Free Kid-Friendly Avatar Creators


Just recently I posted this question to my Twitter PLN. Within half an hour I had about a dozen tweets in response. I promised Stacy Bodin that I would post the responses for everyone, so here 'goes!

This seemed to be the most popular site that was sent to me. It is hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the New York Zoos and Aquarium. Students can choose their gender, their skin tone, and add eyes, hands, feet and 'backsides' that are all animal parts. To use this as an avatar, students would have to click 'I'm Done' and then save the image to their desktop to use. It is free and does not require a login account. The only downfalls are that you can't link to the image unless you email it to someone, there is no embed code, and the image includes a fairly large background since it's intended as a desktop image.

This site allows you to create a personalized avatar for free. However, it requires signing up for an account. It seems that there are more options in wardrobe, accessories, etc... if you make one using your account. A drawback is that you can't access your avatar without opening the confirmation email and logging into the website. There are embed codes available once you have an account and create an avatar.

The Hero Factory This site allows students to create an avatar
that looks like a superhero. The female character is wearing underwear, which some teachers or adults might not approve of when creating avatars with younger students. It creates a downloadable .jpg file of a comic book cover that can be uploaded to a site (see the image to the right).

Reasonably Clever Lego Avatar You can use this site to create a Lego avatar. Just choose your hair, clothes, etc... and then you can save the image by selecting it using Shift-Command-4 (Mac) or a screen capture software/Print Screen (Windows). The directions on how to do this are on the site.

The Simpsons Movie Avatar Creator I'm not sure if my district blocks this site, but it's an obvious winner with kids! I was able to save the head of my avatar by clicking 'download.' To save the avatar, you need to create an account. This site allows a user to upload a photo from their computer and add lines, shapes, color and text to it. Although it is not recommended that students use their real photograph as an avatar, they could use an photo to edit. This site also requires an account to save and work with images. I was able to play around with it using the Demo version with pre-loaded images to see how it works. This site creates animated gif files from a photo you upload from your computer.
You can then get a link to the image and an embed code. You can also 'quick post' the image to a number of social networking sites. Again, teachers may want to have students use an image, not a photo of themselves to protect the students' identities.

This site, though written in another language (Portuguese?), has a list of 20 sites you can use to make avatars. Ah, the POWER of Twitter that my message got all the way around the world! It looks like a great site. I wish I could read it!

You could also use to create an image for an avatar. I reviewed this site in an earlier post here.

Most of the other avatar sites I found were connected to social networks that I knew would be blocked by my district's filtering system. (They block Animoto, VoiceThread and Glogster right now because they are considered 'social networking.')

If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comment area. I want to teach my students how to safely use an image to represent themselves online on their blogs and Gaggle profiles.

Here's a link to my Diigo bookmarks tagged 'avatar.'

Thank you to:

David Kapuler (@dkapuler)
Jennifer Dittrich (@jkdham)
Ruth Cohenson (@tearoof)
Matt Boot (@mattboot)
Isabel de Valdivia (@Castellano3CAS)
and all the people who re-tweeted my question around Twitter!

...who helped me in my quest on Twitter!

Read On

Big Trouble in Little Room 56


I just finished reading Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire by Rafe Esquith. It was given to the entire staff of our school by my principal at the beginning of last year in the hopes that it would spur a book club. It didn't.

As a result, the book sat on my shelf for almost a year. I picked it up at one point and skimmed it, but I wasn't totally impressed. To be honest, I'm a bit leery of books that are written by rock star teachers.

About a month ago, I read a tweet by Kelly Hines asking if anyone had read the book and what they thought of it. It inspired me to finally pick it up. She had written a blog post reflecting on her experience reading the book, but I told myself I would wait to read it until I had finished the book myself. It was kind of like waiting until Christmas to open a present when you get one a week early. I didn't want her reflections to influence my reading of the book.

