Saturday, April 6, 2024

Phones + School ... What Do We Do?

Heads up ... this blog is somewhat a departure from my usual. I promise it 100% has to do with tech and education. Here's the back story:

I have 3 daughters - ages 18, 14, and 12. They all have phones. I have been reluctant to allow them social media, but my oldest does have Tik Tok, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. My middle daughter has Tik Tok and Pinterest. And my youngest doesn't have any. This year I went back into the classroom, teaching technology to grades 6-7-8, but in a new district. 

I've been doing a lot of learning about how devices are impacting our kids. Books, articles, podcasts, etc. This past week, the topic of phones in schools came up in one of my PLN's. I believe the person who began the conversation was asking about other district policies on phones in schools. I love reading others opinions and learning how other districts - across the country - are handling devices in schools. 

I chimed in with links to some of the resources I've come across regarding this topic. I received several positive responses and thank you's for the information, so I thought I'd share them with you, too. 

Before I share, please know that while I have my own opinions, I'm sharing these resources so you can develop your own. I ask that you do your own learning and share with others and keep learning. This topic will constantly be evolving. You have to do what is best for the kids in your life - whether that's at school or in your own home. 

I will be the first to admit I was in the camp of using devices (iPods/phones) back before we were 1-to-1. Having multiple devices in a classroom opened my eyes to the power technology can have in education. The accessibility and creation that is possible was awesome. But then my district went 1-to-1 with chromebooks. Every student was given a device. And around that time, phones became more and more common, and with younger and younger students, and the problems really began. Phones are not built to be tools of instruction. Have you ever tried to write an essay on your phone? Possible, yes, but not great.

The book, Screen Kids, by Gary Chapman & Arlene Pellicane, is such an incredible read. It is not long but it is packed with research and solid thinking. It truly helped me put some specifics to the thoughts and feelings I'd been having regarding devices. If you are a parent, read this. If you are an educator, read this. If you are a grandparent, check out Grandparenting Screen Kids: How to Help, What to Say, and Where to Begin, by the same authors. This book helped me have better - and MORE - conversations with my own daughters. 

Here are additional resources I've been learning from on this topic that might be of interest to you:

  • Cell phone policy leads to school of distinction from the Wektumpka Herald. This story shares how a local high school has changed their policy regarding cell phones and the impact it has had ... and the award they've received as a result. 

  • How Teens and Parents Approach Screen Time from the Pew Research Center. This article digs into the research behind the difference in how parents and teenagers differ in their handlings of screens. Fact shared that caught my eye, "72% of U.S. teens say they often or sometimes feel peaceful when they don’t have their smartphone; 44% say it makes them feel anxious." Wow!

  • How to Talk to Your School District about Removing Smartphones from Protect Young Eyes, a group who focuses on helping "Families, Schools, And Churches Create Safer Digital Environments". This article focuses on the school aspect.

  • Constant Companion: A Week in the Life of a Young Person's Smartphone Use from Common Sense Media. Fully disclosure - I've not gotten all the way through this massive resource yet. There is a 64 page report along with several other resources to check out. Common Sense Media is a fantastic resource for so many tech related needs. 

    Added May, 2024:

  • Cincinnati Country Day students reflect on year without phones in school - a local news report regarding a K-12 school that banned phones and the impact they are seeing at the end of the school year. It's awesome to hear that students are changing their opinions and seeing the benefits of putting the phones away.

  • The Anxious Generation (book) - this impressively written book contains all the data and fact finding and myth-debunking information you could want about this topic. The author, Jonathan Haidt, does a fabulous job of looking at this topic from many different angles and clearly outlining his own research as well as the research of others. I don't think you will find a more comprehensive book on the effects of phones, social media, and video games on our youth than this book.

Finally, I always try to remind others when I have conversations, use the tool that is appropriate for the task.  If it's task that is best on paper, use paper. If a computer is what is needed, use it. If it's a face-to-face conversation, do it in person. And if it's phone, use a phone. 

Do you have a resource that is related to this topic? Please share! I'd love to read it. 

