Wednesday, February 10, 2016

BYOD Personalizing Assessment with Formative

There are a few different non-SMS tools that allow teachers to assess students' understanding or prior-knowledge.  One that I came across recently has an added feature of being able to assess and discourse in real time, rather than after students' finish their work.  Formative is similar to other tools in that a teacher can set up an account and post an assessment for students to take on their mobile devices (must have Internet access).  However, Formative goes one step beyond just watching live (via a teacher's computer) as students work on their assessment, the teacher can actually give real time feedback as they watch a student work.  For example, a student may be writing a response and the teacher can comment (just to that individual student) in the middle of the response to remember to include their punctuation marks.  Or a student could be drawing a picture and if it is a student that struggles with their fine motor skills, the teacher could send them a note of encouragement as they work.  In addition, the teacher can give grades (rubric scale points such as 0-10) to the student as they are working.

So what?
I use the Triple E Framework to measure technology in lesson planning, which focuses on ways to help students engage, enhance and extend learning goals.  What I like about Formative (besides the fact that it is free!) is that the focus is not on the final product or grade, rather it is on the process of learning (and the learning goals!).  It allows teachers to personalize (and perhaps differentiate) learning based on students needs in the moment.  They are able to co-use the software in a mindful way.  Research tells us that it is very important for children to be able to talk about what they are doing in software and how it connects to the learning goals with others (more learning gains this way).  The teacher can make sure the students are staying focused on the learning goals through the messaging system back and forth.  In addition, the grading system allows for learning from failure and mistakes, and allows opportunity for students to correct their mistakes without fear or penalty.

Note to Formative:  I would also like to see this extended to parents, so they too can see their children's work in real time and comment.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Mobile Scavenger Hunt with Goose Chase!

I recently came across a new app called Goose Chase that allows teachers to set up a mobile scavenger hunt!  There is a wonderful no-cost plan that teachers can take full advantage of.  They can create scavenger hunts around the school, even in class during class (eg...hunting the Internet and submitting answers), or outside of school!  What an engaging snow day activity or winter break learning connection.

Access and Equity
Goose Chase works on just about any mobile device (Andriod, iPad, iPhone, even an iPod Touch).  However you do need to have Internet access because the missions can have a GPS component to them.  There is no cost for students or teachers, but you do need to download the free app to participate.  Students must have an email address to register and participate.  This could be a school gmail address (if a GAFE school) or for younger children, parents could participate with their children.

Missions!  How it Works
Teachers create an account online in Goose Chase.  Then they can start to set up their "games" (which are the scavenger hunts).  The games consist of many missions can include GPS location (go to the local bank!), a picture (find what is in this picture or analyze this image!), a video (the teacher could explain something or have a local historian explain something to look for), and a text description.  Teachers can set up as many missions in a game as they like!  Teachers can also control when the missions start and stop, as well as assigning points to each mission (an easier mission can be worth less points---students can then decide which missions they want to attempt based on points and descriptions).

When the game is ready, students can download the free app from the Andriod or iTunes store, set up an account (they do need to register with an email address).  They then type in the name of the game, it's password, click on it and begin!  The students will see all their missions and can choose which missions to try.  They will be able to submit their findings by photo, video, GPS map location and/or text!  All submissions are stored in the game, so the teacher can later use this data for in-class learning.  For example, asking students over their Spring Break to do some missions on local history, text in pictures and videos of their findings, then the teacher can use the media to talk about local history back in the classroom after break!  A wonderful way to extend the classroom learning and use authentic data!

Teachers can set up the games so that they are password protected (only your students can participate) and so that the data is not shared beyond your password.  This helps to keep it all CIPA compliant.  In addition, students can create gamer handles so that they are not using their real names. Teachers can choose if they want this set up for individuals or teams (and can even have team captains).  Teachers can also block postings that might be inappropriate and change the amount of points award to teams if needed.  You can also see individual results of each student, their submissions and even easily download all of their media submissions with one easy button!

