Hacking Your Classroom: Getting Around Blocks & Bans

Hacking Your Classroom: Getting Around Blocks & Bans

Getting Around Blocks & Bans: Hacking Your Classroom

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

See parts 1 and 2 in this series, PD Sucks. Is Edcamp the Solution? and Pairing Teachers for Better Professional Development

In this PD series, we address the things teachers most want and need for professional development. Professional development is an important topic–something every educator needs. However, most agree it often misses the mark.

However relaxing it might be to sit in an all-day lecture about something someone thinks might interest teachers, those types of professional developments often fail to give us the things we really need.

In the first chapter of our PD series, we discussed creating an EdCamp-style participant-directed PD where all members of the school contribute, creating and choosing their own workshops. In our second segment, we discussed matching people up organically, so that partners can share their talents and receive some inspiration from other people–not just teachers, all members of the school community.

This week, we’re going to discuss the white elephant in the room.

Tech frustration.

Many teachers struggle to bring students the type of tech experience they would like because of systemic blocks and bans, or worse, feel embarrassed as students have more access to tech than teachers do. This is the issue that brought me to the tech world myself. Students continually asked the hard questions about why they couldn’t utilize technology such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets, and why phones were confiscated when students were using them for educational purposes. I wanted to improve my classroom experience and give my students more, but budget was a concern.

Tech access is a problem in many schools. There are legitimate reasons–the desire of administrators to protect students from the darker side of the internet, fear of the unknown, lack of wireless capacity and budget difficulties which cause insufficient numbers of computers or the inability to upgrade existing tech. Some educational leaders have overcome these hurdles, but others are still working to get to that space.

In the mean time, teachers are frustrated. Many attend professional development on 21st century tools they cannot use. Though many of us take the initiative to train ourselves through Twitter chat PLNs like #edtechchat, EdCamps, and self-created best practice groups, we get frustrated when we get great ideas and return to the classroom unable to use them.

Is the situation hopeless? I say, “No!” There are so many things out there that can be done to bring tech to the classroom even if you don’t have tech or money. Learnist was the first thing I found. It enabled me to put together quality, up-to-date materials for students. At first, students did the lessons at home. Students were willing to do the extra work on their own, because they knew I was giving them better material. I called it “an involuntary flip.”

Either way, it worked. It raised the quality of my lesson. Then, I got a few classroom computers, so we could work on things together. From there, I found other tools and tech strategies that helped students–most without spending a dime. I’m no expert–I’m a ninja. I piece together the tech I need to thrive. You can, too.

4 Questions To Guide You In Hacking Your Classroom

What are your goals for learning?

What are your goals? There are plenty of free apps out there that you can use to get to where you need to go, but you need to decide what you’d like to accomplish. Many people get app-happy and just look for anything that isn’t blocked in their school. This causes a loss of focus, and can confuse students. I use a small handful of apps in my classroom, and expand as my needs change or as new tech becomes available. Less is more, quite often. I’m currently using a WordPress blog whose domain name I purchased to avoid a twenty-paragraph URL.

I post thoughts connected to lessons we are learning in class. I link in Learnist boards, so students have one-stop shopping, and leave callouts for students to comment. I use this as a way to teach digital citizenship, too, requiring students to comment positively, appropriately, and respectfully at all times. I then tweet out the posts. My system is very simple. Students know where to find the information and how to interact.

What tools do they already have?

Many times students already have an expensive pile of technology in their pockets.

I try to teach students to dictate research papers into Siri and then email them into a document to edit. These are students who do not feel confident writing, but articulate well. Each and every student knew they had an IOS or Droid note app, but none considered using it in this way. Thinking outside the box required no investment on my part, other than teaching them proper standard dictation skills, something I learned in the olden days in my first job and repurposed for the 21st century.

Can you change the way you’re delivering your lesson?

I have five student computers as of last year. Sure, that’s not enough for every student to use a computer, but I can do a few things to maximize the computer coverage. I can design a station lesson that rotates students through the computers for a certain amount of time or by class period–this would require a two or three day lesson where each student gets one period. I can assign one group member to do research and bring it back to the group. I can also create a flash-lesson whereby the computer needs are minimal, and students do the heavy lifting at home. Students without access come into my advisory and finish up there. I give everyone plenty of time.

Would flipping your lesson help?

Would it be possible to flip your lesson–to have students do the research and publishing at home, and the planning and collaboration in the classroom to avoid the Draconian and frustrating policies in your school or district?

Additional Resources

Are you looking for ways to bring more tech to your students, but know you don’t have enough computers in the classroom, or perhaps you have blocks and bans that are preventing you from using things you want to use for your lessons? Enjoy this Learnist board, “Be a Ninja: Getting Around Blocks and Bans,” and please add to the conversation and/or suggest content for the board as well.

What are some of the ways you have achieved ninja status in your classroom, even if you haven’t had the budget for a lot of tech? Leave us a comment down below and on the Learnist board, add to the Learnist board, and follow Learnist Tweets on Twitter to continue the conversation. I look forward to using your ideas in my classroom.

Image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad; Hacking Your Classroom: Getting Around Blocks & Bans