Kicking off the school year: Web 2.0 Style w/ Cell Phones

Starting the school year is always crazy!

I'd like to share what we've done the first three days of school and the new things I've done this year to make teaching with Web 2.0 a little easier.

Day 1
Besides doing my usual textbook scavenger hunt (helping kids know where things are in the textbook saves a lot of time and is a great prereading strategy), my students immediately went to the wiki and completed the Google form for the first day of class survey.

In the form I ask things about the student's Internet access and computer access at home (many of my students don't have high speed access at home, so I don't usually give homework.) I also asked about cell phones and the availability of texting. (I have a few without, so have to accommodate things.)

I revamped my class wiki with several major changes:

  • I have set up a Google calendar for each class so the students can add it to their Google Calendar (every student has to have a Google account – we set those up on Day 2 for the 9th graders.) Each class has the google calendar embedded on their main wiki page. Here are the links to my classes so you can see how this works:

Computer Science
Computer Fundamentals

Notice that I either put the lesson plan on the Google Cal event (like for accounting) or for my classes that need links (like Computer Fundamentals) -the bottom of the page has the lesson plan.

This means I can easily manage my calendars and as I update things, I see it and they do too!

  • I use assignment “tags” — no tag, no grade. This makes it so whether we wiki or ning, I can find everything!

    I use the following tagging standard date and class — so the assignment yesterday for computer fundamentals would be 8_12_2008_cf — it is intuitive so if they don't see it, they can still sort of remember my method.

    The problem with differentiated assessment (letting them turn in a video, blog post, or photo w/ commentary) is that sometimes it can be tough to find. My having them use the standard tag for the assignment, “boom!” it is there. They also add folksonomy as they wish in addition to the assignment tag, but the assignment tag is required.

  • Simple navigation – Students need a start page — I put links by grade level on the left and home page and worked to make the home page more simple for them!

I talk about that we are a wiki-centric classroom on the first day. The emails from the parents and students on the first day go into a group list that I set up in google email. This weekend I began sending out a link to the wiki page to the parents and students so that there are no questions about where we are.

So, if I need to email keyboarding, I type keyboarding in the “To:” box and then it fills in the addresses. I send out one email with the link to the main wiki page, and then just infrequently during the year. It is all there on the wiki, so why would I need to do more than just a few times.

This Week

In Computer Science, we're working on sort of an exciting top secret project. More of that later…

But today, one of the most exciting moments came in Computer Fundamentals. I've been following a multi-day lesson that I created to help students use their cell phones to help them be more organized and productive.

We start off by taking a look at the Microsoft parody of The Devil Wears Prada shown above. I ask the question, “what is the most important tool in this video?” The answer is: “the cell phone.”

I ask how many carry planners to class and get about 50%. I ask how many have their cell phone in their pocket and the answer is 95%.

We also talk about why schools DON'T want cell phones in school. It is about behavior AND the fact we haven't given constructive, productive uses of cell phones in the classroom.

In fact, we are very strict on this very point, with the exception of my room. My headmaster is so visionary! I've talked to him about what I wanted to do and he was fine with it! When he talked about our two new cell phone policies (leave cell phone on teachers desk to go to bathroom, and we see a cell phone being used and it goes in detention), he also said that when Mrs. Vicki had a cell phone lesson to please bring their cell phones to class!

That being said, if I'm not using a cell phone for a lesson, I take it up, which, in fact, I did on Monday. The cell phone is in detention for five days in the office!

But in this case, we are using cell phones to become more productive in a 3 day lesson. Here's a peek at my lesson plan:


#1 Setting up an iGoogle page (RSS Reader)

  1. Make sure you have a Google Account (If you have gmail, you should have one.)
  2. Sign in to your account.
  3. We will create a start page using igoogle

Widgets to add

Day 2

#1 We will set up accounts on Jott and learn how to use it to add events to our Google Cal.