Extending Learning
Scavenger Hunts are an engaging way to extend and enhance classroom learning.  While there are many different ways that Goose Chase can be used, I wanted to share a few ideas:

Connect Learning Over School Breaks
I've already mentioned this a little, but I wanted to emphasize that this is a wonderful way to keep students focused on learning goals over the many school breaks.  In addition, it would be a great summer stretch activity for students who are moving into a new grade, they could collect authentic data that they will be using in the Fall with their new teacher(s).  For example, students going into 6th grade may collect lots of different images of local bugs, and document where they were found.  Then when they do their 6th grade science unit on bugs in the Spring, they can pull up the authentic images of the bugs found from the previous summer to compare what they found.

Social Studies
There are so many applications to social studies learning, in particular gathering data on local history, and local geography.  They can use the video submission to interview museum docents and curators, as well as collect historical interviews from citizens who participated in prominent historical events.  Finally, because the teachers can send videos with the missions, they can also help to guide and scaffold students learning by giving them hints and tips on how to interview or do historical inquiry at the museum.

There is so much science in the local community, this is a wonderful way to collect images data and video data to use in the science classroom.  Such as students going to a local bog/lake and taking videos of the species, flora and fauna that they find.  Doing environmental experiments on water PH levels right at the local source (video submission) or interviewing local scientists and possibly even observing their work (again a great video submission).

English Language Arts
Scavenger hunts and journalism can work nicely together.  Being able to go on an i-search to learn about local events, history, personal stories...etc.  Collect evidence for the story in forms of media and text, and then writing or blogging about the story.

What better way to do math than to be in the authentic world!  Measuring local structures by calculating area, perimeter, circumference...etc.  Doing engineering and figuring out the best location for a stop light and why.  Documenting the different times you are using math in your everyday lives and submitting it!

What are some other ways that you might use scavenger hunts in your discipline?  Please share in the comments.

Monday, April 27, 2015

New Research on Teens and Cell Phones and What it Means for BYOD Schools

PEW has just released a new study about teenagers (13-17 year olds) and their cell phone use and ownership.  It's very important for educators to know the statistics around digital divide so they can make more informed decisions around lesson planning.  For example if you teach in a predominately Hispanic school, it is a better decision to use mobile messaging apps over traditional Internet email (because Hispanic students are more likely to have access to Smartphones where they primarily use apps than desktop computers at home).  A few highlights from the study

Getting Online

  • 88% of teenagers own a smartphone (with Internet) or basic cell phone (without Internet)
  • Most teenagers send about 30 text (SMS) messages per day
  • Most popular apps are KIK and WhatsApp
  • 91% of teenagers primarily use a mobile device to go online
  • If teenagers own a mobile device with Internet access, 94% go online daily, while only 68% of teenagers who own a mobile device without Internet access go online each day (through a stand alone computer or other type of device)
This is important for BYOD schools---keep in mind that students without mobile access to the Internet are less likely and/or able to get online daily for homework or class assignments.  

Digital Divide:  Access/Wealth
  • 73% of teenagers (with phone) own or have access to a smartphone
  • 27% of teenagers (with phone) own a featured phone (no Internet)
  • Wealthier teenagers more likely to use SnapChat or WhatsApp over Facebook to socialize, while less wealthy more likely to use Facebook.
This is important for BYOD schools---keep in mind that about 30% cannot access the Internet through their phone, so plan lessons accordingly!

