Kicking off the school year: Web 2.0 Style w/ Cell Phones

Starting the school year is always crazy!

I'd like to share what we've done the first three days of school and the new things I've done this year to make teaching with Web 2.0 a little easier.

Day 1
Besides doing my usual textbook scavenger hunt (helping kids know where things are in the textbook saves a lot of time and is a great prereading strategy), my students immediately went to the wiki and completed the Google form for the first day of class survey.

In the form I ask things about the student's Internet access and computer access at home (many of my students don't have high speed access at home, so I don't usually give homework.) I also asked about cell phones and the availability of texting. (I have a few without, so have to accommodate things.)

I revamped my class wiki with several major changes:
  • I have set up a Google calendar for each class so the students can add it to their Google Calendar (every student has to have a Google account - we set those up on Day 2 for the 9th graders.) Each class has the google calendar embedded on their main wiki page. Here are the links to my classes so you can see how this works:
Computer Science
Computer Fundamentals

Notice that I either put the lesson plan on the Google Cal event (like for accounting) or for my classes that need links (like Computer Fundamentals) -the bottom of the page has the lesson plan.

This means I can easily manage my calendars and as I update things, I see it and they do too!
  • I use assignment "tags" -- no tag, no grade. This makes it so whether we wiki or ning, I can find everything!

    I use the following tagging standard date and class -- so the assignment yesterday for computer fundamentals would be 8_12_2008_cf -- it is intuitive so if they don't see it, they can still sort of remember my method.

    The problem with differentiated assessment (letting them turn in a video, blog post, or photo w/ commentary) is that sometimes it can be tough to find. My having them use the standard tag for the assignment, "boom!" it is there. They also add folksonomy as they wish in addition to the assignment tag, but the assignment tag is required.

  • Simple navigation - Students need a start page -- I put links by grade level on the left and home page and worked to make the home page more simple for them!
I talk about that we are a wiki-centric classroom on the first day. The emails from the parents and students on the first day go into a group list that I set up in google email. This weekend I began sending out a link to the wiki page to the parents and students so that there are no questions about where we are.

So, if I need to email keyboarding, I type keyboarding in the "To:" box and then it fills in the addresses. I send out one email with the link to the main wiki page, and then just infrequently during the year. It is all there on the wiki, so why would I need to do more than just a few times.

This Week

In Computer Science, we're working on sort of an exciting top secret project. More of that later...

But today, one of the most exciting moments came in Computer Fundamentals. I've been following a multi-day lesson that I created to help students use their cell phones to help them be more organized and productive.

We start off by taking a look at the Microsoft parody of The Devil Wears Prada shown above. I ask the question, "what is the most important tool in this video?" The answer is: "the cell phone."

I ask how many carry planners to class and get about 50%. I ask how many have their cell phone in their pocket and the answer is 95%.

We also talk about why schools DON'T want cell phones in school. It is about behavior AND the fact we haven't given constructive, productive uses of cell phones in the classroom.

In fact, we are very strict on this very point, with the exception of my room. My headmaster is so visionary! I've talked to him about what I wanted to do and he was fine with it! When he talked about our two new cell phone policies (leave cell phone on teachers desk to go to bathroom, and we see a cell phone being used and it goes in detention), he also said that when Mrs. Vicki had a cell phone lesson to please bring their cell phones to class!

That being said, if I'm not using a cell phone for a lesson, I take it up, which, in fact, I did on Monday. The cell phone is in detention for five days in the office!

But in this case, we are using cell phones to become more productive in a 3 day lesson. Here's a peek at my lesson plan:


#1 Setting up an iGoogle page (RSS Reader)

  1. Make sure you have a Google Account (If you have gmail, you should have one.)
  2. Sign in to your account.
  3. We will create a start page using igoogle

Widgets to add

Day 2

#1 We will set up accounts on Jott and learn how to use it to add events to our Google Cal.

#2 - Learn how to jott yourself a reminder, create a group to jott to, and to Jott to your Google Cal. Print off your inbox of Jott for your lesson.

Day 3

#1 Then, we will set up a Remember the Milk account and add it to our igoogle page, set it up to work with Jott, and add items to our list using our voice.

Grade taken on igoogle page:
Olympic widget, googlecal, school news; remember the milk widget required.

Grade taken on Jott:
Jott a reminder to yourself, Jott another person, Jott to your google cal

For the grade:

  • Mrs. Vicki will do a visual check -or-
  • You may print the page and turn it into the box
  • Due 8/13/2008


These vocabulary words should be added to your notes.
  • RSS (really simple syndication)
  • RSS reader
  • Widget
  • Web 2.0

So, today I look up and see all of this happening, I was struck by the energy and excitement. Look at these faces.

When the bell rang, the students were upset. They wanted to stay! They came back in to study hall to set this up. They were organizing their calendars and setting up groups.

They were planning their weeks -- grabbing homework lists and putting it in the right place. It was exciting for them and me! I want them to be productive and manage their lives well!

Is all of this play? What is the point?

Look at the type of people that are going to be successful -- they manage a lot of things. If you follow the principles of Getting Things Done by David Allen, you'll see that capturing the things to do is an important step.

I'm just sharing with my students the things that I'm doing that are making my life better. Using Jott, Remember the Milk, Twitter, Google Cal, and Timebridge are important to getting things done in my life. (I'll be sharing more about how I use these tools together but I only share Jott, Remember the Milk, and Google Cal for them because that is what they need.)

This generation needs to have adults who don't just say "no no" but "have you thought about this?" We are dealing with little handheld devices with more computing power than the PC's we were buying in 1997!

So, why not use them? Why not teach behavior? Self control? Appropriate use?

Again, I talk to my students about the meaning of being a "professional student" -- and how we behave when at school.

These tools are becoming ubiquitous, unblockable, and virtually unstoppable and there is really no excuse for saying they are unusable in the classroom.

When kids go to the bathroom, the cell phone goes on my desk. When I'm not teaching using the devices, they stay up and off. But when it is time to record things and manage their lives, there is a time and a place to do this. There are times for cell phones to be used in the classroom.

One student set up her cell phone to text her at 7 pm tonight to remind her to study her vocab for science. I saw other students thinking through and planning their week.

Planning is one of the things that make a productive person.

It is also very useful for their iGoogle page to become their "launch page." They love their igoogle pages and are also adding a lot of things to do with their hobbies as well as their calendar (and list tomorrow.)

I used to teach RSS halfway through the year -- now, it is literally the first thing I teach. It is not too hard. It is not to unreachable. And with the Olympics right now, the meaning of RSS really hits home as they see the medal counts change instantly.

So, what do you think? Am I upsetting the applecart? Is enabling students to use cell phones in productive ways opening up a bigger can of worms?

I don't think so. Teach them to use what they already carry.
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We've seen book burning. We've seen blog and wiki blocking. We see cell phone bans. I think that getting at the behavior is a much more reasonable approach.

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