#2 – Learn how to jott yourself a reminder, create a group to jott to, and to Jott to your Google Cal. Print off your inbox of Jott for your lesson.

Day 3

#1 Then, we will set up a Remember the Milk account and add it to our igoogle page, set it up to work with Jott, and add items to our list using our voice.

Grade taken on igoogle page:
Olympic widget, googlecal, school news; remember the milk widget required.

Grade taken on Jott:
Jott a reminder to yourself, Jott another person, Jott to your google cal

For the grade:

  • Mrs. Vicki will do a visual check -or-
  • You may print the page and turn it into the box
  • Due 8/13/2008


These vocabulary words should be added to your notes.

  • RSS (really simple syndication)
  • RSS reader
  • Widget
  • Web 2.0

BoldItalicUnderlineColor and StyleOrdered ListUnordered ListHorizontal RuleInsert LinkRemove LinkInsert Images and FilesEmbed WidgetInsert TableInsert Special CharacterInsert Code Cancel


So, today I look up and see all of this happening, I was struck by the energy and excitement. Look at these faces.

When the bell rang, the students were upset. They wanted to stay! They came back in to study hall to set this up. They were organizing their calendars and setting up groups.

They were planning their weeks — grabbing homework lists and putting it in the right place. It was exciting for them and me! I want them to be productive and manage their lives well!

Is all of this play? What is the point?

Look at the type of people that are going to be successful — they manage a lot of things. If you follow the principles of Getting Things Done by David Allen, you'll see that capturing the things to do is an important step.

I'm just sharing with my students the things that I'm doing that are making my life better. Using Jott, Remember the Milk, Twitter, Google Cal, and Timebridge are important to getting things done in my life. (I'll be sharing more about how I use these tools together but I only share Jott, Remember the Milk, and Google Cal for them because that is what they need.)

This generation needs to have adults who don't just say “no no” but “have you thought about this?” We are dealing with little handheld devices with more computing power than the PC's we were buying in 1997!

So, why not use them? Why not teach behavior? Self control? Appropriate use?

Again, I talk to my students about the meaning of being a “professional student” — and how we behave when at school.

These tools are becoming ubiquitous, unblockable, and virtually unstoppable and there is really no excuse for saying they are unusable in the classroom.

When kids go to the bathroom, the cell phone goes on my desk. When I'm not teaching using the devices, they stay up and off. But when it is time to record things and manage their lives, there is a time and a place to do this. There are times for cell phones to be used in the classroom.

One student set up her cell phone to text her at 7 pm tonight to remind her to study her vocab for science. I saw other students thinking through and planning their week.

Planning is one of the things that make a productive person.

It is also very useful for their iGoogle page to become their “launch page.” They love their igoogle pages and are also adding a lot of things to do with their hobbies as well as their calendar (and list tomorrow.)

I used to teach RSS halfway through the year — now, it is literally the first thing I teach. It is not too hard. It is not to unreachable. And with the Olympics right now, the meaning of RSS really hits home as they see the medal counts change instantly.

So, what do you think? Am I upsetting the applecart? Is enabling students to use cell phones in productive ways opening up a bigger can of worms?

I don't think so. Teach them to use what they already carry.

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We've seen book burning. We've seen blog and wiki blocking. We see cell phone bans. I think that getting at the behavior is a much more reasonable approach.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Reidar August 13, 2008 - 6:04 am

This was a great post, with some truly excellent ideas! It thrills me to discover that there are always new things to learn, new ways of adapting tools that I already use, and new tools to learn about. Thanks for sharing, Vicki!


loonyhiker August 13, 2008 - 10:52 am

What awesome lessons! I want to take your class. Although, maybe I am virtually. I decided to tweek my igoogle page with things you require for your students. And I will check out jott again to see how I can use it. You are a phenomenal teacher!!