Digital Divide:  Racial/Ethnic
  • 85% of African American teenagers own or have access to smartphone
  • 71% of White or Hispanic teenagers own or have access to smartphone
  • African-American and Hispanic youth report more frequent internet use than white teens, going online 
  • African Americans and Hispanic teenagers more likely to use messaging Apps on Smartphones (46%) compared to While teenagers (24%).
Digital Divide:  Gender
  • Girls are much more likely to participate in social media and apps around socialization
  • Boys are much more likely to play games on their mobile devices

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Parent’s Guide to BYOD: 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Their BYOD School

Schools that implement a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach to technology have taken great care to develop strong policies and guidelines for students using their own devices.  Most schools inform the parents, asking them to sign permission forms and BYOD policy guidelines, and spend much time justifying “why” they have a BYOD policy.  Yet, schools tend to leave out an important piece:  how parents can best support the schools BYOD learning to policies at home.  Many parents are often a bit confused as to what their role is in a BYOD school.  

10 questions parents should be asking the school district
  1. What are the optimal devices that work best for my child to fully participate in the BYOD activities at school?
  2. What type of mobile plan do your recommend that I/we purchase for my child’s device?
  3. Do you recommend that my child pay for their own device or is it better that I pay for all or part of it?
  4. Does our family need to have Wifi or Broadband Internet?  If we don’t have Broadband Internet, is there another way we can participate?
  5. Are there any software or hardware companies where the school has a “discount” for families?
  6. What if we cannot afford a device for our child?   Does the school provide devices to loan to families?  Does the school have a scholarship account for children in need? 
  7. What are the rules and structures around device use at school?   Should I be implementing these same rules at home? 
  8. Do you have any resources that could help support digital citizenship at home?
  9. Are there classroom or school activities that I can also participate in through my mobile device?
  10. Do you have any suggestions how I can better communicate with my child through our mobile devices? 
What other questions should parents be asking schools with a BYOD policy?  Please share in the comments below

Monday, March 2, 2015

5 Common Mistakes Schools and Teachers Make When Implementing BYOD

Anyone who has read this blog over the past decade is aware that I have always been an advocate for "bring your own device"---in particular student cell phones.  However, as more schools have been changing their policies to be inclusive of a BYOD policy, there have been some mistakes made along the way.  I want to share these common errors in hopes that other teachers and schools can learn from the trailblazers.

Not creating a policy first
In the early days of BYOD, many teachers would get excited by the idea and immediately ask their students to take out their cell phones in class for an activity.  While there was initial excitement, this also led to some students abusing the tool and using it in non-educative ways.  It is important that teachers work with their students to develop rules and structures BEFORE asking them to take out their devices to use in the classroom.  Once rules are in place, then the students know the expectations and consequences for misuse, and distractions are less likely to happen.

Requiring that all teachers use the devices
Over the past five years, school districts have written district-wide policies about how BYOD can be used in the classroom.  Some of those schools have chosen to require that teachers use student's devices, despite teachers not being comfortable or not seeing a strong educative purpose.  Teachers should be given a choice, just as they have other choices in other tools used in their lesson planning.  Forcing teachers to do something they are not comfortable with or that they do not think is in the best interest of the children, will not yield positive results.  Teachers may even resent the new policy in the end.

Starting BIG
Of course teachers are innovative and creative, thus when they hear about a new way to use cell phones in learning, they tend to think really big and come up with complicated ideas for how to integrate them.   Yet, as with most technologies, a small pilot is a more manageable way to begin.  Teachers can do small optional projects for homework and then simple activities in the classroom.  Districts can ask a group of teachers to pilot the BYOD policy, rather than all the teachers in the district.

Assuming ALL kids and parents have cell phones
While cell phones are becoming more ubiquitous amongst children and adults, there are still plenty (mostly lower SES) that do not have access or do not have access to higher-end devices such as Smartphones.  Teachers need to be careful about relying too much on just using apps and websites with BYOD.  Inevitably some of their students will only have a feature phone that can text and make a phone call but no Internet.  Teachers need to make sure they have surveyed their students so they know the types of phones, plans and access that their students actually have.  Then design BYOD lessons for ALL students.

