Friday, December 30, 2011

12 Most Useful Ways Kids Can Learn With Cell Phones (the 1st Four!)

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This article is cross posted in full at The 12 Most... site. If you'd like to read the entire article there, gohere.
By Lisa Nielsen and Willyn Webb, authors -Teaching Generation Text.

We live in a world that is increasingly mobile. In order for adults to connect with our kids and students, we need to mobilize. Kids love their phones, they are highly motivated to use them (constantly), and they always have them right there with them (if they’re allowed). What a strong basis for an educational tool: empower students to use tools they already own as a means for better education!
The Disney Mobile Cell and Tell survey of more than 1,500 10-17 year-old cell phone users found that teens and tweens like their cell phones perhaps more than other luxuries in their lives.
“If they had to choose between their phone or something else:
● One-third would give up listening to the radio, playing video games or going to the    mall.
● Nearly one-fourth would give up their MP3 players.
● One in five would give up TV” (2007)
As a parent, imagine having the opportunity to help your child with their homework by encouraging them to text for help while waiting at the dentist office or on the way to dance class. As a teacher, imagine having a student respond quickly to a reflection-type question from the day’s lecture while checking their texts during a water break at basketball practice. For both, imagine having a mother learning through a text about the vocabulary test in her son’s biology class tomorrow so she can review with him as they drive to karate lessons.
Today’s phones can alert students to study, serve as a smart vehicle to take notes, provide instant, on-demand answers and research, and even provide a great way to record and capture student oral reports or responses to polls and quizzes. The family dinner table is fading, the homework hour is constantly challenged, and we are out and about (with our phones) more than ever.
Parents may need to take the lead in allowing their children to use their phones for learning and in educating their teachers and administrators of the value in working toward acceptable use policies. There are numerous ways educators and parents can empower students with the freedom to learn with a device they love using.
We want to share the ways you can start using cell phones to enhance learning. To follow are 12 of the most useful ways to support learning as adapted from the newly released book on the topic Teaching Generation Text ( These ideas will help adults discover how to engage youth with fun, free, safe, and easy methods using nothing more than a basic, text-enabled cell phone.


When cell phones have cameras, a new world is opened. Your kids can take pictures of homework projects, research material, field work, activities, etc. for their own use or to share with others. Encouraging students to take pictures of discussion material shared on the board, on handouts if they are going to be doing homework in route, or just to make sure the material does not get lost and stays handy is a great use of the cell phone camera. Flickr provides a free, easy and efficient way to share pictures taken on your cell phone and group them into slideshows based on topic.


Most cell phones have a notepad tool themselves, but when you want to be able to print notes, organize notes, and keep a running record on your computer, a service like WeTxt offers a free way to add your online notebook and notebook sections to your contacts and you and your kids can text in notes anywhere, anyplace,


Google voice enables educators to capture voice messages from students without providing them with their direct phone number. The power of this kicks in when you realize that what Google Voice does is actually become a repository for oral reports, assignments, or sound bites. Not only is it a repository, but parents and teachers can write notes on each clip, share, and post them. This is obviously an effective tool for auditory learners.


Imagine having an expert to turn to at any time for information, advice, guidance…for free! That’s ChaCha, an amazing service that will become invaluable to students and parents alike, works on any cell phone with every provider and enables students to ask any question and receive an accurate answer as a text message in just a few minutes.
You may want to caution students/parents that there may be advertising as part of the ChaCha message and teach them to be aware users by disregarding unnecessary inclusions. or text 242242
To discover eight more useful ways to use cell phones for learning check out the original article at The 12 Most... site.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Turn Texting Teens Into Published Novelists with

Like most students, high schooler Krystal Swarovski was never given an opportunity to write for a real audience in school. Her work died with the teacher. An "A+" had no audience. A "B-" was not given a chance to improve. When a friend introduced her to Krystal experienced something new when she wrote. Unlike her experience in school, she had readers, she developed a large fan base and she was awarded the Text Novel Editor’s Choice award for her story Slices of Pie. Today, she’s excited to have a real audience reading and commenting on her work providing not only an authentic audience, but authentic assessment as well. is a social network for authors and readers of serial fiction and the first English language cell phone novel website, allowing members to write and read fiction with their cellphones or computers, using text messaging, email and online tools. Textnovel runs contests for fiction writers, allowing them to demonstrate the market potential of their work through its unique serial publication and voting format. The novels are rated (G, PG, PG-13 and R). Illustrations can be uploaded. Twitter can be linked and there are many settings to use to customize the experience and make it fit for your students.

