Resistance is Futile: Tech is Coming Into Your Classroom 

Education, Technology

   The biggest hurtle in the adoption of technology in the classroom isn’t lack of devices or teacher training. The biggest thing holding back the advancement of technology, or more specifically BYOD, are the teachers who refuse to allow students to use said technology in their classrooms. Now I’m not advocating forcing teachers to do anything in their classrooms, I believe every teacher has the right and responsibility to choose curriculum wisely, create rules to promote equality, and to establish guidelines which they feel comfortable with but I do have a few things I wish my colleagues would consider before completely banning smartphones and other tech from their domain. 
Argument #1: Students are Distracted by Technology:

Yes. Yes they are. Students are distracted by a lot of things. Students are distracted by their peers, their hormones, independent reading books, lined paper to draw on, sports, what happened at lunch…squirrel!!!! Allowing students to use cell phones does pose yet another avenue of distraction but it isn’t like the technology is going anywhere. In the past five years, in addition to teaching, I’ve worked as an actor, a fitness model, a fitness instructor, photo double, and freelance writer. I also finished my Master’s of Education. In every situation having a cell phone, let me be more specific, having a smartphone (an iPhone to be REALLY honest in some situations) was mandatory. And, it has never happened (not once), that an employer has taken away my phone. Why? Because real life doesn’t work that way. No one comes into your classroom, your cubicle, the courtroom, and takes away your phone because you’re texting. They just fire your ass. If you can’t do your job because your iPhone is distracting you, if your work doesn’t get done, you get fired. You lose your job and when you lose your job you lose your paycheck. No more paycheck and you can’t pay your rent, your car payment, or buy food. Now you’re homeless and hungry…and then you die (Bit too dramatic? Ok. Maybe a little. But it could happen). All because you couldn’t keep your hands off your cell phone. That’s “the real world”. Wouldn’t it be better if we taught our students how to be responsible with their technology in a controlled environment? The novelty of having a cell phone out in class wears off pretty quickly but if they have to learn a lesson about responsible use and consequences I’d rather have them fail Language Arts 10 than fail life. 
Argument #2: BYOD is “Unfair” Because Not Every Student Has Access to a Device:

Yes. Again. It is unfair. Life is unfair. I know this because my parents reminded me of it every time I wanted something my friends had and my parents said I couldn’t have. The thing is, it’s true, life isn’t fair and that’s…ok. Equality isn’t always giving everyone the same thing, it’s giving everyone what they need to achieve the same results. Should I have petitioned the school board to get rid of football scholarships because as a 5’2”, 88 pound girl I wasn’t eligible? Or, should I have looked at my own talents to find the scholarships which I was eligible for based on my specific abilities? For every assignment I’ve offered this past year which incorporated BYOD there was a corresponding assignment in retro style (pen and paper). Some of the students who had devices elected to go old school hipster on me and use pen and paper anyway. To each his own. My job is to give students the opportunity and present them with options but I firmly believe that since technology is here to stay, it should be offered as an option. 
Argument #3: Students Need to “Think for Themselves” Not Rely on Technology: 

Oh how my math teacher loved to expound on this when I was in high school. I clearly remember his argument “what if the cash register goes down…” It was, in 1994, not such a bad argument but in 2015 it doesn’t stand up so well. What if the case register goes down? Then I’ll pull out my cell phone. What if my battery is dead or I forgot my phone in the car or I have no wifi? In 2015 if you don’t have your cell phone one of your coworkers will. Or, the guy who you’re ringing up or the guy behind the guy you’re ringing up. The fry cook, the janitor, the six-year-old waiting in line for a Happy Meal. Someone has a calculator! It isn’t that students in 2015 have it “easier” they have it differently. The world has changed. I used to be able to use the excuse “I was absent” if I missed a test or a due date for homework. My students need to check online, submit their work to turnitin.com, or email me. Students can check for their homework online when they are absent and their parents can see up to the minute grades. I could tell my parents that I got lost if I was late coming home, these kids have GPS. I couldn’t call because I couldn’t find a pay phone and even if I had, I didn’t have a quarter. Cell phones killed that excuse. Do you know that you can find your child using Find My iPhone? Think for themselves? Any kid who can still come up with a reasonable excuse for missing curfew has my vote for creativity. We don’t just want our students to think for themselves though, we want them to think critically. Having access to the Internet doesn’t change the skill. I had to evaluate the credibility of a source in the library and my students have to do it on line. At least in the library you could rest assured that someone felt the content was publication worthy eliminating some credibility issues. Now anyone can publish their ramblings…you’re reading some right now. So can we really argue that technology has taken away a student’s ability to think critically or has it just changed the landscape the way streaming music and Netflix have changed entertainment? 
   The use of technology is still a very personal choice for teachers but for teachers who are a part of an ecosystem adopting common core, the transition will be inevitable. As the poster children for BYOD personified will tell you “Resistance is Futile” we have the power to teach the next generation how to use technology responsibility. 