As I picked up the book and read the back cover, I was excited to read that this was a story from an urban school in L.A. As an urban teacher, I love to know what teachers have accomplished and how they have facilitated success with their students despite everything they're up against. The first chapter proved inspiring, as Esquith described his love for his students and his 'ah hah' moment, the inspiration for the book's title.

All the same, I was disappointed to find that the first few pages of Chapter 1 (Gimme Some Truth) were dedicated to a story about a 'bad' teacher. I don't disagree with him that there are teachers like this, who use fear, intimidation and embarrassment to control their classes. In an urban setting, this can become the norm in many schools. Esquith did not stop there. The book is brimming with jabs at other educators with whom he has come in contact. For instance, when describing his approach to teaching literature, he describes:

"A young teacher at the school attempted to do the right thing. Knowing that Anne Frank was an important work, he obtained a class set of books and told his students to read the book during their winter vacation and to be prepared for a test when they returned. The result was a disaster....When they later came to my class, they moaned when I told them Anne Frank was on our reading list....Fortunately, with patience I was able to undo the damage and show the students why Anne's story will live forever." (p. 38)

Esquith goes on, in the next chapter, to describe marvelous strategies for teaching literature to struggling readers. Overall, the book is full of some unique and useful resources for teaching math, reading (including Shakespeare!) engaging students and building relationships with your students. His use of Lawrence Kohlberg's Six Levels of Moral Development to teach his kids intrinsic motivation and metacognition as well as just plain old good citizenship is an inspiration for any teacher, veteran or novice. Sprinkled around these wonderful stories though, are messages that make for, at times, a troubling read.
Here are some things I found troubling about the book:

Esquith constantly refers to teachers doing horrible things or not teaching well and he uses those examples as comparisons to show how things are different in his glorious 'Room 56.' For instance, when describing his annual trip to Washington, D.C. with his students, he adds a side note about how a hostess tells him that many teachers hang out at the bar in the restaurant while the kids hang out and eat. Esquith then explains that unlike these teachers, he sits with his kids. Really? Our 6th graders went to D.C. this past year, and I can promise that our teachers and parent chaperones were no where near any kind of liquor. It is not, in my experience, extraordinary for a teacher to sit with his or her students, especially in a public place!

On the subject of Physical Education, according to Esquith, "The bad news is that most elementary-school teachers do not run effective physical education programs.....some teachers take their kids outside and simply let them run around on the theory that it calms them down and helps them focus back in class." (p. 125) Why not just state: "When teaching physical education, it is important that play is structured. It can be used to teach kids a skill while also teaching them self confidence and teamwork." Why is it necessary to start off by bashing teachers?

Esquith does a wonderful job teaching his students responsibility and skills like budgeting and planning that no doubt change their lives. Why ruin a wonderful story with a jab at other teachers? He also makes it seem that many of his successes are due to the fact that he has 'undone' the damage done by previous teachers students may have had. It makes me wonder---what was his real purpose for writing the book?

Esquith never disclosed what went on behind the scenes--
  • How did he get the building engineer to open the school at 6:30 am (mine won't even open it for just lil' old me for security reasons)?
  • How did he get the children home safely in a neighborhood so full of violence and dangerous streets? I can barely hold my after school Computer Club during the winter because it gets dark so early.
  • Kelly Hines brought up another good point: How do his students feel who don’t want to or can’t participate in all of these extra events?
  • He also fails to explain what his strategies are for those students who refuse to follow the code of the classroom. How does he handle violent students? Students with attendance issues? Students who come into his room halfway through the year? I'm sure his classroom is not void of the problems that all urban teachers deal with.
  • How was he able to keep teaching the same grade in the same classroom for so long? Many teachers in urban public schools get shuffled around from grade to grade, switching between grades from year to year. Most teachers are lucky if they get to keep the same room for 5 years, never mind decades!
Esquith does not seem to feel the need to work with others. While he mentions how he has gotten help from music stores, dancers, actors, art teachers and music teachers, he does not mention any collaborations he has done with teachers in his school. He has decided, effectively, to cut himself off from the rest of the adults in the building. Yes, Room 56 is a sanctuary, but by cutting himself off from the rest of the school, what is he, by example, teaching his students? Kids pick up very quickly on adult interactions. That is why I am careful to always be kind, considerate and polite to all the adults in the building, whether we like each other or not. Wouldn't it make the rest of the school a better place if more teachers were doing what he does? Why hog all the fun? I am constantly looking for colleagues to collaborate with. It makes teaching more fun, and it lowers the learning curve when you can bounce ideas off of someone who is teaching the same material and may have ideas or viewpoints that can improve your teaching.

