Ray's Tech Product Review: Class Dojo

My colleague Ray Schleck tried out a product called Class Dojo. Here is his review. 1. Ray’s Bottom Line:

I’d rate this product an 8 out of 10. If I were still teaching 7th grade history, I would definitely use it. 2. QuickKid Review:

•0 kids told me Dojo made them more likely to misbehave. •5 kids told me DoJo made them less likely to misbehave. •5 kids told me it didn’t matter either way.

In my book, that's a pretty strong showing.

3. Product Description

Class Dojo is a website and a phone app. It’s free. It does two main things:

•The mobile app lets you record merits and demerits on your smartphone. Very simple. Small improvement over and old-fashioned clipboard and pen. You just tap a kid’s name and the merit or demerit they earned, and it keeps track of them for you.

•The website displays, in real-time, all the merits and demerits you record on the mobile app. I displayed this up on the board during class with an LCD projector. This was awesome. Total transparency for the students with what merits and demerits I’m issuing.

A. Website:

Before I started I had to enter in all the names of your kids. You can copy and paste a whole list in one shot. It took me about 4 minutes for 3 classes of 25 students.

This is what it looks like on my web browser (fyi: these are fake names). Using an LCD projector I displayed this on the whiteboard throughout class:

The green numbers are merits (good little behaviors). Red numbers are demerits (bad little behaviors).

B. Smartphone App

Android or iPhone. It basically makes your phone a remote control. Here is a picture of what it looks like on your phone:

On the left is the main screen. It has all the kids in one class. You scroll up and down to see everyone. Names are sorted alphabetically (you can pick either by first or last name).

The right side is what you see once you click a kid’s name. Notice there are two tabs here. Right now, the blue ‘positive’ tab is selected. You can see the awards (teamwork, helping others, etc.). There’s also a negative tab. If you tapped that you’d see a different set of boxes (not paying attention, talking out of turn, etc.)

You can remove or create your own positive and negative ‘awards.’ So if your school gives out certain kinds of merits or demerits, you can only include those options.

If you tap a positive or negative ‘award’ for a kid on your phone, it’ll add or subtract a point next to their name on the main phone screen. Then – and here’s the kicker – the website that you’re displaying up on the whiteboard instantly adds the merit or demerit to that kid’s green or red number.

For example, let’s say you tapped the name Mitch Petties on your phone, then tapped the positive award for ‘participation.’ First, Mitch would get +1 on the mobile app’s main screen. Second, the website would simultaneously record that merit. Here’s what would pop up on the whiteboard:

There it is. Very simple product. Very easy to use. Your phone is a remote control for recording the merits and demerits, and the website displays what you add and subtract.

One other feature I’d like to highlight is the ‘random’ button on the phone app. You tap this button on main class screen on your phone. It will randomly pick a kid in the class and highlight their name on your phone.

Simultaneously, the website will show that kid’s name. Like this:

4. The TryOut

I substitute taught 7th grade science for 3 days last week. Now as a sub, I know that since I lack relationship capital with the kids, they’re going to test me more. Nothing personal. It’s just predictable teen behavior. So I’m likely as the teacher to issue more demerits, for small transgressions like talking out of turn or not following along while we read.

To balance out the demerits I wanted to make sure I was also recognizing good behaviors, like the kid who gives a great answer or volunteers to read. So more merits.

With Class Dojo, it was:

a.Unbelievably easy to record merits and demerits. As a result, I gave out more merits in three days than I used to give in a month.

b.A great cold calling tool.

c.Easy to show kids what they earned and that I’d recorded it. It kept both them and me accountable. Total transparency.

5. Three Technical Bugs (which may not be the “product’s fault)

a.The Class Dojo app on my iPhone crashed twice in three days. Took me 30 seconds to quit the app and reboot it. [Note: Class Dojo just released an updated version, so it may have improved].

b.20% of the time there was a 15-second delay between my clicking something on the phone and it popping up on the computer screen. Unclear why this happened, probably a capacity issue with our school’s wireless internet. Not necessarily the fault of the product, but it’s a reality a teacher should expect. A tiny bit distracting for kids, but not a huge deal. I should’ve told kids about that so they weren’t confused when things showed up late.

c.5% of the time it was buggy. A kid’s name would get stuck up on the board. Or the random name generator would cycle through a bunch of names over and over on the screen and not pick one. Again, I’m not sure if this is software issue, iPhone issue, or wireless internet issue, but that was my experience.

6. Three Mistakes I made on the first day:

a.Attendance. Class Dojo has a quick feature that will hide the absent kids, but I didn’t use it on day 1. It was the first day back from vacation, and one of my classes had 10 of the 25 kids absent. So 40% of the time it picked an absent kid when I had it randomly generate names. Time waster. Kids called out “not here.”

b.Kids got silly when they saw the monster avatars. Perhaps I should’ve just made them all a Match logo or something (you can customize them to anything you want). Little kids might like the creatures, but by 7th grade it’s too childish for most.

c.You can choose whether to display a) a separate green positive total and red negative total on each name, or b) just one combined number. I did the combined one at first. So if a kid got three merits and two demerits, they just had a green 1 displayed next to their name. Looked the same as a kid who got one merit and no demerits. But I wanted the 3 demerit kid to know she was racking them up despite her merit earning.

