Monday, February 24, 2020

Pocket Points - What to Expect and How to Make It Work

Phones are a problem.  It is hard to compete with social media and games.  Just look around at your next PD or faculty meeting and you'll see that students are not the only ones lured away from content by that glowy screen.

So what is a teacher to do?

Well, you could try smashing their phone in class.  Several videos exist of teachers doing this.  But unless you are only after YouTube clicks, that is likely to cause you more trouble than what it is worth.  Unless, of course, you teach in Central China and it is a school sponsored event:

You are seemingly limited to three options:

  1. Confiscate the phone - bad option as you are potentially liable for any damages to the phone that you actually caused or are accused of causing.  I sure, though, that your local school board will take your side against the angry parent who wants you to pay for the replacement of that new iPhone.
  2. Argue with the student about your cell phone policy - also a bad option as who wins in that scenario?  Maybe you will.  Maybe you'll just have administration tired of coming to your room to remove yet another kid who won't put his/her phone away.  And while you are fighting that battle?  Your other students are left not learning anything.
  3. Give up and let those who don't wish to learn fail - The best of the three, but try explaining that to your AP when he or she comes in to observe you.  This also is bad since kids who would try and focus are now seeing others get away with using their phones and it makes them more likely to pull out theirs.

However, there is always Option 4.


You have probably seen this app, but wasn't sure if it was worth using or not.  I gave it a shot last semester and liked it enough to do it again.

What it does:

Once the Pocket Points app has been loaded on a student's phone and your class code has been entered, then all the student does is pull up their phone and click the app icon.  No log in needed after the first go.  The phone immediately goes into lock mode, hiding the screen with a quite satisfying counter that shows the student's minutes racking up.

The student need not worry.  When the phone locks, it will unlock at any time the student wishes to unlock it.  So if Johnny locks the phone and then fifteen minutes later remembers he has to text momma, he can just unlock the phone with a click.  Of course, it will stop earning time until it is locked again.

Is it a miracle cure?

No.  However, if you do it right, you can see more success (more on that later in this post).  The students who are never on their phone get rewarded for doing what you want them to do, which is nice.  The students who hate to be off the phone will have a hard time buying into this.  But the reason why this is a great thing is that students who are in between tend to choose the rewards, thus really cutting down on the phone use overall in your class.

About 2/3 of my class use it, most of them fairly regularly.  That's not bad.

How hard is it to set up?
Not too hard.  The student downloads the app.  Then they put in their phone and email address.  Once they verify their email address, they will have to restart the app and it will look like they are repeating the process, but after they get their confirmation code again, it will ask them to find their school on the menu.  

Then it gets a little tricky.  The app looks like it is running, but the student has to click the apple icon at the bottom to enter your classroom code.  After that, it is just a matter of locking it.  

But Wait!  There's More!

Students who lock up their phone earn rewards not just in your classroom, but in the community as well.  Red Box movies, Papa John's Pizza, and other companies give students rewards and discounts for keeping their phone locked up for certain hours.  It also will give points to students whose phones are locked while they are driving.

How to Do It Right

You have to be willing to give out the rewards.  Every Friday I pull up the rewards page and dole out the goodies.  You need to do this regularly and you need to do this publicly.  Once kids start seeing other kids getting things, well, that is motivation in itself.

My rewards are set up in five hour increments.  At that setting, it is not too hard to earn a reward once a week, or at least once every two weeks.  Some of the things I give out:

  • A Divine Intervention (this is a homework pass)
  • Quiz bonus points
  • Team points (for a game we play in class)
  • +10 test bonus (you need quite a bit of points to get that one)
And other stuff.  Whatever you choose, make it something worth turning the phone off for.

I reset everything in the second quarter since it only goes up to 50 hours.

You also should have the Pocket Points rewards and classroom code available on the wall so that students can decide to participate later on.  The first semester I tried this, I only told the students to set up the app on the first day of school.  This semester I have it on the wall and I am having a much higher participation rate as students are convincing each other to give it a shot.  They like those rewards.

If you have tried this app in your classroom, I would love to hear how it is working for you!  Also, if you have a different phone management system, let me hear it!  

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Love Stinks -or- Eight Brief Tales of Lovers

Here's a good lesson if you teach mythology or if you want to incorporate some myths into your world literature course.

The lesson is a type of "jigsaw" group lesson.  This can easily be adapted to any type of short story.

