Archive for October, 2007

LOL @ Bhvr Anlsis & Txting ;-)

From a discussion on crisis management at grad school tonight, we got onto the topic of cell phones in schools. Some folks recommended a straight-up ban. I disagreed, and suggested instead we model appropriate use of technology for our students and focus on trying to reduce or eliminate their desire to use phones in class. The conversation moved toward the most frequently witnessed use of cell phones in schools: texting.

I was challenged: How will you take a cell phone away from a girl who hides it in her skirt? What about all the cheating kids do with phones? My basic response was this: if the kids are engaged throughout the class, they’ll be less likely to drift to their phones. To cheating, I said I believed that if cell phone cheating is that rampant in a class, the problem is not the phones, it’s probably either a) the assessment, or b) a lack of classroom management. I tend to agree with the folks who propose teaching appropriate uses for technology rather than outright bans, if for no other reason than that bans rarely work anyway.

As I thought more about this discussion on the ride home, I thought about how neatly the “ed tech” angle ties into an aspect of school psychology, behavior analysis.

Behavior analysis relies on a fairly simple principle we call ABCAntecedent, Behavior, Consequence. If the Behavior is “texting during class”, there must also be some sort of Setting Event or Antecedent – what immediately or not-so-immediately precedes the Behavior. Likewise, there is also a Consequence – what happens immediately after. According to behavior analysts, we can guide behavior by altering the Antecedents and Consequences.

Example 1:

Barbara is an another boring English class. The teacher is not engaging, and rarely introduces any variety into the class. Bored stiff, Barbara goes for her phone to check her messages and text a friend. Her texting, a direct violation of policy, goes unnoticed by the teacher.

Antecedent/Setting Event: Boring class; no engagement.
Behavior: Texting
Consequence: Friend contacted, boredom momentarily relieved.
Verdict: Behavior reinforced – likely to continue.

Let’s switch things up.

Example 2:

Same student, same boring class, same text. Barbara gets caught this time, and is written up. When the vice-principal gets to her writeup three days later, she is assigned detention.

Antecedent/Setting Event: Boring class; no engagement.
Behavior: Texting
Consequence: Short-term: Friend contacted, boredom momentarily relieved. Long-term: Detention.
Verdict: Behavior reinforced – likely to continue. Why? The immediacy of boredom relief outweighs the detention that won’t come for another week.

Rain down detentions on poor Babs; it won’t make much of a difference. More work is also created for the teacher (who has to write the student up) and the vice-principal (who has to deal with the situation). How do we make everyone happy?

Change what happens before the behavior occurs – head it off at the pass.

Example 3:

Same student, same English class. Teacher creates engaging lessons, varies activities and assessments. Makes learning meaningful to students. Teacher alleviates boredom so Babs doesn’t have to. The need for boredom relief is removed; the phone stays tucked away. Babs has no more detentions, the teacher doesn’t have to write her up any more, and the vice-principal can focus on more pressing disciplinary matters.

Sure, these scenarios are a little oversimplified, but not so much so that they’re inaccurate. The moral of the story for me is that the “great cell phone debate” (how silly will this look in 20 years?) is not nearly as much about technology as it is engaging young people. Take away their cell phones and they’ll write notes to each other. Take away their notes and they’ll fiddle with something else. Create an environment that does not engender behaviors such as texting answers to one another, and you won’t have these problems (for God’s sake people, walk around your classrooms and LOOK at your students while they test! Have kids place their phones on their desks if it’s that bad! Let them try to text the answers to essay questions to each other, instead of multiple choice questions, and see how far they get!).

Texting, like all behaviors, serves a function. Remove the need for that function, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Classroom 2.0 or Classroom 0.1 Alpha RC2 – your kids will be with you, and not elsewhere.

Fathers & Sons, Vol. II

I’m not much of a crier.

In fact, I can probably count the number of times I’ve cried in my adult life on one hand (OK, maybe two). That’s not meant to be some macho boast, but rather to give you some context for what I’m about to say:

In the week since I discovered this song by Ben Folds, I don’t think I’ve managed to get through it once without at least shedding a tear (today on the ride home from grad school), or at most, breaking down into full-body sobs (last Sunday night). In a good way.

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I’ll leave the cinematographic analysis to those far better qualified, because for me, that’s way beside the point right now. Every once in a while, a song comes along that connects with you on an emotional level so deep that it just floors you. This song has humbled me in a way I’m having trouble articulating. If you’re a parent, though, I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.


England’s new number 9?


(see, my grandad’s second cousin’s third wife’s cat is from across the pond – someone get FIFA on the phone).

In lieu of me jumpstarting my international career at age 30, here’s a picture of the cutest witch/monkey combo this side of Oz:


TTP 4: Against All Odds

After my initial attempt to set up a Twitter-based personal learning network for my students was foiled by Captcha-blind laptops, I set up 26 student accounts from home. The following Wednesday, I came to class armed with usernames and passwords. I even had a Powerpoint of usernames to cycle through on our projection screen so all the kids would have to do is type “follow (username)” 26 times and be done with it. We’d all protect our updates and be Twittering away.

Yeah, right.

I don’t know if it was the multiple versions-old IE, or just slow laptops, but Twitter took forever to load. Some students managed to follow some others, but in the end, I told everybody to go home and follow the usernames I posted on my website.

Once we’re all in and following each other (I seem to be underestimating how difficult this is for them), we’ll protect our updates to create the “walled garden” effect – I have mixed feelings about this, but I prefer to err on the side of caution with something this new.

Initial response has been cautiously positive. In the last day or two, students have been Twittering basic “hey who’s there” messages. In days and weeks to come, I plan to extend the conversation beyond the classroom walls by tweeting them questions and links to discuss. I want to engage with these students on a more personal level than I have time to do in class while getting them thinking about their own learning and education, and I’m hoping this is one way to accomplish that goal.