10 Tips for BYOD Classrooms

BYOD or “Bring Your Own Device” is becoming more commonplace in workplaces and conferences, but what about in the classroom?


Important Logistics

Since many students possess one kind of device or another (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.), implementing a BYOD approach at school has the potential to address the financial concerns of funding and maintaining school-wide technology.  However, according to an article¹ by Sharo Dickerson, several essential considerations must be made before implementing such an approach:

  • Network security & systems (Make sure the school can handle the additional bandwidth!)
  • Established policies for teacher & student safety (see some examples & this fantastic Edutopia mini-handbook!)
  • Financial support for students who don’t own a mobile device
  • Apps or other software that the school will make available for all BYOD devices at the school to enable effective classroom use

Same Old Learning with Shiny New Gear?

Even when all the above procedural concerns are managed, introducing BYOD could quickly go the way of 1:1 laptop programs without care.  According to a recent study¹, “Computers in K-12 classrooms are mostly used to support the same textbooks, curriculum, and teaching practices that continue to represent traditional classroom settings” (Norris & Soloway, 2011).  Many administrators and teachers, such as Jennie Magiera², experience the pitfalls of assuming that just the presence of technology in the classroom will motivate and inspire learning to higher levels.  During one of my student teaching experiences, I witnessed first-hand a classroom that was packed with all the latest technology, including 1:1 student desktop computers, an interactive whiteboard, and Activotes–yet it still felt the same as most traditional 20th Century classrooms.  Even the high-tech interactive whiteboard was used like a regular whiteboard or, at best, a projector, with ordinary lists of math problems on the board to be solved, or Basal passages for students to read together.

So what do we do to help BYOD avoid the smoke and mirrors of other failed techno-integration attempts?  According to the Dickerson article, it’s essential to include an “adaptation of constructivism in redesigning curriculum and content delivery.”  In other words:

Bill Ferriter
Bill Ferriter
  • The creator of the above picture, Bill Ferriter³, explains that kids aren’t motivated by the technology itself, but by its potential for further opportunities to expand their learning horizons.
  • Jennie Magiera, explains in her article² her realization that she would need to “break down to rebuild” in order to foster real growth.
  • As Wolf Creek Public Schools have introduced BYOD, they are focusing on the “pedagogy before technology,” with the mentality that “It’s not a tech goal; it’s a learning goal.”
  • Edna Sackson, author of popular learning blog, WhatEdSaid⁴, describes 10 “Big Ideas” for deeper learning, including ownership, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, curiosity, diversity, flexibility, relevance, connection, and change.

The common denominator in all these examples of higher level learning with technology?  Technology has the potential to dramatically revolutionize 21st century learning; we can’t expect that to happen with same-old 20th century teaching strategies and mentalities!

Ideas for Authentic 21st Century Learning

As you implement a BYOD or any technology approach in your classroom, you will need to consider the unique needs of your students.  However, we hope this list will give you some ideas to help students authentically use devices to enhance and customize their own learning:

1. Twitter (Click here for our article on Twitter for Teachers!)

Make a unique hashtag for your class that will enable you to post questions, comments, links, or even just regular announcements.  Students could also upload thoughts on their learning using this hashtag, both in and out of the classroom!  You can even use the hashtag to organize TweetChats during class for students to experience a dynamic debate that eliminates the need to “take turns talking.” (Tweetdeck is a great resource to easily view all Tweets within a hashtag). In addition, you could use existing hashtags such as #comments4kids to publish student work and ask questions to engage with a real audience!  (See this free Twitter handbook for teachers for more ideas for classroom use, as well as information to get you started if you’re a Twitter newcomer!)

2. Skype

In the classroom, Skype is a close relative to Twitter in that both have the potential to truly take learning beyond your 4 walls!  Check out our article that goes over how Skype Virtual Field trips work for some specific ideas!

3. App Selection

To help students really utilize technology as a learning tool, choose apps that are “Creation-based over Content-based!”  My article on Practical Student Blogging also lists several resources that include creation-based apps, with Educreations being one of my favorites! Also see apps sorted by topic in my Edutopia post, “Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design.”

4. Differentiated Learning

Do you have students who have an IEP accommodation to have a scribe during writing?  Help them discover and use speech-to-text apps such as Dragon Dictation or Evernote, or Google Apps add-ons like Text to Speech with Google Drive!  Do you have students who struggle with remembering assignments or time management?  Help them learn to manage their time with apps like Due or again, Evernote.  Meeting every student’s diverse needs can go from being an elusive ideal to a truly attainable undertaking when we “use technology creatively” (WhatEdSaid article) in the classroom!

