Redefining Stupid

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Published on: August 30, 2016

You’re sitting in a presentation on some technical subject. The presenter assumes a certain level of knowledge, and you’re just not on that level. Everyone else seems to be keeping up, though, and you know it’s something you should know, so you keep quiet and hope for the best because you don’t want to look stupid.

Sound familiar?

Relax, we’ve all been there. Nobody likes that feeling of embarrassment, and it’s hard to say whether that feeling is stronger in a room full of total strangers or in a group of friends and coworkers. Do you want to make a poor first impression, or deal with being teased for a while? Either way, no fun.

Unfortunately this problem can compound itself. You miss one part, so then the next part doesn’t make sense, nor the next, and pretty soon you’re either totally lost or have given up completely.

The first thing I recommend to people in these situations is to stop redefining the word “stupid.” Being unable to perform a specific task or function is not stupid. Stupid is defined as “lacking intelligence or common sense.” Are you able to grasp the task if someone explained it to you? Of course you are. Congratulations, you’re not stupid.

I start some of my technical presentations by holding up a packet of the silica gel manufacturers pack with electronics to absorb moisture. These things are always labeled with some version of “do not eat.”

Mmm, tasty
Mmm, tasty

Not “keep out of reach of children, which should also be a no-brainer, but “do not eat.”

I ask my audience, “Would you eat this?” Of course they wouldn’t. That would be stupid.

And so we have our new—and appropriate by definition—standard of stupidity. People tend to relax and start asking questions after that.

Now that we’ve fixed our definition of stupidity, it’s time for the next step: be an adult.

Nobody is comfortable looking stupid, but our time is valuable. Sitting in a workshop and not taking a thing away from it because we were afraid to ask a question is just silly (because remember, it’s not stupid unless you eat my packet of silica gel). Do what you’ve got to do to understand the material and move on, especially if it’s something that will either help you at work or may be part of a performance evaluation.

Teachers don’t accept giving up from their students, and we shouldn’t accept it from ourselves. If you’re stuck, speak up! Get your answers.

Besides, there’s a good chance someone else in the room has the same question, and they haven’t readjusted their definition of stupidity yet.

What’s an OS? An EdTech Failure

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Published on: December 1, 2015

A young woman purchased a laptop with the Ubuntu operating system, didn’t know how to work with it, and the frustration made her abandon her plans to start online college courses. Then a local news reporter picked up on the story:

It seems this news report is trying to say Dell, or perhaps technology in general, is at fault for this young woman’s problem, despite the reporter contacting the college and her ISP for additional assistance. Meanwhile, there are several reaction videos online as well, with people calling the woman stupid and blaming her for not knowing what she was purchasing and/or not being able to figure things out.

Unfortunately the problem is not that simple, in either direction.

The video was posted in 2009, but I hear of similar stories today, often with Chromebooks. It’s 2015. Let’s consider:

Students should not be graduating from high school without any clue what an operating system is. Even if they haven’t been exposed to ChromeOS or Linux, even if they only use Windows at home or at school, they should understand that there are indeed different operating systems out there and they should be able to recognize the difference in product literature.

Students should also understand what they’re asking for when they’re talking to Internet providers. If she’d purchased a shiny new MacBook Pro today, would the disc from her ISP have Mac software on it? Or if she’d purchased a MacBook Air with no drive, would she have been just as lost? If she went the cheap route and purchased a Chromebook, would she have the same problem? (And just wait until she tries to print.)

If she can’t connect to the Internet or set up an email client without a disc from an ISP, then it’s safe to say she will be just as lost when she visits a coffee shop or other public hotspot. She hasn’t learned the basics of what a network is, and probably not what a browser is or how they work. It’s probably safe to say she doesn’t even have an understanding of how the Internet works.

And yes, while Ubuntu will work just fine with all of her courses as the college confirmed, she’s going to be facing an uphill battle by learning her way around an OS while studying (and probably working a day job, too). The same is true if she’d purchased a Chromebook. There are plenty of online resources to help her learn, but that’s more time spent not working on class materials.

