Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

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Ditch That Textbook is moving!

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Thanks so much for checking out the blog. Now head over to www.ditchthattextbook.com and see what the blog’s new home looks like!

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5 ways teachers can sell others on their ideas

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Everyone lives by selling something.”

That goes for teachers, too. We sell our students on the benefits of using that last five minutes of class to do homework rather than take a nap. We sell them on the importance of the Pythagorean Theorem and how they’ll use it in their lives.

Teachers sell motivation. They sell their product: their content. They sell responsibility.

We sell, sell, sell, and the best of us teachers get our students to buy, buy, buy.

So when Dan Pink, an author and career counselor (www.danpink.com), penned a new book called “To Sell Is Human,” I instantly started thinking of connections to the teaching world.

(Pink also gave a Ted Talk on internal motivation and its three main components – mastery, autonomy and purpose – that I blogged about last March.)

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Pink outlined some ways that people sell that I think are good connections to teaching. Here are five of them:

1. Let them tell you why they agree with you. Pink suggests that you create the context for people to agree with you – and then get out of the way. Don’t force your reasons for agreeing on them. Let them draw those conclusions themselves.

So, as teachers, in our little sales, like getting students to participate in class, or our big sales, like helping them plan for their future, set the scene and let them make their own connections. “When people have their own reasons to agree with you, they adhere to them more strongly, believe them more deeply,” Pink said.

2. Decide whether to pitch with facts or questions. We’ve all made sales pitches to students, colleagues, administrators – even our loved ones. And we’ve all probably made them using facts and using questions.

The effectiveness of that pitch is based, in part, on whether we use questions or facts, Pink said.

Make your case with questions if the facts are clearly on your side. Why? Your questions elicit the answers that you want to hear. If the answers to your questions are obvious, your questions will lead your subject on the path you want them to take. If they’re not, your subject could wander off track.

Make your case with facts when your case isn’t open-and-shut. This more restrictive method is your best chance for success if your subject has many plausible choices and you want him or her to select a particular one.

3. Remember that your digital audience is wider than ever. Social media has the potential to magnify what you do in the classroom, be it positive or negative. An exciting learning experience in class may reach other students, teachers, parents and administrators if your students take to Facebook or Twitter about it. Results: building interest in your classes and your subject area. A misunderstanding or poorly chosen words could have the opposite effect, though. Pink compared this to a farmer selling sweet corn from the back of a truck. If he rips his clients off and they tell their friends and family, his business suffers. If he takes good care of them, word-of-mouth advertising makes him money.

4. Be a servant leader. The old tried-and-true selling approach of serving people first and then selling to them is still effective, Pink said. Relationships are key, and good teachers know that well. Students who have close relationships with adults in their lives are more likely to take their advice and see them as role models. It’s like the auto repairman who listens to a clanking car on his free time and later sees his business booming with trusting clients.

5. Help people find their needs. In the information age when answers to our questions are only a Google search away, sometimes people don’t need answers, Pink said. They need people who can help them identify their needs. “Identifying new problems is as valuable as solving existing ones,” he said. Students are often quick to find solutions to their problems. But they need caring adults to help them identify their most pressing problems or evaluate their solutions.

Don’t want to consider yourself a salesperson? That’s fine, but you’re acting, thinking or talking like one when you try to persuade people to your way of thinking. Let’s challenge ourselves to ditch the textbook concept of working with students and rethink our persuasion techniques. You never know how many lives you may affect.

5 lessons from my paperless class failure

I finally had all of my notes and plans finished, but I had been compiling them in my mind for months.

My class was going paperless. Totally paperless.

I am very blessed to have 26 desktop computers in my classroom. I’ve utilized them in various capacities for the year and a half I’ve been there.

But I was ready to take it to the next level. Bell-ringer activities done in discussion boards. Individual student blogs. Digital homework activities and online assessments.

I stepped into class the first day of school and laid out my plans to my classes. We jumped right in that week with bell ringers, and then it hit.

Log-in issues. Slow computer start-up times. Blocked websites. Our starter activities that usually took 5 to 10 minutes on paper were taking almost half the class on some days.