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Thursday, March 14, 2024

Self-guided Student Projects You Can Do

I recently wrapped up a grading period with my students and I wanted to do something "different". They were all fairly proficient with technology and they had a wide variety of interests. I decided I couldn't find or create anything that would satisfy and challenge them all, so I went in the opposite direction. 

I didn't design a project. I gave them ALL of the power.

If your students are anything like mine, they BEG for control and choice. But, I've noticed they often don't know what to do with it when they have choice. So I decided to provide a framework for the project, but allow the students to fill in all of it.

You should have seen their faces. We had 5 days left in the quarter and I wanted them to spend time brainstorming and "researching" and asking questions, which would really leave about 4 days to actually DO their project.

I shared the "Self-guided Project" template with them in our LMS. We walked through it together. I asked them to list 3-5 topics they are interested in - whether because they already know a lot or because they WANT to learn. Then to think about the tools we've used in class, as well as ones they are already comfortable with (I suggested this might not be the project to "learn" a new tool). Then we talked about the audience. This one was tougher for them. I agreed teachers quite often are their audience, but that wasn't my goal with this project. We talked through why a project made for a kindergartener would probably look different than one done for an adult, a parent perhaps. And then we brainstormed together who some different audiences might be.

Finally, we talked about putting it all together. Since this was their first time with a project as open as this, I provided a list of potential projects they might want to consider, but strongly recommended they think creatively and that they could come up with something of their own design. Ultimately, their projects could be summed up in a sentence using this structure:

"I want to create a ___(fill in project) ___ about ___ (fill in topic) ___ for ___ (fill in audience) ___ using ___ (fill in tool)___."

They were off! It was awesome to see them design their project and move forward with them. Questions came up - help was needed - some projects finished quickly & new projects were designed with the same framework - some projects didn't get finished - but they all enjoyed it. Including me. 

The best part about this framework, it's not grade specific. It's not dependent on certain tools. If your students cannot handle ALL of the choices, you can fill in one or more of the components to guide them and as they gain confidence, you can reuse this with them and they will create something completely different.

I will definitely be using this again!

NOTE - as with most everything I do/create, the 1st rendition is rarely "amazing", so the version I'm sharing with you is somewhat different from what I used with my students. When I do it again, I wanted to be sure I was explicit with the four aspects - topic, tool, project, & audience - and I wanted to also have students create a Doc they could use more than once and not have to start over. 

If you'd like to make your own copy, please check out the "Self-guided Project Template" housed on my companion blog, Templates for Teachers. Feel free to look around at the other templates shared. You can make copies of any/all of them and then modify to best suit you.

If you use this with your students, will you let me know how it goes? I'd love to know.


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Saturday, February 3, 2024

Docs Scavenger Hunt Middle School Students Can Do

My adventures are picking up and I'm ready to share one of my recent ones. My 6th graders have quite a bit of knowledge - I'm quite impressed! As they get older, I know they will depend more and more on Google Docs, so I wanted to be sure they build a solid foundation. I did as I have preached so often ... take what it's already there and modify it! 

Just about a year ago, I published "Docs Scavenger Hunt You Can Do" sharing how I modified from Catlin Tucker. Today I'm sharing how I modified this - again - for my current 6th graders. We moved well beyond basic formatting into some pretty awesome tools and capabilities. Depending on how much background your students have had with Google Docs, you may need to modify this or take portions out. 

You can get your own copy of the scavenger hunt for middle schoolers on my partner blog, Templates for Teachers. (Feel free to look around at the other templates housed there, too!)

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Sunday, January 21, 2024

Digital Citizenship We ALL Need To Do

Long before I stepped back into the classroom, I recognized a need for digital citizenship lessons in ALL classrooms. As a coach, I could recommend, support, and encourage. Now that I am back in the classroom, I have made it a very specific part of my lessons to incorporate digital citizenship. I encourage you to do the same.

I've always been a big fan of Common Sense Media and I decided to their curriculum for my students. Their curriculum is well laid out with full lesson plans, worksheets, and parent resources. Each lesson at the middle school level is planned for roughly 1 class period, so it's perfect to sprinkle throughout my courses. In my grade levels, there are 6 total lessons. It is a well thought out curriculum. 