With enough basic information on operating systems, file systems/structures, networking, and software, a student should be able to sit down in front of any operating system and find the settings and software they need. It may take a little tinkering or searching, but networking is networking and a browser is a browser. At worst case they should know how to find the information they need with a Google search on a phone or a friend’s computer.

Unfortunately most classes teach “click here.” When “here” is not there anymore, students are lost.

I don’t know how many schools address these things in curriculum, but it’s something that needs to be taught. Any student who graduates without being proficient in computing—not just specific apps like Office—is only going to fall behind.

Responsible Classroom Management

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: November 16, 2015

Classroom management is evolving with the introduction of 1:1 and BYOT programs and, understandably, some teachers find it intimidating. When students have easily-concealable smartphones or screens that are not immediately visible to a teacher, they find it difficult to tell which students are on task and which are focused on other things.

Fortunately there are several products that make this easier. Districts can choose from several different products to monitor student activity to ensure they are being productive during class. Teachers can see what a student is working on, and in many cases, teachers can see what tabs a student has open in a browser, close some of those tabs remotely, or even lock students’ screens completely.

Many teachers regard these abilities as the savior of their classroom. However, these tools are also incredibly easy to abuse by teachers, and can quickly turn students against them.

When a teacher goes in remotely and closes students’ tabs or simply locks out devices for the entirety of the hour, it creates two different perceptions.

The teacher expects something like this:

To the students, however, it feels something like this:

Clockwork Orange

While the temptation is great to zap every browser tab a student opens that isn’t related to their class work, doing so is going to create resentment in the student. The student is going to seek out a way around being monitored. Everyone deserves a brain break now and again, and sometimes a brief diversion helps develop a thought. It’s not uncommon for adults to multitask, so why should we not expect students to do the same?

For example, I have yet to attend a meeting or conference where most of the attendees (myself included) were not also checking email, visiting Facebook, playing Solitaire, surfing the Web, working on other projects, or otherwise not being 100% focused on the speaker. Can you imagine the outcry if someone sat at the back of the room, managing those adults’ screens?

Digital classroom management should focus more on developing behaviors and habits than micromanaging a student’s time. Teachers should focus more on what is not getting done with class time than what a student is doing at a particular moment. If they’ve been wracking their brains for several minutes, why shouldn’t they clear their head wth a short game? If they’re sweating something that happened during the day or at home and they need to communicate something to someone, is preventing them from doing so really going to solve their problem, or make them any less distracted?

For the students getting their work done, we should not worry about how they spend their time. For the students who cannot or will not manage their time effectively, however, we may need to rethink how we address their behavior.

Take the chronic YouTube watcher, for example. He insists he only watched a video “for a minute or two,” but that minute rapidly expanded into the whole hour. These are the students who get lost in digital time and honestly do not realize how much time has passed. Closing their tabs can be effective in the short term, but doing so over and over only makes them agitated and does little to solve the problem in the long term.

These are the students who need to be taught how to manage their time. Track and show them the time spent on task versus off. Show them how long videos negatively affect their productivity. Teach them the use of time-management tools like Moosti. Work with them on recognizing procrastination. In extreme cases, have the student research study time management techniques and see what they feel will work for them.

This is one example, and experienced teachers or school psychologists will have many more. However, my point remains that a teacher must use these digital classroom management tools responsibly. If teachers uses a digital classroom management package like a weapon, their students are going to respond in kind.

My Favorite Teachers

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: June 8, 2015

My favorite teachers ask questions.

The day we stop learning is the day we stop living, and that’s especially critical for teachers. Not just learning in their field, but in their classroom, about their students, about teaching, and yes, about technology.

Today, one of our teachers sat down with me to learn more about using Google Classroom and Google Apps in class. He’s one of our veteran teachers, not particularly tech savvy. He told me, “I could retire, but I don’t want to yet, and I want to be the best teacher I can be.” We’re going forward with a Chromebook 1:1/BYOT hybrid next year, and he wants to be ready for it.

I was blown away.

Not because it was him doing the asking, but because he’s the first teacher in my ten years with the district to do so. Sure, a few have called me to their room for some refreshers, but he is the first teacher to ask for one-on-one instruction in the Summer after they’ve all clocked out for the school year.

