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10 quick thoughts on mobile phones in schools

No cell phones!A few quick thoughts…

  1. Most people realize that mobile phones are actually mobile computers. But many schools that claim to be doing everything they can to get technology into the hands of schoolchildren then ban their students from using the computers that they bring in their pockets every day. The issue apparently is not technology, it’s control. We need to call this for what it is.
  2. Students know that mobile phones are powerful learning devices. They know that when we ban them, we are sending them messages that we don’t get it. Or that we’re not really about learning.
  3. We have to stop blaming the device. Classroom management stems from good instruction.
  4. We have to stop the ‘holier than thou’ pronouncements about today’s kids. We haven’t seen significant evolutionary changes in children in just a few decades. Our students (or their brains) are not substantially different, they just have different opportunities. Nostalgia aside, we adults were often bored out of our minds in school too. If we had Facebook, texting, Snapchat, and other avenues to alleviate our boredom, we would have turned to them as well. Let’s quit the arrogant attitudes of moral superiority.
  5. Banning and blocking does absolutely nothing to teach students about inappropriate or untimely mobile phone usage because it removes the decision-making locus from students to educators. Students don’t ever get a chance to own their mobile phone behavior when they are just passive – and usually resentful or bewildered – recipients of our fiats.
  6. Many schools say that they’re trying to foster more student agency. That should mean more than fairly-constrained choices related to content. Student choice in environmental contexts and instructional tools (ahem, learning technologies) matters too.
  7. No one – I repeat, no one – can concentrate without any distractions whatsoever for 45-50 minutes straight. Nor can they then repeat that 6 to 8 times a day. Is our goal with these ‘digital distraction’ bans to have students’ 100% attention at all times or else? If so, are we just punishing students for how our human brains work?
  8. Maybe it’s not the phone that’s leading to students’ distraction. Distraction can result from hunger, fatigue, illness, anxiety, boredom, an overstimulating classroom environment, the desire to engage in additional research, or a whole host of other factors (e.g., frequency of daydreaming is highest during undemanding, easy tasks). Let’s avoid simplistic solutions to complex contexts.
  9. If we involved students in the creation of school mobile phone policies – with authentic input and decision-making, including about ‘consequences’ – instead of fighting with them, we probably would be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes.
  10. When students use mobile phones despite our bans, maybe they’re not defiant. Maybe they’re rational given the context in which they’re embedded. Did I mention that classroom management stems from good instruction?

Image credit: No cell phones!, Joe Pemberton

Don’t tell us we’re inspiring and then keep doing nothing

Greta Thunberg“Please save your praise, we don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it. It doesn’t lead to anything.”

And with that, climate change activist Greta Thunberg sums up so much of how we also treat student input in schools. 

Listening to our youth does not mean a few student panels at conferences for adults: “It is all about the kids! We had a panel of them, and they did such a great job, and it was SO inspiring!”. Nor does it mean tokenistic, nonvoting positions in committees, school boards, and other adult groups. And it’s definitely not school groups like Student Council that have little agency or decision-making power over anything that’s important. These so-called student voice opportunities are mostly ways for us adults to feel good about ourselves, not about meaningful input. 

Our children care deeply about what happens to them in their education. What if we stopped patronizing our students and instead actually DID SOMETHING DIFFERENT? Anyone? Anyone?

The decline of civics

Flags on lawnDanielle Allen said:

No democracy can survive if its citizens do not believe that democracy is worth having. The long-term future of our system of government depends not only on restoring a supermajority of citizens who demand democracy but also on ensuring that that percentage exists across the generations.

Nor is it enough for people simply to believe democracy is essential if they don’t know how to build, operate, maintain, fix, and adapt democracies. This means we also need to build a supermajority of citizens who have confidence in their knowledge of how to use their voices, skills of democratic coordination, and shared political institutions. That’s what our children could learn through classes on U.S. government, civics, and the problems and promise of democracy.

Want to address information literacy concerns? Civics is a great place to start. Want to target student apathy toward the news and being informed? Action civics is an even better start. 

We also have to live the democratic principles that we proclaim we’re trying to instill in our youth. Students almost never have authentic input into how ‘school’ operates for them. No wonder our students become cynical and apathetic. Why would they treat seriously our proclamations about the importance of democracy when schools rarely give them a meaningful say in anything?