5.  Student Blogging

Have students keep digital portfolios of their work and progress throughout the year using blogs!  Check out our post on student blogging for specific ideas to get you started. 2016 edit: Also be sure to check out Seesaw & our privacy-friendly alternatives to blogging.

6. Google Collaboration

Turn writing assignments and other projects into more effective collaboration as students work together in real time in Google Drive!  With their work already online in highly shareable files, they can seek for feedback not just from their classmates, but other peers around the school or even the globe!  We feel strongly that this kind of technology use will empower kids with authentic problem-solving skills as they learn how and from where to seek real feedback (ie, not just their teacher)!

7. Presentations

Thanks to technology, the mediums for presentations have stretched well beyond dioramas, posters, and essays.  Perhaps students will want to make a Toontastic puppet show on their iPad. Others may want to create a Youtube video instead.  Still others may opt for a Prezi (see our post on replacing Powerpoint with 3 highly collaborative, interactive resources).  Whatever the case, with so many options at their fingertips, be sure to give students more autonomy in constructing and displaying their thinking with their BYOD devices!

8. Enrich the scientific process

From digital microscope apps to the simple camera features of devices, students can take scientific learning to a new level.  For example, you can have students take daily photos of an experiment’s progress to create time lapse videos (idea from this WhatEdSaid article), which would help them analyze their data in new ways!  Additionally, students can use Twitter and Skype to ask for feedback from experts or other classes around the world on their findings, or simply to communicate their results!.

9. QR codes

Turning any device into a barcode reader/creator is easy with QR codes!  As you consider the many suggestions available online for their classroom use, remember to hunt for ideas that give students opportunities for ownership and connection–in other words, be picky!  One idea we found that could help fit this purpose include printing and posting some codes around the classroom that take students to various photos or videos to provoke their thinking at the beginning of a unit.  Another idea involves students making QR codes for their research findings that they then post together in the classroom or virtually on the class blog!  Be sure to ask for student input for their use in class as well!

10. Revolutionize Exit Tickets

Rather than sort through exit tickets or assignments after students have gone home with misconceptions, check their progress during learning activities and projects using the program, Exit ticket!  Because you can see their understanding right away, you can adjust your approach to better address their needs.  The program is available on virtually any device with access to a network, thanks to compatibility with Android, iOS, and desktops.

Photo Credit:

Jeremy Keith

Sources:

1 Sharo Dickerson Article

2 Jennie Magiera Article

3 Bill Ferriter Article

4 Various WhatEdSaid articles

5 Teaching Tips You Didn’t Learn in College

You braced yourself for difficult student behavior, long hours beyond contract time, and mounds of grading, but your professors didn’t prepare you for everything!  Check out some tips that may help ease your first year teaching expectations and planning.


#1 Create a Copies System

This may seem like an random, less significant tip, but it can be a life-saver when it comes to keeping your never-ending supply of copies from mounting into menacing, unorganized stacks that hijack your desk and sanity!  We have found it to be one of the greatest keys to your organization.  One of the members of our Honors Grad U family used the following system, but you’ll want to play around with your options to find what will be most effective for your needs!

  1. Find some space to keep 10 hanging files: an open crate of hanging files, or maybe part of a filing cabinet drawer.

  2. Label the files Monday-Friday twice so you have 2 weeks of files ready.

  3. Stick your files in place.  Any time you make new copies, check your planner and slide them into the day you’ll need them!

  4. At the end of each week, move the 2nd week bunch of files to the front of your crate or drawer!

#2 Planner: Old School or Digital?

It’s possible that your professors did in fact cover this one with you, but given the 21st century technology integration fervor, it’s likely that they strongly advocated for all-digital planners–after all, free apps and programs like Planboard are available for such purposes!  However, having tried both digital and paper approaches, we’ve found that digital may not necessarily be the best tool for everyone, even if you absolutely love all things technology.  Your planner will be critical in your time organization, so be sure to consider several factors to decide what will be more beneficial for you:

  • Collaboration:  Evaluate how your school or team collaborates with one another.  Do you share every detail of your schedules, or is it more general?  If the need is more on the side of specifics, you may find that going digital may be more time-effective, especially if everyone else on your team is using the same program!  For this reason, it may even be a requirement at your school to use a specific type of digital planner, so be sure to find out!

