Yes, PLEASE Use Your Phone! I’ve Got This. :-)

Zach Editing Video on his Smartphone

This semester my students had to record, edit, and publish a video promoting positive choices for our local middle school. That assignment was complicated as student had to record in teams, but edit and publish individually. The team could use any recording device they wanted, but they had to figure out how to export the video off the chosen machine. From there one student from each group uploaded the group’s video to Google Drive. Next, each student had to download his or her own copy to edit. Upon completion, students needed to publish two versions in two different places, an HD version in Google Drive for the school district, and a smaller file for Taskstream, our portfolio collection tool. Sounds complicated, right? And that’s not even the editing process!

Those Smartphones are REALLY Powerful!

Most of my students were forced to use Windows Movie Maker because we don’t have any Macs in the lab. A few students students chose to bring in their own Macs so they could use iMovie. One or two used iMovie on one of our iPads. Basically, I will coach them through the process with whatever tool they select. One student, Zach, chose to download his group’s raw footage on his iPhone. He approached me to ask if that was okay with me. I asked if he had iMovie. He said he’d download it. I replied something like, “Heck yah, it’s okay!!” His final project can be seen here.

So off he went. He downloaded the movie onto his phone, imported it into an iMovie trailer, and began plugging in the details of his trailer. You know what’s comical? The software on his phone was by far more powerful than Movie Maker. Yeah, that’s right. His cellphone was a better option than our desktops.

I know having those devices in class drives some instructors crazy, but rather than ban or collect them, why not see if they’re useful? Smartphone technology provides you with a mini-lab right in your classroom, if you buy into an inquiry-based type of classroom. Your students can conduct research or demonstrate learned material on the spot. For example, during class discussions, if there’s a question I can’t answer, a student will quickly look it up online.

Immerse Yourself in Smartphone Technology

With that being said, instructors really do need to be well-versed on what apps might be useful in the classroom. While students are good at using their phones for texting, social media, and selfies, they aren’t well-versed in using their phones for academic gain. Even at that post-secondary level I see students with Smartphones that aren’t sure how to connect their school email, use “Okay Google,” or download any apps for productivity. Although most of my students had a Google account, almost none of them had Google Drive installed. Students themselves don’t necessarily see Smartphones as an educational tool yet. You’ll have to support them through those decision, but I promise, it’ll be a fruitful investment. There are probably a nice handful of applications that will enhance or support the course. Here’s a quick list of Android applications that I’ve used in the classroom:

  • Google Drive: This app allows mobile users to access Google Drive contents on their devices. It does take some practice to be acclimated, but students can be fairly fluid using Drive on a smartphone.
  • Google Earth: This app is great when looking at world locations. Most locations come with at least a few photos. Bigger cities will include multiple photos, street views, interior views, and links!
  • Google Maps: This app provides your students with a multitude of information when learning geography or culture, for example. Take a tour, calculate distance, or plan a trip!
  • Aurasma: This app is great for augmented reality. With just a few minutes of work, you can create virtual tours, scavenger hunts, and showcases.
  • Explain Everything: This app is great when students need to explain a concept. Sure, you can use it to make screencasts for your students, but what about asking students to create the screencasts?! Have them explain a concept, connect that concept, or present an argument.
  • Geocaching: This app allows your students the ability to find geocaches at interesting places right in your community. Geocaching provides opportunity for some great interdisciplinary lessons.
  • Socrative: This app is a handy formative assessment tool. Before your students head out of the classroom, create a quick “quiz” assessing what they learned that day. This information will guide you in your decisions for tomorrow’s class.

There are about 100 other apps to consider, but this list is a great start. If you don’t have a smartphone, borrow a tablet from your school (Nexus or iPad, for example), and start using them for fun. Just play!

Analyze First, Then Proceed

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s great, but what do you do when students are on them in class when they’re not supposed to be?” Well, several things run through my mind.

