A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is in its fifth year of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). The first year was spent on developing the infrastructure, and the last four years have focused on piloting the initiative, developing personal and professional capacity, and eventually spreading the practice of encouraging students to learn with their personal technology tools throughout the district. I have been so impressed with the dedication of our teachers to transform their classrooms with BYOT! In this series of posts, I am sharing some of their experiences from different grade levels in their own words.
Guest Post by Michele Dugan @FCHSDugan
English Teacher – Forsyth Central High School
As a high school teacher, I used to fight a daily battle against what I called the “Device Distracters” in the hands of my students. Like a well-written multiple choice exam option, this distracter was a strong contender for students to select. Its allure could only be mitigated by one force in the students’ realm, and that force was me. I offered, suggested, and sometimes declared that students “put these items away.” After all, it was time to learn! However, as incorporation of BYOT started to spread across schools, I realized that I was the one who was selecting the wrong answer; technology is and has been a correct and viable “choice” for learning all along.
Location, location, location
Any realtor or marketing agent adheres to a basic key of success: location, location, location. Educators took note of this strategy. We place important notices in the front of our schools where parents will notice them. We post announcements within the teacher work rooms for all to view. Location matters. So, where are our students directing their attention? Where do they gather, communicate, and collaborate? The answer is apparent: online, through their devices. High school students, in particular, have turned their attention to social media, texting, and other forums for communication. If I can introduce curriculum into their most frequented locations, levels of engagement, understanding, and production rise. I find myself surprised to discover that students are using online social connections to extend the conversation outside of the school day. What teacher doesn’t want to hear that her students held a heated debate over symbolism in The Awakening through social media? (Yes, this happened!) Students have demonstrated that they have the abilities to communicate; BYOT enhanced my capabilities to facilitate and encourage these conversations in the classroom and beyond. Education does not have to end when the bell rings.
A Class Divided United
I instruct two different courses and well over one hundred students each day. I teach highly gifted students. I teach special needs students. I teach students who work every day and night after school. I teach students who are Ivy League bound. I teach students whose home lives are far from ideal. But most importantly, I teach children who will grow up to be our neighbors, co-workers, and leaders. It is my role to offer them the tools of college and career readiness, and to encourage their strengths. In this way, BYOT (“B”, for me, can stand for “Bring or Borrow”) is their lifeline to the “real world,” and encourages each student to use his or her strengths.
My opinion on BYOT shifted when I realized how often I use technology as a professional. Sure, I use it for instruction, but what about meetings? I access Infinite Campus to see student grades. During professional development sessions, I can take notes with an application that shares my files with my online cloud. I access my shared Google calendar when planning the next due date. While grading, I use my phone’s calculator (after all, I am an English teacher). Why shouldn’t I take the opportunity to guide students through using the same tools they will use upon graduation? More often than not, they are teaching me!
Interestingly, BYOT has made differentiation much more personal for my students. Within my classroom, I can use Socrative, PollEverwhere, and JoinMe to connect with students through their technology. Last year, I noted that I had greater student participation when I used these applications or sites. Why? I asked my students. I learned that the “safe” space for communication, including anonymous answers, allows students to answer freely, without fear of judgment. I don’t have to tell you that peer pressure is a source of stress for our learners. Therefore, when students participate in individual work, I offer QR codes on each desk with links to extensions and remediation. Students choose the link that best suits them; this eliminates the fear of asking for help that some students encounter when they simply don’t understand. Suddenly, my quiet students, my special needs students, my highly gifted students, and my nervous students had a voice and a lifeline, and they are united in that they are all learning every day, and in their own ways. Use of BYOT facilitated unity in my classroom, and students’ confidence levels have soared.
Twitter: It’s not just for the birds anymore.
I often wish I had more opportunities to communicate effectively with my students, their parents, and the community. I feel – and studies demonstrate – that this communication is imperative to student success.
Outside of my classroom, I use my school Twitter for homework reminders, learning extensions, academic sources, newsletters to parents, and professional development. My professional library of resources is interminably expanding, and – to be completely honest – my teaching has changed completely through suggestions by fellow educators (strangers!) from around the world.
The potential for academic growth is infinite. In fact, author Robert Theobald wrote, “In the future, we shall measure our lives by our own growth and our ability to help others grow.” As a teacher, it is my job – and passion – to facilitate and participate in this growth. The choice to incorporate BYOT into my classroom permits me to learn and extend curriculum with and for my students, and I know I am encouraging a positive opportunity for student success and growth in the process. Community communication facilitates student success, even in 140 characters or less.
Photo Credits – George Ramirez