Using smart phones has given students the freedom to explore and challenge themselves beyond the lesson, one teacher said.

For years, schools have banned the use of cell phones in schools. But today, some schools are cautiously embracing smart phones as a student-friendly technology that can enhance lessons at little cost to schools.

“This is their life,” said Barbara Horner, an eighth grade language arts teacher at the Emma C. Attales School in Absecon, N.J.

She shared student projects at the 15th annual “From My Classroom to Yours” technology conference March 14, sponsored by the Southern Regional Institute & Educational Technology Training Center, or SRI & ETTC, at Richard Stockton College.

The all-day conference offered workshops on a variety of technology, from interactive whiteboards to online programs such as the virtual-dissection program Froguts. Patricia Weeks, director of the SRI & ETTC, said a major advantage to smart phones is that students already know how to use them.

“The teachers are interested in integration, how to use the technology to improve the lesson,” Weeks said. “With a smart phone or tablet, they don’t have to teach the students how to use the technology itself.”

Speakers stressed that no matter how cool the technology, it is still only a tool, not an end in and of itself.

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“It’s not about the iPad, it’s about how you can use the iPad to enhance the lesson,” said Kathleen Fox, curriculum coordinator for the Brigantine Public Schools, which got a cart full of iPads this year. She and teachers Melissa Knoff and James Wilkinson discussed applications they are using in their classrooms, including a Macbeth app (Shakespeare in Bits, from Mindconnex Learning—a 2012 Readers’ Choice Award winner from eSchool Media) that includes a family tree of the play’s characters.

Wilkinson, who teaches science, said teachers have to make sure they focus on the lesson, and not the app.

“Kids treat it like a game, and it keeps their interest,” he said. “It’s up to the teacher to keep them focused.”

Horner said using the smart phones has given students the freedom to explore and challenge themselves beyond the lesson.