  • Schedule Flexibility: Does your principal have a habit of announcing assemblies at the last possible moment?  Are constant interruptions to the regular weekly schedule more the norm than a regular weekly schedule?  If that’s the case, you may want to consider the wonder of the seconds it takes to pencil in a few arrows to shift around your schedule, rather than minutes (or more) as you try to determine your platform’s ability to edit the template.  Paper planners continue to perform reliably when it comes to quick edits!

  • Internet/Printer Logistics: If you’re more inclined toward the digital route, be sure to consider a couple logistics.  Do you plan to keep your planner handy on a tablet or laptop?  If so, make sure there are offline options, such as downloading a program to your desktop or an app that will keep things available even when the internet is not!  You don’t want your internet dependence to leave you high and dry when it comes to your daily plans if there’s an emergency!  If your plan is rather to just print your plans each week, that may be a good solution to these kinds of tech logistics.  However, be sure to consider whether you want to rely on printing plans all year long, when you can buy a paper planner that already has all the pages in one place!

  • Neatness: This is probably a no-brainer, but be sure to examine your own handwriting neatness!  It can be frustrating for you to be unable to decipher critical plans in the moment you need them–not to mention for a sub!  Typed plans can be a dream if this is an issue for you.

#3 Coworker Socializing

In the overwhelming workload of your first few months, you may be tempted to spend your lunchtimes barricaded in your room to catch some extra grading minutes.  We don’t dispute that this may be essential at times.  However, we highly recommend taking a break to socialize with your colleagues whenever possible.  The reasons for this are varied:

  • You’ll form relationships that go beyond just professional acquaintance.  Not only is this a bonus for the sake of making friends, but for enhancing collaboration experiences as everyone becomes more comfortable around one another.

  • You will feel mentally refreshed to finish your day when you give your mind a rest from teacher-mode!

  • You will be able to build solidarity with other teachers as you share experiences with one another–it can be incredibly comforting to realize that experienced teachers are facing your same struggles, along with some of their insights to solutions!

#4 Classroom Planning: Recognize What’s Fluid and Solid!

As you plan your classroom design, policies, management, and more, you may get caught in the overwhelming and stressful trap of thinking you need a plan for everything by day 1!  While there are some areas that do need to be addressed by then, many others are what we consider to be “fluid,” meaning they will adapt as you go.  Here are some examples of what we mean to help you distinguish between the two as you prepare your classroom:

  • Solid

    • Disclosure document: This includes policies on homework, grading, and other items that would be stressful for students and parents if they get changed too much.  Click here for a sample disclosure document.  Work with your team to develop this!

    • First two weeks of plans

  • Fluid

    • Classroom incentives: Don’t feel like it all has to be set in stone from the beginning for students to be motivated!  In fact, an element of mystery may enhance their interest!

    • Floorplan: especially if you’re an elementary level teacher, you’ll be moving things around all the time anyway!  You’ll get a better feel for how you want to move through the space as the year progresses.

    • Your daily schedule: Obviously, if you teach at the secondary level, this is already determined for you.  For elementary levels, however, you may feel strained as you try to make time for everything.  However, as you create and try out a basic schedule, you will discover necessary adaptations throughout the year–some things will require more or less time than you planned for!  So don’t worry if there’s not a neat time slot for absolutely everything at first!

#5 Cut Yourself Some Slack!

We don’t mean this in the general, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-working-hard way.  Rather, we mean that your professors probably didn’t warn you that as you prepare for and begin your first year teaching, you will likely (ok, definitely) check out Pinterest for inspiration from time to time.  And, just like in the classic, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” if you explore Pinterest for teaching ideas, chances are you’ll find more inspiration than you can handle.  You’ll find teachers who craft perfect, personalized student holiday gifts (from Christmas to Columbus Day!); you’ll find teachers who structure every lesson into engaging, hands-on, inquiry based instruction; you’ll find teachers who have built international networks with classrooms around the globe for regular Skype and blogging interactions; you’ll find teachers who have mastered the art of grant-writing so thoroughly that not only is their classroom a floor-to-ceiling library of highest quality literature, but every student is equipped with an i-Pad.  Chances are that when you see all this spectacular inspiration, you will get discouraged.  This brings us back to emphasize the initial tip #5: cut yourself some slack!  You may fall absolutely in love with these experienced teachers’ Polar Express parties, or their inspiring bulletin boards, but the thing to remember through it all is that they are experienced teachers.  You have enough to do during your first year of teaching without adding on stress of what else you could be doing, because there’s always going to be something more you could be doing!  By all means, keep track of those Pins for future reference, but always keep in mind some perspective in your teaching pursuits!

Featured Image: University of the Fraser Valley