Tag Archives: digital citizenry

Taming the Student Cell Phone

https://www.flickr.com/photos/afsusa/9284763561I love Facebook as a professional development tool, if only for the way it encourages easy conversation and the spread of ideas. Teachers in our district have embraced it as a way to easily reach their audience- students, parents, and peers, and I’m no different. It’s a great way to distribute ideas and tools that relate to my job as a technology integrator.

A colleague recently shared an article to our Tech Goodies page called How to Manage Cell Phones in the Classroom. In it, author Ben Johnson suggests that teachers decide on a classroom cell phone policy, get support from the administration and make expectations clear to students- even posting the policy on the walls as a constant reminder. Consequences need to be clear and enforced. He also suggests creating an environment where there is little downtime so students are more engaged in learning and less apt to check out by checking texts.

It’s all good advice and it’s what many good teachers already do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. The degree of success of a cell phone policy often is in direct response to the relationship the teacher has with students.

Think about this from a student perspective. We lay down all the rules, and we are as tough about enforcement as our management style allows. They, in turn, have been trained through however many years they’ve been in school to assess the risk- and then do what they want. This is business as usual for them.

Many schools are shifting towards a student-centered learning model, yet our policies still read like  court judgments. Legally we do need to have broad policies in place to ensure student safety and comply with federal law. Outside of that, however, we have some leeway. Because our school culture hasn’t kept up with our students’ digital culture, we have some catching up to do. It’s work that might better be done without a “top-down” edict.

What about if we included students in the process of developing a classroom cell phone policy? I’m not suggesting this from a “student-council-input-into-policy” discussion. I’m talking about a classroom by classroom policy. Think of it as a whole lot of social science experiments taking place, collecting data on what works and what doesn’t.

I can hear the feathers ruffling from here. “We need consistency. We already have a ‘no-cellphones’ policy. The rules have to be the same for everyone building-wide. The kids just have to comply or face the consequences.”

The idea of different rules in different rooms is a hard sell- but truthfully, don’t we already have it? Some teachers accept late students, some don’t. Some require seating charts while others allow free seating. Classroom management has ALWAYS differed from room to room- thank goodness!

As a classroom teacher, I was always ok with the overarching guidelines of our building. It was the details that sometimes made me a little crazy. One principal outlawed any food at all in the classroom. I thought the student who skidded in late with breakfast in hand stood a better chance learning while eating than he did having to sit in the cafeteria and missing half of class- or worse yet, sitting in class hungry and unfocused. A modification to sit away from the computers until he was finished suited us both.

And so it is with cell phones. We can’t pretend they don’t exist- but we can’t allow free range. Where’s the middle ground? I propose that we ask our students what they think is reasonable. Sure, at first they will say they should be able to have them out and use them whenever, wherever. Explore that idea! It will open up many topics of discussion as you develop the framework of your classroom culture:

  • respect for a space students can work in
  • management of distractions
  • accountability for work in a timely fashion
  • ethical conduct and personal integrity (cell phones are widely used for cheating)
  • real world workplace expectations
  • reflection and revision of what is working/not working
  • how their cell phone use meshes with the school’s code of conduct guidelines

Students that have ownership of their classroom cell phone policy are more apt to work within the parameters they set for themselves. You might ask them for ideas for formative assessments of how the policy is working at certain times throughout the first couple of weeks of school, with ways to adjust the policy until it is a functioning part of their classroom workflow. Making students an integral part of that assessment piece is critical for continued improvement.

What about those that just can’t comply? Perhaps they are not ready for the responsibility of having a phone available in class. For those without the skills to manage the tool, separation from the device may be the only answer. That said, their policy should provide them a way to grow into the skills necessary to be successful within their classroom rules. Keep in mind that you are asking them to change a deeply ingrained habit. In some cases, it’s one of continual and constant contact. Habits take time and strategies to change.

You’ll notice I left out the concept of punishment. I’m a firm believer that the consequences that students set for themselves will always have more weight than detentions or other punitive actions we set up. Time in detention teaches a student NOTHING. Time in a reflective intervention with you (and/or peers) can help students identify the issues that cause them to move from the learning environment to a distracted realm. This is the time to find ways to bridge the gap and keep them moving forward.