Here is insight from Krystal from her bio on the site:
Um, yah. me. lol. fun stuff. :P i like reading and writing and music and drama (real life drama, not fake icky TV drama). I like fun and shopping and boys and good fantasy novels. I hate seafood, people who think they can win an argument with me (because they never can), and people who try to pretend they know more than they do. Um, other than that... I dance, i luv my boyfriend to death, and i do track and field. i debate, i'm in robotics club, french club, taking extra classes at MIT... what you might call a well-rounded person. or a nerd. :P
So, most people on this site put their writing career to date in their about me section, but since i'm in high school, my writing career to date has been a short story (B-), a collection of poems(A+), and many many many informational essays and literary criticisms, grades ranging from C+ to A+. More on the A side though... :) Anyway, point is, the only writing I have ever really done has been for school, with varying degrees of success. However, last year, a good friend of mine (whose pen name here is Anabelle) was telling me all about her story and this fabulous website during study hall, and she convinced me to get an account on textnovel, and that's where I started writing. I have to say I am surprised by the amount of votes my stories have received. I didn't think I would get over 20! ;) So thanks to everyone that's read what I've written. :D
When teacher’s want to encourage reading and writing, they can bring some of the excitement Krystal experienced into the classroom with available free through students' phones.

Here are five ideas for using Textnovel
  1. Create a book group using one of the novels. Bonus - Students will never loose their books.
  2. Encourage exploration of various styles and authors.
  3. Challenge students to create a novel of their own with a novel that they could be made public
  4. Partner with the art class for illustrations
  5. Encourage group/peer editing inside or outside of class by inviting students to read and comment on one another’s work via cell phone
Here's How to Get Started:
  • Sign up for and add your cell phone number.
  • Wait for the confirmation email and click on the link.
  • You are set up to login and begin.
  • Familiarize yourself with all of the settings and choose the ones you want for your students prior to walking them through the setup
  • When the student create their novel make sure they set it to a G rating.
  • From your cell phone, send a text message to this email address (you will want to add this to your contacts)
  • The body of the text message should contain the text that you want to add to the story.
  • The subject of the text message should be of the following format: storycode:chapter number.
  • So for example if the story code is 12 and the chapter number is 2, then the subject should be 12:2
In the 21st century world in which our students live it’s no longer fair for educators to just say “hand it in.” is a terrific option to let any student with access to a phone the opportunity to “publish it.” 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Phones for Principals- Easy Tools That Do A Lot of Jobs

Cell Phones are a tool that most professionals now own and use.  There is little to no learning curve and little to no cost.  The following uses of cell phones enhance a number of functions within the school community (even if you don't tweet).  Cell phones are being seen by many administrators as a way to get out from behind their desk, away from the office, and become an active part of school! Instructions for all of these tools can be found in theTeaching Generation Text Get Started Guide or on the web links.

1.  Group texting
  • Emergency Response System 

    Free group texting services such as Celly provide a free emergency notification system for principals to reach staff in the event of a snow day, school cancellations, crisis information, and updates.  I used this just last week when the internet was down.  I was able to send one quick text from home and let my staff know ahead of time that they needed to plan alternate lessons.
    • Newletter
    We have replaced newsletter and instead send group texts informing parents of events, meetings, and successes happening at school.  These are sent regularly two times per week and parents report back that they love it!  The paper newsletters were costly and rarely got home went sent with kids and even more expensive to mail and potentially end up in the junk mail pile. Parents may not check their email regularly, but a text goes right into their hands.  According to, "Fewer than 20% of email messages are opened. Within 15 minutes of sending a text blast, over 95% of your subscribers will have read the message."  
    • PLC (Personal Learning Communities)
    With a free group text messaging services such as GroupMe the weekly or montly PLC becomes a daily chat by having them become a group.  Agenda items, successes, ideas, announcements, supportive messages, entire chats can all be done quickly through the cell phone or computer.  The messages and replies automatically go to everyone.  So much simpler and in the moment than email, the conversation is an instant chat, involves the entire group, and is documented online. 
    • Survey
    All principals value the input of their staff, parents, and students, but it is difficult to get everyone together, to collect input, and to respond.  Using a free text message service such as Poll Everywhere  principals can gain input and give everyone a voice through their cell phone.  Much like voting on American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, the principal can gather votes on calendar items, prom themes, course offerings, field trips, you name it!

