Our school is a cell phone-free zone.

I just wanted to write a post to document our journey toward a cell phone free zone in our school. As many of you know, I am a Principal at a grades 7-9 school in Edmonton, Alberta. Over the past two years, we have been dealing with many cell phone related issues. Here are some examples:

  • Students are majorly distracted by their phones. Constantly checking, texting and posting. In many cases, potentially volatile situations can develop because students are in constant contact with each other via text or social media.
  • Students misplace their cell phones throughout the day.
  • Students use their personal phones to contact parents. We have had situations in which a parent calls and gives information about a situation which has not yet been reported to the office.
  • Students taking photos at school and posting them.
  • These are just some examples.

Our first thought was that we needed to “teach” our kids how to properly use their devices and to be responsible digital citizens. This venture became constant and got in the way of learning. “Please put your phone away, this is not an appropriate time to be using it.” Cell phones were still a major distraction for our students…and for our staff. They were getting in the way of learning. Yes, I know, many people say that a cell phone is a learning tool. That’s all well and good if that how kids are using them. A student may pick up their phone to use it as a learning tool but the temptation to check texts and social media is far too great. Plus the fact, we have devices in our school which students can use as learning tools…Chromebooks are great!

Earlier this year, we challenged our kids to have a cell phone free dance. The result…kids had fun, danced and interacted with each other. They didn’t seem to miss their devices one bit. In the past, students would attend dances and be on their phones the whole time. We have had many conversations about banning cell phones and, as a staff, we have read many articles about cell phones and their negative affect on student mental health. I had also talked to some of my Principal colleagues about cell phone free policies in their schools. Given all this, we knew what we had to do…

We made our school a cell phone free zone for students. When students come to school, they lock their phones away in their lockers. For the month of May, they can use their phones at lunch time but for the month of June (in preparation for exams), phones are locked away for the day. Our intention, is to carry on with the full day cell phone free zone next school year. This was our way of scaffolding the new policy into place. There are consequences for using a cell phone during school and it involves a 3-strike rule. (Strike 1 – phone stays in office for the day, Strike 2 – phone stays in office until parents pick it up, Strike 3 – student must check phone into office every day).

Of course, there were some students who were not impressed with this new policy. We explained that we were doing it, not to be mean, but to support their learning by removing distraction and temptation. We had about a dozen cell phones turned into the office the first week but since then the number has drastically decreased. As a staff, we agreed that we needed to all be on board with this policy and consistency was key to its success. We have noticed that students are more active and engaged during class and there are fewer situations of social media drama.

We remind students each morning to lockup their devices and they appreciate the reminder.

Our parent community has supported us on this initiative. When we brought it up at our Parent Council meeting, the comments were that this policy is “way over due.” Parents also stated, “Our kids are on their phones way too much, we’re glad you are taking a stand.”

That is how things are going thus far. I intend to write a follow-up post in a couple of weeks.

I see that many schools (and districts) are limiting cell phone use in classrooms. Here is a recent article from my neck of the woods.

https://www.sherwoodparknews.com/news/local-news/eips-to-ban-cellphone-use-from-the-classroom-for-the-coming-school-year

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#Geniushour Project Reflection

This post has been percolating for a little while. I thought that I would write a post so that I could organize my thoughts.

Last term, I undertook a #geniushour project by allowing my students to decide what they wanted to learn more about. This involved planning a final project which would act as an archive of the learning.

Here are some things that I learned through this (sometimes messy) process:

  • It is definitely not about the final project. Having the kids blog about their learning was key! For example, some students took on a green screen film project which, although funny and entertaining, did not turn out how they wanted it to. It was by reading the reflections that I gained insight into the student learning. Reading their blog posts has helped me to understand what my students are learning and what their struggles have been throughout the process.
  • Feedback is essential. I walk around the room and ask questions about the projects that the kids are working on. It is hard for me to give feedback without unintentionally guiding the direction of the project. Students keep asking me, “Is this what you want, Mr. Hatch?” I keep telling them that their project has nothing to do with me…it is about them and their learning. I also encourage students to solicit peer feedback – either in person or by comments on their blogs.
  • Kids are going to get stuck and they are going to fail and get frustrated. This is when it is important to support rather than bail them out. Ask questions…”What do you think you could do now?”, “Is there anything that I could do to help you?”, Is there anyone that you could ask?” It is important to keep the student from giving up. I just keep telling students that failure is learning. Write a blog post about what happened and what you intend to do.
  • Encourage your students to find mentors who can help them. Mentors can be fellow students, staff members, parents or other people in the school community. One of my students was watch a tutorial video on YouTube and ended up sending an email to the developer of the video asking questions – her questions were graciously answered and she was pointed to a place on-line where she could learn more.
  • You have to trust your students and the process. If you have offered the right amount of support, things will come together at the end of the term. If it doesn’t, the student still learned something and they should be encouraged to reflect on that learning.
  • Reflection is essential. For my class, I had them write blog posts so I could track their progress. I found that students were brutally honest in their posts. Here is a sample post that I was reading today from a student who is part of a group working on a role playing video game. I was bubbling with excitement for this student when I read the posts because the reflections previous to this one were about how his group was stuck and was not making very much progress.

