Tech Trends | Viewpoint

OMG: Engaging Students on Their Own Terms

Technology Director Anthony A. Luscre of Mogadore Local Schools challenges educators to use students' mobile devices to provide technology-rich, highly engaging, and fun learning experiences that reflect real-world skills.

Students spend a lot of time outside of school using high tech forms of communication. Why not capture these skills to improve student learning? Data from a recent Pew Research Center survey shows more than 75 percent of teens own cell phones; 73 percent use online social networking sites; and 38 percent share something online that they created, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos. A NielsonWire Report found that teenagers averaged 3,339 sent and received texts a month!

Despite these overwhelming statistics, schools and teachers have done little to capture this usage to benefit instruction and student learning.

 

Anthony Luscre will be a speaker at the FETC 2012 National Conference, to be held Jan. 23-26 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. He will be presenting two featured sessions at the conference, including "OMG, I CNT BLIEV WE R REALLY GTTNG 2 DO THS IN SKUL" (Jan. 25 at 1:30 p.m.) and "Got a Problem to Solve? Create an App for That. A Fun Learning Tool" (Jan. 25 at 4:30 p.m.). Luscre is director of technology at Mogadore Local Schools and owner of SearchFindKnow.com.

The Challenge
My challenge to teachers is to create assignments, projects and techniques to capture your students' attention. Projects should be technology-rich, highly engaging, and fun learning experiences that reflect real-world skills.

How will you know if the exercise reached your students?

One indicator of success will be how your students respond to their parents' typical daily question: "What did you do in school today?" Will they get the usual response ("Nothing")? Or will they hear something new, maybe something along the lines of, "OMG, I can't believe what we got to do today?"

The Death Of...
I know many teachers are leery of some of the technologies students use outside of school. The knee-jerk response tends to be something foreboding the doom of civilization: "Texting will be the death of proper spelling, grammar and syntax." Or: "Having always-available Web access will be the death of learning facts."

But this response to new ways of communicating is nothing new. When I encounter it, I like to point out what I call the "litany of this new technology will be the death of…." For example, according to Socrates (469-399 B.C.), writing was going to be the death of thinking and debate. Fifteenth-century educators believed that the printing press and wide availability of books would be the death of scholarly writing.

Next I like to demonstrate that what we think of as the way things have always been and should continue to be are actually constantly changing and adapting to popular use. For example, our alphabet has added additional letters and even the lower case since its first use by Romans.

The Dilemma
The next inevitable response from teachers is, "My school's AUP (acceptable use policy) or Internet filter does not allow the use of Twitter, Facebook, WikiBlog, etc." I then explain that there are two approaches that classroom teachers can use if this is the situation: Create a dialog with administrators to change AUPs and filtering to allow use of some of these tools or use "AUP-safe alternatives."

Many of these AUP-safe alternatives involve low-tech or alternative technologies or Web sites. Two great examples are "low-tech tweeting" and "physical Facebook walls." Low-tech tweeting utilizes paper with 140 squares to allow students to compose their pseudo-tweets. Physical pseudo-Facebook walls can utilize large sheets of paper, bulletin boards, or dry erase boards posted on the walls of the classroom. Students can then add information, status, comments, photos, likes, etc. to their individual physical walls.

There are also numerous alternative Web sites such as Edmodo, Schoology, and others that are education-oriented social networking sites that can provide closed, safe, and private groups.

Texting as Learning Tool
Texting encourages written communication. Students are actually writing more now than any time in history, even if they're doing so in a form that wouldn't be appropriate in all situations. And so texting gives educators an opportunity to teach about thedesirability and appropriateness of a variety of writing forms for specifically audience and situations.

There have always been different forms of writing for different audiences and purposes. Many foreign languages even have different words for formal and informal (familiar) usage. Prose, poetry, dialog, technical writing, and outlines are just a few examples of different forms. Poetry itself even has many variations, including specialized forms where arbitrary limits are placed on number of lines or syllables, such as haiku. In the same vein, the familiar 140-character limit of Twitter is just another way for your students to express themselves.

Quick: Who tweeted: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn?" Sorry, it was not even a tweet but was, in fact, a complete short story by Ernest Hemingway. As noted by Jamelah Earle of the Literary Kicks Blog, it was "perhaps written to settle a bar bet or perhaps written as a challenge, but either way, it's a complete work of fiction. It's evocative, powerful and clocking in at six words, it proves that it's not necessary to blather on endlessly to tell a good story."

Also, as anyone who has ever written for an editor knows, brevity is often best way of saying something. So think of the possibilities--students demonstrating an understanding of a subject and their ability to summarize and encapsulate it in 140 powerful, evocative characters. Assignments might include headlines from historical events, quotes from literary characters that paint a picture of their personalities and actions, summary of a book's plot or a summary of a scientific concept. The possibilities are limitless; the Blooms Taxonomy levels are at the top of the scale; plagiarism is highly unlikely; and the students actually enjoy the project!

Texting and tweeting both give you an opportunity to demonstrate and experiment with the roles of standardization of language, use of abbreviations, and syntax in our language.

Quick: Where did these abbreviations originate: ABT, ENUF, AGN, GUD, B4, CUL, and PSE? If you guessed texting, you are about 150 years off. These were actually abbreviations used in Morse Code, first by telegraphers and then radio operators. Texting is also natural lead-in to teaching how a language lives and constantly changes.

So you can incorporate texting in a variety of learning opportunities.

 

10 Ways To Use Texting, Tweeting & Social Networking To Spice Up Instruction

Activities

Examples

Tweet a Headline for a historic event. The Tweets of War: What's Past Is Postable
Translate a passage from a work of classical literature into a text. LOL: Texting and Literacy in Today's "Generation Text"
Students create Tweet(s) for each character in a classical literature work that describes their personality, role in the story, philosophies on life, or other aspects of that character. Students' book transforms classics into 'tweets'
420 Character Stories (the character limit for Facebook status updates) Lou Beach's 420-Character Stories
Students create a short personal autobiography in multiple formats- standard prose, Texting, a haiku, a Tweet, as song lyric, a Web page, a time line, a coat of arms, or a wiki. Coats of Arms, Shields, Heraldry and The All About Me Poster
Try Texting in a foreign language class. Txt spk quizzes
Create a "low tech" physical psuedo-facebook with real walls. Five Ways to Bring High-Tech Ideas into Low-Tech Classrooms
Start class with a Tweet summary of each day's lesson. How to create a twitter event backchannel for your conference or event
Add hybrid learning with online discussions using Moodle, Edmodo or OpenClass. Blended Learning in K-12
Students collaborate, in real time, on an assignment using Google Apps for Education's "Share" feature. GAEE Classroom Lesson Plans

The Opportunity
Students who spend vast amounts of time in social networking on sites such as Facebook are primed to do forms of writing and class discussion we have always espoused--journals, book reports, discussion, critical evaluation, summarizing, etc. The trick is to make these actives resemble their social networking activities. Adding an online/electronic component to these activities can be accomplished with blogs, wikis, online assignments and collaboration, online quizzes and reviews, among other possibilities.

For more ideas and details I invite you to attend my Featured Speaker Sessions at the FETC 2012 National Conference: "OMG, I CNT BLIEV WE R REALLY GTTNG 2 DO THS IN SKUL", "Got a Problem to Solve? Create an App for That. A Fun Learning Tool" and "Web Searching & Information Sites that You Don't Want to Miss."

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