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! 🙂

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!

Embedding Google Earth files into a website

This thursday I had the privilege of attending the iEARN2010 conference. The organizer and co-lead of iEARN Canada is a colleague of mine Jim Carleton. He encouraged me to come and see what it was all about. I was of course, thoroughly impressed. The energy in the building was amazing. It reminded me of Educon, where educators and students were all together learning from each other. Those are pretty much the only two conferences i’ve attended to date with that energy.


Anyways, Peter Skillen (@peterskillen) and Brenda Sherry (@brendasherry) were running stations in the Minds On Media area. I’ve played on Google Earth before, but never really explored its full capabilities in education. I decided to lurk around Peters Google Earth lessons and pick up some tips. By the end I was presented with the challenge of finding a way to embed folders into a website, allowing an easy way to share with many.

It’s taken me 3 days (not straight) to figure it out. I might be slower than most, but I get there eventually! 🙂 Here we go.

1. In Google Earth create your folder of places or tour.
2. Export your folder as a .kmz file.
3. Upload your .kmz file onto your website. In my case I simply created a google site (free, took 3 minutes), added a “file cabinet” page and uploaded the file. Make sure you know the url link for your resource. In my case it was: https://sites.google.com/site/jaccalder/my/SCDSBSecondarySchools.kmz
4. Go to this page to set up the gadget and grab the code (you insert your url and fine tune settings)
5. Go to your webpage or blog and enter in the embed html code from the gadget.

This Google tutorial has great information and step by step directions.

See my previous post for an example. I simply created a Google Earth folder with the locations of all the Simcoe County District School Board schools and adult learning centres. I can see the potential for this if I had taken the time to include photos, videos, etc.


Using Facebook powers for good not evil…

Our Student’s Council has had a Facebook group for a couple years. It is used mainly for and by the students to share information about events. The SC advisor became an administrator on the group so he could remove anything inappropriate. Only one comment has had to be removed and it was because it contained an inappropriate word (while commenting on how F&$*’N awesome an event was).

This year a teacher created a “PSS Class of 2014” to post photos from our Grade 8 fun days. As Student Success teacher I was made an administrator for the group. At first I was highly uncomfortable with this. I was a little paranoid and kept checking my profile as someone who wasn’t “friended” to ensure nothing could be seen. It wasn’t what I said that worried me, but what my adult friends say! What a turn around! 🙂

I used the group to promote transition activities and events. We got good turnout. Over 2/3 of our incoming Grade 9 group has joined. We have had nothing but supportive, positive comments on the page. Kids asking students from other elementary schools to “friend them”. Or, asking for “Julie, who I met during the tug-of-war game” to friend them.

On the last day of school I got my first FB message from an incoming grade 9. I’ve had FB messages from a few Student Council students usually about getting help on a project they are doing, but this was the first from a student I didn’t know personally yet. The student had questions about their timetable and how to understand part of it. Then came the message about our summer transition program. Then the one about volunteer hours. And lockers. All of a sudden when Grade 8 officially finished these students started thinking about high school as a reality and had questions they didn’t ask in front of their 30 peers when I was in class with them. As an administrator on the Facebook page, I was accessible. My principal and I are incredibly impressed with this great use as a transition strategy for our incoming Grade 9’s. We are being very careful and keeping a close eye on the page, but are very happy to date.

My one question is – is it better to use my personal FB profile and not “friend” any students (which I don’t, I always explain that I can’t until they are done school for a bit), or to create a teacher Facebook profile, put a few pictures of my dog and family members on there, update it periodically and friend parents and students. Is this the way to connect with students? Or, do I really want the responsibility of knowing what they put on their profiles? Because, it’s not just for my own protection that I ask this question. Even if my Facebook profile was my “teacher” and appropriate personality, I could in theory access the profiles of any student who “friended” me. Seeing the pictures they post from parties would be the downside. On the plus side, I’d certainly know who to support as a Student Success teacher. For example, a few years back we had the unfortunately tragedy of a suicide within our school community. I joined the supporting Facebook group and began to notice who was really struggling. We ensured they were personally invited to counselling services.

