Exploring "Bring Your Own Technology" and Project-Based Learning

Changes and Challenges



The first nine weeks of school have flown by so quickly, and looking back I realize I have made a lot of changes in my classroom this year.  The first week of school I set the stage by implementing 5 seating challenges.  My poor sixth graders.  The first day of middle school and I greet them with a challenge from the first hello.  Once they realized I meant for them to work through it and not give up,  they got to work and were successful.  The second day was easier and by the third day they were asking for more.  I think these activities set the tone for communicating and working together to solve problems.  I have also had more group work and hands-on labs.  However, the main difference is that I am asking more questions, waiting longer for answers, and asking follow up questions.  One of my favorite new online programs is ClassDojo.  Students earn or lose points based on behaviors discussed and agreed on by the class.  Of course all of these changes have little to do with BYOT  or technology of any kind.  Sometimes it takes awhile to build a foundation.

We have dabbled with BYOT with mixed results.  We have used Socrative for surveys  and science lab questions.  It is simple for the teacher to create a quiz or a “ticket out the door” activity for students.  It is similar to using the quick response systems,  “the eggs”, only it is easier to set up.  I have also learned to use a QR Code Generator so students have an easier time using their cell phones to navigate to the websites.  I’ve used TodaysMeet for gathering student feedback.  However, most of my effort has gone into setting up Edmodo with folders containing websites, interactive games, passwords, review sheets, videos, and songs for each unit.  Edmodo has been an easy way to communicate with students and parents along with collaborating with peers.  In addition, the students can earn badges for different achievements and these have been very popular and easy to manage.  I spent a lot of time at the beginning of the year creating more badges and then found I could easily share badges with other teachers and other teachers could share badges with me.  StudyStack has been a simple and popular way for students to create games for review.   One of the most engaging activities involved creating bulletin boards using Linoit.  I made a sample board about the layers of Earth.  Then students began to make their own bulletin boards with information about the layers of the earth and plate tectonics.  My current project is creating a Wiki and updating this blog.  I have finally decided that Edmodo is mostly communication, Wikispaces will substitute for the interactive notebook, and my blog is for reflection and organizing my resources.

Now for the challenges during this new school year.  Time is the biggest challenge.  Because I am back in school myself, I am juggling my coursework and research along with teaching.  My husband has been wonderful to pitch in and help, but focusing on what I really want to accomplish, choosing websites or apps from the huge variety of options, learning how to use these programs, and envisioning how to use them to teach students takes a lot of mental energy.  In a lot of ways I feel like a new teacher, only without a mentor or role model to give me the answers.  I am enjoying this journey, and I have to laugh at myself often.

To illustrate my early BYOT skills, I will tell you briefly about our summer vacation.  The weekend before we left for Florida my husband and I bought new smart phones.  Phones too smart for middle aged grandparents to use quickly.  We managed to make calls, but neither of us could figure out how to answer a call.  For the entire week of vacation, we had to listen to the phone ring until the person hung up.  Then, we called them back.  My friend had mercy on me when I returned from vacation and showed me that you don’t tap the button to answer you slide it to the right.  It is the little things that remind me how much I have to learn.  The surprising part of this is that my students face the same challenges.  I thought they would know how to use these devices, how to download apps, how to navigate websites, how to use a search engine, how to find basic information or follow simple directions,  but that has not been the case.  In addition, students, sixth and seventh graders, have struggled to set up accounts, log in using the correct username and password, keep the devices charged, or keep the devices with them.  They do not understand why an e-reader can access the internet to download a book, but not navigate to the webpage they desire.  They bring a gaming device and are frustrated to realize they cannot read the QR code, get on the internet, or send a message.  So, the learning curve is substantial, but the students enjoy the adventure and take comfort in having their device with them.

The next question always concerns the students who do not own the devices.  We use school owned laptops whenever possible, take turns using the classroom desktops, or share devices.  I lend my own tablet and cell phone to help out.  Sometimes students “huddle” in groups to share one device for five or six students.  We need more devices to lend to students.  Cell phones or other devices able to access the internet are at the top of every Christmas list this year.  I have heard from parents that kids are coming home saying that everyone else has a device.  That is not the case.  On average, we probably have about one third the number of devices we need.  When asked, students insist they have a device, but they are too young to realize that some of the devices are limited in function and will not access the internet.  So, we are learning to figure this out.  Flexibility, a smile and a good attitude are essential right now.  The funny thing is that we are having a wonderful time along the way.


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“Changes and Challenges”


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