Boom. My paperless class had blown up in my face.

And I was bummed out. I had all of these ideas. The thought of less paper and more digital was the right move, if you asked me.

Here are a couple of things I learned from my “paperless class” bust:

1. Technology for technology’s sake isn’t good enough. That old educational technology maxim was right. Technology has to help the cause. I had digital activities that actually took longer than simply using paper and pencil. Kind of the opposite of what I was looking for.

2. Your technology must be up to the task. My bell-ringer activities are good for getting students engaged at the beginning of class. But they had to wait for slow computers to load up, wasting valuable instructional time. If we were a 1:1 iPad school, the load time wouldn’t be an issue; they would be online and working instantly. If I’m to have my paperless class, I need a better solution to the slow technology factor.

3. Your tech tools must be up to the task. I decided to use the MBC Documents feature on My Big Campus to submit these bell-ringer activities. My Big Campus’s version of Google Docs is servicable, but when students shared their documents with me, there was no way for me to unshare or erase those documents, and they collected in my documents folder. I needed to find a better tool for what I wanted to do.

4. Persevere through frustration and failure. My bust initially made me want to — gasp — give up on teaching with technology all together. I knew I was jumping to conclusions, and I knew I wouldn’t follow through with it. But since then, I’ve found some solutions to my problems and am making strides toward the digital class I envision.

5. Take it a step at a time. In hindsight, it was a mistake to launch all of these paperless initiatives at the same time. I really should have phased new parts of the plan in little by little.

I think I’ve licked all of my wounds and moved on from my earlier mistakes. My classes are more tech-savvy than they were last year, and I’m still trying to integrate new digital activities each week.

But my students are still doing bell-ringer activities on paper. Don’t worry … I’ll get there one day.

A new start for Ditch That Textbook

After starting this blog last year and sticking with it for about two months, I realized something about blogging.

It’s hard. Well, regularly blogging is hard.

Recently, I have learned that my passion to share ideas and tools to help teachers rely less on their textbooks is as strong as ever. I love writing. I graduated with a journalism degree from Indiana State University and worked for several Indiana daily newspapers before transitioning to teaching. I really enjoy combining my joy of writing with my love of teaching creatively and using technology in the classroom.

So, my esteemed reader, here are my intentions for this blog going forward. I’m hoping to post twice a week: on Mondays and Thursdays. In fact, my first two posts are already written and scheduled to post as I type this message.

My focus, as it states in the subheading of this blog, is to help teachers rely less on their textbooks and to think outside of the box. Technology is a great tool for that, but it’s not the only tool. Therefore, I’ll be talking about other ways to ditch a textbook. It could be ditching the “textbook definition” as practiced by many teachers. It could be creative teaching or curriculum planning ideas. I’m a techy teacher at heart, but my intention is for this blog to be bigger than an edtech site.

I’m trying to get in the swing with Twitter (@jmattmiller), posting links to sites, new Ditch That Textbook blog posts and general musings on a regular basis. Those are also available on the Ditch That Textbook Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/ditchthattextbook). I’d be honored if you’d follow me on Twitter and like the Facebook page.

Please feel free to cruise around the site and check out my previous posts. Leave a comment about anything that strikes your fancy and I’ll be happy to reply with one of my own.

Feel free to contact me via e-mail at jmattmiller16 @ gmail . com about the blog or teaching in general. I’d love to hear your thoughts and engage in some dialogue on how we all can “Ditch That Textbook”!

Motivating our students

Motivation is the holy grail.

In education, it’s what greases the wheel. It’s what we’re all really after.

With proper motivation, our students can change the world.

Without it, in my classroom, it leads to “we never covered that” when we’ve spent a week or more on whatever “that” was.

In many classrooms — and many businesses — we are going about it all wrong. Research has shown us what works, but we haven’t really yielded it to produce results.

One of my favorite Ted Talks (which are great, inspiring, riveting videos on talks on a variety of topics) was by career counselor Dan Pink. It’s about motivation, and I think it can shed light on ways we can better motivate our students.