Doing something because it is "shiny"
BYOD is very sexy.  When you see a picture of students using their own devices in classrooms, the thought is that they are innovative 21st century learners.  However, just because students are using their devices does not mean that the learning goals are being met in a way that is enhanced.  It may actually be the opposite, students may be distracted by the app they are using on their phones, and not focusing on the content learning.  Teachers need to make sure they are designing BYOD with the end goals in mind, and not designing based on a new fun app or mobile resource they just learned about.

What are some other pitfalls that schools or teachers fall into when implementing BYOD?  I would love to hear from you?

Monday, February 2, 2015

8 Reasons to Choose BYOD over 1:1

Over the past five years we have seen a growth in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement in schools (and business!) with over 71% of school districts allowing students to bring their own devices for learning.    At the same time I am hearing about schools moving away from 1:1 programs, in particular 1:1 iPad programs.  For the purpose of this blog post, I will define 1:1 as schools that purchase the same technology devices for all their students, and allow them to borrow them in some form for the entire school year (eventually handing them back to the school).

I have given this topic much thought and research.  After which I have found that there are some important reasons why schools should consider a BYOD program over a 1:1 where the school purchases the technology for the students.

  • 1:1 programs are difficult to sustain because you must purchase or lease new technology every 3 to 4 years.
  • BYOD allows families to purchase what they can afford and what works for their families rather than being told by a school what to purchase, even if it does not work for their families.  Yet, while the school must have the infrastructure in place (access to strong Wifi..etc), they do not need to replenish new devices every couple of years.  
  • 1:1 programs do not always allow students to bring home their technology tools, thus not having 24/7 access to their learning tool.  This also limits what teachers can assign for homework or extended class assignments.
  • BYOD guarantees that students will have 24/7 access to their learning tools.
  • 1:1 programs only focus on how to use one particular technology, thus students are exposed to less technology platforms (and often apps/resources).
  • In BYOD students in the schools are exposed to a variety of devices and platforms.  For example students can watch teachers model how to do the same activity on an iPad, a Chromebook and an Andriod phone.
Student Responsibility 
  • While 1:1 programs may be a bit easier for the technology coordinator (if schools are lucky enough to have one!) to troubleshoot problems, they also are dependent on the technology department or coordinators to do all the troubleshooting.
  • BYOD programs are more dependent on families and students doing their own troubleshooting, thus allowing them to take ownership and responsibility over their learning devices.
Long Term Access
  • 1:1 programs often take back the technology lent to students after a certain grade or graduation from a level of schooling.  And there is no guarantee they will have a digital tool from the school at their next level.
  • In a BYOD program, once students leave their elementary or middle school, they will continue to have access to their learning tool.
Natural Curiosity
  • In 1:1 programs the technology is selected by the schools, thus the students do not always feel as connected and interested in the selected too (some do, some would have preferred a different tool).
  • In BYOD programs students are inherently engaged and curious with their own devices.  They often had a say in what they wanted to purchase, and use it everyday for entertainment, thus they 
The Research
  • The best research says that the more access to the tool, the better.  BYOD guarantees 24/7 access while 1:1 programs cannot always guarantee this.
The Real World
  • More and more businesses are adopting the BYOD model and moving away from the 1:1 model in their companies.  Thus, as schools often want to connect to the authentic world, what could be more real than exposing students to the same technology structure they will experience in the work force?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to evaluate apps and websites for meeting your classroom needs

While it can be exciting that there are so many apps and websites for learning content, it can also be daunting and overwhelming to busy teachers.  Fortunately there has been a wave of new websites that help teachers locate apps to meet their curricular needs.  Two of them include CommonSenseMedia has just launched Graphite and EdSurge.  Both of these databases can be searched along the lines of theme, age, standards, and content (amongst other options).  These resources are much better than going to iTunes and typing in a generic topic.  

However, once we are able to narrow down to a few options to use in their classroom, they need to do some evaluating of these sites for themselves.  No site or app is perfect for all classrooms, so we need to make sure the resources they select are personalized well enough to suit their classroom needs.  Thus it is important that we understand how to thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of an app or resource to meet their classroom needs.   Below are some of the criteria that we should be considering when bringing an app or website into their classroom for learning.