He worried about imposing on my time, and to be honest, many of the others do, too. I’m running a one-man show across three buildings with a wide variety of devices and tasks that larger districts assign a tech staff to. But he asked, and I told him, by all means, come on in.

We spent over an hour together. I took him on a tour of Google Classroom and Docs, and we did some hands-on training with him building a class and me opening and submitting assignments as a student. We also touched on Drive, and we used Flubaroo to grade a Google Form. He took notes along the way, and at the end we agreed to sit down again in a couple of weeks: he would play with things and come up with questions, and maybe we’d look at something else new as well.

I loved every minute of it. This is the part of the job I feel is key. Keeping the servers running and the computers working is one thing, but this is the part that impacts student learning. If all goes well, he’ll be able to do new things with students, and the students will get to work that much more with technology. Win-win.

My favorite teachers ask the questions that help them improve. My favorite teachers are curious, learning technology because they want it to make them better, because they trust that it can help them in the long run, not because they have to fulfill an evaluation obligation or tick a checkbox in a certification form.

Even the self-motivated tech learners like Steve Hayes will find something to ask me, because they’re hungry to learn more and occasionally they get tripped up by the technology itself. They’re my favorite teachers because they’re not too embarrassed (or are willing to be embarrassed) to ask for help, just like their students who may meet roadblocks in their classrooms.

Technology is changing. Teaching is changing. Our students are changing, and the world is changing. If we don’t work together, we’re never going to keep up.

If we can’t keep up with today, our students will never be prepared for tomorrow.

Teaching Productivity to Students

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Published on: April 8, 2015

Productivity information abounds on the Internet. There are systems like Getting Things Done and 43 Folders, and blogs like Lifehacker are loaded with tips and tricks for increasing productivity and managing workflow.

Why should our students be left to discover these things on their own?

A common complaint about putting a device in every student’s hand is distraction. In fact, I would argue this is the number one argument against going 1:1 or BYOD, ahead of things like cost or issues of breakage and theft. People feel students will spend all their time watching YouTube and playing video games rather than getting their work done.

I’m not going to say it’s an invalid complaint, but I think it’s one that can be addressed with education. If we just put a device in a child’s hand and turn them loose, education is not going to be the first thing on their mind. That’s just nature. Educators need to guide and develop students’ device usage just as they help guide and develop any other skill or social behavior.

For in-class work, this isn’t too difficult. Part of it is keeping them busy on the device, and part of it is classroom management. There are tools to make the teacher’s job easier in the classroom, but in this article I’d like to address student device usage during their personal time. We need to teach students to stay organized and on-task during class work time, study halls, and at home while working on homework.

Let’s start with music. Most students—and adults—like to listen to music while they work. Music provides enough distraction for the idle part of our minds while we concentrate on homework or work tasks. Where do most students turn for their music these days? YouTube.

YouTube presents a dual problem. For schools, one problem is bandwidth. Audio takes much less bandwidth, so as a school tech I would rather students (and teachers) turn to streaming audio like Slacker Radio or Pandora. There is still, however, a greater problem of distraction. Students will end up watching the videos, or they will spend several minutes looking for a song they want to hear or building playlists during valuable work time. Or worse, they see another interesting video in the recommended list, and “just this one video” becomes one more, and one more, and one more… You get the idea. Heck, it’s probably happened to you.

Streaming audio can help us here, too: Slacker and Pandora build playlists automatically, and now the student is back to, for the most part, passively listening rather than actively managing their music selections. Once they choose their first song or genre, they’re off and running, maybe clicking over for an occasional skip or to change their lineup. Even a picky and fidgety listener is not going to be clicking and fiddling as much on Slacker as they would in YouTube.

Then we take it to the next level. Today, I introduced my 5th graders to the Pomodoro Technique for time management. It works for any task, but I have personally found it useful for managing computer-related tasks.