Progress, so much progress. I don’t think we have ever been as efficient as we were today. Today, we finished off fixing up the controls and the physics. We had full control over our character and we could move him around a 3D plane. It was so trivial and yet it excited all of us so much. All the things we just look over when playing games, we can really appreciate now. It took a lot of work and it wasn’t with out compiler errors, but luckily we got through it. Not only did we finally get those pesky collisions that have been giving us so much trouble out of the way, but we also started working on the camera and finished that as well. We now have our camera working as it follows the player around. Yes, it sounds really trivial, but you have no idea how much work it actually took. I mean, can you tell me what “Vector 3 = 0. Mathf.SIGN” means, because before today I sure didn’t. Overall, I felt really accomplished after today. It feels good to see the outcome of your work doesn’t it. Next up, we have to work on making a model, so that our character doesn’t look like a square. I’m looking forward to that since making your own character is one of the most exciting parts. So, things are looking up for weeks to come.

Is this student engaged and motivated in his learning? Is this kid learning skills that will benefit him in his career choice?

I can’t believe it has taken me more than 25 years as a teacher to figure out this model for learning. It has been so powerful and it has been incredibly rewarding. My students blow me away every single week by the amount that they are learning and sharing. Don’t be afraid to give up control to your students and let them navigate their own learning.

 

Introduction of my #geniushour project

Genius1

This year, I am teaching a technology option class for ninth grade students. These students came to the class in early September and were eager to learn. In the past, they have learned about Photography and Animation. As a former Math teacher, I was a little confused about how to teach technology. As a technology leader, I have learned things by trial and error and by making mistakes. I thought about teaching the students to use Photoshop…but what if they could care less about that?

To make a long story shorter, I challenged my class to use their time to learn whatever they wanted. The only requirements that I placed on the students was that their project had to involve the use of technology. Sticking to the #geniushour philosophy, I also told students that their project had to:

  • be driven by a guiding question (eg. How do you create a green screen movie?)
  • involve a research component (eg. there is so many sources of information online)
  • their learning must be shared

Hmmm…how do I get my students to share their learning with, not only each other, but with the world?

Blogging

So that was my project…I started a class blog on Kidblog and I intend to have my students document and reflect on the learning that they will do for the next few months. By starting this blog site, I am not only giving my students a platform to share their learning, but I am also modelling the learning process in which I want them to become engaged.

Our school is an IB world school and our learner attribute for the month of September was Risktaking…ironic, isn’t it?

I will let you know how the projects are coming along.

Why Should You Use Remind?

remind3

I discovered Remind over 3 years ago through a fellow educator on Twitter. I tried Remind (at that time it was called Remind 101) and I was immediately impressed with the potential of this tool. I was teaching a class at the time and I had my kids test it for me. It was a great way to remind kids about upcoming exams and assignments and also remind them to bring certain materials to class. Kids today seem to always have their phones with them and text messaging is their number one way to communicate. I have tried many ways of getting information to students (daily announcements, emails, visual announcement (monitors in hallways), etc.) and I have determined that Remind is the BEST way for teachers to send announcements to their school communities.

As a high school administrator and technology leader, I shared the tool with my staff (and at district technology PD sessions) and the feedback that I received was amazingly positive.

As we get back to school, here is a list of reasons why you should use Remind:

1.       It is easy for students and parents (not to mention teachers) to sign up for a class. Just post or project the info for your class. It takes literally seconds for a teacher to create a class…and it takes even less time for students and parents to sign up. Once a student texts the information below, they are asked to send their name and that is the last time that they can write a text response to any of the teacher generated messages.

remind2.jpg

2.       Remind is great to remind kids about tests, assignments or anything else. I just finished sending a message to my Technology class…”Please remember to bring cameras to school for tomorrow’s class”.

3.       Remind works great for clubs and teams or any other groups that do not meet regularly. I used it for a Cross Country Running team that I was coaching and it was extremely valuable…it also prevented some major frost bite. I could send out messages like, “It looks like snow for the race tomorrow…make sure you dress WARM!” When we are at a XC meet and my athletes are separated, I can use the Remind app on my iPhone to let them know where to meet.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.50.31 PM

4.       Teachers can send messages using Remind and they do not share (or have access to) any personal information. No phone numbers are recorded. Teachers get a list of the members of their class based on what the student types in when they sign up.

5.       Remind can be used from your desktop or by using the app on your phone.

6.       Remind does not let you play favorites…when you send out a message it goes to EVERYONE who is signed up. Our Provincial Teachers’ Association reminds us that having personal text conversations with students is not a good idea.

