Roll With I.T. | Relieving Common Technology Frustrations in the Classroom

Contributed By

Joey Ridenour

English Teacher at Whitesboro High School

Roll With I.T. | Relieving Common Technology Frustrations in the Classroom

Posted in Pro Tips | December 06, 2016

Falling in Love with Instructional Technology

Using technology in the classroom is a lot like falling in love. When you first find technology that improves your life as an educator you are filled with a euphoric passion to tell it to the world and shout it from the rooftops. Wonder, pleasure, and excitement becomes infectious, spreading elated joy everywhere you go.

You plan the perfect lesson and prepare everything the day before instead of waiting until the last minute. That night you have pleasant dreams about your administrator coming to evaluate your classroom and seeing your brilliant use of technology and giving you a superior rating.

The next morning you leave the house with a smile on your face and a bounce in your step. The birds are chirping and the sun is shining and it’s going to be a wonderful day.

First period bell rings, and you eagerly dive in, but you have trouble getting started. Some students forgot their devices at home, others forgot to charge theirs, and most would rather stare at their cell phones. To top it all off, the internet stops working. It’s then that you start to realize there might be trouble in paradise.

At this point you have two choices. The first is to throw a fit and say, “This is why I don’t use technology!” and break up with it entirely. But unless you are planning on retiring in the next few years, you’ll be running into your ex, technology, in the halls, at staff meetings and workshops and virtually everywhere you go until the end of your teaching career.

My principal often reminds us, “If you aren’t interested in using technology, you have no business in education because that is the direction it is going.” This is why I suggest option two—Roll with I.T.

Try some of these techniques and save yourself the heartache of a permanent divorce with technology.

Cell Phones in Class

Students won’t stay off of their cell phones, and when you try to take it from them, it becomes a violent tug of war that disrupts your class. They say they can’t concentrate without music, but it takes them the entire class period to find the perfect song so they can get started. Their phones are their lifeline to the world and they become severely anxious when they don’t have access to them.

I used to have this problem daily, so I came up with a remedy after the winter break, and it has drastically changed the atmosphere of my classroom. I bought a clear plastic shoe holder and put it in the front of my classroom and attached a large surge protector with multiple plugs to the wall and introduced this policy.

By last period, free parking is usually pretty full ...

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Why It Works

There are couple of reason why this works. First, students view their cell phones as an extension of themselves. They’ve often told me that they feel violated and angry when a teacher rudely snatches their cell phone from them.

When I was a kid, I had a diary that I was fiercely protective of. It contained the latest details of my most recent crush and heartaches, embarrassing drawings and other ramblings that I hope have been wise enough to burn by now. But if my mother had snatched my diary from my hands, I would feel violated and distrustful of her. That’s how students feel about their cell phones.

Before my free parking system, I once asked a girl to give me her cell phone at the beginning of class so she could concentrate. She instantly burst into tears and said, “I just can’t be away from my phone for that long!” I admit that I thought this was ridiculous, but I’ve come to understand that to them, their phones are deeply personal and they worry constantly about someone looking inside and peeking into their private world.

Ewww! As if?

The truth is, if I am to create an environment in my classroom where student trust me enough to write about their thoughts and emotions, I must take their feelings into account.

The reason Free Parking works is because they voluntarily put them there, they get a free charge, and the clear plastic allows them to keep an eye on them so no one will get into their stuff and make them feel violated. Even when I occasionally catch a student on their phone, which rarely happens, I politely say, “Go put your phone in jail please,” and I continue with my lesson.

My students asked if I give “Get out of Jail free” cards. I thought that was a great idea. I give them out whenever I catch them doing something of particularly good character.

My solution to the music dilemma is this—I turn on Pandora on my desktop and let them choose one of these two stations. The choice is between Classical for Studying, which is modern music in classical form, or Video Game Music.

Neither of these have words to sing along with and both are soothing to the teenage brain. They fought it at first, but in the end they would rather have something than nothing.

These policies have been a resounding success. I introduced them in January of last year and I only had to give two detentions by the end of the year. My new students this year think it’s cool and I haven't had any problems yet.

