Guest Post by Carol Brown
Cell phones have long been a serious no-no in the classroom, and many schools, stating that they are a serious distraction for students, have banned them from campuses altogether. Yet there is a growing trend that is lifting the ban on smartphones and instead asking kids to use their phones and mobile devices as learning tools. While some have responded critically to this movement, others have found that it helps students to become engaged and interested in lessons, and in some districts has even resulted in a marked increase in performance levels.
Whether you’re still on the fence about the role of mobile technology in the classroom or are looking for ways to get inspired to use it in your own lessons, it pays to learn a bit more about how smartphones are currently being used for education. Here, we’ve collected stories about just a handful of the schools leading the way in using smartphones in the classroom, making for both interesting and informative research for any tech-savvy (or tech curious) teacher. Who knows, you may just find ideas that inspire you to initiate a mobile revolution in your own classroom!
Onslow County Schools
This North Carolina school district was looking for an innovative way to help close their math achievement gap in some of their economically challenged schools. They decided to try smartphones. It seems that the mobile devices are working, as the school district has seen an improvement in standardized test scores and students using them outpaced others in the district and across the state. The schools participating in the program, called Project K-Nect, use the phones in Algebra, Algebra II, and Geometry, allowing students to use them as calculators or to look up information on the web, watch math videos, and play educational games. Students using the phones reported feeling more confident about their math abilities, were more motivated to take other math courses, and over half are now considering a career in a math field.
Cimarron Elementary School
Students in the fifth grade are Cimarron Elementary School are getting the chance to work with smartphones in their classrooms. Phones are issued to the students with the messaging and calling capabilities disabled, but students can still connect to the internet, schedule assignments, and send emails to their teachers through the phones. Students use the phones to do their homework, often on-the-go, and to keep in touch with teachers. The students also use the mobile devices to do web quests, scan QR codes linked to vocab and reading websites, make excel spreadsheets, create quizzes, and even graph their science lab results. The pilot program seems to be doing well, with an increase in students’ math and science scores from the previous year.
Watkins Glen School District
Watkins Glen School District is taking part in program this fall called Learning on the Go, that puts netbooks, smartphones, and mini-netbooks into the hands of students. The program has been used at the school for two years now, but has only now just expanded to include the use of netbooks and all grade levels at the school. With 40% of the student body not having internet access at home, educators hope that the mobile devices will help to better prepare students for the challenges of an increasingly globalized and digital world, allowing students to gain familiarity with using the web for a wide range of educational tasks.
St. Mary’s City School
St. Mary’s School in Ohio is one of the schools leading the way in using smartphones in the classroom. In 2009, the school began providing more than 2,300 third, fourth, and fifth graders with their own PDAs for use in the classroom and at home. Loaded onto the devices are educational programs that allow students to do everything from write an essay to study math through flash cards. Teachers at the school want to embrace mobile technology and help students to understand that mobile devices can be a valuable tool in education, when used right, of course. Students at the school have enthusiastically embraced the program, and many report great excitement at the thought of being assigned their own mobile device.
While many schools on this list are providing students with their own phones and mobile devices, Edmonton school is taking a different approach to bringing smart phones into the classroom. The school isn’t providing phones or other devices but encourages students to bring their own, allowing everything from smartphones to iPads to be used during class time. Students are allowed to employ their phones and tablets as calculators, dictionaries, planners, and even sketchbooks depending on the lesson. The school employs a technology coach as well, who works with teachers to help them better integrate these and other technologies into their curricula. As for students, they love the new rules and many feel lucky to be able to bring their favorite tech devices into the classroom.
Crosby-Ironton High School
Most teachers don’t allow cell phones to be used in the classroom, but high school science teacher Bob Kuschel isn’t most teachers. Kuschel permits students to use their smartphones in his class, and says he finds them to be an effective learning tool for students. For the past three years, he has allowed phone usage while students are working on labs or class assignments, though the phones must be put away during lectures. Kuschel believes that it’s important for students to be able to access information easily and reports that allowing students to use them has not only improved grades but also student interest in their coursework.
Southwest High School
This North Carolina high school is also taking part in Project K-Nect, a pilot program that’s working to bring smartphones into the classroom with the hope that it will improve test scores and help students at some of the states most under-funded schools. Sponsored by Qualcomm, the project is providing smartphones for a few trial courses, though it could be expanded in coming years. Administrators at the school hope that the phones will not only improve scores, but help to better prepare students for using new technologies, as many in the district don’t have access to the internet or a computer at home. So far, the program seems to be working. A study found that students with the phones performed 25% better than their classmates on an end-of-year algebra exam. Yet teachers report that the phones have a downside, too, as teachers must spend a good deal of time monitoring how the students are using them in their hours away from school.
Mounds View High School
Students at this Twin Cities school got a chance to bring some of their favorite technologies into the classroom this fall. The school is allowing students to use personal electronic devices in the classroom, including smartphones, PDAs, and tablet computers. While the school acknowledges the potential drawbacks of allowing tech in the classroom, they think the educational opportunities outweigh the risks. They may be setting a model for schools in the region, as the Minneapolis School District just approved a similar measure for bringing tech into the classroom.
Lincoln Middle School
Three sixth grade classrooms are taking on a trial program at this middle school, allowing mobile devices into the classroom. Given phones through a donation by Sprint, educators are now using them in sixth grade science courses. Students use them to graph, track the results of their experiments, write essays, and even look up information on the web. The phones don’t offer students free will, as the texting and calling features are disabled, and internet access is limited and closely monitored, but that’s OK with students. A study of the phone usage at school showed that they increased the level of student engagement and motivated more students to complete assignments. While the district doesn’t have the budget to purchase more phones at the moment, teachers say they’d love to see the program expand.
Byron High School
Students at this high school no longer have to hide their phones to use them in class. The school is now allowing phones, laptops, MP3 players, and iPads in the classroom, provided students have the OK of their teachers to use them. Over the five months the program has been in place, the school hasn’t seen in increase in students cheating or misusing the technology, perhaps because students are afraid of losing their right to use the tech in the classroom. As of this fall, the program expanded to include the entire school, a change which the school hopes will help not only students but their bottom line as well. Students who are able to bring their own technology to school can help reduce the costs of maintaining a computer lab on campus, and making it easier for students to take notes and look up information is a great added benefit.
First Published Here