Esquith's school is year-round. While this point is made clear throughout the book, it can make the experiences in the book misleading. The average newbie to teaching entering an urban public school will not have this timeframe. He or she will have to deal with many kids coming back after 2 months of doing God knows what over the summer, having forgotten half of what they learned the year before. (This is a huge generalization, but a truth nonetheless.) Esquith says the best time to visit D.C. is in late October or early November. His school is on break during that time. Most teachers will have had their students for only about 2 months--hardly long enough to feel comfortable taking them anywhere!

Esquith's daily schedule would never fly in most low-performing urban schools. In Philadelphia, which is pretty much your average huge, urban district, low-performing schools are under constant scrutiny. Here, I am speaking directly from personal experience.

You are told exactly how many minutes a day you have to spend on Literacy (an uninterrupted 90 minute block), Math (90 minutes, but can be broken up if needed), Science & Social Studies (2-3 45 minute periods a week depending on grade level) as well as how long/when you do Guided Reading and Intervention. Since we constantly have 'bigwigs' walking through our school writing reports on what's going on in each classroom, checking lesson plans, assessment folders, student work, you'd BETTER be doing what you're scheduled to be doing.

Recess and lunch are together and consist of a 45 minute period, not the separate 20 minutes and 1 hour. Most of our kids get about 15 minutes of recess a day--provided the weather is good and lunch runs smoothly (which, in a school of about 600 kids, rarely happens). During the winter, they sit in the auditorium. Remember, L.A. has no real 'winter!'

Esquith sends the wrong message about making a positive change in your school. After telling the Anne Frank story, Esquith says, "I would not advise young teachers to fight the powers that be....rather than waste energy on a fight that cannot be won, play the game and follow the school plan." (p. 38) What terrible advice! After reading that, new teachers coming into the profession will just bow their heads, nod and do what they're told. That kind of attitude never helps anyone! I am not advocating that teachers throw the Teacher's Guide out the window or ignore the Core Curriculum--that will never work to your advantage. But why give up before you've even tried? Go to your principal, go to your reading coach, explain to
them what you would like to do. Talk to your grade/subject partners and come up with a plan or a strategy that is aligned with the course of study and/or planning and scheduling timeline. (In the School District of Philadelphia that is the schedule that we follow so that every classroom in every school is doing the same thing at the same time--it helps our very transient students move from school to school without missing anything that's in the Core Curriculum.) The WORST thing we can do is tell teachers to not 'waste their energy' or give up on a cause. This comment seemed very out of character for someone so dedicated to what they do.

Esquith, despite my reservations about the book, is a talented, inspiring and excellent teacher. He has obviously learned from his teaching experiences over the years, modifying his approaches, methods and attitudes from year to year. This is a sign of excellence in any profession, and he makes it clear that his current successes are the product of years of failure and learning the hard way. He obviously has a lot to offer the teaching community, including those entering the profession for the first time.

I am, truth told, disheartened by the tone of the book. I fear that professors of education will offer this book to their students as a 'must read' before they enter the profession. In my opinion, this book is better read as an elective read or as a book read for discussion purposes only. I don't believe it to be a book to be used to teach educational politics, methodology or classroom management. For that, read some Jonathan Kozol or books from the Responsive Classroom series (my personal favorite: The Power of Our Words) or Discipline with Dignity. These books provide (for the most part) an in-depth description of specific methods and practices as well as, in the case of Kozol, a factual account of the state of education and society based on research and statistics.