Finally, look at your own habits. Are you modelling the cell phone use you want your students to employ? Students don’t miss a trick and will be more apt to buy into change if you are setting the example for acceptable use.


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.

Sharing Your Classroom Resources: Presentations

The flu has decimated classes this year. In my middle school classes, up to half of the kids have been out. High School teachers are reporting the same. It makes it hard to keep kids caught up, especially when teachers use presentations, videos, and other visuals in class. 

I have come across a couple of solutions. Because we are a 1:1 district 7-12, we have access to technology for almost all of our students. Most of our students have access to the internet at home. With this in mind, teachers have several options for keeping connected with their students.

If you are a teacher who uses presentations for your discussions, SlideShare.net might be the tool for you. SlideShare is a free service that allows you to make an account and then upload your presentations. Students can watch them as just presentations, or you can record your lecture (see the post on recording a voiceover in Keynote) and publish the presentation with voice. Or you can add presenter notes that students can use while they listen/watch the presentation. The sample below shows the visual and audio- to see the presenter notes, chose “View in Slidshare.net” at the bottom of the presentation pane.

Slideshare will allow you to:

  • make your presentations public or private
  • allow you to let people download the presentations…or not
  • share them with specific people (meaning your groups could subscribe to your uploads)
  • upload documents other than presentations. You (or your students) can also upload documents, audio files, images, and spreadsheets. 
  • No login necessary for students to access your uploads. You can provide a link to these files in IC or your blog.

Opening the Discussion about Responsible Media Use

The middle school curriculum for tech class focuses heavily on online safety and the development of responsible digital citizens. This is a time when students begin to break away from their parents, and for some children, a time when they may not disclose everything to them.

It can be a frustrating time for parents who wonder just what happened to those sweet elementary kids who used to live with them! Trust me- the wonderful part of them is still there. We just sometimes have to dig a little farther to find it. Continued involvement and conversation are key.

I want to point you to a site called Commonsense Media– a very valuable resource in discovering what middle school kids are apt to want to do online. It also has reviews of movies based on their appropriateness by age. It has a Family Media Agreement– a document that can be used as a contract or as a starting point for important discussions between children and parents about media use.

It’s important to keep these conversations going as they move on to high school. Staying connected is very important, regardless of how much they kick and scream about their need for privacy. 

The site also has good resources for educators to use if they want to integrate digital citizenry into classroom conversations and activities.

Take Out Your Phones!

If you can't beat em, join em!

If you can't beat em, join em!

The debate about having phones in school rages on and on. It’s a constant battle trying to manage the technology. Parents have become accustomed to having access to their children all day. Kids see it almost as another appendage. And teachers pull their hair out trying to determine who is on their phone under the desk.

Health teacher Ellen Vickers did an experiment in her Wellness class that I thought was pretty interesting. She asked her students to take their phones out and put them in the upper right hand corner of their desks…on vibrate. Her goal was to see (and let students see) just how often those phones went off.

And off they went! It was a constant stream of buzzes all over the room- a great audio/visual demonstration of the distraction that the phones can be.

Her idea struck me. Rather than asking kids to put them in their backpacks or pockets (where they vibrate and distract those in near proximity), why not ask kids to put them on the desk? They can’t text from the desktop, nor can they sneak a peak at an incoming message. High visibility leads to honesty in most cases. Of course, I would ask that kids turn them to silent.

Another benefit is that they are then there when you need them. Why might you need them? I thought you’d never ask. I love using TexttheMob, a site that lets you set up a poll that kids can text their answer to. Here’s how I used it today:

Textthemob Poll from class

Textthemob Poll from class

In 7th grade tech class, our focus is on safety. We spend a lot of time talking about profiles and what should go online. We also delve into the downside of technology and the loss of privacy that can ensue from improved tools. GoogleEarth is a great example. It allows us to fly through the Grand Canyon, an experience many of us will never get. It also lets us visit places in the world that we couldn’t take a field trip to. On the minus side, I’d love it if I was a burgler. I could target houses that are near good hiding places and figure out how to make my getaway without having to actually be seen at the prospective crime scene ahead of time.