    2. Individual texting
    • intercom system
    Rather than having classes interrupted with the secretary's voice beaming over the intercom for a student (or the principal) to come to the office, a quick text message allows the teacher to send the student quietly.  According to Principal Todd Markley, “Administratively, we text to communicate throughout the day as we are usually not in the same location in the building. Text messages can be sent to administrators from the secretary if we are needed in the office without using the school intercom which interrupts instruction.” 
    • Note taking    
    Principals are out and about in their schools and carrying around a notebook, or even an ipad gets in the way of interacting with students.  The cell phone provides an unobtrusive, in the moment, way to take notes of good things kids are doing, thoughts during lunch duty, incident details, teacher observations, and anything that needs dealt with once he/she is back in the office.  These can be used later to share with parents, for discipline conferences, and for personal records.  WeTxt offers a way to text notes to an organizable, searchable online notebook.

    3. Pictures    

    Principals can capture the activities of the school, text or email home, improve connections, build student/teacher self-esteem, and document incidents pictorially. 
    • Video Yearbook
    The pictures a principal takes throughout the year can be sent immediately to Flickr and a "principal created" slideshow/video yearbook is done! This can be shared on the school website or wiki and used for assemblies throughout the year. Parents and students love it and it gives principals a quick and easy tool to show their connection!

    4. Evaluation Ap
    Smart Phone Ap and Web-based software for Teacher Evaluations  
    Power walk-throughs (McRel)  All principals struggle with getting enough time in the classroom, doing a great job with observations, and having effective teacher evaluations.  McREL has developed an ap that allows the principal to use a smart phone to support these needs.  “Collect classroom observation data using most handheld devices, including iPad™/iPhone®/iPod Touch®, BlackBerry®, Android™, or Tablet PC. Easily upload data from your device to our Web-based software, which lets you analyze data with a variety of charts and graphs" (
    Go from this....

    To this!  

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    5 Ways Cell Phones Will Strengthen the Home School Connection!

    Step three in the 5 Steps to Harness the Power of Cells in Education is strengthening the home school connection. Once parents/families experience ways cell phones can be used as a learning and connection tool they will become empowered and more open to using the devices as learning tools with their students.

    Here are five free and easy ways to get started.

    Google SMS - Translate 
    Teachers and families can use Google SMS Translate to send text messages to one another if they speak different languages.
    How: Text 466453 with the words Translate and your message to (recipients language) i.e. Translate How are you? in French. Google SMS will reply with: Translation: 'how are you' in English means 'como estas' in Spanish. The teacher can text the translated message to the student’s parents and vice versa.

    Send group texts for notifications
    Set up group texting in a service like Celly, Swaggle or WeTxt to notify parents about important events, question of the day, celebrations, exciting accomplishments, cool projects, assignment due dates, etc. If you have a multii-lingual student body you may want to group parents by language. 
    How: Go to the website and enter your phone number where you will receive a password texted to your phone. You can create groups as appropriate for your students parents. You will be asked what you want your name to be. Set this to the name the students/parents know you by or if that is taken consider adding your school mascot i.e. MsNielsenTigers. Next you invite parents to join either by entering their numbers in your phone or on the website. 
    URL: or 

    Poll Your Parents
    If knowing what your parents are thinking is important to you, Polleverywhere is a great tool. It enables you to let parents have a say and show them their thoughts and opinions matter. You can poll them or request open response using Polleverywhere. 
    How: To use poll everywhere the teacher sets up an account at which they’ll be assigned a number for participants to send their answers. Within the message respondent enters the code corresponding to their response. This looks similar to what you see on popular shows such as American Idol. Without any additional equipment or need to download software within seconds educators will have parent responses. Another nice feature is that it doesn't matter what device your parents are using as text message, web, and smartphone responses can be instantly combined.

    Use Wiffiti for Parent Feedback
    Ask your parents questions, thoughts, opinions, and have them text answers to Wiffiti. Maybe you want to know what your parents are expert in and would like to share with your class. Perhaps you want to know your student’s birthdays. Have your parents send in the student name and birthday to a Wiffiti board. 
    How: Send a group text to parents asking them to share and text to Wiffiti. Everyone will know everyone well very soon.