This book is, obviously, a great discussion starter. It is an inspiring story that educators and non-educators can learn from. I think the self-centered, sometimes egotistical tone that Esquith gets when describing his classroom takes away from the successes and joys he and his students have experienced together and continue to experience as his students grow up. I think the message sometimes gets lost. Is this a book criticizing poor teaching and giving examples of good teaching, or is it a story about a teacher and his students succeeding together against all odds?

I may pick up his first book, There are No Shortcuts, to see what I find there. Interestingly enough, my school's temporary location at (the now empty) Turner Middle School in West Philadelphia also houses the first class of KIPP West, who has taped up signs that say 'No Shortcuts' in the cafeteria already. The KIPP founders were strongly influenced by the experiences of Room 56. Even their school day is as long as his, and their teachers work almost 24 hours/7 days a week.

I did go back and read Kelly Hines' post, and found that we both struggled with the same issues about the book. She, however, reflected on how she can teach to her best ability without being a total rock star, and without giving up her family life (and honestly, her life in general). I have not gotten to that point--yet.

Please visit her blog to read her reflections, and check out some other great posts she has there. Kelly has some great management techniques and organization in her classroom! : Keeping Kids First

For more information about Room 56, check out:

book cover photo from jilldoughtie on Flickr
hair on fire picture from annje on Flickr
Shakespeare picture from Wikimedia Commons

Read On

The Importance of Silence


"Inward calm cannot be maintained unless physical strength is constantly and intelligently replenished."

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.

Hindu Prince Gautama Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.

Recently, I have been having trouble sleeping. I thought perhaps it was the fact that I haven't been running my 3 miles three times a week, or that I am stressed about the beginning of school or the house buying process that I am going through at the same time. My brain never gets a break. It chatters to me all day and all night with the 'pings' of TweetDeck, the discussions I have with myself over the house as well as my thoughts on the book I'm reading--Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith--(a future blog post, for sure) and all my plans for the beginning of the school year.

Tonight I made the effort to walk eight blocks to the gym for my 8pm yoga class. I left my cell phone at home, bringing only my yoga mat and my keys. As I walked, I found that I kept wanting to reach for my phone (it wasn't even there), and that my brain was spinning. At one point, I became completely disoriented and had to check the street signs--I have been doing this walk for 2 years. At the time I lost my way I was deep in thought about the basement in the house I'm trying to buy. My brain was so stressed out that I almost got lost 5 blocks from my house!

Whatever happened to enjoying a peaceful walk on a beautiful summer night? I used to walk everywhere, appreciating the houses, people and scenes that I passed by. Tonight, it was obvious that I was barely even paying attention to where I was going. I think it means that since I have developed this need to be constantly connected by being on the computer all day, tweeting away with TweetDeck updating every few minutes behind whatever I'm doing, I have overstimulated myself to the point of distraction.

As I entered the gym and walked up to my class, I tried very hard to calm my thoughts. Yoga requires a quiet mind....

I rolled out my mat and sat in half-Lotus, closed my eyes and began slowly breathing. As I drew my breath up my nose and felt my chest rise and my lungs filled with air, I immediately felt calmer. When was the last time I paid attention to my breath? To my lungs? To my fingers, toes, arms and legs? While my mind still had remnants of chatter running through it, I began channeling my breath and focusing on how each part of my body reacted to it. Yeah, I know it sounds all New-Agey, but I used to do this 2-3 times a week!

How had I forgotten to take care of myself and focus on me, not all of the distractions around me?

That's when I realized the importance of silence.

Not just the silence in the room, but inner silence. For the next hour, I breathed in and out, stretched out my limbs, calmed my mind and listened to the lone cricket at the window chirping along with the peaceful song of an oboe soloist being played on the CD player.

On the walk home, I was able to appreciate my surroundings, and I made the effort to focus on the NOW, not the chatter in my head. Of course, when I got home, I immediately opened my computer because I felt the need to express what I had just experienced. I haven't totally learned my lesson, I guess.

