How should a school share their homework assignments with students?

I have used various ways of sharing homework with students, but our school has every teacher using a different method and it is very difficult for kids and parents to keep track of it all.  I have made a video of why I think Google Calendar through Google Sites is a great way to share homework information .  I am using this video to try to convince my middle school to move to this method.

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Music In Classrooms

I am curious as to what other schools’ policies are regarding music in classrooms.  Our school does not allow kids to put headphones on and listen to their own music, but teachers can play music on speakers to the whole class.  Given that we are now a one-to-one classroom, doesn’t ity make sense to allow kids to use their own music in certain situations?  As our school has begun to embrace technology, I feel there is a need to change the rule regarding technology.  Just as teachers allow their students to use their laptops as a tool for learning, I would also like to let teachers decide when they can allow students to listen to music.  While there are some problems with laptops with kids using them inappropriately, we still find that laptops are great tools for learning and the pros of allowing this technology far outweigh the cons.  I believe the same is true for the use of headphones.

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We already allow the students to use headphones to listen to academic material with audio content and the rule change would only add the listening of music to that list of legal uses of the technology.  While I understand that students may ask or beg us to use music during times that are inappropriate or times that are not ideal, we would use those as teaching moments to explain to them when is an appropriate time to listen to music while working.

There is much research out there that shows that listening to music while working helps many students to focus and get more and better quality work done.  Music is particularly effective for kids with ADHD and it also helps keep those kids from distracting the rest of the class.  While no one is saying that we should always let kids listen to music, let’s put the control of this tool back into the hands of the teacher to make the best decision for the situation of the class.

While not all students should use this technology, it is important for them to learn when and where they should and should not use music as well as what type of music they should be using (like music with no words).   As teachers we can help them figure that out pretty quickly.

I have been very frustrated that one of my Math 8 classes (our lowest level math students in grade 8) which has a heavy concentration of impulsive ADHD kids, who could easily be managed better with music.  As it is, these highly distracted kids hear any noise or cough and automatically comment on the sound and then everyone feels they need to comment on that comment, etc.  I spend a considerable amount of energy telling kids to be quiet when it would be so much easier for them to focus on individual math practice if they were with headphones on and with less distraction.  While one could argue that listening to music is distracting and that we can’t multitask, there is no way that it could be a worst distraction than these highly impulsive students are already to themselves and to others.

There are many times that it would be improper to use headphones in the classroom, like when students are working in collaborative groups.  However, the right to use music as a tool to help students avoid distraction should be given to the teacher of the classroom.

Some questions that could be raised:

1. How can we be sure students are listening to appropriate music, (baroque / without lyrics…)?

First we need to teach them why.  I don’t think you can monitor this 100%, but if kids can’t get work done, we take the privilege away from those who cannot use it well.  Its a teachable moment.

2. Why is it better for an individual to plug into earbuds rather than play music for the whole class?

Some students do not focus better with music.  The goal isn’t to make everyone face the same environment, but to create the best environment for each kid.

3. What happens when the buzz of someone else’s ear buds is distracting to the point where another student is “forced” to put on their own headphones to tune it out?

If a teacher can hear it, it is too loud.  If they repeat the problem, they lose the privilege.

4. How can we support teachers who don’t want to allow any individual music listening in their classrooms yet don’t want the label of being a hard-nosed, unreasonable teacher?

We must educate the kids about when it is appropriate to be using music to help focus and when it is distracting, and use it as a tool only for those appropriate situations.  All of us should eventually come to realize what is a good use of music (maybe we can see for what purposes the research recommends and have a meeting where we discuss what types of situations it is good for.)   We can educate students if we are also educated about good practice.

5. related question: How can we make sure kids don’t constantly pester us about plugging into music?

Let it be known that kids who consistently ask for music at inappropriate times will lose their privileges to listen to music when it is appropriate.  Educate them about when it is appropriate or even make a poster of it on our class wall.

So what are the rules regarding music in the classrooms at your school and how is that working?


