Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cellphones in the classroom

This morning, like all others, I awoke to the local radio station. At 5:45 am I simply cannot stomach the beep, beep, beep of an alarm clock. And the great part is that my local radio station ROCKS. They have an excellent morning show with good debates. I figure that any radio show that can make me frantically reach for my iPhone to send off passionate emails before 6:00 am are pretty impressive. This morning like many other media outlets (The Star article) the quick conversation was about cellphones in the classroom. Dalton McGuinty made some comments over the past few days about boards being able to allow cellphones in the classroom when appropriate. The quick 6:00 am banter on The Dock FM included the radio hosts commenting on how distracted their teens (and others) are texting and emailing in the classroom. This is what got me hopping.

I've harassed the poor morning show host Meg before (she is wonderful and comes into the local high school for literacy conferences on a regular basis) and so sent her off an email. This is what it said:

"If we DON'T use mobile devices in the classroom, who exactly is modeling appropriate use? How do they learn how to use them properly?

Why do we all have this vision of kids sitting in rows in order to learn? What kind of job is like that? By NOT having mobile devices in class we are saying that we don't want kids collaborating, communicating and searching for information. COME ON!!! This is the 21st century!!! These are skills that are needed for success. Mobile devices are Powerful learning devices. So, never thought I'd say this - props to @Dalton_McGuinty ( his twitter handle). He gets that we need to change our view of education in order to prepare these poor kids for THEIR future, not our past."

I received this response "Good points Jacyln. Hope you heard our discussion on this.....this email featured heavily:)"

I unfortunately missed this later discussion and am highly curious as to whether I was debated or agreed with. Either way I'm happy. If I was agreed with, than maybe more people (listeners) were swayed towards my opinion. If I was debated, then it would have been a great learning experience (if only I had heard it and responded).

This little early morning interaction reminds me how education has to change to reflect changes in society. Twenty years ago a "nobody" like myself would never have their opinion heard, considered and debated on a radio station like The Dock FM. Technology has facilitated communication and collaboration to a degree that it permeates almost every career. How on earth do we expect our students to learn how to use this technology to help them be heard and to share ideas if we use blanket policies to ban them from schools? Will they be distracting? YES! Absolutely! When students hand wrote and passed notes did we ban the pen and paper? No, because they were seen as integral to the learning process. Technology is integral to the learning process when used properly. Technology in itself is useless. You could have a classroom with laptops on every desk and an interactive whiteboard at the front, that functions exactly like a classroom from the 1950's. Students are seated in rows typing out notes. The teaching needs to change along with technology use.

We need to ask our selves "is this helping students succeed in today's world?". What skills do they need to succeed? My guess is collaboration, communication and innovation. Recalling facts is not important if you can "google it". Using that information to form ideas, arguments and communicate those thoughts are much more important. Technology can facilitate that. We can't be sure what today's students will be faced with in 50 years. How can I know what to teach them that will be relevant? Things change so fast. Maybe if we teach them how to learn for themselves, communicate and problem solve, they'll be able to figure it out for themselves?

So, thanks to The Dock FM for the thought-provoking morning. I've also learned an important lesson - if I decide to harass you, I'd darn well better listen to the rest of the morning show! :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Amazing Race, Take 9!

I've had a few people ask me about our Amazing Race Grade 9 activity and I need to pass the task of organizer off to another staff member while I'm away this year - so I've described our day here to kill two birds with one stone.

I LOVE starting the year off right. Instead of talking at our grade 9's and organizing guided tours we do something a little different. Every time we do it, staff, students and parents talk about how enjoyable it is. Staff get to meet the incoming grade 9's in a fun, relaxed environment and the kids get to be, well, kids! It's the only time grade 9s feel like they are the only ones in the school and they love it.

This idea began when I was teaching in Moosonee, Ontario at Northern Lights Secondary School. Like all good ideas, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly who came up with it, but I believe Angela Tozer and Sandy Lederer are to be given credit for this idea.

When I moved to PSS, I brought the idea with me and this is how our day goes:

9:30 - 10:00 am - Welcome by Principal, Vice-Principal and Student Council leaders, introduction of staff (Guidance, Special Education, Student Success)

10:00 - 11: 15 am - The Amazing Race Activity

11:15 - 11:30 - wrap up, questions and refreshments in the cafeteria

During the Amazing Race students visit the rooms listed on their passport, complete a challenge there and get sticker or stamp for their passport. Here is a link to the Google Doc copy of our Amazing Race "passport" students use. At the end they trade in their completed passport for their timetable (and a lesson on how to read it).

In terms of organization, here is what we do:

- put up sign-up sheet for staff during last week of school. Take 9! Day is on a holiday, so staff volunteer. Any staff member is welcome (custodial, office, educational assistants, teachers, administration)

- the day before I set up all the challenges as needed (most staff organize their own now) and put envelopes in each volunteers mailbox with materials they need and stickers/stamps for the passports. I also revamp the passport with the appropriate room numbers for this years challenges and print them.

- on the day of we tell teachers that students will start coming to the classrooms around 10:00 am. We then make an announcement at the end, asking all Grade 9s to return to the cafeteria. This is really a signal for teachers that it is over.

Common Challenges:

- how to log onto the computer system (our passwords start as YYYYMMDD and then need to be changed) in the resource room

- how to use a lock - students must open a combo lock to complete challenge

- something in the gym (shoot a basket, soccer goal, floor hockey, sit ups, push ups, etc.)

- something in the shops (hammer a nail into a board, etc.)

- something dramatic in the drama room

- find/label a few rooms on the school map

- something in the hospitality room (measuring, mixing, a step in baking something, etc.)

- purchasing of their package deals (student fees, yearbook, etc.) or getting info about it

- getting their timetables and learning how to read them (rooms, course codes, locker number, etc.)

- extra-curricular, something about clubs and teams

After the first year, most teachers will set up their own challenges without any help from the organizer. It is a time for teachers to "sell" clubs and subjects as well. For example, breakfast club or green team leaders have challenges around those clubs. The first year it helps to provide teachers with "challenges in an envelope" so they get the idea.

Starting the year off with bubbling grade 9's wandering through the school trying to find classrooms (until they get to the challenge where they get a map of the school) is amazing. Staff love this way of meeting grade 9s. We've used name tags before and then provided awards that the teachers decided on (one for each challenge, just silly things - like most innovative way of doing something, most helpful, etc.). Our students' council leaders often run or help out with the challenges in the classrooms to relieve congestion. Starting the year off right while building community!