Earlier in the summer I wrote a post about going "OTG" or "Off The Grid." I have been doing a better job at balancing my online life with my f2f life, but I tonight I had a realization that I have been neglecting myself and not listening to what my body and brain really need: inner silence.

As any educator would do, I extended this experience outside of my own realm to my students. Should we be teaching kids, who are constantly connected and whose brains may not get the rest they need for proper development and learning, how to find inner silence? How will our kids balance their own lives?

Here are some studies I found on children, television and sleep. I'm sure there are more and that there will be more and children spend more and more time 'plugged in.'

Pediatrics report: Television-viewing Habits and Sleep Disturbance in School Children

Science Daily: Television Watching Before Bed Can Lead to Sleep Debt

Research Abstract: Nightly use of computer by adolescents...

quotes from
child yoga photo from:
first yoga photo from Wikimedia Commons
trees photo from Flickr-Powerhouse Museum
Read On

So What is This #edchat Thing Anyway?


For those of you who may have had your Twitter streams overwhelmed with tweets like these, here is a little explanation of how it 'goes down' every Tuesday (also know as #teachertuesday on Twitter).

Every Tuesday educators all over the world participate in online discussions that take the form of a fast-paced chat room on Twitter. These chats often occur twice during the day--once in the afternoon and once in the evening.

Usually there is a set topic (this past afternoon we discussed digital footprints: how we can teach our students about their digital footprint and maintain a positive one ourselves). The discussion centers around the topic, with people posing questions, responding to each other and retweeting statements, questions or ideas that they like.

Participants tag their tweets with the tag #edchat so that anyone can follow the conversation.

In order to better follow the conversation (it moves at lightning speed!), many people use 3rd party Twitter apps like TweetDeck or HootSuite, Twhirl or TweetGrid (there are others, too!). In these applications you can create a search column for the hashtag.

For instance, I use TweetDeck.

I put in my search for #edchat...

...and TweetDeck creates a column of all the live tweets that have the tag.

I can then see what people are talking about even if I don't follow them. This allows me to read, respond to or retweet any tweet by anyone using the hashtag.

You can also follow by using Twitter on the web by typing a search on Twitter:

...and then reading the posts.

The only problem with this way is that you need to refresh the search every few seconds to keep up with the conversation. TweetDeck and many other applications automatically refresh for you every minute or so.

If you want to check the conversation out again without re-searching, you can save the search for later.

So what is so special about #edchat?

I find the fast pace discussion exciting. The varied opinions and points of view are enlightening, and the discussion is always deep and meaningful. Some might think of it as organized chaos, but it is just like sitting in a room of brilliant educators and never having to move around the room to hear everyone's conversations. What's even better, you can jump in at any time when you see a topic, statement or idea that grabs you or that you feel strongly about without feeling like you're interrupting a conversation.

The #edchat discussions are also a great place to find like-minded educators to add to your PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network). Often, after a session, you will find your email inbox full of people from the chat who found you on Twitter, and you can search them out as well to follow.

Another kind of #edchat

A few weeks ago I participated in an #edchat discussion started by Vicki Davis through the creation of a wiki called edutweetpanel where the topics for the #edchat were decided before the date of the chat (which occurred on a Wednesday) and a schedule was set up for which topics would be discussed and when. Also, some users planned out their tweets using an online service called TweetLater through which you can set up a schedule of tweets that post to Twitter when you tell them to. (I have used TweetLater to post things when I knew I wouldn't have access to a computer the next day--it's pretty neat.)

Vicki did a wonderful post about the experience on her blog. A commenter named 'jerthebear' created an archive of the session using The Archivist:

How do these two kinds of #edchats compare?

The first kind of #edchat is more spontaneous, and therefore more erratic in who participates and how the discussion gets started. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the discussion builds easily and newcomers join as they see their Twitter streams filled with these tweets. This #edchat spanned one hour, which flew by (I spent my lunch hour tweeting away!)