7. Three Product Design Limitations:

a.Doesn’t synch with other behavior management system. Match School uses products called Kickboard and PowerSchool for other purposes, but I couldn’t find a way to have the Dojo merits and demerits sync up with those other programs.

b.I want to value some merits as “2 points” or “3 points,” etc. For example, I’d like to have a ‘reading’ merit that’s worth 1 point, and a ‘great answer’ merit that’s worth 3 points. Can’t do that right now, every item is only worth +1 or -1.

c.Sharing. I’d like to be able to share my Dojo data with other teachers and tutors. For example, a tutor helped me out by logging my merits and demerits into Kickboard. But I had to give him my password and let him log into my account. I’d rather be able to share my stuff with him rather than give my password away. (Vince, that password definitely doesn’t work on my bank website. Or email. Definitely not. Don’t bother trying them. Trying them definitely won’t give you access to the $6.35 I have in my checking account right now.)

8. Three Neat Features

a.Track the Dojo data by day, week, month, etc. The product makes it easy. Has the type and frequency of merits and demerits, both by kid and by class.

b.Generate reports to send home. You can email them to parents. Or kids and parents can get log-ins and sign in at home to see their data. Or you can print individual kid reports to physically give to kids.

c.Let kids pick their own avatars – the images that kids see on the screen. Could be a fun reward. Lots of merits buys you a cool avatar, like Lebron James. No merits and you get stuck with something lame, like a picture of MG.

9. Kid Comments

After class I interviewed ten random kids. Per above, 5 of the 10 actually found it helpful, while 5 thought no effect. Zero found it bothersome or silly.

What did you like about it:

•“I liked being able to see what I was being given. Sometimes I don’t know what demerits people give me in other classes.” •“I liked how you could randomly call on kids. I don’t know, it just gives it more…finesse.” •“I liked my monster on the screen. I was the only person with only one eye.” •“It was cool. You didn’t have to spend time writing stuff down on paper. You didn’t take time away from class, it was better for me because there was less time taken from my learning. “ [Mind you, this remarkably mature observation was from a girl who’d tallied 3 demerits and 1 merit on day I interviewed her.] •“Everybody got a chance to speak, I liked the random question thing. Also, [in other classes] you’re supposed to remember the demerits you get, so I liked that they were up on the board instead.”

What did you not like about it?

•“The monsters. They were distracting. Some kids laughed at them.” •I didn’t talk as much. [You mean, you didn’t talk to your friends as much or you didn’t raise your hand as much?] I mean I didn’t talk to my friends as much.

10. Peer Comments

I also talked to a couple of our tutors. They said they were concerned that kids would react poorly to being constantly reminded of the demerits they’d earned. And they worried some really shy or sensitive kids would be uncomfortable with everybody seeing their merits and demerits. I didn’t experience that in my 3 days, but an interesting thing to note.

Our 8th grade math teacher, Madhu, saw me using it. So I sent her the link. A couple days later I asked her what she thought. She said:

I prefer my old-fashioned clipboard to Dojo. I like being able to see how kids do over the course of a whole week. Plus, I already like using my phone as a timer, so to also use Dojo means too many clicks to switch back and forth. And I didn’t like not being able to see both merits and demerits at the same time on my phone. Neat idea, though.

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Bonus Teacher Nerd Trivia:

This is not about the product. I just felt like writing it.

1. About demerit systems

I used to teach at Boston Collegiate. They had a great culture – happy kids and tight classes. At the middle school, every three demerits was an after-school detention. So on demerit number 3, 6, 9, etc. you’d earn detention. Every kid’s total went back to zero on Monday morning.

For example, if you got one demerit Monday, one on Wednesday, and one on Thursday, you were in detention Thursday afternoon. If you got four on Monday and two on Tuesday, you’d have detention both days. (There were merits, too, but they didn’t impact demerits.)

Match Middle School runs it a bit differently. Every kid starts at 100 points and keeps a running tally for the week. A demerit is -1. A merit is +1. A missing homework is -5. A more serious violation (“tier B” demerits, which mean automatic lunch detention) is -4. If you end the week with fewer than 85 points, you’re in Friday detention. There’re trade-offs with both systems. At Boston Collegiate I gave out a few demerits per day. You had to be careful, since each was 1/3rd of a detention. Play it too fast and loose and you’d create insurmountable resentment. But Match Middle School demerits are only worth 1/15th of a detention. It’s Dave’s Insanity Sauce vs. Tabasco. Treat them the same and get burned.

[By the way: not a knock on the Match system. At all. In fact, it’s nice to be able to dispense demerits more frequently but with less bite. You question yourself less. Grey area doesn’t cause as much hesitation.]

2. About substitute teaching

When you sub, you HAVE to know kids’ names. Otherwise this is what happens:

Teacher: “Hey, kid who is talking, what’s your name?” Kid: “Uhh” [Looks at his friends. They laugh.] “Johnny?” [lots of laughs.] Teacher: “Seriously, that’s a demerit for talking. What’s your name?” Kid: “Seriously, it’s Brandon” [trails off. Just loud enough to not be defiant, but not loud enough to clearly hear. Clever.] Teacher: “What?” Kid: “BRANDON” [gives teacher a mean look. Earns laughs from friends.]

Substitute teacher fail. It’s 30 seconds into class and authority is gone.

So the first thing I did was print out nametags for every kid.

Then I had the principal help me pass them out in the first few minutes of class on my first day. It worked.

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EdWeek story on Class Dojo is here.