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Be The Student

One of the best parts of taking the Coetail course is getting to see things again through the eyes of a student.  One of the things that always bothered me about assessments is after spending so much time giving kids guidance on the requirements on a particular assessment, many of them often don’t follow directions very well and miss important aspects of the assignment.

At least, those aspects are important to me.  One of the things I have begun to realize, however, is that students often get caught up in their own world, especially when writing, which in many ways can be a good thing.  When I wrote up the script for my final project, I had gone through the list of requirements beforehand and had a good sense of a majority of the important requirements as I wrote the script.  However, I did not check back to the list until I was pretty close to the end.  I got very carried away on what was important to me and what I wanted to say, which to me were the important parts about the assignment.  I left off the list of content that my kids were supposed to learn and the list of technology used, which I thought were kind of minor points.  Just before publishing, I quickly added those on, but I did not give them the importance that I gave to many of the other requirements.  Completing an assignment as a student reminds me that the priorities of a student and a teacher are not always exactly the same, but there should always be some overlap if the student is going to get invested in the project.

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Role Playing Tools For Social Studies

As some of you may have read in one of my previous posts about Facebook, I attempted to use Facebook for some role-paying activities for my 8th grade students when studying the American Revolution.  When we got it working, it worked really well, the kids loved it, and they were really learning, but Facebook’s algorithms were too good for us and we eventually got shut down.  What I wanted to do was have kids play characters from the revolution like George Washington or Abigail Adams and they really got into it because most of them were already Facebook familiar and knew its potential.   Without me saying anything, the Patriots formed a group together and people who were really married like John and Abigail Adams, declared themselves married.  While it is not illegal, it is against Facebook policy to use their website for role-playing.  They only allow you to join as real people and they make you enter a cell phone # for authenticity if their algorithm catches you in some kinds of “suspicious” activity like naming yourself a famous name like George Washington.

We looked into using Edmodo, which is similar to Facebook, but has cut off some of the fun aspects of Facebook like being able to marry and declare other relationships that would have made this assignment more interesting.  Twitter does let you create role-playing accounts if you declare them fake like “Fake George Washington” and this is certainly a good option to use since some kids are starting to get into Twitter.  I used Google Chat, but that uses your real name so it was difficult to role play.  Myspace was looked into as well, but it is much more music oriented than any of the social media sites so would not have been appropriate for this assignment.  Then I used a website called Today’s Meet, which was fast and so simple to get going.  All you do is create a room and then send your students the URL and they can join under the name of the character they want to use.  The only drawback is when you get strange characters like Spiderman joining your conversation when students decide to get funny.  It was not all that bad, though, since King George III sentenced Spiderman to death.  Today’s Meet is a great option if you want to get going quickly and just form a conversation, although it does not allow for forming relationships or developing a character with any kind of portfolio. You can also go to the transcript which puts the conversation in chronological order and you can cut and paste that into notes to be shared to the class.


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Hand in Your Homework

Before the digital days my students turned in their work by handing me the paper that the assignment was written on.  Once computers were introduced, students wrote papers on their computers and then printed out the papers to hand in to class.  While the computer certainly eliminated the work of having to rewrite multiple drafts, it decreased the amount of papers turned in on time.  Many students did not have printers at home and therefore waited to print them at school where many of them forgot to print before class.  Now I collect most of the work digitally.  Sometimes I ask them to email me their work, share it to me on a Google Doc or post it on their blogs.  Now that they do not have to print out the assignment it should be easier to turn in their assignments and yet I am finding that more of my students than ever before are not taking that last step to share their assignments with me.  I am amazed at the number of students who take all of the time to make an incredible video, just leave that video in iMovie sitting there for no one to see.  If they do post it to Youtube, then they forget to embed it on the blog.  It seems that it is very easy for students to lose track of the final step of “handing it in” when one of those steps like sharing on Youtube takes a little time.  They immediately go on to another task or distraction and then forget that last step of embedding the video. 