Pink summarizes a few experiments where researchers compare two motivating factors — rewards (aka “carrot and stick”) and simply doing the best you can do. We see the rewards system all over the world in all theaters of performance — in sales, in sports, in the classroom and beyond. Raises. Bonuses. Extra credit.

Rewards should bring out the best in us, right? Not always. The research in Pink’s talk shows that rewards produce the best results in cognitively simple tasks, such as going from point A to B or pushing buttons in a certain sequence.

“As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance,” Pink said. “But when the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.”

A study added socioeconomic status to the mix, and the results were the same. People from poorer areas had the same results. Even the London School of Economics, after evaluating 51 similar studies, concluded that financial incentives yield a negative overall performance.

How does this affect the work of educators and the lives of students?

First, the world is evolving away from the basic “plug and chug” types of work. “That routine, rule-based left-brain work … Has become fairly easy to outsource, fairly easy to automate,” Pink said. “Software can do it faster.” Our goal should be to develop higher-order thinking, and basic if-then rewards won’t do it.

Second, there are ways to motivate students — adults and children alike — to perform better in these right-brain, conceptual tasks. Pink calls them autonomy, mastery and purpose:

Autonomy — “the urge to direct our own lives.”

Mastery — “the desire to get better and better at something that matters.”

Purpose — “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

These are the core parts of what really compels us to act and to I prove. If we can tap into these concepts, we can create a new desire and passion in our students.

“Learn this because there is a test coming up.” Where does that fit in the model above?

Finding out what’s important in our students’ lives and helping them get there through what we teach. That sounds like we’re empowering them to reach autonomy and helping them master something that matters.

Pink talks about the practices of Google and an Australian software company called Atlassian. Both companies regularly give employees time to pursue their own work-related interests while on the clock. Pink said that half of Google’s new products are created because employees have great amounts of autonomy.

Autonomy makes educators cringe at times. I usually think of all the ways my students might abuse it before considering what amazing results could come out of it. But there is power in allowing students some autonomy in class work and projects.

They say that retention is greatest when material is practiced in a real-world scenario or by teaching others. Turning students loose to do that in their own creative ways could be something they remember for the rest of their lives.

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5 ways to use cell phones for homework

OK, so BYOT (bring your own technology) doesn’t work for everybody. Not every school is ready to connect a ton of different devices to the district network. I can respect and understand that.

So let’s try a different approach.

For lack of a better term, let’s call it BYOTOOS, or “bring your own technology outside of school.” (I know, horrible acronym. My former journalism professors would chastise me creating “alphabet soup.”)

No change to the district’s acceptable use policy. No overhauls to anything. But still meeting students in the digital world where they live.

Let’s put those handheld supercomputers of the future in their pockets to use.

1. Taking and sending digital photos. This works for just about any subject area. Take something your class is studying and have students take digital photos of it. Use them for real-life examples instead of the pre-packaged textbook pictures. Students can text or email them to your school email address. Or, if you don’t want your inbox flooded, set up a free Flickr or Picasa account with emailing capabilities. Those photo sites provide an email address where photos can be sent for collection in your account. Just download from there and you’ll have plenty of personalized material to draw from.

2. Recording digital video. Similar to the first item, but it can achieve different classroom goals. Students can act out a skit, do a documentary-style video or display something from your curriculum. Download and play them on an LCD projector or a computer with sound for the class to watch. Student-produced work is high viewer interest stuff for kids. Photobucket has free upload-by-email capability (although not unlimited), again, if you don’t want a ton of digital videos clogging your inbox.

3. Practice by text message. StudyBoost is a free site that allows users to create questions with answers and text the questions to a mobile device or social media site for answering. Create a batch of questions and share them with students, or encourage them to create their own. StudyBoost will send questions at a preset time so students aren’t receiving texts while in class.