The concept is simple: focus on work for a given time period, then take a short break. A student following the Pomodoro Technique would work on their homework for a 25-minute period, then take five or ten minutes to stretch, play a video game, or surf idly. After the break, they return to another 25-minute round of work, repeating breaks and work periods as needed. In any given hour, they would perform 50 minutes of productive, homework-related work.

To get started, today I had my 5th graders install the Moosti Pomodoro timer as an app from the Chrome Web Store. This gives them timers for their focus time and their long or short breaks. They agreed they should be able to work on their math or English assignments for 25 minutes. At that point, an alarm would go off and they would start a five- or ten-minute timer and go do something else (stand up and stretch, go outside, shoot a few hoops, or play Minecraft were the suggestions they came up with). Then the break alarm would go off and they get back to work.

By the end of that hour, their homework is done.

This, I feel, is a more than acceptable trade-off for teachers and parents. How many of us can concentrate on an intense work task for an hour straight? How many teachers can actually sit and grade papers for an hour straight? (Yes, sometimes we do it for hours at a time, but be honest: do we do it without short breaks?) Why should we expect any more from our students? Some teachers envision this utopia of a class full of students with pencils crawling across paper for a full hour straight, but that’s just not the reality we live in.

In time, maybe students won’t need a timer and will build up a habit of working. Or, maybe some students will find they need a more intense option, like Freedom or StayFocusd, to manage their self control. Either way we are training students’ behavior and work habits for today’s classroom, and we are ensuring that the majority of our students are getting their work done rather than wasting time.

When students are getting their work done, a 1:1 or BYOD school is a far happier place.

Creativity and Jobs of the Future

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Published on: February 9, 2015

Most educators are familiar with Ken Robinson. The following TED presentation, “Do schools kill creativity?”, strikes home for me.

In most school districts, when funds are scarce, the first classes to go are the arts. Art classes and music are always first on the chopping block. As Robinson discusses, schools are putting all of their effort into the “core” curriculum and turning our schools into extended college entrance courses. Kids who want to pursue creative endeavors are left to do it on their own.

But here’s the problem:

We’re also telling everyone that most jobs of the future will require creativity. Our corporations are shipping labor and manufacturing overseas and stressing the generation of intellectual property over the ability to, say, read a schematic and solder wires together.

Consider this other educator favorite video:

The video focuses on the proliferation of technology, but consider as well the portion about jobs and products that did not even exist in the last couple of years. The iPod, for example, and apps on the app store.

Consider a student who wants to be a computer programmer. To most adults, this means getting a job punching in code for some major corporation to make some business software work. To most kids, this means app development and game design.

There’s a lot more to app development than hammering on code. App programmers need to design interfaces. They need to create artwork and market the product. Heck, they need to come up with a way to address a specific need, or to entertain users. It all has to start with creativity before they can start punching in lines of code.

Our schools get students who want to be game designers all the time. What do we do? Tell them how unlikely it is they’ll get anywhere, and discourage them. Of course we should be realistic with them, but let’s be realistic with ourselves: take a look at the sheer numbers of games on the shelves, and the staggering numbers of apps in the app stores. There has never been a better opportunity for a student to become a game designer than right now. Shouldn’t we be nurturing whatever it is about games that engages them? We assume they want to be lazy and sit on the couch all day, but what is it that draws them to gaming? Do they like the storylines? Or the problem-solving? Why not continue providing opportunities like the Hour of Code so they can get a realistic expectation of programming on their own rather than just tell them to stop dreaming and do their math homework?

The same goes with any creative endeavor. Music, publishing, and film are all so much more accessible than at any time in the past. Creative people are making a good living thanks to Web publishing, and are at least living comfortably if they’re not at a level we’d consider famous. The odds of an artist, writer, or musician successfully connecting with an audience are better now than they’ve ever been.

My point is, I think the real warning from Robinson’s talk is we are beyond just stifling creativity, we are actively limiting our students’ future success. We are still teaching to future success as we perceived it in the ’80s and early ’90s, not what future success can look like today.

If academia doesn’t change with the times, we’re going to find ourselves left behind.

