iPods in class? iThink so!

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

Books, or eBooks? Image by Jorghex via Wikipedia

In this technological age, should personal electronic devices (iPods, tablet computers, cell phones) be allowed in class? This is one of the most hotly debated questions in Education, with arguments for and against flying back and forth across classrooms and through districts and homes all across America.

There are many excellent reasons not to allow them. Chief among these is the distraction they cause. There is also the potential for cheating, cyber bullying, and accessing inappropriate content during school hours. If there is a way to misuse technology, your average middle-schooler will find it in 2.6 seconds flat.

Despite all these problems, issues, and concerns with allowing personal electronic devices in the classroom, my answer is:

YES!

I admit, at first I only toyed with the idea of allowing kids to use their tech devices. For the last couple of years, I’ve gone on a case-by-case basis, with the approval of the administration. However, I have decided that, in my opinion, it is definitely worth letting the kids use their own personal tech items in class.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. I have one student using her Kindle during silent reading time.  If she doesn’t understand a word, she can use the built-in dictionary and thesaurus, which are literally right at her fingertips.
  2. Another student brings his iPod Touch to school. He uses it for our immigration unit.  He is able to use the school’s Wifi connection to access correct, and current, information about the European country he is studying. This information is much more relevant, useful, and interesting than the information printed in the set of 1993 Encyclopedias which are  gathering dust on the shelf. (Honestly, have any of us looked at an Encyclopedia in book form recently?)
  3. Several of my kids have “regular” (non-internet-capable) cell phones. These kids don’t take them out of their backpacks at all during class, but they do have them. Families give their kids cell phones for a reason: COMMUNICATION and SECURITY. Being a parent myself, I get it. As a teacher, I also get it, especially after this week’s school shooting. I know many people would probably be irritated by my position. However, emergencies and accidents can happen anywhere. Few of us go anywhere without our cell phones; we carry them “just in case”. Why shouldn’t our kids have the same protection?

These reasons are just three quick examples of how Tech devices are helpful at school and in the classroom. I suppose if I had access to 25 laptops, one for each of my kids, that personal devices might not be so important. Sadly, that isn’t the case, so we make do. We improvise.

iPod Touch in the Classroom - photo by Sheryl Cababa

iPod Touch in the Classroom - photo by Sheryl Cababa

This is the year 2012, and let’s face it, the cliché is right. It’s a whole new world out there. Technology is just going to become more and more affordable and, therefore, accessible; that means more children will be getting their own personal devices as well. In this constantly changing, fast-paced society, I don’t think it’s too extreme to say that our children will need technology to get along and get things done.

Please note that I’m not saying that kids should be glued to technology 24/7.  They definitely need to learn how to use it wisely and appropriately.

Can tech be abused? Absolutely. But to not use technology at all would be the worst abuse possible, in my opinion.

Some teachers who disagree with using personal tech devices in class are perhaps afraid of the technology themselves?  I am by no means tech-savy, in my personal life or in teaching, but I’m learning. My students already know more than me about iPhones, apps, or tablet computers and readers. However, I look at it like this: good for them! Maybe they can teach me. If we teach them to use it properly in return, it becomes an excellent tool for their education, and not a time suck, a distraction, or an annoyance.

New teachers, fresh out of college, have never known a world, educational or otherwise, that didn’t have technology in it. I imagine that, for them, using technology is as instinctive and natural to them as breathing. My daughter jokes that every Kindle, Nook, Galaxy or iPad should come equipped with a middle schooler to teach the adults how to use it. And she’s right.

We adults, particularly those of us who grew up totally without computers and cellphones (let alone the internet) probably drive them completely crazy by insisting they do their work without it. No student I have ever known has turned up his or her nose at the opportunity to use any kind of technology. In fact, it is the opposite: they always welcome it. It makes work easier, faster, more accurate. Why wouldn’t they, or we, want to use technology if we could?

What do you think? Should we actively encourage or discourage the use of technology, personal or otherwise, in the classroom?

iTouch the Future, because iDon’t Stop Believin’ and iAlways TeachLikeCrazy!

The Benefits of Class Mascots

Bob and Erma - snapshot by Kent Chapman

Bob and Erma - snapshot by Kent Chapman

One of the fun things I like to do in my class is use random names when I teach. One of my favorite names to use is BOB.

For example, when we’re working on math, I might explain that Bob has 6 triangles that are all the same size, and then I’ll ask the kids how many different sized triangles can Bob make from them.