My only solution is to use class time to do this, since this problem is so frequent that I feel like I must be asking them to do something that is just not in their nature.  When one or two kids have an issue, I can blame the kids, but when the problem is so pervasive, then I feel like I should be blaming myself for asking them to do something that goes against their nature.  I give a detailed checklist for them to follow but inevitably many of them lose focus somewhere in the last steps.  I don’t mind having them complete these tasks in class, but then I am inevitably wasting the time of those who were more diligent with getting their work in on time.  As a policy we don’t take points off for late work at ASIJ, so I could make them stay after school or come finish their work during lunch break, but I don’t really think their problem is attitude so much as attention.  Does anyone have any ideas to help solve this problem?

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Facebook for Social Studies

I was getting really psyched to use Facebook for a new idea to help kids get motivated to learn about the American Revolution.  We had new email addresses for them to sign up on Facebook and then we were going to have them sign up as characters of the American Revolution like George Washington, King George III, and Abigail Adams.  Then I would be the Boston Gazette and I would share a news story such as the Battle Of Lexington and Concord or the publishing of “Common Sense”.  They would then put comments in or even upload images of the event using the voice of the character that they chose.  This would have given them more purpose to learning since this is a medium that is familiar and enjoyable to them.  

Unfortunately, I was asked for a cell phone number to back up my identity and not all of our students have cell phones.  This must be a new policy by Facebook.  I have to admit that I know that what I was trying to do was against Facebook policy, but that does not make it wrong or even illegal, but I guess Facebook successfully blocked us from using their platform with the little cell phone authentication trick.  It looks like we will have to use Edmodo, but I know the kids will see this as an educational tool and will not be into it as much as they would have been with Facebook.  Sometimes it feels like we are so close to a great idea to use in the classroom, but one little technological detail keeps us from making it happen.  I’ll have to keep that idea in mind in the future as technology changes.

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Unit Overhaul

Since I tend to learn on a need to know basis, I did not look too far ahead to what I was going to do for course 5.  It just occurred to me that I had completely overhauled the current unit that my students are working on.  I had always taught my students the three branches of the U.S. government with Powerpoints and lectures as well as giving them several videos to help them with their understanding.  Then my students had quizzes on the three branches of government.  That was the first part.  Then we would show them different films like Food,Inc., that argues that the balance of power in the government was not very balanced and that either one branch had the lion’s share of the power or some group outside of government had most of the power.  The students would then write an essay where they chose an issue and they showed how either the power in the government was well balanced or how one branch or outside group had the most power.

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I love this unit and I can’t see us ever wanting to move away from the content and thought process that the kids go through.  However, this year we significantly changed both the media for presenting the information to the kids and the media that the kids use to present the information.

The most time consuming changes that we made were making videos on the Constitution, the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch of the government.  The kids really liked to have all of the information on video where they could watch it several times and access the information when they needed it, not just by taking notes on my lecture in class.  If they missed something in the lecture, it was gone and they would have to look it up on their own, but they might never even had known that they missed it in the first place.

The other changes were not much work for us as teachers, but required significantly more work for the kids.   We still had kids take the quizzes on the different branches of the government and we also made Quizlets to help them prepare for those.  But then we had them create a video teaching people about the jobs of the three branches, how they had power over each other and how they were supposed to balance out each others’ powers.  Then we showed them the same videos but only the parts that really had to do with power.  We gave the kids guiding questions for each video and they collaboratively took notes in small groups on Google Docs to keep them focused.  They still are going to write that essay, but now they are recording an audio track of the essay and then incorporating images to make the essay a video.  In other words, the essay has become a digital story.

So I don’t know if this counts as my project for course 5, but it certainly sounds like what I was supposed to do for one of my units.  Course 5 will be happening during our next unit which is a debate about free speech or the death penalty and I am going to keep that unit low tech since I want kids to be able to have a live debate of the issues.  There is no lecture, only readings, research and writing and I don’t want to overdo the digital storytelling.  Besides, the kids absolutely love the live debate as they are natural born arguers.