My favorite U.S. Supreme Court quote of all time is from Justice Fortas:

That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes… (Tinker v. Des Moines)

When it comes to modeling democratic principles in schools, we’ve got too many platitudes. How about some action (civics) instead?

Career-ready capstones [VIDEO]

America Achieves has been sponsoring an Educator Voice Fellowship program here in Colorado. They have an upcoming event where they will highlight the work that these awesome educators have done regarding authentic performance tasks and career-ready capstone experiences. Thought I’d share the video… we need more of this kind of student work and authentic assessment!

Happy viewing!

The best gift

Little blue gift box

The best gift that we can give our students is the gift of self-actualization. Every day, every hour, in every class and every school we should be asking ourselves, “Is this an environment in which our students are discovering and nurturing their interests, skills, and talents to become their best selves and make a positive difference in the world?”

Image credit: Little blue box, Shereen M

Is the emphasis in your school on punishment and compliance or autonomy and dignity?

Deluxe teacher grading kit

When I was in high school, we didn’t have an ‘open campus.’ We were supposed to stay at school and eat our lunches in the cafeteria. Many of us would drive off anyway, hoping that we could make it back in time for our next class. We often were late because of the distance between our school and the fast food joints. But since I ran with a crowd of ‘good kids’ who got high grades and were heading off to college, we could stroll into class late – sometimes with coffee or an ice cream cone for our teachers – and suffer no adverse consequences. At the time I was blissfully unaware of the privilege I enjoyed simply by being a white, male, middle class, high-achieving student (or that I ‘earned’ by being mostly compliant).

Fast forward thirty years… Today we see a number of ‘no excuses discipline’ schools – particularly in urban school districts – that punish students for the slightest noncompliance. Tardy to class? Shoelace untied? Not walking quietly enough? Failing to follow the taped line in the hallway? A stripe on your sock? Slouching? The wrong color undershirt? Not raising your hand with a straight elbow? Rolled-up sleeves on your school uniform? Not tracking the speaker with your eyes? ‘Willful defiance,’ however arbitrarily defined? Yelling, shaming, assignments that get ripped up, public tracking charts, demerits, detention, suspension, expulsion, and numerous other academic and disciplinary punishments await…

Critics of these schools note that the children who attend them invariably are ‘other people’s children.’ They’re not the children of the white middle class. They’re typically black, brown, and poor. And the folks who often are the strongest advocates of these kinds of schools would never, ever send their own children there. But, you know, ‘those children’ need more structure. ‘Those children’ need that kind of discipline because they don’t get it at home. Hey, don’t blame us, those parents ‘chose’ that kind of environment for their children. And so on…

But here’s the thing: educators and parents who are aghast at these ‘no excuses’ schools need to recognize that most traditional schools aren’t much better. The discipline may be slightly less draconian for most students, but the heavy emphasis on punishments and rewards remains for virtually all students. In most schools students lack significant agency, are told what to do nearly every minute of every day, rarely have meaningful choice or input into their own learning environments, and are punished by teachers and/or administrators if they don’t comply with whatever is demanded of them. Students can tell you how disrespectful, disempowering, and apathy-inducing these environments can be. It’s pretty stifling to have so little choice in what you learn. And it can be soul-killing to be 17 years old and still need permission to use the bathroom. So, yes, like for myself, the ‘good kids’ may be afforded a smidgen of leeway and autonomy that seems utterly lacking in the ’no excuses’ schools. And, yes, traditional schools – back in my day and now – may be a little less worrisome because the penalties usually are slightly less severe. But when it comes to our disciplinary practices, we need to climb down from our pedestals because the differences are mostly a matter of degree, not orientation.

My University of Colorado Denver faculty colleague, Dr. Manuel Espinoza, has been talking with us about the concept of student dignity – about the idea of affording students basic, inalienable rights of autonomy and respect. Not because they comply with our demands. Not because we bribed or forced them. Not because the economic need for self-directed workers has never been higher. But simply because our children are human beings – precious, unique individuals – who deserve to be cherished and treated as such rather than as mere objects of our desires for control and order (no matter how well-meaning our motives are). To quote Manuel, “What would it mean for schools to treat children as if they were of supreme value, of invaluable exchange?” And, no, this doesn’t mean chaos and anarchy in our schools…

Learning environments that empower students as meaningful contributors and choice-makers – that recognize and treat students as worthy of basic dignity – look very different than those that view students as unable or unwilling partners and/or problems to be managed. Which views predominate in your school system? And before you answer, ask yourself 1) what alternatives to punishment/reward disciplinary systems do you see around you, 2) how many times a day and in how many ways is a student’s basic dignity disrespected, 3) what happens when a student disagrees or doesn’t comply with a classroom or school behavior policy, and 4) who gets to make and enforce the policies in the first place.

