Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cell Phones in the Classroom - What Do You Do?

I've always been fairly tolerant of cell phones in my classroom, as long as they aren't a distraction to other students. Since my students are paying to be there, I figure it's their money wasted if they don't pay attention. Lately, though, the level of rudeness and distraction has been unreal. I've had students answer the phone in class, text while I am talking directly to them, or cheating on tests with them. (During a vocabulary test, I had a student with on his phone....) I'm rethinking my policy.

I'd like to do what this woman does in the video. I'm sure that ended the phone problem in her classroom, but I don't have the guts or a tile floor to accomplish this task. Plus, I don't want to banish cell phones entirely, because students do use them to take pictures of notes on the board or record certain parts of my lectures. I check my own phone on every break for text messages from absent students, and often use the calendar or calculator function during class, so I appreciate that they can be useful.

I am, however, going to banish them during certain times in the class period. Here are a couple of ideas I'm mulling over. If you have any good ideas, please send them my way. A new quarter starts in October, and I want to have my policy in hand.

1. Basket drop. One teacher at my school has a basket at the front of the classroom where students drop their phones at the beginning of class, then they can pick them up and use them on breaks.

2. My online teacher acquaintance Scipi is using the "Sock it Away" method. She describes it on her blog post here. This seems like a great idea because it seems effective, but also uses a little humor.

3. One of my college professors told us that if he saw or heard a cell phone in his class, we would be asked to leave. I could modify this to lecture or presentation times, because as I said earlier, if they waste their own work time, that's their problem, not mine.

Any other ideas? Post them here. I'm all ears!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Spaghetti Tower Group Dynamic Exercise

For some of my students, twenty percent of their grade is determined by group work. They have "learning teams," which are governed by a self-written charter. How they cooperate in these teams is essential to their success.

I like to do this exercise at the beginning of the class, before they form learning teams, to help students recognize how they, and others, work in a group dynamic.

1. Divide the students into teams of four to five.

2. Give each team half a package of spaghetti, a jumbo box of Dots candy and one regular size marshmallow.

3. Tell the teams they have 18 minutes to build a tower. The tallest free-standing tower at the end of 18 minutes wins. When time is up, hands off.

4. The only rules are:  the tower must be free-standing (no propping), the marshmallow must be at the top of the tower, and teams must use only the materials provided.

The exercise is a variation of one that a friend participated in at a police academy. They also use it in business schools, and in various employee retreats. If you search "spaghetti team building" you will find the original exercise using 20 spaghetti noodles, a length of string, a length of tape and one marshmallow. I modified the materials to get more inventive, taller towers.

After the exercise, I have students write a few paragraphs of reflection:

1. How did your group work together?
2. Did someone emerge as the leader? How were decisions made?
3. What was your role in the group dynamic?
4. Was someone primarily a creative thinker? A practical thinker? An analyzer?
5. What could your group have done better?
6. How could you better contribute to the group dynamic?

Students love this activity, and it gets them thinking about the different ways people approach group work. The discussion is afterwards is always interesting.

Most recently, one group said they worked together seamlessly because they were all ex-military and had a similar mindset, with no problem trading off leadership. Another group had some contention because one of the members was eating the Dots and the self-appointed leader was trying to convince her that the group needed every Dot. One all-male team finished two minutes early and sat back. One all-female team fussed with their tower until the very last second. Every team is different, but there is always plenty to analyze.

 The winning tower!