Let’s walk through a typical day in an elementary classroom, shall we?
- 8:45 Students enter the classroom like sweet little cherubs.
- 8:46 Two excuses, one bus change note, four envelopes with lunch money, and seven permission slips now cover your desk.
- 8:49 Get students started on their morning work.
- 8:50 Time to quickly check to see if everyone has turned in their homework.
- 8:52 Help two students search through their folders to locate their homework that they promise they did.
- 8:55 A student from another class comes in asking for extra copies of a leveled reader. Go get those.
- 8:58 Someone can’t log in to the computer. Look up their username and password.
- 9:00 Time for morning announcements.
- 9:02 Check over morning work with the class. Someone has to go to the bathroom.
- 9:04 Student returns from the bathroom and announces that the toilet is clogged. Call the office.
- 9:07 Start calendar math. Three kids are missing their dry erase markers. Get new ones from the supply drawer.
- 9:08 The Smartboard isn’t working. Unplug. Plug in again. Orient the screen.
- 9:13 Your phone rings. It’s the secretary who reminds you that you haven’t turned in attendance. Again.
- 9:15 Remember to send that first reading group down the hall for their small group time.
Oh, wait…we can’t wait through an entire day because there are literally over a thousand things that teachers do in a single school day. The mental load and multitasking required to do and remember everything is insane.
Feeling drained at the end of the day? Maybe that’s because you are making an average of 1,500 decisions every single day (busyteacher.org). That’s about four decisions per minute. Wonder why you need to be reminded to submit the lunch count or why you’re late for specials sometimes? It’s because your brain has basically turned to mush from making a decision every fifteen seconds and something’s gotta give!
Last year, I tried something new that has helped my students and me tremendously. It has allowed me to forget about the hundreds of mental timers that I sometimes remembered and sometimes didn’t. It has allowed me to clear my brain of some of the mental load that I was carrying at all times. I was never late for a special, lunch, or dismissal. Like, never. Maybe most importantly, when I had to be out sick I knew that my class would stay on schedule. I even got a note from a sub that included the words, “well-oiled machine.”
The solution was simple and something you may already be using: Alexa.
Alexa is now my BFF. She keeps us on track, plays songs for brain breaks, and reminds us when we have five minutes until dismissal. I have had an Amazon Echo in my classroom before but never used it in this way. Let me tell you what I discovered, how I use it, and why it works so well.
Before I go any further, I know there are several of you reading this who have concerns about privacy. Some of you may not be allowed to use an Amazon device in your classroom. My solutions do not require you speaking to or using the trigger word for your device whatsoever. You can have the microphone turned off for the entire year and still implement the following ideas. This is a great resource regarding privacy concerns regarding Amazon devices. Obviously, you do what you feel comfortable with and are allowed to do in your own classroom and school!
Most people who use an Echo in their classroom tell me that they mostly use it for timers. Some of them play music. A handful will set an alarm. Routines combine all of these things into one and will make your life so much easier. I promise.
Picture this: It’s 12:10. Lunch starts at 12:15. You are busy working with a student at your desk. Alexa says, “Ok class, it’s time to get ready for lunch. Please clean up your desk, get your lunchbox, and line up before the song ends.” Peanut Butter Jelly Time plays (or Raining Tacos…both good lunchtime songs!) Alexa comes back on and tells the class, “Listen to the weather and decide if you need your coat for recess.” The weather report plays. Alexa announces, “When you are standing in a quiet line, we will go to lunch.”
You didn’t look at the clock, you didn’t have to say a word, you finished working with the student at your desk, and your entire class is lined up and ready to go at 12:14. WIN!
In the previous scenario, the routines you created would look like this:
Routines can include any of the following components (the ones I use in the classroom are bolded):
- Alexa Says: can be a fun fact, joke, positive affirmation, or custom phrase
- Calendar: reads your calendar events
- Device Settings: stop all audio, do not disturb mode, or volume control (I always start with this!)
- E-mail: you probably don’t want your email read aloud so I don’t recommend this one!
- Messaging: announcements and notifications
- Music: play a song, artist, or playlist
- News: play the news from your Flash Briefing
- Skills: this is a good one…and pretty obvious…Alexa will open a skill (more on my favorite skills below)
- Smart Home: if you have a lightbulb or outlet connected to your Echo, you can control it here (I use this at home!)
- Traffic: too bad Alexa can’t tell you if the hallway is congested!
- Wait: wait a predetermined amount of time before doing the next action
- Weather: report the weather in your area
Creating a Classroom Routine
Have I convinced you to give these routines a try yet? If so, here’s a little guide to creating one yourself.
Step #1 – Think about a time during the school day when you need to do something, stop doing something, or go somewhere.
Step #2 – Decide what time you want the routine to begin. Sidenote: you can also have routines begin by saying a phrase, such as, “Alexa, it’s time for lunch.” I find that kind of defeats the purpose of using them, though. Remember, we are trying to eliminate as many decisions as we can throughout the day! Looking at the clock and deciding when to line up is something we can let Alexa handle.
Step #3 – Create your routine. More on the techy stuff below.
Step #4 – Teach your class what to do when they hear the routine and practice it! Don’t expect them to just know what to do when the voice from the speaker starts giving them commands.
Step #5 – Sit back and watch the magic happen. It really is amazing. Even on day 180 I still smiled when my kids transitioned, lined up, and completed procedures with ease.
Using the Alexa App to Create Your Routine
You will need the (free) Alexa app to create routines. I recommend playing around with the options so that you understand how it all works.
Here are the basic steps:
Alexa can perform Skills, which I think of as apps for the Echo. There are hundreds of great ones for the classroom that are free to enable. Once enabled, you can insert them into any routine!
Some of my favorites for my third-grade classroom are:
- AskMyClass: this app can line up your class in fun ways, do brain breaks, promote mindfulness, and a ton more
- Multiplication Quiz: I sometimes use this one as a ticket out the door or a math center!
- Word of the Day: expand that vocabulary with a different word each day
A Few Tips
- I always start a routine with “Device Settings”, “Volume.” You never know what your volume might have been set at before your routine starts. You don’t want it blaring so loudly that the teacher down the hall hears it, and if it’s too quiet then your students may not hear it.
- Music has to be the last step in a routine. This is somewhat annoying but you can do a simple work-around by creating another routine starting immediately after the previous one (see the above recess line-up example!)
- I have a video highlight on my Instagram account for a step-by-step guide to creating routines.