I have been changed by this as well. I no longer become angry about their occasional cell phone violations. I just roll with it, acknowledging that they are not intentionally trying to upset me. They are just kids who are attached to their diaries, I mean phones, and they sometimes forget that school is more important at that time than their personal lives.

Overall, it’s about respect. I recently had a student compliment me by saying that I was one of very few who treated students like they are young adults and not stupid kids. If you give respect, you’ll get respect. This has gone a long way in creating a trustful, respectful atmosphere in my classroom.

A Student Forgot His/Her Chromebook/iPad at Home

News flash! Students will forget their stuff. The only reason they don’t forget their head is because it is attached to their body. This is not a new thing. It has been going on since the dawn of education, and it is not going to drastically change now that we’ve given them something different to work with.

Teachers get this one track mindset that everyone has to have the device in order to participate and the whole lesson is ruined because Johnny forgot his device. No! Roll with I.T. Johnny gets a paper copy today. Maybe this will teach him some responsibility, but probably not. He’ll likely do it again because Johnny is a slacker who doesn’t care about school, but I’m not going to let him dictate how I educate others.

As a first year teacher, when students forgot their books, paper, and pens, I would huff and puff and say, “Well, I guess you can’t do your work today,” while they sat there with their arms crossed and smirked at me. I was throwing them in the brier patch. Finally, I learned to ask for packages of paper and pens when students needed bonus points and I now have a well-stocked classroom along with a class set of books.

My technology classroom is no different. I have two extra Chromebooks that stay in my classroom for student use. Students can use one of mine, or if I run out, they can rent one from the library for $1.00 a day, or they can get a paper copy. This makes it inconvenient at times, but teachers have to adapt and stop being so rigid or we’ll be the unhappy, mean teacher the kids hate—the same ones we hated when we were young.

Some kids have learned to sit in the brier patch with technology. Recently a teacher at my school expressed her frustration that the kids never had their devices and they’d told her no other teacher used them but her. Guess what? Kids lie!

I taught the same kids in my class and they all had their devices for me. They were sitting in the brier patch again and she had fallen for it. She began calmly assigning detention for not bringing their device and lo and behold, they started pulling them out of their backpacks. A call to the parent usually helps remedy this as well.

If a student just can’t remember to bring the device, you can offer to keep them on campus and they can come check them out at the beginning of the day and return them at the end. The key with this situation is to not let it frustrate you. Kids will find this weakness in you and attack like a shark with a scent of blood in the water. Roll with I.T.

Your Students Come to Class with Dead Devices

They probably stayed up all night watching Netflix or playing games or their device, hence the disheveled appearance, and now they have no charge left.

I had this problem in the beginning as well. Students wouldn’t charge their devices, and they almost never had a charger with them. Or if they did, they were crouched in inconvenient places in the classroom on the floor, hovered around and fighting over my three available sockets. Sometimes cords were dangerously draped across isles, which I or other students invariably tripped over. 

A few years ago, when I had a community set of laptops that conveniently died during 5th period every day, I put in a building request to have extra sockets installed in my classroom. That might be your first step, and even if you have to pay for it with your meager budget; it’s worth the investment. Next, I purchased two large power strips and situated them on the outside walls of my classroom. Then I designated the rows of desks closets to the sockets as, “Charging Stations.”

My principal liked this idea so much that she purchased power strips for every teacher on our campus. I put symbols on the row of desk to indicate them as charging stations. I only allow students to charge at these specific desks. Sometimes this can wreak havoc on your seating chart, as students might have to give up their seats for those who need a charge, but I usually don’t have many problems.

I also purchased four inexpensive chargers on Amazon and write my name all over them for student use in my class.

Some might disagree with my methods citing that students need to be prepared and ready for class when they arrive, and although I understand that thinking, I’ve found that this approach only causes frustration for myself and my students. So I’ve learned to roll with I.T.


About the Author

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I have traveled the world examining art and literature including a month-long stay in London where I studied Shakespeare. When I finished globe trotting in 2004, I decided to settle down and become a teacher and start a family. My husband and I have three kids ages 11, 6, and 4. I love to garden, sing, read, and attend theatrical performances, but my passion is to teach students through the use of technology.

Connect with Joey on Schoology or via Twitter (@ridenourj) and more of her articles on the Schoology Exchange.

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