Evernote is Like Lipgloss, You Can’t Live Without It. 

Education, Technology

     If you’re going to ask your students to download one app next year, let it be Evernote. Maybe you’re still not comfortable with students using their smartphones in class, which is fine, Evernote is a great way to manage your classes and your life as well. EverNote is a wonderful note taking, app which allows students to take typed or auditory notes, save photos and web clipping in one place. Since students’ information is stored in the cloud, they will always have access to the documents they need for class. Teachers can share handouts and articles with ease to the entire class as well as add comments and suggestions to student writing. Students are able to share folders with teachers and classmates for simple collaboration. Evernote is available for Apple, Android, Windows, and Blackberry (does anyone still own a Blackberry…probably not. But, if you have an old one hanging around your house and you want to disipline your teenager just swap out their iPhone and give them the Blackberry for a day or two). 

    Practical uses for Evernote in a Language Arts classroom would include keeping separate notebooks for units of study or for keeping a class portfolio. Class portfolios could span their entire high school career and easily be shared with teachers of upcoming grades.

     Evernote can be utilized in a general education classroom as well. For example when breaking down a long unit of literature, such as William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar teachers can ask students to create a notebook for each act of the play (Caesar is part of the public domaine and therefore can be downloaded free of charge through sites like Project Gutenberg). In each notebook sub-sections, or notes, could then be created for each character, class discussions, charts created in class, and vocabulary. 

    The uses for EverNote are fairly limitless although it is more ideal for a management tool as opposed to an annotation tool. For example you can not annotate PDF files within the app or use natural handwriting nevertheless this app is a valuable tool for any classroom from elementary through college level instruction. 

Why Journaling Should Be a Part of Your Curriculum

Education, Technology
   We recently finished reading “Julius Caesar” in my sophomore Language Arts class which ended in a discussion on the merits of tragedy as a genre. I explained to the students that Aristotle, who coined the term, meant for audiences of tragedies to introspectively think over the events of the play and use the experience as a form of catharsis. Then I spent the next ten minutes explaining what catharsis meant. After which I asked them: How do you vent? What methods do you use to expel yourself of emotion and reflect on life? The answer, shockingly, was Twitter. Twitter! “Yeah” my students said “Twitter rants”. Evidently a “Twitter rant” is where you tweet about a subject consecutively and in short order (no pun intended although Twitter only allows for 140 characters to be tweeted at a time). Am I the only one who sees a problem here? It’s a wonder we don’t have students running wild and burning down the schools. Oh wait, one of our students tried to light the school on fire this past week completely destroying two palm trees and causing the campus to be evacuated. I believe we have a problem.
     I have nothing against social networking. I’m a member of many social networks: Twitter (@CarolynNicole), Instagram (@Cinnamonmouse), Snapchat (@Mrscgrayson), Facebook, Pintrist, Tumblr, WordPress…you get the idea. The point is, they’re called social networks for a reason: they were designed to share ideas with the rest of society, to network, and connect. I’m not exactly sure catharsis applies. It’s difficult to be honestly introspective when you’re writing for an audience. What I’m posting here is not my journal, it is not my private soliloquy (although I do write in prose, which is much more intimate than formal writing) this is intended to be read by other educators who grapple with similar issues. In other words, the next generation doesn’t reflect, they perform. And how are you to acquire a sense of self when you’re always putting on a mask for the approval of others?
The kid who set the palm trees on fire? He posted it on Snapchat.
     Students need a way to open up and be honest with themselves, to really analyze the way that they are feeling, and to have an outlet for letting some of those feelings free. One solution to this is giving your Language Arts or Creative Writing students class time to write in a journal. Not a graded journal, not something which is turned in for credit, but something private for themselves. I experimented with this idea this past year as we read “Night” giving students the opportunity to choose a bound notebook or the use of Evernote (iOS/Android/Windows). It was a short experiment but one I think I will pick up again when I return from maternity leave (for the record I’m happy I’ve kept up my workout routine while pregnant. In case of an emergency I’m still pretty quick and nimble at 7 1/2 months).
Isn’t this a waste of class time? 
No, like everything else, you have to practice in order to get better. Just because students are writing on a non-assigned topic doesn’t mean that they aren’t practicing writing. Have your students look back at past entries on some days. Have them correct their mistakes as well as recall memories. Any assignment you give which you believe is for the betterment of their education and for the improvement of society is not a waste of class time.
How do you grade them? They won’t do it if it’s not worth credit.
I walked around the room, I looked over their shoulders, I monitored but didn’t intrude. Sometimes I would have them flip through their journals in front of me to prove it had entries even though I didn’t read them. They did it. Most of them did it. If I was monitoring them and they were writing they received credit. If they were playing games or off task they didn’t receive credit. You have students in your class who aren’t going to do anything regardless of incentives or grades. That level of disregard of school, authority, and their future comes from their homes and from society. We all try to improve student attitudes and inspire them in 55 minute bursts for 180 days but sometimes you can’t undo 16 years of apathy. Let them know you care about them as people that’s all you can do.
   If your interested in journaling and the importance of keeping a journal check out these resources:

