Cell phones: The bane of a teacher’s existence or a new tool to take advantage of?


As teachers, we are all dealing with the issue of cell phones in our classrooms.  The question is: do we (try) to ban them or do we find a way to utilize them?

Thankfully, about 3 years ago our new principal (who is a big proponent of technology) changed the school policy to allow cell phones to come out of hiding.  She allows teachers to make their own decisions about their classroom but allows students to use them in the commons areas.  I say thankfully because I had been allowing them in my class for a while by then!  I told my students – “Shhhh!!  Don’t tell anyone!”  That may have been why I didn’t have too many problems!  I like to think that it was because I didn’t make a big deal out of it and they quickly got over the novelty of it.    Dean Shareski, in his blog post,  seems to agree with me.

Having had this conversation with many colleagues, I’ve finally figured out that the ones who have the most problems with cell phone use are the ones who insist on the strictest “no phones” policies.  Now I’m not saying that it should be a “use it whenever you want” policy but somewhere in the middle.  Set up a set of expectations for their use which includes: how (information you need but can’t through the filter?, look a quick question?, listen to music while working individually?, and when (NOT during instructional time unless asked to, during quiet work time, during collaboration with classmates) and what (no, you can’t check Facebook, Snapchat, etc, no, you can’t text your friend about plans that night, yes, you may listen to music with your earbuds!).  Give the students parameters and then trust them to make the right choice.  Of course some are still going to choose not to live up to the expectations and in that case there need to be consequences in place.  I have found the worst consequence I can give a student who chooses to use their phone unwisely in class was to take the phone (with parent permission) for the rest of the day.  Trust me….it hurts them more than it hurts us!

Bottom line: cell phones are mobile learning devices.  We need to utilize them as one more tool to keep students engaged because let’s face it, we can fight them and take away valuable instruction time or we can harness the tools our students use in their everyday lives!

What are your thoughts on cell phones in YOUR class?  Are they the bane of your existence or the new tool in your instructional arsenal?




That’s the Way Its Always Been Done…..

Do you know that today’s school environment is still based on the way it was in 1800’s? Would any other business still be using practices from 200 years ago?  And yet, that’s what some people expect.  Digital devices in the classroom?  They are a distraction, right? Or… are they an amazing tool that can be harnessed?  The Read / Write Web has opened up so many possibilities for education.

In my middle school classes, I want to teach my kids the way they learn.  That is NOT sitting in a desk, isolated from their classmates, memorizing facts.  That IS collaborating, sitting on the floor, listening to music while they work, researching, discussing, trial and error.  My classes use their phones, their chromebooks, Google Docs, music software, Google Classroom, Discovery Sheets (ok, those are worksheets in digital form but working with a partner means my kids love it and learn so much more!).

Why do I intentionally create chaos?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just lecture, have them take notes and then give them a test?  Maybe, but they wouldn’t retain the information beyond that test. Using the Read / Write Web in all of the above mentioned forms allows my kids to create their own knowledge.  It allows them to take advantage of sources beyond me.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know EVERYTHING!  This was my kids become “mini-experts” themselves because they find the information that they need.  They are ACTIVELY learning!  And the best part?  They remember what they learned!

Know “Where” Learning

In my many years of teaching, which at this point makes me OLD, I have seen so many shifts in education.  Not all of them have been good!  With the advent and growth of the World Wide Read / Write Web, my teaching philosophy has taken a huge turn.  For years now, I have been a big proponent of teaching students how and where to find the answers to questions.  My colleagues, and other adult friends, have cried out, “they need to memorize these “things” (insert any subject).  What’s going to happen when the Internet goes down?  How are they going to be able to do anything?”  My response has been that a) I don’t think that’s going to happen and b) it’s here to stay just like many other inventions that people proclaimed as fads.  My great, great uncle once had a chance to invest in Henry Ford’s new idea of mass producing the horseless carriage.  My uncle turned him down saying that he didn’t feel the horseless carriage would take off and that it was just a fad!  (Slap to the forehead!)  My point here is that while there are, of course, things that students need to know without having to look it up, there are many, many things that they  don’t need to as long as they know how and where to find the answers they need.

As I began putting more and more of my curriculum into project based collaborative learning units, I realized that students are happier and learn more by finding the answers themselves.  It’s a much more authentic way to learn.  Wait….did I just say learn?  Yes, that is what I said.  They don’t need to learn it from me.  They need to have my guidance on where to find what they need to learn!  This has been a huge shift in my teaching practice.  I find that guiding them towards their own creation of knowledge allows them to retain that knowledge for a lot longer than the test.  Some of the best assessments that I have given have not been about regurgitating the answers that I gave them but showing me the answers that they found.  Now that our school is a 1:1 school, I expect that there will be even more of a shift as more and more sites and applications become available for me to use with my particular subject!

My views on this shift have not changed due to this course but they have been strengthened!  The one shift that I know I need to start focusing more on is teaching my students the “how and where“.  It is hard to find those extra hours to spend teaching that skill but after spending time with this course and reflecting on my students’ skill levels, I know that it is a skill that I owe it to my students to teach.  I’m really excited to continue working through the shift of Know “Where” Learning.

Paperless Spaces



A paperless class completely changes the role of the teacher.  I become a participant in the learning.  I become the guide instead of the sage on the stage.  Instead of handing out the knowledge via lecture, students gain knowledge by researching it. Just as important, they gain knowledge by back and forth discussion with others in the class.  In many ways, this is exactly what we do in the PLS classroom.  Using sources online such as articles, parts of textbooks, blogs by experts, and information from each other we gain knowledge on a topic.  According to our textbook, one of the big shifts is that students no longer need mastery (necessarily) of the material but they do need mastery of how to find the information.

Measuring learning in a paperless class would be a challenge.  Of course, you can measure knowledge based on any papers, blogs, presentations (which would include pictures, videos, and possible music) to gage the learning that took place. You could also measure growth based on the responses to discussions and responses taking place within the class.

Building a learning network in a paperless class would actually be easier once students understood how to create that network.  They would need to be taught about social bookmarking sites such as Diigo.com, blogging sites such edublogs.org, as well as tags and the best way to use them so that their work could be found outside the class.  They also need to become familiar with publishing tools!  Once they have a basic knowledge of these tools, building the network is easy!

RSS to Enhance Learning?

RSS feeds are something I have heard about for years but had never tried to use.  Once again, that “time to play” factor rears its ugly head!  Having finally spent some time with it, I definitely see how it can make an impact on learning, both mine as well as the students.  Having an automatic notification when new information comes out about a topic makes it easier to find new articles, blog posts, news, etc.

The biggest challenge is finding the right tags or keywords to create an RSS feed.  Some sites have the RSS feed icon that is clickable.  Some you have to take a moment to figure out.   This could cause a slight challenge to students if THEY are the ones creating the feeds.  (Honestly, that is true for many of us adults as well!)  Once that is figured out it is pretty easy!

This works well for topics that I am interested in throughout my personal life as well.  There are many topics, such as quilting, that I am very interested in but don’t have the time to check to see if there are new posts.  An RSS feed makes it easy to follow!

The RSS feed has definite promise for both my classroom and my personal life!