teaching with the tools of a digital world

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Are you engaged?

Everyone who has ever stepped into a classroom (teacher, student, or otherwise) knows there is a difference between the amount of time that instruction is happening and learning is happening. This is very generally wrapped up into terms like “student engagement time.” In an earlier post I discussed my general goals to “increase student engagement through the use of technology.” I would like to add to that “both in and out of the classroom.”

Today, I am most interested in increasing student engagement in the classroom. I am currently reading Middle and Secondary Classroom Management: Lessons from Research and Practice by Carol Simon Weinstein and Ingrid Novodvorsky. Chapter 7, Making the Most of Classroom Time , discusses this topic and gives one suggestions I want to focus on, minimize transition time. There are a few ideas from this section that I would like to try and adapt for use with technology. Here they are…

The text discusses the four options students have when they are transitioning between activities 1) maintain interests and attentiveness, 2) become bored, 3) become distracted and 4) actively misbehave. Looks like some slim chances, huh?

How can technology help to keep students engaged as we switch between topics and/or activities? I am mostly looking for things that give me a little extra time to get done what I need to during the transition time and/or allow for students to complete activities at different times but still be engaged.

Here are my current ideas…

  • A lead-in or follow-up question on clickers or using Poll Everywhere.
  • Ask students to summarize the previous reading/assignment via Poll Everywhere or Twitter
  • Asking students watch a short video that highlights the next topic
  • Maybe part of this is just a time management issue and it could be helped with students being aware of the time schedule (maybe just a digital timer displayed to the whole class would be a big help?)

Maybe there are a lot of things here that can be completed without technology (I definitely think so..) but can technology make this easier in any places? Where and how? I am going to try out a few of these ideas and any that you might suggest and then reflect back here after a couple of weeks and see if there are any changes.

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No Cellphones in School!

My school currently has a policy of “no cellphones in class unless your teacher says you can use it for a learning activity.” I think that has basically meant no cellphones in class, period. I’ve been looking for a way for student to use their cellphones in my class in a meaningful way and I stumbled upon QR codes.
QR codes are two dimensional bar codes, similar to those on cans at the grocery store, yet they can hold more information. The biggest difference is they are starting to show up all over the place from business cards, to store fronts, to advertisements and even billboards. You can have a QR code made which says whatever you want it to and have it printed on just about anything you want. If you aren’t sure what one looks like do a quick Google search and I’ll give you a chance to decode your first a little later on in this post.
I decided to try and use QR codes as an instructional tool, but I was hung on not all of my students having smartphones that could allow them to download a free QR code reading app. That was when I miraculously stumbled upon stapmyinfo. This service was design to provide business men and women with a way to obtain QR codes for business cards and other materials and as a way for “non-smartphone” customers and colleagues to obtain their contact and business information. In short if you can send picture text messages you can decode the QR codes.

We have started using them pretty regularly in class. We’ve used them to check answer for our minerals and igneous rock lessons and at different stations for different minerals and rock characteristics where students describe and identify in their own words and then evaluate them based on what is in the decoded QR. The last two days students were asked to create their own QR codes based on a researched definition and observed characteristics of different igneous rocks.
One of the biggest challenges has been that students are automatically skipping to the part of the lesson of activity that has a QR code and skipping the instructions or other activities. I’ve had to do some careful monitoring and some creative QR codes and lesson planning. But I think it has been worth it to get the students more engaged and interested in the learning.
The students have really enjoyed the experience of using their phones in the classroom. The first day, however, was pretty comical. I had asked the students to all bring their cellphones to class. When I asked them to take them out of their pockets and use them they were quite cautious! I think they thought it was a big trick and I was secretly planning to single-handedly confiscate the phones of the entire freshmen class in one day! No one wanted to be the first to pull the phone out of their pocket out of fear that I would take it away! They have gotten used to the idea and a number of them have expressed an excitement for using their phones in class.Here is your chance to scan your first QR code if you haven’t before. Just take a picture of the QR code above and send it in a text message or email to (or you can download one of the many free QR code readers for your smartphone – this is a much more streamlined process).


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What are your plans?

Today the district was videotaping classes and interviewing Digital Educator Leadership Training (DELT) teachers. DELT is the district’s program for adding tech in the classroom and helping to build technology leaders in the district. The district has received three separate grants which have been combined to create the DELT program (My money came from ARRA – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – yep stimulus money… I guess a thank you is in order). This allows the teachers to receive between $5000 and $6000 for technology purchases of their choice for their classrooms. I submitted my application for the third and final DELT cohort on Monday and (drumroll please…)  I was selected! Now I have to figure out how to spend it… Tough job huh?

As I was saying, there was a film crew in the school today and I was added as a last minute interview as someone who was just starting out with DELT. Their main questions for me were about my goals for using technology in my classroom. So here is want I told them: 1) I want to increase and enhance student engagement through technology, 2) use technology that students and their parents are familiar and comfortable with more effectively, and 3) get my content in my student’s hands and onto their devices my often.

This is my main starting point for my professional growth plan for my Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship (KSTF, see I am looking forward to how this changes and is adapted over the year.