4. Record answers to digital audio. For some assignments, submitting an audio assignment is just as good — or much better than a paper one. This fits well for me as a world languages teacher — speaking practice is an important part of what we do in my classroom. Students could practice speeches, do poetry readings, create radio shows, recreate the audio of world events, etc. This can be as simple as having students call from their cell phones (or traditional phones) and leave you a voice mail message on your school voice mail (if you have it). If that isn’t possible or desirable, Google Voice will create a voice mail account for you for free with a free custom phone number. Plus, you can download the audio for playback.

5. Download relevant podcasts. Podcasts are ubiquitous. Anybody can create one with a microphone (or a device equipped with a microphone), a way to record and an idea. There are a ton of good ones out there (and some pretty bad ones, so beware). ITunes has a wide array on virtually any topic. A basic search coupled with some digging and previewing could result in extra resources for your students. Of course, brave technophiles can create and share their own podcasts tailored to their classes.

Word of warning — When planning for these kinds of activities, keep cell phone plans (minutes, coverage area, different options available per model) as well as family cell phone rules in mind. Also, be flexible when students don’t have access to technology. Chances are there’s someone with a phone, digital camera or other digital device that students can borrow to complete the assignment. There’s also a pretty good chance the school has something that could be loaned/checked out to a student.

Play around with your cell phone for a while with this concept in mind and new ideas for classroom use are sure to spring to mind. And they don’t have to be assignments for every student to complete. They could be used for extra credit or for extra learning opportunities. Sounds like differentiating by offering additional material to those that get assignments or projects done early and need something to do.

BYOT: Bring Your Own Technology

I teach in a small, rural Midwestern school district where poverty is an issue. Thankfully, we have a technology staff that has been very active in procuring grants for technology, and we are ahead of many school districts like us.

However, plenty of poverty-stricken school districts don’t jump into the new world of educational technology because they simply can’t afford it.

As technology moves forward and everyone’s gadgets get more powerful, there’s a push toward using them in class.

Instead of slapping kids on the hand for having their cell phones or devices in class, why not find a way to incorporate them into the classroom? These devices have great capabilities. We can access the Internet to research, collaborate and share through them. We can gather information, images and videos with them. We can use specifically crafted applications on them to do tasks smarter and faster.

If someone approached a school district and offered to supply it with devices like these, most would jump for joy.

Imagine what technological innovations — or supplements to existing technology — that could be purchased if we didn’t have to buy enough computers, iPads, iPods or tablets to go around. Buy devices to supply students that don’t have their own and invest the rest in tools to make classrooms thrive.

Mind/Shift — which is a super interesting and very well-done blog — published an article about Mankato public schools in Minnesota and their decision to take this route (http://mindshift.kqed.org/2012/02/in-cash-strapped-schools-kids-bring-their-own-tech-devices/).

I think the pull-out quote in the article hits a very valid point — “The common theme from parents: ‘If I spend $500 on an iPad for my kid, I hope the teacher uses it!'”

But what if kids text in class? What if they get on Facebook or Twitter? Won’t this decrease productivity? And what about network safety concerns? The doubts can mount pretty quickly.

Isn’t it our job to teach our students how to function and thrive in the real world? And wouldn’t appropriate use of technology be a great lesson to equip our students with?

Fact: The kids that really want to text in class are going to do it anyway. In their pockets. While you’re not looking. In fact, they’re doing it now. But if they’re doing it blatantly when you’ve asked them not to, let’s handle this like any other type of disciplinary issue.

Kids will probably have access to technology in most any line of work they choose. They need to know social norms like refraining from texting on the job, silencing cell phones during certain work situations and using their time wisely without squandering it on frivolous ‘Net surfing.

If we as educators monitor their work time in class, as we should anyway, productivity could hit a new high.

And network threats are going to happen regardless. If we teach proper use and are diligent in watching how our kids work, we should be able to head off most problems.

Imagine how we could prepare our students for those “jobs that haven’t been created yet” that we keep hearing about.

Imagine the type of adults we could help produce — ones that can access the digital world in a responsible, productive fashion.

Imagine the relevant teaching we could create.

BYOT: Bring Your Own Technology

I teach in a small, rural Midwestern school district where poverty is an issue. Thankfully, we have a technology staff that has been very active in procuring grants for technology, and we are ahead of many school districts like us.