... and it's all FREE. Yep. Free.

But I didn't stop there - I was granted permission to contact our local police department to see if they'd be willing to come in and speak to my students in addition to the lessons I cover. The police in the district I teach in are amazing! They not only agreed to come in, they worked with me to create their presentation tailored to our kiddos. During our planing meeting, I was also humored when their final request was to create a "pledge" they could send home with my students as a way to tie their visit to home. The humor came from one of the worksheets they gave me had McGruff the Crime Dog on it. I went to that safety camp as a kid! Wow! Talk about a throw back 😁 

We created a pledge and they chose some dates to come in and talk to my classes. When they showed up, THREE uniformed police walked in! The chief and two lieutenants. The three of them did a wonderful job with their presentation. The next day we reviewed the main points from the police and used Canva to create thank you's. Next up, I'm working to line them up to return for my round of students in 4th quarter. 

What we all agreed about is our kids can't hear enough about digital citizenship and online safety. Parents need to talk to their kids, teachers need to talk to their students, and if you can get other members of the community to talk to them too, by all means. The police department thanked ME for setting this up. I am beyond grateful they were willing to come in and talk to my students.

You can do this, too! If your school has a resource officer, it might be easiest to work with them. If you don't have one - like me - give your local police department a call. I'd be shocked if they refused. And it can't hurt to ask. Our kids need us. 

There are so many other resources out there ... check out these Wakelet collections if you are looking for more:

If you need or want help/ideas, please reach out!

*** Every Monday, I share a newsletter with a collection of Tech You Can Do resources. It is delivered right to your inbox. Interested? 
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Saturday, December 16, 2023

Goals Your students Can Do

I am writing this as I finish up my first semester back in the classroom after 7 years as a tech coach. Whew! It has been an adjustment! First, it was in a new district. Second, it was an unconventional semester due to a pending change in the master schedule. And third, only recently have I felt myself getting into the groove and settling in (is that a sign of age???). 

Let me be clear - the staff have been great and the kids are great. But it has been change - and a big one for me. Reflecting on this time, I really do appreciate the way this transition worked out.

I spent this semester teaching coding classes. Some of the students were really into coding and some not so much. Some were confident with coding and a few could already run circles around me, but some were relatively new to coding. I saw very quickly this was not going to be a "one size fits all" class.

We started out with an inventory regarding their skill, interest, and what they wanted to do/learn about coding. Then we covered some "must have's" and "cannot's" in a program. From here, they evaluated Common Sense Media's list of "Best Coding Programs for Middle School' based on our requirements. We ended up with a handful of resources.

Enter Catlin Tuckers Goal sheet. I came across this right about the same time as we finished up our evaluations and I had a lightbulb moment. What if each student decided what THEY wanted to accomplish in coding, and from there, selected the resource that would best support them? Bingo!

To better facilitate this for them, I created a modified version of Catlin's goal sheet as well as a guide for the students. I called it "Coding Goal & Pathway". I broke the middle column down. The "How will I get there?" included a spot for an academic path, an application path, and a career path. Each student received the goal sheet on paper. They referred to the rest on their computer.

The "academic path" was to ensure a resource for them to do specific learning about coding.
The "application path" was the program they were choosing to create their project in/on.
And the "career path" was meant to expose them to future potential paths. 

Students were given the paper part and time to work through the goal setting process. Quite a few had great ideas for what they wanted to create or work on. And after having worked through the evaluation of the potential programs, most easily settled on the academic path that worked for them. We ended up having several "career exploration days" where we did this portion of their goals. As class progressed, I did check ins and provided support and feedback. They also took turns sharing their projects.

I believe it went well! I had several students complete their goal and move on to a second one. I also have a few that are continuing to work on their projects. I'm excited to see they want to continue to build and improve what they started.

Next semester I'm excited to have 6th graders. The focus of this class will be technology skills. I've got lots of goodies planned for them!

*** Every Monday, I share a newsletter with a collection of Tech You Can Do resources. It is delivered right to your inbox. Interested? Sign up here!  ***