Anyway – we talk about all sorts of plusses and minuses. I then asked how many cell phones we had in the classroom (with unlimited texting…) Turns out we had 4. The class divided up around those phones and discussed whether or not they thought the advantages of new technologies outweighed the disadvantages.  Then the phone owner texted their answer to the Texthtemob site. The results show up right away. Did I get engagement? You bet. And a great discussion about the results. I would not have predicted the results we got- and it surprised the kids too.

Imagine doing this to determine prior knowledge before beginning a new unit…doing OneMinute Math…voting on classroom decisons. The possibilities are endless. And, Textthemob has the added advantage that kids without phones (or without texting) can vote via the web.

If you decide to try it, leave a comment about how you used it and the results. I’m interested to get new ideas.

My Kids Know More Than I Do: Help for Parents

Parenting a teen can be a rough road. The school has given your child a laptop. He or she has convinced you that they need a cell phone and they have also negotiated for texting and data services. You put in wireless internet so the laptop can be used anywhere in the house- or you live close enough to someone who has that your child uses their network.


All of a sudden it dawns on you – I don’t know what they are doing! I hope they are ok. But how do I know?


The teen years are not always a time of great self-disclosure. If they could put up a tangible perimeter fence, many would. And electrify it if possible. We are expected to have the checkbook at the ready and not to ask too many questions…like, why do you have to be online all the time? Who are you talking to? Do you sleep?


The reality is that as a parent, you DO need to know what your child is doing online. The technology continues to grow exponentially and it isn’t going away. At this point, any conversation about online safety needs to include cell phones as well, as the lines between personal computers, cell phones, and iPods are becoming increasingly blurred. Most cell phones allow students to take and send photos. The Apple iTouch is a pocket computer. The iPhone? Everything all in one- phone, internet, iPod. We are not far off from the time when a student can have a laptop that goes through a filtering service and a phone that connects via your cellphone provider’s satellite- offering the world, uncensored.


 At HDHS, we drive home the point that students have no expectation of privacy on their laptops. They can be and are checked randomly and regularly by staff and administration. Students are expected to follow the accceptable use policies that they signed and agreed to. Phones and iPods are not monitored by staff. This is where you come in!


You can be a part of this from home. Here are some guidelines for parents in dealing with laptops once they reach your house:


1. Start the conversation about good digital citizenry and keep talking. Let them know your expectations. Talk to them about the problems with posting inappropriate photos and comments on social networks. Encourage them to KNOW the people they talk to online. The idea of “friends” has changed drastically since we were in high school. 


2. Establish useage zones in your home.  No teacher will ever assign a project that needs to be done in the student’s room…with the door shut…late at night. Having the computer used in a common area (albeit a calm, quiet one) can do a lot to help your child stay within acceptable parameters. It also lets you see what they are doing.


3. Give the laptop a bedtime. Sometimes kids can’t disconnect. The fear of missing part of a conversation or a Facebook update or whatever vital piece of that evening’s social fabric may keep a kid connected well into the wee hours of the morning. Ditto trying to beat that one last level of a game. Establish time limits for your child. If actually removing the laptop from their hands is problematic, then limit when your child has internet access. Most service providers have parental controls built in that you are already paying for. They will teach you how to enable them. (This does mean, however, that YOU may not have internet access either.) 


4. Read the details of your cell phone bill. These bills contain a wealth of information about your child’s activity. You can see who your child is calling/texting, and when. Are they on the phone all night? Check for data transfers and downloads. Ask what they are sending and receiving. You are paying the bill – you should know what you are letting your kids have! Perhaps the cell phone needs a bedtime as well.


5. Learn to check the internet history. The laptops at HDHS use Safari for internet surfing and are filtered both at home and at school via our proxy server. This does not mean that everything that kids shouldn’t see is blocked! Students are notoriously good at getting around things. Check the history and see what they are doing and when. And – if the history is erased, this is a great opportunity to begin a conversation about why.


5. Determine ahead of time how you will react if and when your child slips up. It can sometimes be shocking to discover what they are up to. When you are upset with your child is not the time to mete out punishments (I was apt to want to take away everything but inhaling when I was upset!). Let your children know the consequences of GOOD behavior online as well as “bad.” Then stick to it.

Common Sense Tips for Digital Generation Parents | Edutopia

Common Sense Tips for Digital Generation Parents | Edutopia

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