need to fascilitate their learning. It’s a delicate but essential balance.

One look at the energy in this young man convinces me that it’s worth the effort.

Starting at the End Point

Lisa Nielsen, creator of the Innovative Educator blog, has written a really relevant post for those of us who are evolving within a performance based learning system. This post focuses on why high school students are so disenchanted with school and offers a list of great suggestions to turn this culture of disconnection around.

I’ve been trying to put this into practice in my own classroom. The performance based system encourages this but sometimes students need a little push to see how their own strengths and fascinations can be worked into classroom projects.

I feel compelled to share the story of Brendon, an 11 yr old tech student of mine. Brendon has had a little trouble working in our “lively” classroom and while perfectly willing to attempt the work, he had little follow through. Because he did not attend the school’s field trip for his grade I had some time to work one on one with him. He shared some tech discoveries with me and while watching him describe these to me I saw the emergence of a totally different student- vibrant, engaged, intelligent and totally focused on what he was doing.

What he had discovered was an add-on to GoogleApps called Floorplanner. It’s a home design tool that stores your designs and attaches them to your googledocs for easy access. It’s not so much the tool as what he did with it.

Brendon's Emergency Room

Brendon’s Emergency Room

Brendon designed an emergency room for a hospital. Not just a square room but a 3D floorplan with a variety of different doors (he explained his criteria as well as his choices for each), an ambulance bay, a reception area and treatment rooms. He considered the traffic flow within each of the areas and arranged furniture to help keep things moving.

Keep in mind he’s 11.

Was this a part of his cyberbullying project- the work we were “supposed to be” doing? Not literally. The project involved writing a short digital story showing their understanding of cyberbullying and a way to solve a problem.

It was apparent early on that there was a lot of heavy intellectual lifting going on and that to stop him at this point would be counterproductive. We talked about how this emergency room model could fit into the story- together we decided it could be used as the setting for the story.

Will his story be great? No telling. Will his engagement in the project be higher because he had the latitude to “start at the end?” Hopefully. I’ve resolved to err on the side of relevance on this one.

TechEthics 24/7-Students Create a Code of Conduct

September is an exciting time for Maine 7th graders because they FINALLY get their own laptops. They dutifully sign the acceptable use policy (after reading it thoroughly and discussing it with their parents, of course!) and wait breathlessly for us to put that shiny white MacBook into their hands. They promise never to play games during school on it or go to inapropriate sites. Then off they go with good intentions and little understanding of ethical technology use.

Our AUP is a good first step but it’s crucial that we involve students in the development of a code of ethics for technology use. Our AUP refers to the laptop- but students have so much other technology available to them that we need to encompass it all as we teach them not only how to use it, but how to use it ethically.  My goal is to separate the expecations for behavior in school and out of school and create a culture of responsible technology use 24/7. This year this will happen on day 1.

Our school has adopted the RISC model. As part of this model students are involved in the creation of classroom codes of conduct which are referred to regularly throughout the year. We’ll be branching off of this and creating a Technology Code of Ethics to help guide students to make good decisions when no one is there to watch them. In a nutshell, here’s how it will work:

  • As students enter the room, they will be given a closed envelope with a scenario in it. This will be used to create discussion groups later on in the lesson.
  • Students will determine what values are important to them in general, and then will align those with behavior with technology.We’ll use a Wiffiti screen on the whiteboard to collect the original values- then edit the text in the values so the technology behavior is in the same post.
  • They will look at a series of scenarios involving ethical questions that arise when using technology and discuss what they should do versus what they might actually do.
  • They’ll determine as a class  their 3 or 4 most important values. I will collect the data from all three classes and put it into Wordle format. We’ll use this to narrow down the most important values and create a written code of conduct- what they will actually DO (or at least try to do) while using technology of all kinds.

We’ll post this around the school in written form, and I’ll post it on our classroom website so they have the opportunity to see it often.

I based this lesson plan around one created by Amanda Gentine at HSJournalism.org. 

Sample technology scenarios