Mentoring vs Monitoring for Digital Natives

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Published on: January 13, 2015

Dr Devorah Heitner’s TEDxNaperville talk, Raising Digital Natives, is a must-see for teachers grappling with technology in their districts.

Schools in general spend way too much time enforcing technology behavior rather than teaching it. They ban devices. They install cumbersome locks on apps and traffic. They install technology to snoop on students. It goes on and on, and it does nothing to solve the core problem: we have to teach humanity with technology.

As Dr Heitner puts it, we need to spend more time mentoring students in social interaction via social media and technology. We need to model the behavior of managing text messages, and teach students how to manage the pressure of being always available.

Too few teachers understand their students’ relationships with technology. If a teacher thinks cell phones are distracting and useless, they often feel the student should feel the same way. If a tech coordinator thinks Snapchat and Facebook are wastes of time, chances are he’ll just lock them down with content filters. If administrators think students are only using text messages and camera phones for nefarious purposes, then all they’re going to see are students engaging in negative behavior. I even know of schools inquiring about technologies to prevent cellular signals from getting into or out of buildings!

It’s a losing proposition. At best it’s an arms race as we try to outpace student usage, and at worst it fosters an environment of distrust because students know we’re watching—and passing judgement on—their every move. Again, it does nothing to solve the behaviors at the core of the problem.

In addition, Dr Heitner points out a potentially larger problem: limiting access and monitoring usage prevents students from developing and learning to manage their own identities.

We’re in the business of growing students, not manufacturing robots. Yes, some of our students will make mistakes, but that’s okay. Our job is not to prevent mistakes, our job is to teach students how to manage and survive those mistakes.

Please do spare some time for the video. It’s worth it.

Bringing Humanity to Technology

The problems of anonymous bullying associated with the Yik Yak app have arisen in our area, and it’s resulted in an impassioned call from staff calling for bans of the app, social media, and smart phones in our district. In a neighboring 1:1 district, the administration has reportedly (*see below for an update) seized iPads from students who have installed Yik Yak on their device and banned those students from the device for the remainder of the school year.

As our district’s tech coordinator, I felt compelled to respond to this reaction. Our staff is absolutely right, something must be done about the bullying issues we are experiencing. However, the 1:1 district’s response is reactionary and wrong, and banning social media and smartphones is counterproductive and, possibly, detrimental to solving the problem. I felt I could offer a far better solution for our district.

Cyberbullying is not an issue of technology, but one of humanity. The fact that students think it’s okay to say these things about another person—anonymously or otherwise—shows that there is a huge disconnect in their social education. Whether it’s a result of their home situation, their peer group selection, or their experiences in our classrooms is irrelevant; they simply do not understand the repercussions of their behavior.

Anonymity is both boon and bane to the Internet. In countries where the government removes the voice of the people, anonymity is critical for spreading a message without suffering consequences up to and including torture and death. In countries where rape and the subjugation of women is status quo, or where people are persecuted for their religion or their sexual orientation, these anonymous methods are the only way to report instances of violence and to spread a message of change. This is why there are so many people fighting against measures trying to take down anonymity on the Internet.

Unfortunately this anonymity is easily abused, as we can see with these issues of bullying.

The first problem with banning devices, or banning apps, is there is always another way. Assuming we could block Yik Yak with 100% effectiveness (we can’t), there is always another app. If we eliminate texting and Yik Yak, they’ll use Kik. Or Instagram. Or Hot or Not. Or Tindr. The list goes on. If we remove all apps, they will use message boards. Or blogs. Any one of these things can be set up in a manner of seconds and published to the world. It is an arms race we will always be on the losing end of.

Compounding our neighboring district’s problem is the fact teachers have now had educational tools removed from their students. It stands to reason their teachers have built or are building curriculum focused on students having iPads in their hands every day. I can’t imagine how my staff would feel if we rolled out our Chromebook 1:1 next year, they spent hours of time building new curriculum around them, and then we took the Chromebooks away from half of their students before the end of the first semester.

What’s more, these banning and confiscation measures merely ignore a school’s responsibility in these matters. If we block social media, then it does nothing to address its usage at home. It is effectively saying cyberbullying is not our problem any longer, despite the fact its consequences are still felt in our hallways every day. It does nothing to educate the students in the positive use of social media, nor does it teach them how to handle being bullied via social media.