However, plenty of poverty-stricken school districts don’t jump into the new world of educational technology because they simply can’t afford it.

As technology moves forward and everyone’s gadgets get more powerful, there’s a push toward using them in class.

Instead of slapping kids on the hand for having their cell phones or devices in class, why not find a way to incorporate them into the classroom? These devices have great capabilities. We can access the Internet to research, collaborate and share through them. We can gather information, images and videos with them. We can use specifically crafted applications on them to do tasks smarter and faster.

If someone approached a school district and offered to supply it with devices like these, most would jump for joy.

Imagine what technological innovations — or supplements to existing technology — that could be purchased if we didn’t have to buy enough computers, iPads, iPods or tablets to go around. Buy devices to supply students that don’t have their own and invest the rest in tools to make classrooms thrive.

Mind/Shift — which is a super interesting and very well-done blog — published an article about Mankato public schools in Minnesota and their decision to take this route (http://mindshift.kqed.org/2012/02/in-cash-strapped-schools-kids-bring-their-own-tech-devices/).

I think the pull-out quote in the article hits a very valid point — "The common theme from parents: ‘If I spend $500 on an iPad for my kid, I hope the teacher uses it!’"

But what if kids text in class? What if they get on Facebook or Twitter? Won’t this decrease productivity? And what about network safety concerns? The doubts can mount pretty quickly.

Isn’t it our job to teach our students how to function and thrive in the real world? And wouldn’t appropriate use of technology be a great lesson to equip our students with?

Fact: The kids that really want to text in class are going to do it anyway. In their pockets. While you’re not looking. In fact, they’re doing it now. But if they’re doing it blatantly when you’ve asked them not to, let’s handle this like any other type of disciplinary issue.

Kids will probably have access to technology in most any line of work they choose. They need to know social norms like refraining from texting on the job, silencing cell phones during certain work situations and using their time wisely without squandering it on frivolous ‘Net surfing.

If we as educators monitor their work time in class, as we should anyway, productivity could hit a new high.

And network threats are going to happen regardless. If we teach proper use and are diligent in watching how our kids work, we should be able to head off most problems.

Imagine how we could prepare our students for those "jobs that haven’t been created yet" that we keep hearing about.

Imagine the type of adults we could help produce — ones that can access the digital world in a responsible, productive fashion.

Imagine the relevant teaching we could create.

The new textbooks are wired — and wireless

The print medium is dying a slow death.

Newspapers are declining in circulation as more and more readers look for their content online.

Libraries are being forced to either adapt to a new digital age with new equipment and programs or become ancient artifacts.

And then there’s the traditional classroom textbook.

No clickable links. No flashy videos. No interactive games.

Paper and ink. And at a high price, no less.

As we continue to move into this new technological world, our jobs as educators must change as well. Our students are much different than the students of decades ago — even a few years ago.

They don’t know a world without computers. The Internet. Digital devices.

They multitask like crazy.

Their media-innundated minds are wired for constant change.

And we can take two approaches. One is to continue teaching the way we always have. Good teaching is good teaching, right? And if we put the information out there and the kids want the grade enough, they can come get it.

Or we can step into their world. Change up our methods, but stick with solid pedagogy. Supplement with a blog. Engage students with a discussion board. Create a multimedia presentation. Use the vast communication ability of the ‘Net to connect to people with viewpoints our students would never see otherwise.

Go from the limited to the vast, unbounded limits of cyberspace.

But how do we do that? One-to-one computer initiative schools have an instant connection to the information superhighway, as do classes with abundant access to computer labs or laptop/iPod Touch/iPad carts.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. Our students carry more powerful computers with them every day than those that launched spacecraft many years ago. Smart phones — even more traditional cell phones — have powerful information gathering, recording and publishing abilities. Even if our schools have “no cells in class” policies, that doesn’t mean we can’t harness that power outside the walls of the school.

The information and options available to us is unlimited. Our tools are powerful and more ubiquitous than ever.

The digital natives are here. Now it’s up to us to reach them where they are.

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