7.       There are a few new features that are quite useful. Now, teachers can send attachments or record voice notes and send those out. Messages can also be scheduled…want to remind kids about a lunch time meeting? Write the message and schedule it to be sent out right before the lunch time bell.

8.       Remind keeps a history of every message that was sent by a teacher. From this archived list, a teacher can choose to tweet the message or send it again. When you are working with teenagers…they may need more than one reminder…as you are aware. Also new is a feature which allows students to “vote” on a message using the following icons:

remind1

I can see this being extremely useful for teachers. Send out a message to your Basketball team like, “Are you available for a tournament on November 8? Check mark for yes, X for no”

I would recommend that you try Remind for your student/parent groups. There is no better way to send out timely information.

I was so impressed by Remind that I dedicated one of the sections in my iTunes U course (https://itunesu.itunes.apple.com/audit/COH9A39P2C ) to it.

FrontRow – I applaud your customer service!

Juno-System-mittel

At school this week, our junior high French teacher was complaining that the brand new FrontRow Juno FM system which was installed in his classroom over the summer was not functioning correctly. The sound system is a necessary part of French class as it clarifies and amplifies the teacher’s voice so that he is easily understood by the students. On this particular unit, the microphones would not charge when they were plugged into the tower. As our school’s tech coach, I felt compelled to help with this situation. I spent a little bit of time online and I found the manual for the system. There were some troubleshooting tips in there but none of them seemed to solve my problem. I discovered that when I used a phone charger plugged into AC that the microphones would charge so I knew the problem had to be something with the tower. I phoned a former colleague at another school who has been using these systems for a few years…he had not experienced this problem before.

So…what now?

Here’s what I came up with:

juno1

It wasn’t too long before I received this:

juno2

I was impressed by FrontRow reaching out to me and including their Help department in the message. I sent back a message thanking them for their quick reply. Later on in the day, I had the following “conversation”:

juno3

Now that is what I call customer service! Quick and simple, but most importantly, effective. Now I know how to solve our problem and I didn’t have to sit on hold for an eternity. Great products are backed by great customer service.

Kudos to you, FrontRow!

 

 

 

Remind: a great way to send messages to your school group

remind3

I discovered Remind over 3 years ago through a fellow educator on Twitter. I tried Remind (at that time it was called Remind 101) and I was immediately impressed with the potential of this tool. I was teaching a class at the time and I had my kids test it for me. It was a great way to remind kids about upcoming exams and assignments and also remind them to bring certain materials to class. Kids today seem to always have their phones with them and text messaging is their number one way to communicate. I have tried many ways of getting information to students (daily announcements, emails, visual announcement (monitors in hallways), etc.) and I have determined that Remind is the BEST way for teachers to send announcements to their school communities. As a high school administrator and technology leader, I shared the tool with my staff (and at district technology PD sessions) and the feedback that I received was amazingly positive.

As we get back to school, here is a list of reasons why you should use Remind:

  1. It is easy for students and parents (not to mention teachers) to sign up for a class. Just post or project the info for your class. It takes literally seconds for a teacher to create a class…and it takes even less time for students and parents to sign up. Once a student texts the information below, they are asked to send their name and that is the last time that they can write a text response to any of the teacher generated messages.

remind

  1. Remind is great to remind kids about tests, assignments or anything else. I just finished sending a message to my Technology class…”Please remember to bring cameras to school for tomorrow’s class”.
  2. Remind works great for clubs and teams or any other groups that do not meet regularly. I used it for a Cross Country Running team that I was coaching and it was extremely valuable…it also prevented some major frost bite. I could send out messages like, “It looks like snow for the race tomorrow…make sure you dress WARM!” When we are at a XC meet and my athletes are separated, I can use the Remind app on my iPhone to let them know where to meet.
  3. Teachers can send messages using Remind and they do not share (or have access to) any personal information. No phone numbers are recorded. Teachers get a list of the members of their class based on what the student types in when they sign up.
  4. Remind can be used from your desktop or by using the app on your phone.
  5. Remind does not let you play favorites…when you send out a message it goes to EVERYONE who is signed up. Our Provincial Teachers’ Association reminds us that having personal text conversations with students is not a good idea.remind4
  6. There are a few new features that are quite useful. Now, teachers can send attachments or record voice notes and send those out. Messages can also be scheduled…want to remind kids about a lunch time meeting? Write the message and schedule it to be sent out right before the lunch time bell.
  7. Remind keeps a history of every message that was sent by a teacher. From this archived list, a teacher can choose to tweet the message or send it again. When you are working with teenagers…they may need more than one reminder…as you are aware. Also new is a feature which allows students to “vote” on a message using the following icons:.remind2I can see this being extremely useful for teachers. Send out a message to your Basketball team like, “Are you available for a tournament on November 8? Check mark for yes, X for no”

I would recommend that you try Remind for your student/parent groups. There is no better way to send out timely information. I was so impressed by Remind that I dedicated one of the sections in my iTunes U course to it.

If you have any other uses of Remind, please share them in the comments section below.