By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Madilyn Zawalnicki, Christine Dominguez, Brianna Barnes
Students in this classroom don’t have to keep their cellphones hidden inside a backpack. They are used for research, as calculators and flash cards, and even for test-taking.
“The use of smartphones is not going away, so teachers need to embrace it,” asserts Suzanne Scotten, a middle school teacher at E.V. Cain STEM Charter Middle School in Auburn. “What’s the point of banning them? We should use them to serve our teaching purposes. It’s made my job easier, because I’m not fighting it all the time.”
Students were stunned when first told to take out their phones to use the educational apps or online tools, says Scotten, Auburn Union Teachers Association (AUTA.)
“When we explained the reasons and rules, we earned their respect for acknowledging their medium and allowing them to use phones responsibly. It’s satisfying to see kids reading or studying on their phones. Schools don’t have funds for unlimited technology, so why not use what students already have?”
Twenty-three percent of students ages 12-17 in the U.S. have a smartphone, according to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. While 54 percent have a regular cellphone, another 23 percent don’t own a phone. Educators encourage students to share phones in class — or use other available technology such as tablets or computers.
Erin Stevenson creates vocabulary flashcards on her phone with the help of StudyBlue, a free application that also creates quizzes (www.studyblue.com). She also loves Sounds: The Pronunciation App, a free online tool that sounds out new words.
“It’s helpful to use cellphones in class,” says Stevenson. She relies on her phone’s calendar to issue study “reminders” and uses her phone’s camera to take pictures of class notes on the board or record the teacher lecturing. “It makes it easy for me to remember things.”
It was not easy for Scotten to become adept at incorporating smartphones into her classroom.
“As an older teacher, I had quite a learning curve to overcome, but it benefited both me and my students. I can now speak to them in their language. We learn and grow together.”
In the classroom next door to Scotten, English teacher Olivia Conn’s students are engaged in silent sustained reading (SSR). Some read books downloaded onto their cellphones, because it’s cheaper than buying hard copies. Conn’s cellphone sounds an alarm when reading time comes to an end.
“Cellphones allow my students to check their grades, log in to the class website and e-mail the teacher, all while sitting at their desk,” says Conn, who presents with Scotten at technology conferences. “With proper guidelines and appropriate use, these devices enhance students’ learning experiences.”
Smart phones = smart students?
Students are on a treasure hunt in Reuben Hoffman’s social studies class at West Hills High School in Santee. They are looking for information to help them understand the concept of “global stratification,” or inequality based on power, property and prestige.
Posted around the room are student illustrations of global stratification. One is of Wal-Mart driving out small stores around the world. If students like one of their classmates’ illustrations and want to learn more, they hold their smartphones up to the QR code posted alongside, which takes them to essays of classmates posted on the class website.
A QR or Quick Response Code is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode consisting of square dots arranged in a square grid on a white background. Smartphone users can install an app with a QR code scanner that can read a code and direct the smartphone’s browser to a website for that code.
Hoffman’s students use their phones to evaluate classmates’ essays by logging into Google Forms. In no time, responses are put into a spreadsheet and a “winner” is picked.
“We are a Google Apps for Ed school district,” says Hoffman, a member of the Grossmont Education Association. “We don’t have to go to a computer lab. We can pull up or create documents right in class.” (Google Apps for Education offers free Web-based documents for collaborative study.)
“I like using my cellphone in class,” says J’Ana Diamond. “You get things done faster. You’re saving paper. Teachers shouldn’t be freaked out by the idea. It’s a good thing.”
If she receives a text from a friend, will she respond?
“It’s tempting,” she replies thoughtfully. “I would probably answer it, but also get my schoolwork done.”
Hoffman’s view of students’ texting in class might surprise colleagues.
“These are high school seniors working in a high-tech environment. Why would you expect them to behave differently than other adults in the workplace? I received a text a few minutes ago and responded to it. My students have to learn how to multitask in a world where they are being inundated with technological data.”
Not a silver bullet
Incorporating phones into lesson plans doesn’t automatically engage students, says Nicole Naditz, a French teacher at Bella Vista High School, Fair Oaks.
“It is the selective use of the appropriate tool for the right purpose at the right time that increases engagement,” says the San Juan Teachers Association member. “If the students are using the phones to do something that is not relevant to them or using their phones to complete tasks that are just as efficient on paper or by other means, their engagement will not automatically go up.”
Naditz especially likes Socrative, an online application that allows students to take a traditional quiz on their phones or answer an “exit question” before leaving the class so she can view their responses to see what they don’t understand. Socrative also allows students to team up for games. The teacher site is t.socrative.com, and on their mobile devices, students navigate to m.socrative.com and enter their teacher’s “room number” to access activities. (Teachers create the room number when they set up the accounts.)
Naditz has been exploring the use of the SlideKlowd app, which allows students to follow a teacher’s PowerPoint presentations on their phones in real time.
“No more straining to see the front board,” she says. The program currently requires a demo license and is not yet available for purchase.
“I’m always looking for ways to ensure that my instruction provides students with a variety of opportunities to engage with the content, practice with immediate feedback and have access to tools they need in order to be successful. Mobile devices were a logical next step in making this a reality for my students.”
Even ‘dumb phones’ enhance learning
Younger students may have cellphones, but they are not likely to be smartphones with Internet access. But Daniel Moon, a sixth-grade teacher at Lake Forest Elementary School, says students can benefit from these cellphones in his class.
During math, students use calculator functions in phones. Students text questions to Google SMS (466453) and answers are texted back instantly to them.
“Students were surprised they could get information on their phones even if it wasn’t a smartphone,” says the Saddleback Valley Educators Association president. “And they were surprised at the quick response time and accuracy of the results.”
Moon began incorporating cellphones into lessons five years ago. To avoid cheating, students put their phones face down, in plain sight, during a quiz.
“Cellphones are powerful tools that can enhance instruction and motivate kids when used thoughtfully by teachers,” says Moon. “I encourage others to give them a try.”