My Reads of the Week 

Uncategorized

1. If you teach middle or high school & have to deal with bullying, I found this informative Why online harassment is still ruining lives — and how we can stop it By: Fast Company

2. Another one bites the dust as more states drop testing companies who can’t deliver ANDREW UJIFUSA’S Missouri Drops Smarter Balanced Common-Core Exam

3. And this 3 #EdTech Questions You’re Afraid to Ask was really informative especially if you’re considering explanding your horizons and joining more social networks. 

Top Three Social Networks to Connect With Your Students 

Education, Technology

The top three social networks teens use and how you can connect with your students: 
1. Twitter:

Twitter is a great resource for teachers because you can connect with teachers and students at the same time and not just teachers from your own district but from all around the world. Students can follow you but you don’t have to follow them back which saves you from exposing yourself to information about their lives outside of school which you might rather not know about. 

– Find interesting articles and share them with your students. 

– Get a hashtag started to promote school spirit.

– Connect with other educators to share ideas and inspiration.

– Tweet out extra credit assignments or reminders for students to check your teacher website.

– Openly communicate with students when you have a sub without the exchange of any personal information. 
2. Instagram: 

The popular photo sharing app is another great way to keep conversations going outside of the school day. Again, students can follow you without you having to follow them. Parents can also follow you and see what has been going on in your classroom. Just remember to have parent and administrative permission before you post any photos of students. I even cut student names off of any assignments I post. 

– Post classroom charts for later reflection.

– Promote upcoming school events.

– Take photos of spirit events. 

– Post examples of upcoming assignments. 
3. Snapchat:

This one gets a little more complicated. I currently have a student trying to convince me she used Snapchat to turn in late work before the deadline despite the fact that I don’t friend students. So, students will try to play on that misconception that they know more about technology than you do. I’m in for an interesting conversation tomorrow but there are still ways you can use Snapchat by making your story public.

– Send out photos of trips or events you are chaperoning.

– Send out play by play updates from sporting events. 

– Use Snapchat to send out photos of your daily agenda on the whiteboard. 

– Visit a local college and take your students on a virtual tour. 

No Program to Fix it

Education, Technology

This is such a powerful and well supported article on blended learning and the myth that it will “fix” education. My personal belief is that education’s troubles stem from a society which no longer has a strong family unit which no longer supports education. Rap artists and reality television are the new upper echelon of society. Are they educated? Do they promote hard work, the power of a well written essay or the necessity of learning geometry? Blended learning won’t change our society and if school districts aren’t careful they will be sucked into a whole lot of hype costing millions of dollars. MYTH: Blended Learning is the Next Ed Tech Revolution – Hype, Harm and Hope