Social media will be a part of our students’ lives, whether at home today, in college, or in their future workplaces and communities. Just as we teach face-to-face social interaction, we need to teach students how to manage online social interaction. This is not just limited to social media: the comments sections of YouTube, newspapers like our local Journal Star, and even Amazon or Yelp reviews are rife with abuse and inappropriate behavior. The Internet is social media.

Our best tool against bullying and other negative social behaviors is something we do every day: education. In November our district brought in a presenter to discuss cyberbullying, and that’s just the beginning of things we can do for our students. I have discussed some of these issues with my 5th grade classes this year and last, and our band director, Steve Hayes, has done the same with his Digital Citizenship program during RTI time at our junior high.

While these measures begin to solve the technology side of the problem, they still do not address the general issue of humanity. We can take it a step farther.

I wish my staff could all have seen Dr Henry Thiele’s keynote presentation at the ICE conference, “Getting to the Heart of Technology.” He discussed tech in several aspects of education, but specifically discussed using technology to reach those students who do not otherwise feel they have a voice. Most of it can be summed up in the video “Google Forms a teacher/student connection” (embedded below). Please give it a watch, as it addresses the very solution I am getting to.

It comes down to meeting the students on their level. We are a small school district, and thus we feel we are always available to our students and we all have open doors. This is true, but this does not mean all of our students are comfortable approaching us face to face. Why shouldn’t a student be able to approach us through email, or a public, class- or school-focused Facebook page or Twitter profile? Why shouldn’t we use simple electronic methods to give these kids a voice, like Andrea Kornowski did with a simple question at the end of a Google Form? It’s an easy thing we can all do, today.

As for Yik Yak, I propose we turn it into a positive tool. Imagine if faculty and staff posted positive messages to the service, congratulating athletes or highlighting positive school or community activities. It could be anonymous, or we could even sign our names if we so desired. At the very least we should be monitoring the service to head off potential issues, and to reach out to students who have been targeted.

To that end, I have signed up for the Yik Yak service, and I hope you will do the same. I am not calling out my colleagues in this response, but asking that we all make an effort to manage the damage abuse of services like Yik Yak can cause, and we demonstrate that these tools can absolutely be used for good.

Let’s meet the students on a level they understand, and in the process, introduce an element of humanity to our educational technology programs.

Update 12/9/14: The neighboring district in fact did not confiscate iPads as reported by our staff member, but did review student iPads for the presence of the app and notified parents to be aware of it. For what it’s worth, I think that’s a great initial move, and I apologized it got misrepresented.

I’m going to leave the rest of the post as is, however, as this was originally more of a response to an attitude of applauding that district for what they had allegedly done, and not necessarily a direct criticism of our neighbors, and they are not the first I’ve heard of schools taking similar reactionary measures.

RocketCodes are Go for Launch!

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Published on: November 21, 2014

This week I launched a new initiative in my school district: RocketCodes.

We are currently a BYOT district with a Chromebook initiative in place, but we’re getting a lot of pushback from staff on whether or not to continue allowing students to bring their smartphones to school. The common arguments apply, ranging from “phones are just a distraction” to “students only use their phones to text one another.”

Our band director and I disagree. We feel, for the most part, students have not been given a reason to use their phones in class. The problem with banning smartphones in class is it interferes with the education of students who want to use their smartphones for educational purposes. Furthermore, we feel the best way to find educational uses for smartphones and BYOT devices—in addition to Chromebooks or other devices a school district might provide—is to find out what students are using them for.

RocketCodes is our attempt to discover this, as well as take technology straight to the students. We hope to educate students and staff on the advantages of smartphones and tablets in the classroom, whether as a primary device or in association with a school-supplied 1:1 device.

Before we can make a final decision on the fate of BYOT in our district, we need data. To get data, we need to give the technology a fair shot.

This led to the creation of RocketCodes, which are simply QR codes linked to our RocketCodes website.