The second kind is more deliberate and planned, with contributors who are more connected with each other and with discussion that follows a timetable. The original #edchat of this type spanned 2 hours, which all agreed was a little too long, but it is a new endeavor in its early stages of development.

There are many similarities between the two kinds of conversations. First, they are both centered around a topic of discussion. They also draw in new contributors while the chat is going on, and often they spark interest, with people tweeting as to what is going on and #edchat contributors drawing in followers by alerting them on how to follow the discussion.

What to do once an #edchat is over

Once an #edchat is over, you might want to let out an exaggerated 'Whew!' Your mind is spinning with ideas, and the great conversations you've just had are alive in your brain. However, as time passes, and you think back to a conversation, you may feel need to go back and reread it. Unfortunately, tweets are not forever. For this reason, you may not be able to access the discussion through Twitter. For this reason, it is important to archive the conversation in some way.

I archive all tweets that include the #edchat hashtag through TwapperKeeper (see the graphic at the top of this post). For a list of great archiving resources, check out this post by ReadWriteWeb- 10 Ways to Archive Your Tweets.

Is the hashtag being used well?

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the #edchat conversations of which I've been a part, I have noticed that when I do a search for #edchat, that people are using the tag to label all kinds of tweets about education. While this is their own choice, it has made archiving the #edchat conversations difficult. Most of the tweets that don't occur on Tuesdays should be tagged #education, not #edchat, since they are not part of a chat, but rather resources tied to education. You can see examples of this in my TweetDeck search above as well as in the Twitter search above.

I think we as #edchat participants need to keep the hashtag to our discussions and limit its use to the actual conversations rather than letting it become a generic tag placed at the end of any tweet that references education.

Is #edchat a successful endeavor?

The #edchat conversations on Twitter are successful at connecting educators and spurring engaging debate and new ideas. Let's keep this wonderful tradition going by not making #edchat another generic tag. Let's preserve its use for actual live conversations to preserve the true definition of a "chat" and leave the rest of our tweets for other tags like #education or #edtech.

I look forward to future #edchats and invite you to join in as well. I am planning on tweeting the time of the next chat as soon as I know when it is.

Follow me on Twitter and help keep the tradition going by joining an #edchat and recommending that people reserve the tag for chats only.

Great contributors I have enjoyed chatting with through #edchat:

Also, thanks to The English Teacher Online for a great description of #teachertuesday!
Read On

Teaching Without Technology


This summer I have been teaching Project Based Learning to a small group of 7th & 8th grade boys at a camp in Philadelphia. My classroom is a Study Lounge in a dorm with a dry erase board that barely erases, desks with chairs attached and carpeting throughout.

I have been teaching an Ecosystems unit to my campers in a carpeted room with no sink, few tables and ALMOST NO TECHNOLOGY!

As a lab teacher, it has been a struggle as well as a good reason to reflect:

Do my students feel as frustrated as I do? Can I teach without technology? Can my students learn without technology?

My lessons this summer are very hands on and interactive to meet the needs of boy learners (see Kent Manning's blog Motivating Boy Writers). Still, I felt like I wasn't doing my best teaching sometimes because I didn't have access to a computer, and even if I brought my laptop in there is no wireless connection. I had to reserve a special room just to show them some Discovery Education Streaming videos I had found about what we were studying. I began to worry: "Can I teach without technology?"

I found myself struggling to engage my boys in the short 1-2 page reading selections we completed despite trying several different methods for making the experience as engaging and interactive as possible. I tried Think, Pair, Share, I tried to do a Jigsaw activity and I tried just the plain old 'read it' technique. My students had trouble concentrating, and even if they didn't have to read the whole selection and knew they would be teaching their peers about what they read, they did not seem motivated to read. What I failed to mention is that they were reading selections about animals they had right in front of them in the classroom.

