Monday, August 15, 2011

Ten Common Challenges We'll Face This Fall - Challenge #6: Cell Phones

Image Credit: mstephens7
One of my most popular presentations, the one that I'm most frequently asked to give, is 10 Common Challenges Facing Educators. When giving this presentation I outline challenges that classroom teachers often face and present some resources and strategies for addressing those challenges. In preparation for the new school year I've created a series of blog posts based on that presentation. Today's post is about cell phones in schools.

Cell Phone Policies
I'm fortunate to work in a school that allows students to use their cell phones. That has not always been the case in my school. In fact, the first time I had students use cell phones in my classroom, it was against the rules. (You can read the full story here). After the class period during which I had my students use their cell phones I promptly walked into my principal's office to explain why I did it. After listening to my explanation, he was not only not mad he gave me his unofficial endorsement to do it again. While I can't take credit for changing the school's policy, I do like to think that I pushed the rock in the right direction.

Last August, Burlington (Massachusetts) High School's Principal Patrick Larkin was featured in a Boston Globe article about his progressive policy of allowing the use of cell phones in his school. Here's one of the stand-out quotes from Patrick: “If they want to cheat, they’re going to cheat,’’ Larkin said, “with technology or anything else.’’ He said he doesn’t see much difference between this and the old scourge of teachers — note passing. “We’ve had no problem with note passing the last few years . . . I wonder why . . . they’re texting!’’ 

Computers in their pockets.
Ask students at random where their textbooks are at any given moment and they might not be able to tell. But ask those same students where their cell phones are and they'll reach into their pockets. Even the most basic of flip phones (the ones you get for a penny with a new contract) can be used for valuable purposes besides calling. From sending a text to Google to creating a video on the go, cell phones can be used in a variety of ways in your classroom. 

Send a text to Google to discover some content that you couldn't find in the textbooks in your classroom. Students can contribute to a group blog by using their phones. Check out for more ideas. 

Want to survey your students for their feedback, not influenced by a show of hands, about the amount of time it took them to complete an assignment? Try using a service like Text the Mob or Poll Everywhere. You can use these services as cheap or free alternatives to proprietary clicker systems. 

And what about those pixelized black and white codes you see in magazines and on signs lately? Those are QR codes and you can use them in your school. Create a QR Code Treasure Hunt to get your students physically moving while researching. Or try one of the suggestions made by my guest blogger Charity Preston.

Fight 'em or teach 'em?
At the end of the day the issue of cell phones comes down to a question of how do you want to spend your time (or have your faculty spend their time)? Do you want to spend it trying to catch kids using their cell phones under their desks, writing up the paperwork for policy infractions, and other aspects of enforcing a policy that seems to be reserved for airline flights and military complexes? Or would you rather spend that time and effort teaching students how to use the technology they have in their pockets for productive educational purposes? I choose teaching. 

This is part six of a ten part series of posts about common challenges facing educators. If you're interested in having me speak about this topic or others at your school or conference, please contact me through the Work With Me page.

Uninsured in the Mississippi Delta

This week's Snag Learning Film of the Week is Uninsured in the Mississippi Delta. Uninsured in the Mississippi Delta is a short documentary about the struggles of people working minimum wage jobs faced with the choice of buying food or health insurance. The film focuses on the Mississippi Delta region because it is one of the most uninsured areas in the United States. As always, Snag Learning has a small set of discussion questions to accompany the film.
Watch more free documentaries

5 Ways Students Can Visually Explore the News

My background as a social studies teacher will show through in this post. One of the perks of being social studies teachers is that current news events tie into so many things that we do in our classrooms. There are plenty of good resources for teachers to find current events stories that are relevant and appropriate for students. But sometimes you might want students to explore the news on their own. For those times, here are five ways that students can visually explore the news.

Ten by Ten is a unique program that links images with news stories. Every hour the top 100 news stories from around the world are linked to images on a ten by ten grid. The stories are ranked. Clicking on an image will provide you with more information including links to more articles about the story. (You must allow pop-ups for the article links to work).