Louise Maine August 13, 2008 - 11:37 am

Thanks for the post! I now have google calendar set for my classes! I had not played much with google calendar and thank you for posting – it is what I am looking for. Now to finish all of the assignments we are collaborating on in google docs!

KDtech August 13, 2008 - 2:08 pm

Wow! I can’t thank you enough for all your sharing. I am a long time elementary teacher who is now teaching technology to K to 8 students. I am extremely excited and overwhelmed!
I am an avid reader of your blog. I can’t wait to see what’s next each day. Since the first time I read your blog I have set up a RSS feed, I can’t seem to stop reading and adding to it! Your blog has inspired me start a wiki page for my middle school classes this year. I am struggling to get it all set up and make sure it is meaningful. I have been trying to add google calanders but I keep getting error messages, I am not sure what I am doing wrong! I am also trying to come up with a good project something like your digiteen but I am having trouble knowing where to start. I am apt to jump in and figure it out as I go but I know I need to slow down and plan out the details. How do you keep up with everything. I would love some suggestions! Here is the link to the wiki I started

Thanks for all you do! I want to try it all!

T Stine August 13, 2008 - 2:19 pm

This post was truly awesome! I pan on sharing this with all of my colleagues and not just those teaching computer class! Great ideas – thank you!

Amy Strecker August 13, 2008 - 12:11 pm

What great first days! I see why students don’t want to leave!

Danita Russell August 14, 2008 - 1:33 am

Great idea! I love that you are integrating cell phone technology into the classroom. I worked with a teacher this year that let the kids use their cell phones to take pictures and had to refer to them as “cameras with accessories” ;o)

I do have a question about your survey and the drop down boxes. Did you make that with Google Docs and then embed it? I LOVE the idea of a survey like that on the wiki site.

Keep up the good work!

Jenny Clark August 14, 2008 - 3:28 am

I starred this! Excellent post, I hope to share it with other great educators as discussions about cell phones come up! I recently set up a igoogle page, a blog, and a gmail account for my 2nd grade class! I’m going to add a google calendar! I’m also going to look into google docs more! I’ve been hearing lots of good things! Thanks for all the ideas!

Carl Anderson August 14, 2008 - 6:43 am

Since this is a computer fundamentals class it is hard to divorce the tools from the content since the tools are the content. It is easy to see how the principal could make an exception for the cell phone policy rather than reverse it. The problem is (unless there is something about the assignments, or future assignments, you have left unsaid) that the integration of these tools in the classroom is for a class that is basically about how to use these and other tools. The impact is recursive. If, however, the students in your class were using these tools to make their work in their other classes more productive (which I assume will happen if there is adequate learning transfer occurring) the policy would stand a better chance of being reformed.

Technology for technology sake is much like art for art sake. Sure, it is neat and has value but that value is only found within its own context. Use technology (or use computer fundamentals) to serve another purpose (or enhance learning in another subject) and the impact is sure to be felt outside the walls of your physical classroom and the virtual field of your flat classroom and spill out into the classrooms where bans on cell phones are normally celebrated.

Great post! I look forward to reading how this plays out as the year progresses.

c gaub August 14, 2008 - 2:56 am

wonderful ideas… if only I could convince my admin… I will keep at it and your expereinces might help. Are you doing this with your middle school kid or just the HS ones?

Healigan August 19, 2009 - 2:47 am

We are 10 days from the start of school, and this post really helped me focus all the swirling ideas in my head. THANKS! Cell phones are anathema in my school and I hate what that does to us, to them. I am angry when the kids break the rules, though we don’t really give them a choice. And I am angry when I have to waste time policing it. We are still in the culture of “protecting” them. I sneak in whatever I can, without breaking the rules. Reading your blog helps me keep my eye on the prize–no matter how far away it is!

B00KW0RM October 16, 2009 - 6:47 am

what a fantastic concept! i am going to teach elementary age students, but this is a fantastic idea for older students! wow! I have seen some very creative ideas, but this one has to take the cake! Fantastic idea!

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