Then, today I was actually able to squeeze my boys into the only computer slot available all week. We had recently gone on a trip to the Schuylkill Environmental Center and hiked around for a few hours. We saw Bullfrogs, Wood Frogs, Snapping Turtles, American Toads and more! I decided to have them use Glogster to create a research report on an animal we had seen. Once they saw what Glogster could do, and I reviewed the assignment and the kinds of things they needed to find out about the animal, they were instantly motivated. Even those who struggled to read or concentrate were quickly able to find the information they needed and then put it onto a glog. We only had an hour to complete the whole project, but I was proud of what they turned out.

for the full glogs: &

I couldn't help but wonder: are we all 21st Century learners? I felt like a better teacher while using technology and I watched my campers become truly engaged with the content they were reading. Does this mean that my students NEED technology to be successful learners? Or am I just a better teacher when using technology?

Are we reaching a point where we as teachers are becoming 'Digital Natives' like our students and therefore require these techie tools to be successful?

There are students across the world learning new things every day (and surpassing us in test scores & job readiness) without the resources that we have. What are the implications of this?

Some links on this topic:

Teach Paperless: What Makes a Good 21st Century Teacher? (this is a great blog about learning in the 21st Century) (a website dedicated to Technology in Education)

Education World-Technology Integration
(a site with resources for teachers trying to integrate technology)

Cool Cat Teacher Blog
(a blog about successful teaching and effective tools in Educational Technology)

Free Technology for Teachers
(a great resource for free online tools for teachers)

One thing I would like to find: studies, posts, etc... explaining how we don't need technology to reach our students and to be effective teachers. Please advise!
Read On

The Right Tool at the Right Time


Cell Phones as Tools in the Classroom (?)

I was directed to a blog post today by Larry Ferlazzo through a tweet:

I was intrigued by the fact that Larry was not a supporter (as most of my Twitter PLN members are) of cell phone use in the classroom. So, I visited Scott McLeod's post to read his comment. Scott had posted about a district that had changed its mind about installing a device in its schools that would jam cell phone reception. Larry had commented about building relationships with students to help enforce school policies. He also commented about why he agrees with his district's ban on cell phones in school.

It was refreshing to hear the opinion of someone who works in an inner city district who deals with the same kinds of issues I do. I responded:

The idea of purchasing a device to jam cell phone reception was a ridiculous idea in the first place. We all know that authoritarian measures like this rarely work in schools. As Larry stated, building relationships and explaining policies while allowing student input is much more effective. It was refreshing to hear the perspective of another inner city teacher. In my K-6 school students begin bringing cell phones to school as early as 2nd or 3rd grade. While I understand why--no one is home when they leave for school, no one is home when they get home, and the walk to and from school is not always safe--there is no reason for a student to have their cell phone ON during the school day. If someone needs to call them, they can call the main office.

I understand the possibilities that cell phones in the classroom can have--but what kinds of cell phones? 100% of my students qualify for free/reduced lunch. Their phones are on pre-paid plans. Most of them just call or text or play music, with a few having camera functions. If they were to use the phone to text an answer to the teacher--who is paying the texting plan? What if a student's phone is cut off because their minutes are used up?

Larry also brings up a good point about bullying & harrassment. Unfortunately, our school climate is not a friendly one most of the time. Students threaten each other verbally in front of teachers on a daily basis--imagine if they could do it through a cell phone?! While I believe that using cell phones in the classroom hold great possibilities for authentic learning, that does not mean that they are the right tool for everyone. Too many times we adopt new tools because everyone else is using them or says their great. We should be making educated choices about which tools are right for our students and our schools. Cell phones (at least for now) are not that tool for my school, and I'm sure for many schools in the Philadelphia public school district.

Mary Beth (aka mbteach)

While we may be in the minority in the world of edtech, we are also in the majority when it comes to real life situations. There are 16,000 teachers in the School District of Philadelphia and over 270 schools. While we try our darndest to be innovators (and succeed!) not all tools are made for all environments. That is not to say that using cell phones as a tool in the classroom in Philadelphia public schools is out of the question, but for many it is not practical.

Please let me know your thoughts/reactions (even if you disagree!)
Read On

Save Trees: Don't print me!