  • Maybe my lesson is boring or beneath their understanding.
  • Maybe my lesson isn’t boring, but I need to provide a brain break.
  • Maybe the distraction has little to do with my lesson, and the student is under personal stress.
  • Maybe the student isn’t passionate about becoming a teacher and feels disconnected as a result.

At the start of the year I talk to my students about cell phone use expectations, and I include verbiage in my syllabus. I am very clear, and yes, after careful consideration, I do address students in question. I handle these conversations in a variety of ways, but never ever with anger or accusation. I’ve always been an empathic listener, but a few years ago I decided to obtain training in “non-esclatory, tactical communication” from the Vistelar group. In other words, I learned how to keep my cool and support others through verbal crisis. This type of training has helped me support students through better decisions rather than be frustrated and just flat-out ban them. Assuming my lesson isn’t boring or off target and the student isn’t under personal stress or professionally detached from his or her career choice, I have done the following:

  • I’ve quietly asked the student, “Are you okay today? You seem a lot more distracted than usual.” Rather than verbally thrash the student, I’ve shown sincere concern. Open-ended questions provide a chance to survey the situation before I make decisions. In this example, I included a quick head nod to the device just so the student knows I have noticed. In most cases, the student understands my message and refocuses. Once in awhile, the student will return a furrowed brow and unload what’s bothering him or her. Very rarely does it have anything to do with class. As any decent person should, I listen with empathy and provide support.
  • I’ve addressed the issue with a joke. While I was talking, a fantastic student was watching funny Youtube videos in class. He was a go-getter in class that grasps content easily. The student behind him way quaking with giggles. I paused and said with a giant smile, “If you’re going to be on Youtube, at least tweet me the link!” Everyone chuckled. Billy said he was sorry, jumped off Youtube, and refocused. Within the hour Billy tweeted me the link and followed up with a sincere, written apology. The video was funny, by the way.

Hang Your Hat on the Five Communication Maxims

I’ve only had one instance where a student refused to make better choices with a Smartphone. The safety of others was in question, so I documented every offense and requested dismissal. Given the nature of the situation, there was little to discuss. No matter the situation, I still keep a cool head and know that part of my job is to guide them through these decisions.

As I handle sticky situations like this, I keep in mind the five maxims of human communication. They are the following:

  • Show dignity and respect — ALWAYS.
  • Ask, don’t tell.
  • Explain why I’m asking.
  • Provide options.
  • Offer second chances.

Of all my years, I can only think of one time where I could not redirect a student’s bad behavior his cell phone. I followed the five maxims to the letter, but we were in a loop that wasn’t going to end. Out of the hundreds of students I’ve guided, that’s the only one that I felt I couldn’t redirect. Follow the above principles sincerely, and you’ll rarely have conflicts turn ugly.

So, know this — It’s okay. Let students bring their Smartphones, but integrate them into class in a meaningful way. Also, prepare to analyze the situation by listening, and have a pre-planned, practiced response in mind for when students fall off course. It’s going to happen. It’s no big deal.

Yelling at Children

When someone picks at me repeatedly, I am fairly passive. At some point, though, I’m going to snap and stand up for myself.

That’s a luxury most children don’t have these days and even when they do, they lack the skills to properly verbally defend themselves.

Go to a grocery store after work some time and watch a parent berate their children. It’s painful. Kids just has to take verbal lashings, and we wonder why kids are so mean today. I’m not saying all parents are like this, but so many are.

Should we really be surprised when kids snap? I don’t think so. Many children are shuffled here and there, depending on parents’ work schedules. They’re told to do this and that with quick barks and demeaning language.

Have you ever witnessed parents treat their children with disrespect or indignity? Absolutely. Actually, I bet I’ve seen it every time I’ve gone to a large grocery store.

If I was verbally beaten like many children are today, eventually I’d snap. Who wouldn’t?

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not surprised children become bullies or turn to alternative coping mechanisms. The 5 Universal Truths need to be taught across the board — to every walk of life.