The AP Timeline Reader gives readers a way to create custom timeline displays of the type of news stories that matter to them. AP gives you ten news categories to pick to display on your timeline. You can select all ten categories, just one category, or a number in between. Once you've made your selections, news stories will be displayed on your timeline. Place your cursor over a story to enlarge it and read it. You can also place it in a que to read later.

Newseum's Today's Front Pages is a series of nine maps that display the current front page of major newspapers around the world. Little orange colored dots on each map correspond to the publishing location of each newspaper. Placing your mouse pointer on one of the dots generates a preview of that newspaper's current front page. Click on the preview and you can read that front page or click through to the newspaper's website.

Newspaper Map is a neat tool for locating and reading newspapers from locations all around the world. Newspaper Map claims to have geolocated 10,000 newspapers. To find a newspaper you can browse the map then click on a placemark to open the link within to read a newspaper. You can also locate newspapers by using the search boxes to locate a newspaper by title or location. Along with links to the newspapers, Newspapers Map provides links to translate the newspapers you find on the map.

Google Fast Flip is a magazine-style display of popular articles from some of the most popular websites on the Internet. Content is drawn from news outlets like The Washington Post, Popular Science, The New York Times, and Reuters. The visual display makes it easy to quickly browse through websites. Fast Flip can be a useful resource for social studies students and their teachers. Note: Google Fast Flip is currently a Google Labs product. Google Labs is being shut down. Some labs products are going to be shut down and others are going to be "graduated" to fully supported products. I have not read an announcement about Fast Flip yet, but my hunch is that it will remain live. 
Update: Fast Flip has been shut down. A new Google service for browsing the news is Google Currents. Google Currents is a free Android and iPhone/ iPad app. 

5 Ways for Students to Publish in Under a Minute

There are many excellent platforms that teachers and students can use to create and maintain a blog throughout the school year. Depending upon your chosen purpose for student blogging, some platforms are better than others. But if you just want students to occasionally publish an essay to the web for peer review, you might not need a full-fledged blogging platform. Here are five ways that you can have students publish their essays to the web in under a minute (writing and editing time excluded).

Pencamp is a simple platform for quickly publishing your writing. To get started writing and publishing with Pencamp just enter a name for your page and enter specify a password for editing then start writing. Pencamp is not a blogging platform it's a platform for publishing an informational article or story about a specific topic. You can create as many Pencamp pages as you like for free. Commenting is not an option on Pencamp pages.

Scriffon is a simple service for writing and publishing online. Scriffon isn't a blogging platform, it's a writing platform. That means that you cannot edit the layout or navigation on the page on which your writing is published. Each writing that you publish is given it's own url. You can go back and edit your writing even after it has been published. If you want to you can use multiple pen names under your Scriffon account name too. is a simple blogging service that you can start using in a minute or less. To use just head to the site, name your page, and select a password for editing. Once you've done those things you can start blogging. To edit your page just click on any of the predefined text and start typing. To add more pages just type the the ":page" tag, to insert videos just type the ":video" tag. One short-coming that has is that it doesn't support images yet.

Wordfaire is a new service for quickly creating and updating a live blog. To use Wordfaire just sign-in with your Twitter, Facebook, or Google account. Once you've signed-in just choose a url and name for your blog  then you can start blogging. Wordfaire updates as soon as you stop typing and hit "update." People viewing your blog will see your updates as soon as you press "update."

This one does assume that your students already have a Google Docs account in some form either through your school's domain or as a stand alone account. If your students do their writing in Google Docs they can publish their final drafts as stand alone webpages by selecting "publish to web" from the "share" menu. Then they can distribute the links to their pages however they like.

Bonus item: Writing Prompts.
Image Credit
Toasted Cheese is a daily writing prompt site that publishes prompts on a monthly calendar. The whole month is laid out for you with a different prompt each day. Don't see anything you like on the current calendar? That's okay, click through the previous months to find old prompts. Periodically, Toasted Cheese holds writing contests which you can learn about by clicking on the links on the calendar. The writing contests are based on one or more of the prompts from the calendar.