These myths come from Edith Hamilton's Mythology.  I bet there are class sets somewhere in your school.  If you do not currently have a mythology class, then they are probably collecting dust in your Latin teacher's room.

Your school undoubtedly has a class set of these somewhere.

Break your class in to teams.  Depending on the size of your class, you may have to adjust these numbers, cut out a myth or two, or something like that.

One member of the team will go up and get a note card for each teammate.

Round One
Each team member picks one of these four stories:
  "Pyramus and Thisbe"
  "Orpheus and Eurydice"
  "Cyex and Alycone"
  "Pygmalion and Galatea"
Once they have read the story, each person will write down one question on their card.  The group can (and should) work together to come up with the question.

Then return everyone to their original groups (the above will take approximately 12-15 minutes).  They will teach their story to their group.

Do the same thing with Round Two
  "Baucus and Philemon"
  "Alpheus and Arethusa"

Once the groups have read and returned to teach their team, collect the cards.

Now pit the teams against each other.  Using the cards as the question base, play some game (I like Sunken Treasure) for team points, bonuses, or whatever incentive you like to use.

'nuff said!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Why You Should Be Teaching _The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time_ to Your High Schoolers

This book is so great for seniors on so many levels.

If you are not aware of what the book is about, it is a story told from the perspective of a fifteen year-old boy who is on the spectrum.  He is investigating the murder of a neighbor's dog, but there is another story going on that he doesn't see.  It  is this other story that is so captivating for students.

So why should you teach it?

1. Students who HATE to read LOVE this book.  I often teach regular ed and EC inclusion students who have a strong dislike to reading.  It may be for many reasons that they hate reading in general, but no matter the cause, they almost all love this book.  I have experienced many non-readers reading ahead on their own.  Many students tell me it is the only book they've read cover to cover since they can remember.  

On my web site, I have a poll that students can take anonymously.  Here is the break down as of now:
Loved it - 32%
It was pretty good - 47%
It was OK - 17%
It's pretty bad - 1%
Hated it - 3%
I challenge you to find a book with better approval ratings for students who hate to read.

Why is this?  Well, the book is written on both a simple and complex level.  Just reading the words is simple.  You are not going to pair this book up with an SAT vocabulary unit.  However, the story is very complex, so students can understand and follow, but do not feel liked it is "dumbed down".

2. Students who LOVE to read LOVE this book.  My colleagues who teach honors have terrific success with this book.  Despite not having a high vocabulary level, the story has layers of complexity that make you forget the word choice level.

3. It is a great book to use to teach:
  • Perspective - The narrator here is unreliable, not that in he lies (like I am sure Van Helsing is when he records what he does while alone with Mina Harker), but because he doesn't fully understand what is happening.  
  • Prediction - There are so many clues and red herrings that it is fun to watch the students try and figure out what the "real" story is, as well as trying to figure out who killed the dog.  When one of my nonreaders make a prediction that later comes true, they get so excited.
  • Dramatic Irony - Since we know, at least half way through the book, what is happening while the narrator is trying to figure it out, there is a certain amount of suspense created.

4. It promotes autism awareness.  You have students on the spectrum in your class.  Your students interact with people on the spectrum every day and may not even realize it.  This book will show how Christopher processes information.  The students relate to him and are completely invested in what happens.  Students will also want to share stories of their sisters, cousins, nephews, etc. that are on the spectrum.  Students who are on the spectrum, at least in the last decade I've been teaching this, like having a protagonist they can identify with.  Sometimes I will have a student identify themselves as autistic and other times they do not, but the book handles it so well, that I have yet to have a student on the spectrum not like that we read it.

For that matter, it also brings to the forefront disability awareness.  My inclusion teacher hosts the EC Spring Games for the district where the more severe and profound students in all the schools from elementary to high school come and compete in various events.  After reading this book, my students want to volunteer to help host.

5. It is easy to be creative with it.  There are so many off topic chapters that it provides several opportunities to do something different with your students.  From getting them to fake photographs to playing Monty Hall to searching for constellations - there are so many ways to bring this book to life.

6. It is flexible.  The chapters are generally short, so that allow the freedom to stop and start in a variety of places.  This makes it easy to allow conversation to develop in class as well as each chapter ending provides an organic opportunity to let kids express what they are thinking.

If you teach this book, leave a comment and tell me a success story.  If you want to teach this book, keep your eyes open.  I am currently putting together everything I use in my class and plan on putting it up on Teachers Pay Teachers soon.