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Rethinking Motivation

Last year when I watched a video of Daniel Pink’s Drive, it was one of those moments that finally crystalized much of how I suspected that education needed to be changed.  (By the way, this is a fun way of watching that video.)  It took me quite a few years from my degree in economics to realize how people are really motivated but as a teacher I should have seen it earlier if I had not been brainwashed differently and had I not been teaching high school students who had also been brought up with the same brainwashing.

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The whole notion of grades is just a shameful practice of ours that we need to get rid of.  Its the wrong kind of motivation for judging kids on what they have learned from our shameful methods of teaching.  Kids are so very motivated by having some say in their education (autonomy), by the desire to really understand something (mastery) and by doing things that will affect the world around them (purpose).

A couple of years ago I developed the final unit for 8th grade social studies where students would find a cause that they were passionate about and would give a short speech to try to convince their classmates and others (the videos were posted on Youtube) to join their cause.  This link shows you an example from two years ago before we added images and before our school became concerned with privacy and lowered public access to these videos.  After my colleague, Dr. Justin Jacobson, had me watch this Daniel Pink video, it finally came together for me why this kind of assignment was so successful.  Last year we also allowed the kids to do the assignment with no grade attached to it and I really felt the overall quality of the performances actually improved when we removed the grade.  We have been taught some funny things about motivation our whole lives and I am glad that Daniel Pink has smacked us in the face to help us begin to make those needed changes.  If his research is right, why are we so slow to move on this?

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Digital Puppet Show : Can You Give Me Some Advice?

I have been looking for a while for another way of creating a digital story and am I looking for some help finding a way to make a digital puppet show.  I don’t want a fancy animation that takes a ton of time and I don’t want to make them use a camera or other equipment besides their computer.   More equipment is often hard to find and just makes another piece of equipment that has to be in synch with the right software, computer, etc.  I have embedded a video where I use Keynote, but I don’t like the arrow showing up and I am wondering if there might be a better free software out there or something online.  Ultimately it would be cool to have several kids with different images (puppets) that they could control and make them interact.  Any suggestions?

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Too Flippin’ Early To Flip Off The Flipped Classroom

This year we have been giving a good effort to create videos that teach much of the content that we want our kids to know.  We don’t like spending much time lecturing the kids and we would rather have the kids spending their time in the classroom creating rather than absorbing so the flipped classroom seemed like a good way to do that.  The thing is, though, even though I give homework, I’m not a big fan of it and I would like to eliminate as much of it as possible.

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One of the great things about presenting content on a video is that kids can replay things that need to spend more time with and then maybe catch something they did not get the first time. In Five Reasons I’m Not Flipping Over The Flipped Classroom, one of the main criticisms of the flipped classroom is that we are still trying to get all of our kids to “get” the same content even when they are not developmentally ready for it.  I think the problem is that we are going to be assessing kids with equal and fair assessments and then judging their success with grades.  I have no problem showing all of my kids the same video, but I should not expect all of my kids to get the same thing out of it.  Some kids will need a few times to watch it and some kids can even fast-forward over parts they already understand, but by judging them with a grade that shows how they compare to their peers, we are bound to discourage some kids who are not at the same developmental level yet.  The problem is not necessarily that we are giving them all the same content but that when we give them a grade for an assessment, the kids feel judged.  I would much rather give them feedback on what they did well and what they could improve on the next time, so they see value in what they have learned and also know that they can always get better.  While I haven’t yet been able to get rid of grades in our school (but I am working on that), I do like having videos to help give kids some visual images to help them understand and remember concepts better.  However, the flipped classroom means having the kids watch the videos at home and I like to have them watch the videos in class sometimes as well.  I would like to take away homework wherever I can and the flipped classroom inherently means that we should be sending them with something to do at home.  I agree that it is better for the kids to be doing the actual creating in the classroom and not so much at home, but I am not so sure that having them learn the content at home is a great use of their time.  Wouldn’t it be cool for the kids if their homework time would be to create things that they are interested in using the skills that we have taught them at school as well as what they have learned on their own?  What if it became home-play instead of homework?  Or am I just dreaming?

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