Curriculum Connection
The connection to the classroom learning goals or curriculum is vital.  Just because an app looks fun or is immediately engaging, does not mean that it will meet the needs of the teacher’s classroom learning goals.  
Question to ask:
  • ·      Does the app or website provide opportunities to directly meet your learning goals?  Is it indirect?

ZPD:  Developmentally Appropriate for Age
One of the concerns with using apps and websites is that the resource will be too difficult for some learners while not challenging enough for others.  Some software will allow for adjustment (or at least allow the teacher to opt out of using certain advanced features) so that the software can meet their students at their zone of proximal development (where they learn best---challenged just enough).   Other pieces of software claim they will assess the student’s individually and place the student’s at their appropriate developmental level, when in fact the assessment does not seem to do this very well. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software assess the students’ learning and can appropriately place the student into levels that meet their learning needs?
  • ·      Does the software allow the teacher to turn on and off features for the students?
  • ·      Does the software allow students to make different “leveled” choices?

Types of Skills Practiced
We should consider if the software is focusing on “skill and drill” flashcard approaches or if the software is allowing students to be creative and innovative and develop ideas or problem-solve with critical thinking skills.  While the latter is higher on bloom’s taxonomy, there are times where teacher’s may want some reinforcement of learning ideas.  We should know the type of skills they want their student’s to work on going into selecting the software.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software allow students to Remember and/or Understand information learned?
  • ·      Does the software help students Apply their knowledge?
  • ·      Does the software give students an opportunity to Create, Analyze or Synthesize information?

We should have a sense if they want student’s working together in the resource or if they would prefer individual work.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are there opportunities for collaboration? 
  • ·      If collaborative, do the collaborative opportunities allow students to create knowledge together or simply comment on each other’s work? 

While not all apps or software are focused on self-awareness, it is helpful if there are elements where students’ can develop a sense of self-confidence and awareness. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are students given opportunities to develop a strong sense of self? 
  • ·      Are students given opportunities to develop empathy and emotional connections with others that are safe, kind and positive?

Tech Skills
While we may be focused on the learning goals, keep in mind that we should also consider the technology skills needed as well as being learned by using the software. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      What technology skills  (NETS-S) will the students need to participate in this software? 
  • ·      What technology skills  (NETS-S) will they develop by participating in this software?

Ethical Issues
While many digital resources are targeted at children, not all of them (even ones that say they are for education) consider ethical or safety issues.  We should think about the age of the children and if the software may push the boundaries of what is safe and appropriate. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are there reminders to the students about posting and privacy online when prompted to post something? 
  • ·      Are there opportunities for collaboration that are moderated?
  • ·      Are there safe guards for privacy?
  • ·      Are there invitations for parents to participate?

Since students learn at different paces as well as through different modes of representation (especially if you are teaching with a UDL approach), it is important to look at the different ways that students could use the software to show their work and learn new ideas.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software allow students to self-pace through “levels” or be challenged in new ways as they progress?  For example, can the student begin with a simple photo slide show but then move on to adding narration, text, music and hyperlinks as they progress? 
  • ·      Are there scaffolds in place so that the student can get help as needed but also progress at their own pace?
  • ·      Are there multiple forms for representation for the content?
  • ·      Can students express their understanding in multiple ways

It is important that the students are motivated and focused when using the resource. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software draw students into the learning environment in a fun and motivating way?
  • ·      Does the resource help students to focus on their learning?

Motivation is not enough reason to use a tool, ultimately engagement fades if there is not another purpose to using a digital tool.  The tool must somehow enhance the learning experience.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software allow students to learn or participate in something that they could not without the software? 
  • ·      How does this software enhance the students learning experience, where they are learning more or differently with the aid of this software? 

Prompt Feedback
It is important that students receive a response or feedback on their work as they progress. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software provide feedback as the student tries to progress to new levels or as the student tries to create a project. 
  • ·      Is the feedback immediate?
  • ·      If there is not feedback, do they know how to find “help”?