Of course, there was no rhyme or reason to the name; it was just the first one to come off the top of my head. However, soon Bob was making daily appearances in class, particularly during math.

When my wife and I moved from Sacramento to Maine in 1995, my class got me a going-away present: a Mr. Potato Head. But he was a little different; he had “BOB” written in black sharpie across his hat. I was happy with the gift, but had no clue how central he would eventually become to my class. I simply packed him up along with all my other teaching stuff, and took him to Maine with me.

My new 4th grade class in Maine was delighted with Bob, and readily adopted him as their new classroom buddy. He took his place proudly on my teacher desk, and continued to feature prominently in my class lessons.

When picture day arrived, one of my students asked if I was going to take Bob with us for the class picture. I hadn’t really planned on it, but I thought it was a great idea. When we were called down for our turn, each of us had our pictures taken, including Bob. Those photos were then compiled into one overall class photo.

That was the true beginning of Bob becoming my class mascot and icon.

It wasn’t long before we started to go a little nuts with Bob. He went everywhere with us. He went to school assemblies, Friday sing-a-longs, and even on class field trips (although he stayed behind on the bus, to protect the kids’ belongings).

Then I got an idea. Bob should visit the kids at home! I started a “Bob photo album” which the kids would add to after a home visit. As I mentioned in my earlier post, every teacher should find what makes their class “tick”. Bob was that for my first class in Maine. There he was, a small brown piece of plastic with body parts, yet he would help make our year full of fun and laughter.

I was lucky enough to loop up to the next grade with my class the next year. Of course, Bob looped right along with us. Just after the beginning of the new school year, the class surprised me with a Mrs. Potato Head, whom we quickly gave a name via a class vote. “Erma” would be her name, and as you might guess in a class full of fifth graders, she and Bob immediately fell in love. In fact you might say it was true love as soon as they laid eyes on each other.

Potato eyes, that is.

By Christmas vacation, they were engaged, and a class project–based on geography  and math–was to plan their honeymoon. The kids had a great time with the assignment, never really thinking of it as “work”. Bob and Erma made sure of that.

At the end of the year, Bob and Erma were married in a grand ceremony. And when I say “married”, I mean that they literally had a complete wedding. One parent made the cake. A student, Conor, played the wedding march on a keyboard. We even had a flower girl, ring bearer, groomsmen, and bridesmaids, all members of the class of course. To this day, I have a wedding album that I keep in my desk and share every year. This year will be their 15th wedding anniversary.

Class mascots can quickly give your room a sense of character and responsibility. They’re also a lot of fun! Whether it’s a live rat, a guinea pig, or a plastic potato with a silly grin, your mascot can become an incredibly rich part of the students’ year.

Include your mascot whenever and wherever you can.  Make up a worksheet that features your mascot in the assignment. These days, you’re likely to find Bob and Erma hanging out on my desk, or visiting a student for “study buddy” time. Over the summer, it’s Bob who writes a letter of introduction to the incoming class–not me.

If you don’t have a class mascot, I strongly recommend you consider getting one. You might want to brainstorm with your class what your mascot could be. Perhaps you might want to create one, using wood, papier-mâché, or cardboard. You might even already have something in your class that the kids have taken a liking to, like a stuffed animal or a plastic frog. Anything will work, really. Give it a name, and voilà–I guarantee that it will take on a personality, and a life, of its own.

Better yet, it’s something the kids will remember forever.

Until next time…

Don’t Stop Believin’, and TeachLikeCrazy!

Bonding with your Class: Don’t Stop Believin’!

This song used to remind me of high school. Now…

Every time I hear the song “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey,  I think about the 5th/6th grade class I taught two years ago in Redding, California.  Every year, I make it my goal to find a fun and lighthearted way to bond with my class.  I try to find an inside joke, a story, something from pop culture, a book, or anything else that will help unite my students and me.   Two years ago, it would be a song that would identify our class. It started out as our theme song, but soon it became our mantra. Read the rest of this entry

A Message from the Test Monster…

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

Image by Onderwijsgek via Wikipedia

I’d like to introduce myself.

I am a creature right there in your educational system which excels at scaring your students.  20 years ago, I was alive but in hiding, waiting for the right moment to leap out and snatch the fun right of teachers’ hard-working hands.

I am the Test Monster.

Read the rest of this entry

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