Any input? As educators we have three options.
#1 – avoid Facebook
#2 – keep one, personal profile and avoid friending students and parents
#3 – keep two profiles, one personal and one professional

I’m torn between the benefits of connecting with students through this media and how beneficial it has been for me in my Student Success teacher role, and the hazards. With this group of incoming grade 9’s we are making a concerted effort to focus on digital literacy and citizenship. I believe that by seeing me on Facebook, modelling appropriate behaviour and communication it helps teach this. In this theory, I should be able to friend them with my personal profile, if I really had nothing to hide. I’m not ready for this, not sure I ever would be. I personally need to maintain my level of professionalism at all times and youngsters at 13 years old often misinterpret adult humor. So, i’m back to my three options above. Your thoughts?

Relationships in the Classroom

A few years back I heard Dr. Russell Bishop speak in Simcoe County. Coming across this video of him has got me wired for sound again. 🙂

He has done research in New Zealand around Maori education. In New Zealand, educators face a similar situation as we do here. We are failing our First Nations population when it comes to our responsibility to educate all. There is a major achievement gap between First Nations and non-First Nations students. Dr. Bishop has come to the conclusion that a big part of success for Maori students is the relationships in the classrooms. I would assume (without any research of the sort – yet) that the same thing is true for our First Nations, Metis and Inuit students in Ontario. How wonderfully empowering is that for a teacher? All those times we’ve thrown our hands in the air saying “if only I could do something”, expressing that feeling of hopelessness which often turns into frustration. Well, it looks as if there just might be…

The reason I am so fascinated with Dr. Bishops work is that he’s actually found a way to work with educators to improve these relationships. That is amazing to me. I’ve helped colleagues and other educators work on specific skills (using technology, using math manipulatives, assessment techniques, rich tasks), but to work with teachers on something so personal is intimidating. My weak understanding of what he does (which may be wrong) is to create PLC within the schools and send in trained facilitators. What I wouldn’t give to be able to attend the training for one of these facilitators! I am unaware of any place in Ontario that is working with teachers to improve the relationships with students in the classroom. Please, please correct me if I’m wrong, I’d love to know of places that are focusing on this.
I would like to extend my thought one step further – that this building of relationships between teacher and students would also improve the success of students at-risk (whether they are of an Aboriginal background or not). They do not relate to the school culture. The one where reading and writing well are what get recognized. The one where you learn while sitting in a desk. So, if we cannot change everything about the educational system quickly enough, maybe we could at least focus on these teacher-student relationships to help improve access to education for many struggling students.
Now, if only I knew HOW to develop the ability to build these relationships… 🙂

One method of differentiating PD – Twiducate to facilitate a back channel conversation

This year I was asked to walk a group of 60 educators and administrators through the steps to using our new “student success database”. The goal of the day was to have school-based teams collaborate on how to best use this tool to improve student success, including some actual planning. Some participants had already attended sessions on the mechanics of the database, others had never heard of it before. It was an extremely varied group. We wanted to encourage the discussion that resulted in having some experts in each team at the table and so were hesitant to split the group up based on experience. We also wanted to respect the “experts” time and allow them to move their own learning forward. However, we needed the large room to be quiet enough for those who had never seen the program before to follow along.

To differentiate for the group I decided to provide an “official” back channel conversation for the group. This is something anyone reading this post likely does naturally during most sessions you attend.

The dilemma was that many participants were not over technologically savvy, nor did they use twitter. To ensure everyone felt comfortable and confident, I searched for the easiest way to set up a conversation. I stumbled upon twiducate.com. We decided that it worked because I could set up accounts for participants ahead of time and it was as simple as login and post comments.

After running into the common problem of blocking (anyone in the group who was on the guest network, not on the admin network was blocked), we got it going. I walked the group through using the database, while I heard the clicking of keyboards followed by giggles and snickers around the room.

The risks I took in having this conversation that I couldn’t follow easily were far less than the benefits. Everyone in the room was engaged. For the first time (I’ve ever witnessed) a certain Vice-Principal (friend) put down her blackberry and wasn’t texting jokes to someone at another table. 🙂 They were making comments about how they would use the database in their school, what improvements they would like to see and concerns they had. Of course, there was the required post about when drinks would be served and picking on one good-natured VP. Ultimately, it got us where we wanted to go with smiles.

And the added bonus? “What was that website?”, “Could you show me how to use that with a class?”, “Would you come and show my teachers how to do that?”, “That would be really cool in a XXXX class”, “What a neat site!”. 🙂

We demonstrated something new to some educators.

Twiducate served its purpose well in creating a place to chat for relative “newbies”. I think it is a good alternative when your entire group doesn’t use twitter, and they have laptops with them.

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