    Twitter for Live Class Updates on Your Website, Blog or Wiki
    Description: Twitter is a great tool that allows you or your students to instantly make the home-school connection by updating your class website, blog, or wiki. Simply tweet important or interesting events happening in your class and have it feed into your selected online space. Parents and families have an ongoing window into your classroom. Educators may want to Tweet information themselves or allow students to use their cell phone to Tweet items of interest when they arise. 
    How: Once you have a Twitter account set up you’ll visit and enter your phone number so you can update Twitter from your phone. You will then go to your desired online space (website, learning network, blog, wiki, etc.) and paste in the Twitter feed embed code. You can select the widget you’d like to use here

    Once parents are comfortable using cell phones as an extension of the classroom you may be ready to move on to the next step. Enlisting parents to partner with students on homework involving the use of cell phones.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    3 Ways to Use Cell Phones for Special Needs

    Cell phones open a new world of tools that can be accessed and used for adaptations required by students with special needs.  Simple voice mail messages using Google Voice, texting, WeTxt notes, pictures to Flickr, Voki, GoogleSMS translator and any other tool depending on the phone are ways to assist students orally, visually, physically without any negative stigma.  Students love their phones.  They are an acceptable, even cool, device offering a variety of input and output capabilities.  Students and staff are already familiar with cell phone functions and how to use them.  This is adaptive aid with little or no cost to the school.  Not only for school use, but outside of school and into the world of work, cell phones can be used by students to serve special needs. Here are 3 ways to support special needs with cell phones!

    1.  Classroom Story-Texting   Gerald is a twenty year old student with cerbral palsy and hearing loss.  Gerald has a reading and math level of 5th grade.  With one arm not fully functional, he is allowed to use a word processor or scribe as needed.  He does not want either one of those options.  He was down to only needing to finish his Civics class to graduate, but he was stalling out and not making any progress.  He was in my counseling office continually upset over social issues, many of which involved text messages back and forth with peers.  I watched a couple of texts get sent while I took a phone call and he waited.  I realized that he could text one handed at an amazing speed.  So I talked to his Civics instructor and got it approved that he text in the answers to the review questions at the end of each chapter.  This resulted in an amazing transformation.  Gerald's depressed state became positive, hopeful and outgoing.  His progress through the remainder of the Civics class was steady.  He was able to complete the class on time and graduate, all thanks to texting.
        He just sent the notes to my email, but since we have used notebook features through wetxt and celly that create a record of students’ texted notes that can be organized and searched.

    2.  Classroom Story-Voki A Spanish speaking student suffering from extreme shyness was struggling in my Freshman English class.  We were doing oral reports and I knew she would be terrified.  The language barrier itself would make the assignment extremely challenging.  However, I wanted her confidence to grow and her oral language skills to be practiced and improved.  So, I set her up with a Voki and let her start calling the Voki number on her cell phone and saying her oral report, then listening to the Avatar say it back, and re-recording as needed.  She practiced her language skills repeatedly, made edits, and improved her report each night.  After about a week, she told me she was ready.  Her Voki gave her report to the class (and was shared with her parents and on the school wiki).   By the next oral presentation unit, after practicing on her voki, she gave her report to the class herself.  She gained practice, repetition, learning, confidence, pride, success, etc, all thanks to calling her Voki on her cell phone.  The ESL teachers jumped on this and all of their students are using their phones to practice their oral language skills, listening skills, and improving!

    3.  Classroom Story-Flickr We have limited electives at Delta Opportunity School, a new alternative high school.  Art is the only “elective” class we offer as most students earn their elective credits through work study.  Alex loved art, but was unable to do any of the projects due to some fine motor problems.  However, he loved art and wanted to take the class.  We thought about having him do art with pictures, find art in the community that were examples of the projects and create a slide show.  However, the family did not own a camera and we were nervous to let him use the school camera because we have no budget to replace it if something were to happen.  But, he did have a cell phone provided to him by our Student Work Alliance Program (SWAP-a program for SPED students through voc-rehab money).  The phone had a camera and we taught him how to take pictures and then send them to the Flickr address for the account he set up for art.  The subject of the message became the picture’s title and the message became the caption.  He could create a slide show through his phone (his one hand was able to text-a feat he had achieved on his own due to a strong desire to communicate with friends).  His final project was just as wonderful as all the others and he was very proud.