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Fighting the Fright of BYOT

on October 31, 2012

Fighting the Fright of BYOT

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to step into my old shoes as a Physical Science teacher.  I wanted to give this BYOT thing a try for myself.  After all, it’s one thing to be the idea person, but it’s another to actually put those ideas into action.  My goal was to see how difficult BYOT could be and hopefully discredit a lot of the fear teachers have about bringing BYOT in their own classrooms.  The most common fears include:

  • students won’t learn the information as well if it isn’t directly taught by the teacher
  • there will be more classroom management problems
  • there aren’t enough students who have devices in their class
  • they don’t have time to plan for BYOT
  • the students can’t handle it or don’t deserve to use it

Planning for my BYOT lessons

Last weekend I spent about an hour planning for the week. This time was a little less than what it might have really taken because the teacher shared some of her resources she was using with her other classes that weren’t using BYOT.  In addition, I gathered a few more resources and posted them to a wiki and in Edmodo so students could go back and view them on an as needed basis.

I sketched out four days of instruction—two for learning about work and two for learning about simple machines, the same timeframe the teacher was using with her other classes that were not using BYOT.

Getting Started

As 3rd period approached last Tuesday I became a nervous.  It hadn’t been all that long since I had taught, but I was anxious to see how this would really work.  Would my ideas work as well as I had planned or would the eighth grade students find a way to hijack my lesson and prove that all they want to do with their devices is text and listen to music?

As they came into the room and got settled they got out their devices and entered into the Socrative pretest.  Before beginning, I took a few minutes to share my expectations for how they were expected to learn—collaboratively, creatively, using critical thinking skills, and as clear communicators.  The rest of the class period students worked in group to “take notes” in a student centered approach.  I used two slides from the PowerPoint to drive instruction and asked a series of questions that they worked in groups to answer and share using Socrative.  At one point, after many of the groups had submitted several correct answers (without being told the information by the teacher,) the teacher looked at me and said, “They really don’t need me.” I smiled, laughed, and agreed.  They didn’t need her to tell them the right answers because when allowed to work together and when asked the right questions, they were able to figure it out themselves.

The following day, students were allowed to choose their groups and were given a checklist that included the concepts they needed to show they understood (five key concepts from the previous day.)  They were given 15-20 minutes to brainstorm and write scripts then had the rest of the class period to create a product of their choice.  Students quickly found apps they liked to use—stop motion and video were the two popular ones.  I’ll let their products speak for themselves–some of them can be found at the Physical Science Wiki I used to house links and class documents. (Other files that were too large for the wiki are saved in the W drive.)

Final Thoughts

It would be great if I could leave it at that—claiming that the lessons were flawless and perfect, but I can’t because day three and four didn’t go as well as the first two days. Why? Not because the students weren’t willing, but because I expected too much too quickly and the lesson didn’t provide enough scaffolding and guidance for the students.  Additionally, the website we were going to use primarily for our research wasn’t working.  That being said, students did complete some research and were able to learn the required information.  What didn’t happen was the creation of the final product like I had hoped.

So, what did I take from my four days back in the classroom trying BYOT for myself?  That list of “fears” isn’t anything but a list of myths.

Myth #1: Students won’t learn the information as well if it isn’t directly taught by the teacher

Fact: Students learned the information just as well, if not better, than their counterparts that were taught the same content through direct instruction and worksheets.  The difference, the students engaged in the BYOT unit did more thoughtful writing and were more creative & collaborative

Myth #2: there will be more classroom management problems

Fact: There were fewer classroom management problems when it came to behavior and proper cell phone use because the students were actively engaged and taking responsibility for their learning.

Myth #3: There aren’t enough students who have devices in each class

Fact: There were plenty of devices to go around. Most groups had several devices which allowed them to work on the project in sections

Myth #4: Planning for BYOT take more time.

Fact: Planning for BYOT takes less time because more of the work is placed upon the students.  What it does take more of is creativity and constructivist teaching principles.

Myth #5: Students can’t handle BYOT (or they don’t deserve to use it)

Fact: If 8th graders can handle it then all of our students can handle it. Need I say more?  (No disrespect to 8th graders here, but they’re the least likely to buy-in and get excited about trying new things and may be the least likely to follow our rules.)

The Most Important Perspective

If I still haven’t convinced you, here’s what the teacher had to say after seeing BYOT in use in her classroom:

BYOT and differentiation of instruction are not for the faint of heart, but if you stick with it, the payoffs definitely strengthen the spirit. This week I have been able to witness a few students who I feared were unable to be motivated, come alive and show me just how talented they truly are. When students were engaged and using apps to create their own products pertaining to core concepts in my classroom, I actually had an opportunity to facilitate rather than directly instruct. Students who struggle to complete a traditional assignment happily typed away on his or her device or smiled for the camera as they acted out a scene to demonstrate what they had learned. Suddenly no one had to go to the bathroom or get water, no one had to go to the nurse, and students who normally wouldn’t work together began trading ideas and solutions to problems. Yes, we had our difficulties… computers that shut down, software that didn’t load correctly, apps that cost money, the student who texted a student in another class and had his device removed, however I think these are minor compared to what all the students have gained from this experience. To be continued…

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