A RocketCode QR code in a hallway
A RocketCode QR code in a hallway

As part of a soft launch, I purchased a dozen cookies and left six each in our high school and junior high offices, then linked a QR code to the first RocketCodes blog post. Any student who scanned the code and visited the website on Thursday or Friday of this week was told to take their device to the building secretary, show her the website, and claim their cookie. We didn’t announce the contest, we only posted the QR code in a common area and waited.

On Thursday, we had no activity at the high school. At the junior high, I saw several students glance at the QR code but keep on walking. Our first-year English teacher, however, scanned the code and claimed a cookie for himself.

On Friday morning we moved the QR codes to different locations and put a simple hint in the announcements. In the high school, it only said, “Staff and Students: Win a free Caleri’s cookie! Yesterday, a clue was posted in the school.” At the junior high, we told the students, “Yesterday, Mr Fellner’s curiosity was rewarded with a Caleri’s chocolate chip cookie. There are five more cookies available. Keep your eyes open!” (Everybody in our district knows Caleri’s cookies can’t be beat, so it becomes a real incentive!)

All six cookies were claimed by 11am at the high school. At the junior high, it took until 2pm. One student actually took down the QR code during 1st hour and brought it to the office, thinking it must be related to the cookie. Because he hadn’t figured out how to scan a QR code by his last hour study hall, I’ll be giving him a lesson on QR code scanning and he’ll be rewarded with an alternate snack prize from our secretary.

A junior high cookie winner
A junior high cookie winner

Next week we’ll be doing a full launch and explaining the program to both students and staff. In the future we’ll be featuring tips on using smartphones and Chromebooks, app reviews, clever classroom uses, and occasionally fun videos and interviews with staff and students. Mystery and curiosity were not a tremendous incentive on Thursday, but the cookies sure generated some excitement. We hope the RocketCodes will be incentives themselves in the future.

If all goes well, maybe we’ll see a lot of BYOT uses in the classroom at last. If not, we can finally make an informed decision on handling smartphones in the classroom.

Internet down? Punt.

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: October 15, 2014

I knew I was in for a long day when the first email I read upon waking said our Internet connection was down. I called our provider, and sure enough they had outages all across central Illinois.

That’s when the panicked texts from teachers started rolling in.

"No Internet? Call an emergency day."
“No Internet? Call an emergency day.”

Yes, we’re more dependent upon the Internet with digital lessons and BYOT/1:1 initiatives. However, that doesn’t mean everything has to come to a standstill.

This morning I met with both of my 5th-grade classes, and I planned to do an assessment via Kahoot!, a game-like quiz site. I had two options:

  1. Cancel class and sit by a phone waiting for our ISP to call me back
  2. Use modern technology to solve a modern technology problem

Of course I chose #2. I simply set my smartphone up as a hotspot to serve up the quiz. Rather than try to shoehorn 20 connections through my phone, I divided the classes into teams and gave each team a Chromebook. My phone had no trouble handling the quiz and the responses, and in the end, the students had a lot more fun working in teams and choosing team names like the Geniuses, the Bananamen, and the Doughnuts!!! (emphasis theirs).

We had ten minutes left following the quiz. I didn’t have time or the resources to dig into Google Drive as I planned, so the kids requested to play the classic Heads-Up 7-up. I was reluctant to just make it free time because I only see them once a week. That’s when the students suggested anyone who gets selected has to answer a computer question to play.

I agreed, the kids had a blast, and it still turned into a teaching opportunity when we discussed the computer questions.

An Internet outage doesn’t have to be the end of class, yet it’s one of the first things people cite as an objection to going 1:1 or starting a BYOT initiative. I just counter the objection with similar questions:

  • What if there’s a fire drill that day?
  • What if there’s a surprise assembly?
  • What if half the class is out due to field trips or illnesses?
  • What if there’s a real emergency, like a fire or tornado?
  • What if the teacher was unprepared that day, or is out for a personal emergency or illness?

The answer is simple: class moves on. Whether we realize it or not, we’re always overcoming obstacles to teaching, and an Internet outage is no different.

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Welcome , today is Thursday, February 22, 2018