Ease of Use
While there should be some challenge in using the software, once shown how to use the resource, it should be fairly intuitive for their developmental level.  If the student has to constantly ask the teacher for help, then the software is probably too difficult for them. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are navigation options to save, get help, go home obvious and easy to find. 
  • ·      Can the students’ manure around the tool with little to no outside help?

A new movement in the STEM world is adding an “A” for the arts (called STEAM).  We should look for opportunities that allow students to be creative or customize the resource.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Can the teacher customize a personal learning path for students? 
  • ·      Are there opportunities for students to be creative? 
  • ·      Can the students make choices in the tool in how they show their understandings?

Alternative Access
If the students had to bring their own devices or use this software at home, we should look at how many different ways the resource could be accessed.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are there opportunities for students to be creative? 
  • ·      Can the tool be accessed from multiple platforms such as iPad, laptop, Nook, Smartphone? 
  • ·      Is there a cost to alternative forms of access

While we all prefer great resources that are free, it is important to remember that sometimes it might be best to pay for something that could create a quality learning experience for the students.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Is the cost reasonable for the amount of use?
  • ·      Is there are free version that could be used and get the same learning results?

Data Collected (analytics)
Does the software collect data in some form from the student. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software will collect usage data (how and when), as well as the individual progress of the student?
  • Does the Analytics allow opportunities for the teacher to modify the student's learning path?

Resource updates can be significant since curriculum is often changing.  It is important that the software is staying up to date on the latest educational and societal changes.  There is also a better chance that the software will be less “glitchy” if it is updated often.
Question to ask:
  • ·      When was the software last updated? 

In this day and age it is rare to find classrooms that do not have students who are English language learners (ELLs) or students who speak more than one language.  By using resources with multiple language options, we may be creating a more optimal learning environment for all students.
Question to ask:
  • ·      Can the software be used with more than one language?  Keep in mind this can be helpful for parents of ELL’s who may want to help their child but they do not speak English as well as their native language.

Unfortunately equity is often an overlooked category in most sites for review, but should not be!  Digital equity is very real and should be a concern for any K-12 teacher.  There are equity issues along gender lines, economic lines, as well as racial/cultural lines. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Is there a gender bias (such as only a male narrator or gives females a stereotypical role as the less intelligent one). 
  • ·      Does there seem to be a bias towards one racial group?
  • ·      Do you see any glaring stereotypes that you do not want to reinforce?

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Using students’ everyday culture in the classroom can be a bridge to help the home to school connection.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software provide a way for students to connect with their everyday cultural background? 
  • ·      Can the student bring in their personal norms and folkways into the learning through the software?  For example, the software may allow the student to select the geographic region they live in, select the local dialect, and choose a particular song that has personal meaning to them in doing a geography activity. 

RTI (Response to Intervention)
Does the tool allow for targeted interventions to help modify the learning experience so all students can be successful?
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Can the teacher modify the learning path of the students and track their comprehension of the content based on the targeted interventions?

I tend to put the categories above in order of most important to them to least important for their particular learning or classroom goals.  Then begin to rate and review, the goal being that the app or website best matches most important categories for my classroom.
Disclaimers and Other Information about this blog. The information on the blog may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct or up to date. The opinions expressed on the blog are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of anyone or any institution associated with the author. Links to external sources in the blog posts are provided solely as a courtesy to our blog visitors. All of the links on the sidebar under "recommended links" are links that the author believes to possibly have benefit in K-12 teaching and learning. All other sidebar links are related to cell phones and/or education but not necessary recommended as a K-12 learning resource by the author, some may be sponsor links and/or paid for image/banner ads. The author does not do paid reviews for her blog posts about web resources.Please contact Liz at for any inquires regarding this blog.
Creative Commons License Cell Phones in Learning by Liz Kolb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at