Joziah Grimm shares his Iowa BIG experience

I’ve written about Iowa BIG before. What I love about the school is that you can’t tell the 4.0 student from the student who was struggling academically back at his ‘mothership’ high school because at Iowa BIG they’re both doing amazing work. Joziah Grimm shares his story below. Happy viewing!

Technology questions to ask students during advisory period

Question mark cookies

Here are some questions that you could discuss with students during a 20- to 25-minute advisory period. These might be particularly apt for middle and high schoolers. If each advisory took notes and then you compiled the responses at the school level, I bet that you would learn some interesting things about the youth that you serve and spark some useful conversations with your teachers and administrators.

  1. What are some interesting or surprising ways in which you use technology at home to connect, share, and/or learn? (examples might include making videos on x topic, participating in a learner community around y topic, posting stop motion films, hacking their Minecraft server code, setting up and selling items in their own online shop, sharing their original artwork or music or writing or photography, participating in community or charity or political work, highlighting their athletic or crafting skills, gaining skills in a new area of interest, or…)
  2. How is your technology use at home different than your technology use at school? Which seems more empowering to you and why?
  3. How is your technology use different than that of the adults around you?
  4. How can we close whatever gaps exist between home uses of technology and school uses of technology?

What would you add? Let me know if you do this!

7th grade genius hour at Cascade Middle School

Dave Winters sent me a very nice message today thanking me for my TEDxDesMoines talk, Extracurricular Empowerment (Getting Beyond Fear). But what was even more fun was getting to see the compilation video of his students’ genius hour projects at Cascade Middle School. This is a touching, inspiring video and is a great idea for any school that wants to capture and share the enthusiasm that can accompany student-driven learning. Happy viewing!

DaveWinters

Seed-to-table at Gilmore City-Bradgate

Child gardening at Gilmore City-Bradgate Elementary School 01

[Want to be the Seed-to-Table Manager here? Read the job description and then email the superintendent.]

Shovels busy at work, three young children dig and cut through the earth, turning over the rich black soil underneath. They have a long planting row to create, but the sun is out and the weather is perfect.

Their female classmate, in her blue-striped jumper and pink flip flops, carefully pats dirt around a seedling. It’s one of many in her grade’s row. Another student will be by shortly to make sure that it’s watered.

Walking tenderly to avoid the young shoots, a boy carries a few small boxes with new plants to be added to the garden. Apparently he’s a bit chillier than his t-shirt-clad peers since he’s wearing long sleeves and a down vest.

Inspired by their teachers’ visit to the Muse School in Los Angeles, elementary students in the Gilmore City-Bradgate School District in Northwest Iowa are diving deep into the seed-to-table movement. The early childhood and daycare kids are in charge of the onions, radishes, spinach, lettuce, peas, and potatoes. Kindergarten has pole beans, bush beans, tomatoes, and peppers. First and second grade has zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, and beets. Third and fourth grade has kohlrabi, eggplant, and some more beans. The fifth and sixth graders do the heavy lifting with corn, cantaloupes, and watermelons.

GCB03

There’s a small shed for tools and equipment. Over on the side is the herb garden, where the students are growing chives, oregano, dill, basil, and cilantro. Old pallets are being re-used to make compost bins. The tree stumps constitute an ‘outdoor classroom’ where students and teachers can sit, talk, and learn together.

The produce will be used both in the school district’s food service program and to help the food insecure in the local community. Families and staff will receive vegetables and herbs as well. And there are plans to get involved in the local farmer’s market…

Achieving science, numeracy, literacy, and other instructional outcomes while being connected to both nature and the community? Awesome.

What could your school do to reconnect students to the natural rhythms of the earth and the people around them?

Gilmore City-Bradgate CSD garden diagram